At the Centro Urban Renaissance luncheon on June 23, Richard Campanella mentioned that the young families were not the ones driving the great migration to the center of the city. He’s right: none of our friends with kids have joined us in Dignowity. All the neighborhood kids we know were born here.
When we first moved to the inner city, once our family and friends got over the shock that we’d actually gone and done it, they reconciled it to themselves with this caveat: “You’ll move out when you have kids.”
I’ll be honest: it’s tempting, now that we have a three-month-old, if for no other reason than the noise. I can currently hear two helicopters, fire truck sirens, and some barking dogs. Always barking dogs.
But every time I’m tempted to flee, I think of the amazing world our daughter will observe as she grows.
We live within walking distance of San Antonio Museum of Art, where we can stroller around and stare at works of art far more stimulating than anything Fisher Price could create. From there we can go have dinner at the Luxury, where no matter how noisy and fidgety she is, no one is shooting us a dirty look. Outdoor dining is fantastic with a baby in tow, even better when the chef is a James Beard Award nominee. Everybody wins.
Her sky will be filled with giant F.I.S.H. of the Museum Reach and the historic whipple trusses of the Hays Street Bridge where she will observe yogis, cyclists, and gatherings of many kinds. She’s going to learn about public space by watching people congregate along her daily walking route.
And then she’s going to learn public process from the
ground up, attending neighborhood meetings where the mix of race, income, education, and age will hopefully expand her understanding of who the “neighbors” are that we are teaching her to love.
While tourists see the horse-drawn carriages around town, she is going to know where they come from, because the stables are along our walking route. Even a lot of locals think of downtown as a destination, but for her, it’s where she’s from. Those are her restaurants, her museums, her symphony, her farmer’s market.
Her neighborhood will have a push-cart derby.
Are we making sacrifices? You bet. In order to parent by the books, you have to live in a controlled environment, and the inner city just is not that place. When I decide “tonight is the night we get on a schedule,” a neighbor throws a party fueled by bass and fireworks. Just as the baby drifts off, the Union Pacific train will completely disregard the “quiet zone” sign and wake her.
I realize that young families have lots of options in San Antonio, and that right now the focus is on attracting young, child-free professionals and empty-nesters into downtown. However, can I suggest that it can’t hurt to make the downtown neighborhoods more appealing to young families so that they don’t accidentally go put down roots in suburbia? For those young professionals thinking long term (are they really that rare?), and those empty-nesters desiring to live in the world they know, the 20+ years of child-rearing are important to consider.
Plus, there already are families living in the inner city, so wouldn’t it be nice if those children were growing up in a child-friendly environment?
Most of what a family wants aligns with walkability, a la Jeff Speck. While we have an interesting walk, we also want a safe walk. Talking to my friends in the neighborhood, that's the issue that came up, before schools even. Living in the core of the city shouldn't be dangerous for anyone.
Here are two things that I hope San Antonio can do for the young families of the urban core:
1) Keep improving the schools.
Stop telling us how hard these kids are to educate, and just do whatever it takes. SAISD has a lot of good things going on, but the leadership needs to roll up their sleeves and scale, scale, scale. And let us know how we can help! But once we get involved and invested, you are going to get some opinions. That’s the nature of buy-in.
2) Do something about the stray dogs.
This problem persists in the neighborhoods directly adjacent to downtown on the South, East, and West. Beef up Animal Control if you have to. If we’re sticking with the no-kill policy then we need to figure out a humane way to house the hordes of stray pitbulls wandering the streets, chasing our bikes, and charging at runners. Parks and streets aren’t safe if you run the risk of getting attacked and killed by dogs.
If I was making three wishes to an all powerful genie, the third one would be the rerouting of the Union Pacific, but apparently there's no one in town powerful enough to keep Union Pacific trains from stopping across street crossings for 30 minutes at a time, or blasting their horns at 3 a.m. right through the quiet zone (Have I mentioned my deep and abiding frustration with Union Pacific?).
There’s definitely room for improvement here in the inner city, where few young families choose to live. But we plan to tough it out, because we’re hoping that the benefits of my daughter feeling a sense of identity with the core of the city will enrich her life from day one.
*Featured/top image: On the first day of summer. Stayin' cool. Courtesy photo.