Tag Archives: city living

Raise your kids in the city

It’s a familiar story. Twenty-somethings enjoy living downtown. Then they have kids. After a couple of years they depart for the suburbs. They have good reasons. The schools are often better. The housing is cheaper. There is more space.
Common practices and policies make it hard for families to stay in downtown Boston. Few new condominiums have more than two bedrooms, and those are pricey. When these buildings were built, the idea was that singles and couples would be most interested. But this is circular reasoning. If you don’t build three- and four-bedroom units, families can’t be interested.
The same kind of reasoning afflicts the school department. Officials have been reluctant to create new downtown schools, claiming too many downtown kids go to private schools. But without enough spaces in the downtown schools, parents who want to stay have no other choice.
The numbers show the situation. Boston as a whole had 13,000 fewer kids in 2010 than it did in 2000, but downtown was different. The number of children in most neighborhoods increased slightly, said BPDA spokesperson Bonnie McGilpin in an email. But the kid population is still only four to six percent. In Chinatown and Charlestown, children comprised 11 and 16 percent of the population respectively, but that was a decline from the year 2000. Whether the trends hold seven years later is unclear, McGilpin said, since the interim estimates have a large margin of error when the numbers are small.
No matter what the numbers, those who have raised children in the city believe they have benefitted and so have their kids, who have enjoyed experiences and gained skills rare in their suburban counterparts.
Most city parents work downtown as well as live here, so they don’t face long commutes that keep them away from their families. That’s the first benefit.
City kids are independent and self-confident. All the parents said that. Children learn early to stop at the curb and not go into the street. They walk to friends’ houses. They know how to get to the shops, find the parks and ride the T alone at an early age. They don’t have to depend on grownups to drive them. Many downtown neighborhoods have village-like atmospheres in which children are safe.
Terry told a story. “Once when I was up on a ladder, fixing something electric, I sent seven-year-old Eve to the hardware store for a part.
“She did it, but was distinctly inconvenienced. Reportedly she said to the owner, ‘My mom drives me crazy.’ He leaned over the counter and agreed, ‘Yes, she drives me crazy too.’ ”
All the downtown neighborhoods have good parks and play grounds and many of those parks have lawns, mowed by other people, said Katharine. Remarkably, in those parks you’ll find children of every color, even though downtown residents are thought to be mostly white.
The mix is a benefit of downtown child-raising that Bob cited. On the T, on the sidewalks, in the parks—everywhere there are people unlike yourself. Living among diversity becomes familiar, not scary, as we have unfortunately learned it is in some places.
It’s easy to go on child-friendly outings, with museums, the TD Garden and Fenway Park an easy walk or T ride.
The paucity of downtown public schools and the fear about the enrollment process continue to push parents out of the city. But Bruce, whose kids are in the public schools, said the Eliot in the North End, the Quincy in Chinatown and the Warren Prescott in Charlestown, all with good reputations, attract more downtown residents than they used to. He said a parents group will offer public panel discussions about the schools soon, although a date has not been set.
Nick, who was raised in the North End, raised his five children there also. While prices downtown are high now, they were also high many years ago in comparison with outlying places. So he got creative. He bought an old warehouse and converted it into apartments, installing his family in the largest one.
We did something similar. We bought a tenement building and lived on two floors, three floors and four floors as our children grew. Our tenants helped pay our mortgage. Now we’re back to three floors. Examples like these show you don’t have to wait for a single family house or a developer’s condominium to solve your problem.
Nick reiterated what other parents have said—that his kids learned to navigate Boston to take advantage of the rich experiences Boston offers, richer than these parents believe they would encounter in the suburbs.
Proof came from his children’s suburban friends. “When school friends visited they gushed over how much fun it was living in Boston,” he said.
A bonus for our family was that our daughters’ suburban friends spent most weekend nights with us. They were on the safe subway instead of cruising around the drunk drivers on Rte. 128.
If you’re considering staying in the city with your children, you’ll have lots of support. Some parents I interviewed said they’d be happy to talk with readers who want to do so, but are still wary. Email me at Karen@bostoncolumn.com and I’ll set you up with them.

Red Sox downtown nation

Here’s how most of us did Saturday.

We watched on television the rolling rally as it headed toward our neck of the woods. Then, about 10 minutes or so before it was near us we left our houses, apartments and condominiums and streamed with dozens of neighbors toward Boylston or Tremont or Cambridge streets or over to the river to see the Red Sox in all their glory.

It was quite a scene. Everyone had on Red Sox gear. A few fans held signs: “Papi for Mayor.” Guys held their girls on their shoulders so the ladies could see over the crowd. Pieces of red, white and blue paper, designed to float as long as possible in the air, poured from confetti cannons. Near us a man, apparently having fled from Mass General in time to see the team creep by, was decked out in his hospital johnny, which was flapping over his bare backside.

Helicopters buzzed, whirred, throbbed and chopped overhead, and at least two airplanes pulled banners. The crowd blew horns, clapped and cheered. We’re in this together in our joy at our team’s success, even if we aren’t die-hard fans. Our city is cool. Our city is a winner.

And all we had to do in the area of this newspaper’s readership was to walk out the door and over a few blocks. When we live downtown, coming together is easy. Continue reading

The challenges of housing

Mayor Menino has set a goal of building 30,000 more units of housing by 2020, even though he won’t be mayor for most of that time. Governor Patrick set a goal last year of building 10,000 new units of multi-family housing during the same time period.

So Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School and the Greater Boston Real Estate Board sponsored a forum last week to discuss the problems and possibilities for achieving such goals. Panelists were attorney, author and former city councilor Larry DiCara, Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey, journalist Paul McMorrow, and real estate developer Ted Tye of National Development.

They were in awe of how Boston had changed since 1959 when writer Elizabeth Hardwick described Boston as an old lady—“wrinkled, spindly-legged, depleted of nearly all her spiritual and cutaneous oils, provincial, self-esteeming.” Hardwick wasn’t finished with her diatribe. She went on to declare that the city was exhausted under “the weight of the Boston legend, the tedium of its largely fraudulent poster of traditionalism,” and that its was a “culture that hasn’t been alive for a long time.”

Boston is no longer exhausted or depleted. It now has new legends—it still claims to be the hub of the universe, but its expertise now is in education, health, science, technology and finance, not in railroads and textiles. History is still a source of pride but it no longer triumphs over contemporary life. The city’s culture has been reinvigorated. People young and old want to live in Boston. Continue reading