Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Case for a "family accessable" Downtown

So I live here, I love it, I see our city for all of it's beauty and use it for my everyday playground with my children. My values have lead me to live this life with my children while they are with me all day long. I see it as very very important that they know how to navigate a city, talk to strangers, and be near different types of people and feel at home. We, as a family, choose to live in the smallest footprint we can and waste as little as possible and a city, our city, has allowed us to live our values in a very real way. Our city is, in the words of our Mayor Becker: the cultural heart of the region, a crossroads of the west. And it is chuck full of amazing things for families to partake in. Our beautiful state has the distinction of taking 3 spots in the top 10 cities for most children per woman. We have large families and well, we seem to like it that way. I don't see this ending or changing much in the foreseeable future. So this begs the question: Why aren't we striving to be the absolute most child accessible city in America? You will notice that I did NOT say family friendly or family exclusive or overrun with out of control children. The term family accessible, since as far as I know I just coined it, means to be mindful that families with children will be consuming every aspect of the city and making it seamless to show up and have a good time. I am essentially talking about good usability from every person's point of view, including the youngest among us. Since I consider myself a "power user" to borrow a phrase from the technology world, I have to say that we have a long way to go. It seems that we are trying to deny who we are creating a great city for. We are, as Utahns, family oriented, honest, generous, creative, responsible, kind and industrious. It makes sense to me to have a downtown core that reflects this and is ever mindful of the people who are already here, not just those we hope to attract. Now. This is not, in my mind a call to make our cultural center look like all of the rest of the suburbs with strip malls and endless free mindless parking. That is not at all what I mean. What I do think would be amazing is to be a trend setter in the land of downtowns. Let's reflect, and serve, the people who live here and show the way for the way a city CAN be innovative in the way we treat our littles and the people who are caring for them all day. Case in point: remember when IKEA opened? Now THEY are a trend setter in the same way but with retail. They have found a way to support families and still be accessible to all ages. Now. If I had to pick a store that I wanted my city to be compared to it might be something more upscale I have to admit but that does not mean that we cannot take a page from IKEA's book. We could start small: how about making sure that all of our trains and buses are stroller accessible? As it stands you cannot ride a city bus with a stroller unless you fold it and carry it on. WHAT? who made this rule? They obviously either 1) never had children or 2) never used a stroller or 3) were purposely trying to dissuade mothers with children from riding. Which brings me to my next point: why are children required to pay a fare...ever? I think it is a no brainier for UTA to be grooming their next generation of riders by getting them on the train/bus/trolly at a young age and making them comfy. If they become lifelong riders the investment is miniscule. Courting their moms to bring them on by not torturing them and allowing them to be comfortable? A no brainier. Who exactly do we think are are going to be filling all of these transit lines we are building for the next generation if not the next generation of Utahns? Next up: Housing. 2-4 bedroom condos/townhouses should be the norm and somewhat affordable. Lots and Lots and LOTS of outside space for little ones is key. My kids and I walk/ride transit almost everywhere, 365 days a year. We use our car, on average, 1x a week. How many families can say that? It is healthy for us, we get exercise, there is no getting everyone in and out of carseats, if someone wants to nap or if the baby needs to nurse so be it! We just keep walking/shopping/visiting with neighbors or business owners that we see everywhere. We almost never have a plan for the day besides getting food to make for dinner, everything else is up to where the wind takes us. We have a blank slate of sorts when it comes to who we ultimately want to be as a downtown and I think it would be not only wise but so innovative to really strive to be the worlds most accessible downtown to kids. This doesn't mean that we have to exclusively cater to families, just be the very best at welcoming them. Afterall, this is Utah. We have kids. It is kind of our #1 export and we like it that way. What are your ideas for making Downtown SLC a place you would want to spend more time with your kids?