Urban Baby Challenge: Growing Up In The Core

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Moira McNeel on the first day of summer. Stayin' cool. Courtesy photo.

Moira McNeel on the first day of summer. Stayin' cool. Courtesy photo.

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.

At San Antonio Museum of Art's Matisse exhibit.

At the San Antonio Museum of Art's Matisse exhibit.

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.

Urban baby on the Hays Street Bridge. Courtesy photo.

Urban baby on the Hays Street Bridge. Courtesy photo.

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?

Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association Meeting

Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association Meeting

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.

Related stories:

Immigrating to Dignowity Hill: Empty Lots, Fixer-Uppers, and The Perfect Fit

Young Marriage / Old House: A Dignowity Hill Backyard Feast

Where I Live: Dignowity Hill

The G-card: Defining Gentrification in Dignowity Hill

Gentrification: “Angriest Issue In Urban America”

15 thoughts on “Urban Baby Challenge: Growing Up In The Core

  1. Good point’s Bekah. I would add fix the streets, sidewalks and street lighting to your list of two. Improving the public schools will be key in attracting more young families to Dignowity. That won’t happen until the SAISD leadership gets more responsive to what the community is telling them. On the other hand, young families do have choices like faith based private schools or private charter schools or home schooling. Perhaps urban core neighborhood associations should consider educating neighborhood residents on the notion of choice in schools as a selling point to attract young families to the urban core. The risk I see is the possibility of forward movement of a neighborhood like Dignowity stalling to some degree because the public schools are not up to the expectations of young families or community members. The city also needs to do its part in investing in fixing the infrastructure of the urban core neighborhoods. The current overall appearance and condition of streets, sidewalks and street lighting in our neighborhood(Dignowity) is a huge detriment in attracting investment, new residents, and young families.

    • Juan, you make excellent points, and you clearly have a lot of local knowledge.

      A gentle correction: charter schools are public schools; they are secular and tuition-free.

      I would be happy to visit a neighborhood meeting to talk about school choice. I don’t work for any particular school or organization; I’m just a blogger.

      • Hi Inga
        Thx for the correction! My wife and I have lived in Dignowity since 2007. Yes, I’m very familiar with many of the local issues in Dignowity and on the eastside in general. I’m the immediate past prez of the DH neighborhood association. The DHNA has tried working with SAISD over the last few years but making progress with SAISD is like pouring molasses on a cold day! Up until recently my wife and I had been strong advocates of our local public schools not just for the sake of the neighborhood but most importantly for the neighborhood kids. Now we feel that we need to inform parents and community members of the choices that exist in the educational market place.

  2. Yes, yes, yes.

    Living near the center city, my kids and I spend so much LESS time in our car, and pack so much MORE into one day.

    I agree that school district leadership needs to be prepared to take feedback from parents. If the traditional school districts can’t scale fast enough, then charter schools can step in.

  3. Muy grandkids ( twins 5 and 2 years old) who are growing up down town San Antonio) . They enjoy every minute there, culture, diversity and education beside all the events. I love They live there. I wish was more affordable for me.

  4. I’m glad this was addressed here on RR. My husband and I have grown up in the suburbs, but love Downtown and Midtown. Our main deterrent to living there right now is the possibility of having a child. Everyone wants cost-efficiency, a relative amount of quiet, and safety, but children affect that formula in a different way. We hope that the continued development in the area will organically foster a more family-living-friendly situation. Thanks for giving us some hope!

  5. I’ll just add that Catholic schools have been educating children in and around downtown San Antonio for over 100 years, and continue to provide excellence for children and families from all over, and not just Catholics. I may not live downtown, but I purposefully choose this option for my children. Yes, I want a Catholic education. But I also want to bust them out of their comfortable Northside bubble so they can grow and learn amid all the people and things that make our city so vibrant and wonderful. Great article, Moira and Bekah.

  6. We lived down the block from the train in Louisville, KY and the neighborhood was designated a no horn zone, which made all the difference. We came to love the sound of the train rolling down the tracks and miss it now.

  7. Those train horns drive me nuts, too. Sometimes they even sound spiteful, like the engineer is telling what he thinks of the Quiet Zone signs.

    Funny thing is, I spent most of the 90s living peacefully next to railroad tracks. That was back when engineers were given the freedom to sound the horn at their discretion, which they seemed to exercise prudently most of the time. Since 2005, though, they are required by law to sound them at each and every crossing they come upon, day or night, except when they are in quiet zones, which they only know about through signage that’s easily missed, I guess.

    On the upside, the trains will likely motivate me to eventually blow insulation into my walls to dampen the noise for my future progeny (knock wood).

  8. We live in Highland Park with our 3 1/2 month old. We love our neighborhood. Our home has a large porch instead of a large garage to great our friends and neighbors. We don’t have privacy fences and share a vegetable garden with our next door neighbor who also happens to pop in now and then to check on the baby and see if we need a break. I agree our school system is in desperate need of an overhaul and if we can’t afford private school, is the ONLY reason we’d consider moving.

  9. Thank you for writing this! We live in Midtown , have an 11 month old, and are committed. It’s hard! There’s a lot being produced by the “downtown hype machine” and not enough reality based conversations on where young families fit in the mix.

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