02 March 2009

Parents YP Cabinet Brainstorming

A guest blogger today. Lets try to give him some positive feedback:

First off I want to thank Mike for both the opportunity to provide this guest post and for doing the blog. As a relatively recent transplant to Cincy, a parent (1 + 1 on the way), and an urban planner, Citykin has become one of my regular reads.

My goal in posting is to tap into the experience and ideas of the Citykin’s readers. I am a new member of the Mayor’s Young Professional Kitchen Cabinet for 2009. Specifically, I’m on the Parents and Young Families Committee. If you’re not familiar, the overall goal of the YPKC is to attract and retain young professionals in Cincinnati and our committee is, obviously, targeted at, well, parents and young families. Other committees focus on specific topic areas (e.g., housing, education, arts and entertainment); ours cuts across many topics and we are allowed/encouraged to team up with the topic-specific committees if appropriate.

At this point, we're focused on identifying the key issues and brainstorming projects. I live in the city (Mt. Lookout) and have my own reasons for moving into the city. But I've also only lived here 2 years and can't say that I've had the opportunity (job and family) to explore the entire city and think about this issue in depth. I would like to make this opportunity as productive as possible and would like your help in brainstorming the key issues/projects that we should take on this year. Sooo…
-What do you think are the reasons young parents/families leave the city or are unwilling to consider moving to the city?

-What have been your pet peeves as a parent living in the city?

-Are there any city policies that, if changed, you think would improve the city’s attractiveness to young families?

-Any events that our committee could host or use to promote the city to young families?
Note that the YPKC is focused on the entire city (and beyond actually), so it’s not just about downtown. Also, note that we only have a year and have no money (unless we find it somewhere), so I’m not expecting to solve world hunger, so to speak. That said, we do have the ear of the Mayor and I believe that he truly wants us to provide him with new ideas.

So, please post any comments/suggestions here or you can email me directly at dprevost1@yahoo.com.

Thanks! Dan Prevost


Randy Simes said...

It seems that the perception of bad schools is a leading issue with families leaving the city. In reality there are many great schools within the city that parents can choose from, but many may not have the time or energy to do that research.

Maybe some sort of neighborhood by neighborhood school brochure could be put together highlighting the various options for those parents and their children. Both public and private schools should be included, with potential costs, distance from home and whether or not bus service is provided.

These brochures should then be distributed out to the different real estate companies serving the area so that they can be distributed. Community Councils could also take the lead when they organize home tour events like the ones in Downtown, OTR, Clifton and elsewhere.

CityKin said...

I totally agree Randy. When we were starting our family, schools were definitely a concern.

The thing that convinced us to stay, was seeing our friends children thrive in CPS. If I hadn't seen it firsthand, I might never have believed it. Back then we were always keeping the private school option open...and there are quite a few good private school options in the city too.

I also remember being concerned about finding friends for our kids, and not being comfortable enought to let them run around outside. But it turns out they have met many friends, both as neighbors and as schoolmates. They are now getting to the age where they can run to the neighbors house and play for an hour before supper.

Right now we have a son who is interested in building a treehouse or camp, and this may be a particular challenge in the city, but I have a few ideas up my sleeve for that..

Randy Simes said...

You know that makes me think of something else along these lines. Maybe there should be a time throughout the year that the schools have an open-house on a neighborhood level.

Once again, this could be choreographed with any home tours and marketed towards families. This would allow for them to not only get the nitty gritty details, but also see the facilities first-hand.

Heather said...

I had emailed my response to Dan directly, but since my response is similar to what Randy posted, I will include it below to be part of the wider discussion.

The biggest reason parents leave Cincinnati is the schools. The perception is that there are no good schools in Cincinnati. And those who know slightly more are fearful of the competition for limited spaces in the magnet schools. What needs to change? More or all of the neighborhood schools need to become like magnet schools (more montessori schools? more subject specialty schools? just expect more parent support/responsibility for kids?). My (albeit limited) experience with CPS leads me to believe that they rely on the excuse of having a large percentage of financially disadvantaged students as presenting an insurmountable hurdle for success - and this excuse was from a principal of one of Cincinnati's magnet schools!). CPS needs to rework the way it deals with magnet admissions. Sibling priority is understandable, however, the waiting in line is silly. The media plays this up on admission weekends and parents see how "hard" it is to get your kid a good education in the city. CPS is seen as having a few bright spots (magnet schools) but every other school is pretty much seen as a holding pen for young hoodlums.

This brings me to the second largest deterrent to young families: the perception of high crime rates within the city. This perception is not true for all parts of the city (although certainly true for some parts). What can the city do to confront the stereotype? Make the city safer as a whole. Continue to crack down on crime in a systematic way. And tell us about it. For example, getting rid of the gang in Northside: we heard about the initial bust and learned more would be coming (as they dealt with the juvenile system to get the younger gang members). Since the big bust there has been no word on further arrests. This gives the perception of an inadequate reaction. If there are further movements in such a round-up, the police department / city needs to be vocal about continuous progress made. A city that has a perception of being soft or slow with crime is automatically seen as anti-family.

The city has a lot going for young families. We utilize the museums, restaurants (we love taking our kids to restaurants that are accepting - It's Just Crepes downtown on Court St. even thinks of original crepes for our son - personal touches like this keep us loving the city), Findlay Market (the city should play up the better prices and fresh/local produce available as well as the family atmosphere here - even as relative newbies to Cincinnati, we almost always run in to people we know here and it makes us feel more a part of the city), etc. Weekends which highlight these institutions (such as the Fine Arts Sampler) are a good way to get families downtown. Another event which worked well was through the European-American Chamber of Commerce last spring. They held a downtwon architectural treasure hunt which drew more than a hundred people (many with strollers in hand - all with kids in tow) walking around downtown and learning about Cincinnati's history through the architecture. It was very fun and felt like an immediate community.

That is probably the bottom line: Cincinnati needs to help market the fact that the "big city" is filled with lots of smaller communities. Perhaps work with neighborhood councils to further this? Northside has events which are geared to showing families that Northside can be a great place to raise a family (the bi-annual home tour usually makes a point of having a couple families on the home tour to show that kids have a place in Northside, for example). Events which help build a sense of community help young families feel welcome and safer in their city.

Anonymous said...

I think the schools (especially the newly-built ones with great facilities) should make a real effort to get families with infants and toddlers inside their doors via playgroups, music classes, etc. Families who have been going to a building regularly can envision their children going to school there a lot more easily than families who have never set foot inside.

CityKin said...

^I think that is a good point. Many of the schools, expecially the Montessori programs, offer pre-school, and that is a great way to capture the kids early. I know we are taking advantage of this ourselves.

I remember that when these schools were being designed, there was a lot of talk about making them "community space" to be used for play groups, community councils and arts groups, but I never see that happening. The schools are strictly used for admitted students and even parents must get passes to enter.

CityKin said...

I also wanted to follow up on a few non-school ideas:

- I missed the treasure hunt that was held downtown last year, but it is a great idea, and my son and I would really like to participate in something like that.

- I don't think my kids have ever been on a boat on the river. Some excursions or ferrys would make a fun adventure. When they are older, I would like to even do canoeing on the river!

- I am always amazed at the hundreds of families that show up to our regular stomping grounds on the Arts Sampler weekend. These are great at showcasing all the arts stuff. We just need a way to get people to return on the days when admittance is not free!

- I really think that the Cincinnati Parks are an untapped resource. We spend a lot of time is some of the lesser known parks, and there is all kinds of nature education and fun that can be had in these somewhate urban parks. Unfortunately many of the trails are barely maintained, and some of the parks, like Mt Airy are so overrun with honeysuckle, the oaks and sycamores are being pushed out.

Anonymous said...

We have lived in downtown Cincy 3 1/2 of the last 5 years (with the break being a move to Kansas) - we lived in Mason a year before that - and in rural upstate NY several years before that. Our daughter is now 10 and proclaims often that downtown Cincinnati is her favorite place to live. We can walk to the (best!) library. We can walk or take a short bus ride to the museums, zoo, farmers' market, butcher, river, aquarium... It's much easier to take part in these things HERE than when we did live in Mason - everything was a hassle to get to - almost like having to plan a daytrip.

That said, there are downsides to downtown (which is the part of Cincy I'd know) - the biggest one I can think of is that the smoking ban in restaurants means that walking on the sidewalks is frequently walking through groups of smokers.

While we have chosen to e-school our daughter (and should that lose funding, we'd homeschool), the CPS school system is much better than the fears I think most parents think of with the "inner city schools" - in fact, some of the better schools for special needs (including giftedness) are in CPS. If they think that the suburban schools are a refuge from the problems, then they are only fooling themselves.

Unfortunately, as it applies to young families, I do need to mention that it's sometimes frightening and usually uncomfortable to deal with the issues of homelessness and panhandling. While I've never had trouble walking around Cincy with my daughter, I have had issues in other metro areas where I did fear for my daughter and myself.

It's hard to battle people's misconceptions - and I think that is the biggest hurdle.

DP said...

Great stuff! I realize there's a bit of "preaching to choir" here, but some of my thoughts have been similar to those expressed here, namely:
1. some of the "issues" are problems of perception, not reality.
2. that this is a city of neighborhoods and that each one is different (sadly, some are better than others for families).

I really like some of the ideas and will think about how best to translate them into YPKC projects. By all means, if you have more ideas/thoughts, keep them coming.

Randy Simes said...

How about some kind of family oriented social group. There is the popular Cincinnati Supper Club, why not do something similar for families where they meet up and go out on certain field trips together as planned by a different person on a monthly basis.

This would help to highlight the many family-friendly things to do in the area, and create a sense of belonging for those here, and a sense of place for newcomers.

Anonymous said...

The recreation commission programs are also an under appreciated resource that is in great jeopardy. A big strength of this city, IMO, is the number of public pools and rec centers. These are available for a nominal fee and include summer camps, art classes, karate, swim lessons, swim teams... the list is endless. The current director of the recreation commission is set on enacting a plan to eliminate pools and rec centers across the city and has been non-receptive to community input. If the city wants to retain and attract FAMILIES it needs to maintain the ammenities that serve families. The city needs to change its attitude and view existing infrastructure and programs as assets instead of liabilities.

Quimbob said...

"I remember that when these schools were being designed, there was a lot of talk about making them "community space" to be used for play groups, community councils and arts groups, but I never see that happening."
Public school teachers offered community classes through the school system up in Springfield some decades ago. Dunno how it was arranged but I was really hoping for something like that here.
It can be fun taking classes with your parents.
The activities and classes at the rec centers Catherine mentioned might be cool but the rec center people seem to do a lousy job of promoting them.

Unknown said...

Maybe others have had a different experience, but I have found that Walnut Hills has an outstanding reputation while the elementary and junior high schools aren't thought of very highly at all. Also, if you don't make the cut to get into Walnut Hills, your options become less than appealing. Essentially this amounts to the suburban districts being more of a safe bet, which is a real shame. I grew up in the area and don't have kids, but this is my sense of CPS.