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Life Downtown with Three Kids

By David Kennedy
Published: Sunday, August 06, 2006, at 01:56PM

My wife and I have three kids: a three-year old girl and two five month-old boys. We live on Broadway (in a space I'm forced to admit is a loft). I moved downtown back in the late 90s. My wife has always lived here.

People often ask us about living downtown with three kids. The assumption is it is pretty unusual. I think we're a pretty ordinary middle-class family plugging away. To us, there is nothing unusual about living here with our children. My wife grew up in Pico Union, so for her, downtown is perfectly normal. However, the notion that children ought to live in suburbia paradigm is widely shared by most people, regardless of their background.

For us, living here makes complete sense. We were perfecty happy here before they arrived. And now, we've found downtown is a great place to live with young children. We've been fortunate to find various kid-related services. We've got an excellent pediatrician, Dr. Nakashima, in Little Tokyo. My wife found an excellent daycare available at Union Station, courtesy of the MTA. There is a superb store for all kinds of kid gear like strollers, bouncers, furniture and such things out at Western & Wilshire. (I'm blanking on the name.) As I've mentioned previously, we've got a super neighborhood park, Grand Hope, located within walking distance. There is plenty of excellent shopping within walking distance at Macy's, 7th & Fig, along Broadway, and in the Toy and Fashion districts. With Grand Central Market just up the street, it is easy to just pick-up some things for dinner. All of these ammenities make life with kids feasible. But, none of these places is particularly unique to downtown. I'm sure we could find similar places to live offering these kinds of ammenities.

What we both enjoy so much about living downtown with young children is the urban fabric. The fact we live in a walkable environment is a great boon. For the uninitiated, modern childrearing involves an incredible amount of stuff: strollers, carriers, diaper bags, bottles, formula, cribs, playpens, redundant clothing, high chairs, ad nauseum (literally). I had to actually buy a new car once I found out I was having twins. Going anywhere with your kids in the car is a hassle. So anytime we can get things done without getting in the car is wonderful. In downtown, we can do so much simply by walking out our front door.

Also, the fact downtown is the hub of the regional transit system is another great boon. My wife and I have only one car. Getting to the pediatrician or daycare is all possible on either the Dash or Rapid buses. My wife's second pregnancy was very complicated and she had to visit her OB/GYN every week. The Red Line made it very easy for her to drop off our daughter at daycare and head up to Hollywood to see him.

For me, the density of downtown was really useful. With babies, to ward off cabin fever, it is nice to take them for a walk each day. In downtown, our walking options are endless. Let's head over to the Fashion District today. Tomorrow, Disney Hall. The next day, the Central Library. Or just jump on the Red, Blue or Gold Lines.

The only thing which seems truly lacking downtown is a late-night grocery store or pharmacy. Despite our best efforts to always be prepared, occasionally a midnight run for something is necessary. When that happens, I have to haul out to Vermont to Vons or Walgreen's. With a Ralphs slated to open in 2007, hopefully, this service will be available.

The challenge of living downtown with kids will be in the long-run. As our kids grow older, finding suitable housing and good schools will be very important to us as parents. Unfortunately, people like us are invisible to policy makers. One of the operative assumptions of downtown development is that it is a kid-free zone. Except for some cultural enrichment activities at the various arts venues, it is assumed middle-class parents won't raise their children here. All kinds of policy decisions regarding skid row flow from this assumption. So all the housing which is available or being built is designed for young, affluent singles or empty nesters. I don't see any plans for townhomes or other types of housing for young families. As for schools, I am totally skeptical of L.A. Unified. With its entrenched union politics and byzantine organization, I'm assuming private school is the future. My wife can personally vouch for the mediocrity of the system. Time will tell on these two issues. In the meantime, we've got our hands full.

Still, one has to wonder about the priorities of municipal policy makers. Given the success of downtown revitalization, it seems inevitable that people will move downtown, meet, get married and start families. The question for the long-term will be if these young families end up moving elsewhere as their children age. It seems like an opportunity for the city.


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