06 December 2007

Urban Families Article in Seattle Paper

I was forwarded this Seattle Post-Intelligencer article by a reader:

...Despite the fact that Seattle gained few new traditional houses since 2000, the city's percentage of households with children went up between 2000 and 2005, while declining in the rest of King County...

Moms at the playground say they'd love to live in the urban core, but ...

..."We need guest rooms."

.... she'd need at least three bedrooms, and a nearby park and grocery store.

..."Most of them are no more than two bedrooms," she said. "Families really need three-plus bedrooms."

But Seattle Planning Director John Rahaim argued that families don't need a particular kind of home, they need a community around it. "It's having a school nearby and having kid-friendly open space nearby," he said.

Seattle Public Schools spokesman Peter Daniels said the district, however, should not be the one to take the leap of faith and build a school where there isn't demand.

"We just can't see the wisdom right now in doing something like that when we have other challenges and when the enrollment is just not there," he said.
Schmitz said the recent condo boom has not produced buildings that look like places where kids live.

"We're talking about numbers of bedrooms, that kind of thing," she said. "Families have different kinds of space needs."

She also noted the lack of a playground south of Cascade Playground. "If I had a kid, where would I go? We have a playground on the roof because there's no park here close enough."

Daniels suggested that one answer could be a partnership between the city and developers to make building family-friendly apartments and condos worthwhile in the future.

But for now, the size, amenities and marketing of apartments and condos tend to focus on young professionals and empty-nesters, rather than families. A Vulcan billboard across the street from the company's South Lake Union "Discovery Center," for instance, proclaims, "The patter of little feet sounds great on hardwoods."

The accompanying picture? A young man with his dog.

Ada Healey, Vulcan's vice president of real estate, acknowledged her company was not building for families with children.

"We're kind of waiting for the demand to materialize to support larger units," she said. "We would love to deliver product for families. One of the challenges families have in the center city is, where are the schools?"

Denny Onslow, chief development officer for Harbor Properties, agreed that the lack of a school was the biggest barrier to demand from families.
House culture?

Ellen Parker and Jason Staczek love living in their three-story condo, just up the hill from the stores and restaurants of Fremont. But, with their baby daughter getting older, they're moving to 10 acres on Vashon Island.

Yes, Fremont has parks and a school. The problem, Parker said, is that her home has no yard and too many stairs.

"It's not the best place for a baby who's beginning to crawl," Parker said at an open house last month.

Anyway, most parents in the condo complex end up leaving, Parker said. "The trend is, people have a kid and they move out within a year."

"Most of our friends just move to Ballard and get a yard," she said. "We don't want to reach out our window and touch our neighbor's house anymore."

Daniels, of the Seattle Public Schools, said Seattle families just haven't accepted the idea of raising children in apartments and condos. He said the district has lost enrollment to suburbs where families can afford a house with a yard.
It also may be that many head to the suburbs with their children simply because that's where they were raised.

"City living's a lot different," Harbor Properties President and Chief Executive Douglas Daley said. "If you grew up that way, I guess you're used to it."
Quotes from existing city parents:
"It's just an easier lifestyle," she said. "And there's more time."
"About 90 percent of them go, 'What are you thinking?' " he said. "The other 10 percent say, 'Oh, I've always wanted to do that.' "
"Unless you've grown up in a place where you can envision community life in the city, it just feels foreign," she said. "I think it's the kind of thing that once you see it, you go, 'I get it and I want that.' "

She's also working on other steps, including a playground in Denny Park.

Downtown "doesn't just call out to families," she said. "But I think it will, and I'm committed to making it happen."

One thing that jumps out at me in the article is the differences and similarities in the comments you hear in Cincinnati. First, there are the same requests for a grocery store that we continually hear. However, their concern about schools is less about the quality of the schools, which is the concern we always hear, but that there are none in the area. That is certainly not the case in Cincinnati, where we have many school choices in the immediate area, including the SCPA which will be K-12 when it relocates.


Beach said...

A streetcar to the new riverfront park will make bringing our son down to the park to play much easier. I know that you use Washington Park, but my wife still feels unconfortable going there. Perhaps that will change soon too.

CityKin said...

A very small park is all that is needed most days. Sometimes just a walk to Piatt park and a little running around and playing in the dirt is all they need. Of course on weekends or summer days we also prefer to go to the Riverfront, but you are right, that is not very convenient to walk for most of us today, as it can take me an hour to walk to the river with the kids.

I think the whole point of streetcars as opposed to other transit is to make walking more common and to make the entire basin easily walkable. I also like the idea of being able to roll our bikes onto the cars so that we can get to the bike trail.