Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is Uptown a Good Place to Raise Children?

There seem to be a lot of divergent ideas as to whether or not Uptown is a family-friendly (as in families with kids) kind of place. Some say it is, others say it isn’t; others say it was but isn’t now, while some say it is now but wasn’t in the past. Is Uptown a good place to raise children? What does it currently offer families, and what is it missing?

I grew up in Uptown, so I’m admittedly biased. I think it was - and is - a great place for kids, and hope to raise my own children here. That doesn't mean that it’s perfect, or that there isn’t room for improvement. I do think, however, that the same things that make it attractive to many adults -an urban lifestyle that doesn't require a car, interesting things to see and do, the lakes, attractive homes of different styles, etc. - are also relevant to families with children.

Top Five Benefits for Uptown-area Families
  1. The Lakes. Everyone loves the lakes, but anyone with children can attest to the fact that they need a lot of time to run around outdoors. Living near the lakes means long leisurely stroller rides, visits to the beaches, opportunities to look for turtles and watch ducks, access to bike trails, the Tot Lot, canoe and kayak rentals, readily available ice cream cones, and winter ice skating. In short, there’s stuff to do for kids of all ages, with or without their parents.
  2. There are recreational opportunities (beyond the lakes). Uptown has several city parks, the YWCA, and the Walker Library. They all offer stuff to do, both of the formal and the informal variety.
  3. It’s safe. Sure, Uptown sometimes has its problems, but for the most part it’s a safe place to live. Crime is relatively low, the streets have sidewalks, and most kids have safe access to outdoor play space of some sort.
  4. There are other kids in the neighborhood, too. There aren’t as many kids here as in some city neighborhoods, but there are still enough that parents with kids won’t feel like rare exotic creatures living in a landscape void of sippy cups or big wheels.
  5. It’s a compact place with plenty of stores and public transportation. Who wants to stick their kid in a car seat just to trek to the grocery store? I certainly don’t. At least here you have the option of walking to pretty much everywhere you need to go: grocery store, playground, nursery school, elementary school, lakes, doctors, shops (including places like the Shoe Zoo, which is about as family-friendly as it gets). And when you don’t feel like walking there is always the bus (and I hope eventually a light rail line). For parents of older kids this means that you don’t have to shuttle your teenager around – they know how to read a bus schedule, right?

Some Suggestions for Improvement

  1. More diversity would be nice. Uptown is a pretty white place. Both Uptown-adjacent neighborhoods Lyndale and Whittier offer far more ethnic diversity. At least Uptown has a lot of gay and lesbian parents; diversity of family types is a good thing, too.
  2. More affordable housing. Houses in Uptown are expensive, and families looking to buy often go elsewhere. There are larger duplexes and apartments available for families needing multiple bedrooms, but those can be expensive. There’s also more of a stigma against the idea of renting here (in Minneapolis) than in many other cities, I think, with the result that some families may feel socially pressured into buying elsewhere immediately rather than renting in Uptown.
  3. More family-oriented stores. I’d really like to see another toy store in Uptown. Local kids could buy things with their allowance, while the neighborhood’s many parents grandparents (and uncles, aunts, family friends, etc.) could pick up the latest educational organic handmade gizmo guaranteed to turn their beloved child/grandchild into an artistic, athletic, and academic genius. I’d also like to see a basic thrift shop – something along the lines of a Salvation Army or Goodwill – where parents could inexpensively outfit their kids. And, while I’m sure some parents and dentists don’t agree, a fun, child-focused candy store could be a fun addition to the neighborhood.
  4. The school/neighborhood links could be strengthened. The Wedge and East Isles neighborhoods probably feel pretty connected to Jefferson and Kenwood Schools (and maybe Whittier, too, to some extent), but ECCO and CARAG don’t have a regular school within their neighborhood limits. And forget about local junior highs or high school – they’re located elsewhere. The realities of modern life in Minneapolis, or in Uptown, at least, is that, for better or for worse, there are no true “community” schools in the traditional sense of the word.

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