In my experience, there seems to be a perceived child-unfriendliness when people think about city centres. They are traffic-heavy, noisy, concrete jungles without green space or room for typical single family-dwellings. People who live downtown don’t have backyards and parking can be a hassle. The prevalence of mental health issues like homelessness and addiction contribute to a sense of vulnerability in the core, and so, many people worry about exposing their children to those hardships. It’s these experiences, though, that have fostered an altruism in my children that I believe may not have otherwise developed until much later in life.
Visiting some of our neighbourhood amenities might mean a scheduled day trip for someone living in the suburbs, while our memberships and proximity allow us virtually unlimited access to these hotspots. My kids love that we can make impromptu trips to the AGA, and I love that they can, quite literally, play with art in the BMO World of Creativity exhibit. When we want brunch on Sunday, we have everything from a simple Chai at Remedy to a posh meal at the Hotel MacDonald to choose from, and we don’t even have to get into the car. Because we don’t have a yard to play in, we’re down at the Legislature Grounds all the time with a frisbee or a ball and baseball gloves – and the kids’ absolute favourite activity this summer was riding their bikes through the lit fountains at dusk. We are even lucky enough to have a swimming pool on the basement level of our condo building. How fun is growing up with your own pool?!
The Downtown Edmonton Community League (DECL) supports families in the core through the Urban Kids program. Myself and other parents downtown share the responsibilities of hosting a weekly playgroup for parents and preschoolers on Monday mornings, and an inclusive Family Night on the third Friday of every month. Several children downtown make up a committee that meets regularly to discuss and plan events for our Family Night program. The kids carry out all of the involved tasks for their conceptions: brainstorming, creating and distributing advertisements, and even recruiting downtown businesses as snack sponsors. It’s a wonderful initiative that teaches them how to lead and be the change they want to see. About a month after we moved into our condo, we asked the girls what their favourite parts of our new neighbourhood were. Some of their answers were things most kids love about where they live – things like “Our friends!” and “Bike rides!”- but there were also things like “It doesn’t take a long time to get anywhere” and “We don’t have to drive very often.” When we asked about the worst part, my youngest simply replied “That’s hard.”
There is an incredibly vibrant and diverse (albeit small) community for families in downtown Edmonton, but as with anything, it doesn’t come without drawbacks. When my children get loud and stir crazy I can’t send them out into the yard or the cul-de-sac to ride bikes. When we go to parks or playgrounds, it’s not always safe to take off our shoes and wiggle our toes in the grass. The truth is that there are always trade-offs when making the choice about where to raise little ones, and while the above concerns remain, there are so many advantages to living centrally for families. Neither central nor suburb is better than the other, but the idea that downtown isn’t for kids is a folk tale, and our reality is – at least for me – the validation.
Julie Farrell lives with her two daughters, wife, and dog in a downtown Edmonton condo. She is an advocate for community enhancement and children’s mental health. Julie also blogs about urban family life, sustainability, and minimalism at www.fourinthecore.com.
For more information about Urban Kids programs, please check out YEGUrbanKids on Facebook.