Kid-Friendly Urban Neighborhoods

Friday morning while Laura and I rode to the farmer’s market, we temporarily got stuck in a bicycle traffic jam. I pulled out my camera, though by the time I took the picture we were mostly clear of the other cyclists.

The front end of a bicycle traffic jam on Center Street. I’ve never been happier to be slowed down by traffic.

As this picture obviously shows, many of the other cyclists we passed were children. The experience made me especially grateful that Center Street has bike lanes and low speed limits.

It also reminded me of Brent Toderian’s recent piece for Planetizen. In the article, Toderian tackles the misconception that families can’t, don’t, or won’t live in dense urban areas. Specifically, he argues that if there are no families in an urban area, the area has problems:

To elaborate, if there are no kids downtown, or in any inner-city neighbourhood, there’s probably a good reason. There’s likely something wrong or missing in the community, since families are a natural human condition.

Provo is less dense and characteristically “urban” than the downtowns Toderian mentions, but the point still applies; I routinely hear people say or imply that families need sprawling, suburban style properties. In fact, I suspect that cultural predilection for suburban design and misguided prejudice against city forms is a major stumbling block for Provo.

Toderian goes on to make an important point: families will live in city downtowns if those areas are simply designed for them. That includes schools, playgrounds, child care, dwellings with space for a family, etc. And getting families into downtowns is important.

[Families are] a big part of complete, mixed, vibrant and lively downtown neighbourhoods. Singles, seniors and couples downtown may be great, but kids and baby-strollers make communities more real, more human. They also support a broader local economy, and make the community safer.

Ultimately and applied to medium-sized cities like Provo, then, Toderian’s thesis suggests that families can live in dense urban areas but that design is key to attracting them.

This playground is located in a very dense, urban area of Madrid. It’s also very well-used, suggesting that this Spanish city has figured out a way to get people to live in downtown areas.

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Filed under Development, Downtown

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