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Raise Your Kids Downtown? Meet Two Families With Advice

by Borderstan.com October 10, 2011 at 1:40 pm 1,599 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.

Comments (9)

  1. Oh, thank you for this article! I’m expecting my first lil, and we are desperate to stay in the city – this makes it seem so much more manageable. Now about those real estate prices…

  2. What a great discussion to have! I moved to the Logan Circle area in 1998 as a single woman and am now married with a 5 year son and a 3 year old daughter. There are certainly clear advantages to staying and several of them have been mentioned here. However, the single most important issue and a remaining impediment is the schools. I’ll be very interested to hear how these couples are navigating that issue.

    If this neighborhood is to be capable of retaining families, the quality of neighborhood schools MUST substantially improve. As schools with well-established track records of solid performance fill up with in-boundary students, the slots available for out of boundary kids like mine are disappearing. The same is true of the good charters. More and more parents are interested in staying but there is no escaping the school issue. Our neighborhood DCPS schools have something to offer that private schools and charters can never offer: a connection to the neighborhood and guaranteed admission from K to 12. It behooves us all to work to improve our neighborhood DCPS schools.

  3. I think it’s healthy to have more families in the neighborhood. I like to live in a place that is diverse in all ways. And I got tired of watching my friends move away when the kids came.

  4. This article makes no sense. What substantiates the author’s presumption that there is a trend of families choosing not to move from the suburbs after beginning a family? Without this, the foundation of the article is little more than a baseless assumption deducted from the personal experience of the article. That would make this article completely pointless. There’s no depth here. I feel like I just wasted part of my day reading this.

  5. Spend some time in this part of DC and you would understand exactly what the author is talking about. Do you live in the area? As the editor, I stand by Ashley’s article. I have lived in this part of DC for close to two decades. The change has been observed by myself and many others.

  6. Although the content in this article is related anecdotally, there is plenty of research about the “white flight” to the suburbs, as well as the present resurgence of urban interest and growth among whites, concurrent with a shift to the suburbs for many African Americans.

    Here are just a few quick reads in popular lit on the topic, some that specifically relate to DC.
    http://blogs.wsj.com/juggle/2010/05/11/bright-flight-affluent-leaving-suburbs-moving-to-cities/
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/03/the-next-slum/6653/
    http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2011/0325_census_demographics_frey.aspx

  7. Great to see this featured on Borderstan! We have lived on Corcoran since 1994 and are raising two 11 year boy twins. What do we give up living here? Traffic on all roads in the suburbs! Ever tried navigating Rockville Pike on a Saturday or Lee Highway in Fairfax on a Sunday! Our kids love the diversity. We lament that all of the Urban Moms who we shared pre-school and play dates with 10 years ago made different choices and moved away. Walking to work (or to our clients) can’t be beat. As for schools, we chose Catholic schools over local DCPS options. Our own preference, but we still support Ross. I grew up in the inner city and think it provides a different perspective on life. Ofcourse, a visit to a friend with a large yard is always a great treat. So is a trip out of town to expose children to a broader world. I am a Borderstan fan!

  8. My husband and I have been considering a move to the burbs for a while now, and several months ago finally pinpointed where we were going to build a house out in Maryland.

    Then last week somehow the remorse hit, and we started to get creative on how to stay in the city if/when the kids come. We decided to definitely stay and are now trying to figure out how. Financially it can be a killer to try to get as much space as you need, especially in a neighborhood like Dupont where we are, but, disrupting our lives (and our dogs, who I swear love it here too) is just too much to fathom. Besides, I grew up on the cusp of NYC and spent a lot of time there as a kid. It really does shape you in a much different way than living in insulated suburbs.

    So, as of last week, we are staying as well!

  9. Woo-hoo! Glad to hear it.

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