In the nearly six years I’ve lived in New York City, I’ve never come around on one question that’s been posed by out-of-towners: “would you ever raise children here?” The answer, plain and simply, has always been no. For me, I think it’s more of a personal preference to raise children in a place more like the one I grew up in: an idyllic community of gridded streets, sidewalks, front lawns, and picket fences in a depression-era development that was walkable to schools, parks, shops, and transit lines. It’s not quite suburban, but also not quite urban. (Coincidentally, this is not much unlike many parts of Brooklyn where many young New York families call home.) Over time, though, I’ve come to understand why parents believe cities like New York are the right place to raise kids. It’s not to over-expose them to reality or to develop an immunity to close contact… it’s because in many people’s eyes, it’s just right.
Traditionally, neighborhoods like the Upper West and Upper East Sides have been havens for yuppie parents and their small children, but that trend has now spread to other “hipper” neighborhoods. Brooklyn’s Park Slope has become the target of ire for those who wonder why over-protective parents would even try to raise their kids in a city the size of New York. Other Brooklyn neighborhoods are becoming rich in the kid culture, but no place is it more pronounced than Park Slope. After all, there are few other places where New Yorkers can find coffee shops, bookstores, wine shops, and even bars that accommodate children. Fast-paced New York pedestrians could very well pop a vein in their forehead just thinking about double-wide strollers that parents push along Park Slope’s narrow sidewalks. The single, childless population of New York often asks out loud: why don’t they just move to the suburbs?
The parents must know better. While New York City is an expensive place to raise children, it’s also a very unique and socializing environment. The street grid and dense population allows for a more social atmosphere, especially among the brownstone-lined streets of Park Slope. Parents gather at these neighborhood shops and cafes with their children, exposing children to a variety of human contact at an early age. Even an armchair sociologist could imagine that having an actual human being as a friend in childhood is a more positive than befriending a Teletubby. In the city, these centers of socialization are just a short walk from the front door. In the suburbs, the nearest neighbor may not even be at a walkable distance. The nearest child of similar age could be even further. The suburbs are the antithesis of a socialable environment.
The foes of Park Slope parents claim that children – and their parents’ double-wide strollers – need more space. They imagine that children should be raised with a big backyard on a quiet dead-end street in a sprawling neighborhood. It’s a fair assessment to anyone who was raised in that environment. The children of New York City know better: living in cramped city spaces is a part of their life experience. And just because their apartments are cramped doesn’t mean their lifestyles are. After all, Brooklyn’s largest city park, Prospect Park, is just blocks away from Park Slope. On any sunny weekday, thousands of parents and their children descend upon the park from neighborhoods across Brooklyn. Prospect Park’s Long Meadow is larger than any reasonably affordable backyard in the suburbs. Through the Prospect Park Alliance and the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, programs and volunteer opportunities build skills, social networks, and a community identity. This isn’t something you can find in the backyard of a McMansion.
One more argument that permeates the ongoing battle between Hipsters and Parents is the absurdity that, somehow, raising children in the city is akin to torture. For someone raised in the suburbs, it’s not hard to imagine that all children should cherish their sheltered childhood. But with a strong parental support structure, city children are well-adjusted. How can parents support their children most? Simply by being there. In the suburbs, a parent is more likely to work a great distance from home. A commute from a Lower Manhattan office to a Fairfield County home could take an hour and a half, even during rush hour. The commute from that same office to Park Slope is twenty minutes. That’s the equivalent of three weeks of time that wasted in transit each year. That’s three weeks that parents could better spend with their children. Let’s be honest – the way Park Slope parents coddle their children, that’s just the way they would want it.
Maybe we should give treat these often-despised city moms and dads with a bit less ire. They’re doing the right thing for their children by raising them in a supportive and vibrant community. Cities are supposed to be “young and active” – terms that are not exclusively defined by products of the suburbs that settle in New York after college. The density, walkability, and proximity of these neighborhoods make them perfect places for children. Sure, these concepts of an ideal community may be foreign to the children of the suburbs, but they’re not lost on the parents of New York’s newest generation. The city is meant for children – double-wide strollers be damned.