Raise Your Kids Downtown? Meet Two Families With Advice

by Borderstan.com October 10, 2011 at 1:40 pm 3,537 9 Comments

"Borderstan" "Borderstan Families", Logan Circle, Borderstan,

Raising kids in the neighborhood. From left: Bryan, Cristina, Brendan, Jim and Kathy. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Ashley Lusk. Check out Ashley’s blog Metropoetrylis and find her on Twitter at @arlusk. You can email her at [email protected]

Author’s note: The streets of the Dupont-Logan-U Street area teem with 20- and 30-something professionals. Many are recent graduates or have moved to DC to accept a new job. The Borderstan area has always had a lot of young people, and it is this demographic that is driving much of the neighborhood’s population growth today.

But you have probably noticed something else in the last five-or-so years in the neighborhood: more baby strollers and more toddlers. A decade ago, when parenthood approached, it was almost a given that these not-so-longtime residents would leave for the Maryland and Virginia suburbs (or the outer neighborhoods of DC, at the very least). These were people with the means to pack up and move — for a house with a yard, better public schools, safer streets — and for decades leave is exactly what they did. Those with fewer options stayed put, as they always had.

Today the once automatic flight to the suburbs has slowed, with more middle class parents choosing to stay and raise their children in the DC — right here in our neighborhood. We talked to two couples with kids who represent each end of the spectrum: one couple moved to the city in the late 1970s and then stayed to raise their children in the neighborhood; the second couple bought a house in the neighborhood a decade ago as the area was beginning to change.

Jim and Kathy, and Bryan and Cristina, are parents who have stuck around to explain what life looks like on the other side of adulthood — they are parents. Jim and Kathy are new empty-nesters while Bryan and Cristina have a son in primary school. We sat down with them to discuss stereotypes about urban living, public schools and the seemingly paradoxical nature of an urban community. It is important to point out that we realize these are two couples with the resources and education that many of our neighbors only dream about having — which gave them more options when it came to raising kids in the city — a fact they all recognize.

Part 2: Tomorrow, we’ll share more of our conversation from these DC families as we discuss DC Public Schools, perceptions of life outside the District and the best teenage hangouts.

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Jim and Kathy have been living in the District on and off since 1979, and they chose Dupont-Logan as the place to raise their kids, Matt and Jennie. Their kids are young adults now –Matt is at University of Miami studying public policy; Jennie is completing her master’s degree in French Literature at the American University of Paris.

Bryan and Cristina have been living in the District since the late 1990s and have an articulate six-year-old named Brendan; they live near the U Street corridor.

We start the conversation talking about the neighborhoods their kids know as home: Cristina and Bryan are homeowners in Harrison Square and they admit that the neighborhood was on the edge of changing even more, but at the time they bought it, things were still unsure.

“We were willing to assume the risk that [the green line] was a magnet for something,” said Cristina. “And if it wasn’t, we were still on the Green line.”

Jim and Kathy, who live on Corcoran Street NW, knew initial risks were involved in their neighborhood, but were undaunted. “It was pre-crack, more heroin,” said Jim. “We’d find syringes in the parking lot. At that point there was only Connecticut Avenue [as a place to go].”

Here’s what the two couples have to say about raising kids downtown.

Lusk: With neighborhoods still in the throes of development, any thoughts about moving to the suburbs when kids came into the picture?

  • “No,” Cristina said firmly, and the others agree.

Lusk: So what do you give up by living in DC? What do you gain?

  • Cristina: We give up a yard; we can’t have a big dog. And if that’s the only thing I’m giving up…
  • Bryan: Right, but Brendan has gotten to go to more baseball games, museums; his [out-of-town] cousin’s get to do those things once a year– for our kid that’s a Sunday afternoon.
  • Jim: I guess you do give up a little safety.
  • Bryan: [But] the suburbs are just as messed up.
  • Kathy: You gain something in terms of your teenage children — you gain that they are not driving. They’re taking public transportation.
  • Cristina: I think you do give up a lot of phobias; we have so much in diversity — Brendan sees it when we ride the city bus. He’s seen things at age 6 that [kids] much older have no idea about. I think he’ll handle things differently when he gets older.
  • “Brendan knows the train, the bus. He’s hailing taxis for us now,” laughs Bryan.
  • Kathy: I feel like [urban] kids have a broader view. They see a lot of the real world now and not later when they are [done with college].

Lusk: And is there an age when you felt safe letting your kids ride the Metro alone?

  • “8th Grade,” said Kathy, firmly.

Lusk: What kid-friendly hotspots in DC do you recommend?

  • Jim: I think our kids had sophisticated tastes, [so we didn’t look for kid-specific locations].
  • Kathy: We used the parks a lot when they were little.
  • Jim: DC has great green space.
  • Cristina: The National Building Museum is unbelievably kid-friendly and it manages to be kid-friendly without being unwelcoming to adults. The Portrait Gallery is really kid-friendly–the indoor atrium is a really great space for kids. They have a scavenger hunt you can do with the portraits.
  • Kathy: We hiked on Rock Creek Park, Roosevelt Island.
  • Cristinia: DC has really made an effort to revitalize the library. We go to the library almost every week.

Lusk: People assume that people who live in a city don’t have access to the same sense of community that one might in the suburbs. True?

  • Cristina: [The staff at Home Rule] all watched Brendan grow up and they know him at Yes! Organic. They all know him at Ben’s [Chili Bowl].
  • Bryan: Brendan, what do you get at Ben’s when you order?
  • Brendan: Cheese fries, a milkshake.
  • Bryan: Who makes it for you?
  • Brendan: Jay.
  • Bryan: The neighborhood is a community within a community. We know a lot of people in the neighborhood and when Brendan is older and maybe out in the alley doing something he shouldn’t, we would find out as our neighbors would tell us.
  • Kathy: When I walk to Safeway or to Whole Foods, I very often run into someone that I know on the street, and spend some time chatting. It’s a nice feeling of community.
Tomorrow: Part 2.

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