Play Dates: Not Just for the Suburbs

Since the 1999 Adaptive Reuse Ordinance breathed new life into our once-sleepy urban center, Downtown has become quite the booming neighborhood. Our streets no longer go to sleep at 6pm, and new restaurants, bars and lounges are now keeping us up late. Instead of hiding our residences in shame, Downtowners can now be proud of our neighborhood and invite friends to come gawk at how much Downtown has changed.

Those changes are rapidly including more and more families. Hang out around one of our plentiful coffee shops and you’re likely to see a neighbor walking by pushing a stroller.

Downtown is an enticing place for young couples, even after the bundle of joy comes knocking. You get to live amongst historic buildings with beautiful architecture. You get to expose your child to an urban environment. Perhaps best, you get to stay late at work and still get home at the same time as you would living in the suburbs — or leave at the same time and get more hours at home.

Young professionals have long been the legs of Downtown redevelopment, but many of them will soon settle down and have children of their own. City officials need to sharpen their planning skills to make it easier for parents to retain their residence, income, and capital in Downtown.

Those involved in Downtown revitalization, including the Business Improvement Districts, need to realize that they now have a new constituent to serve – my toddler.
First off, she needs a good elementary school and a proper space to meet other kids and play in a safe, shaded and inviting park. She wants kid-friendly events year-round. She’d be especially happy if new ventures such as the Grand Avenue Project would take her into consideration when designing their developments. And what she really wants to know is whether Pershing Square will ever be a place she can hit up with her newfound buddies and furry four-legged friends.

Play Dates are a necessity to any parent living or working in Downtown. They are prime opportunities for networking, a rich resource for finding daycare, help around the house, a part-time babysitter, or for just enjoying a cup of coffee while sharing the latest news in Downtown. Yahoo groups such as DTLA Kids and CityKidsLA are emerging and inviting parents to meet each other and form a sense of community. The groups and outings provide a medium to de-stress from the woes of child-rearing and share experiences about urban parenting.

The Downtown Center BID says that it wants people to “Live, Work and Play” in Downtown L.A., but do they realize that the only place my toddler can really play is Grand Hope Park? Its foreboding high black iron-fence, lack of shade in the playground and couples that frolic romantically in the grass nearby do not make it exactly kid-friendly.
This is an ABC soup of ideas for parents to mull over and contribute what they would like to see in Downtown L.A.. Whether everyone likes it or not, kids will soon be a dominating issue in the question of which amenities need to be brought to Downtown.
In a few years many of the Downtown residents will be cruising Main street with a Bugaboo and baby in tow. Hopefully by starting this conversation sooner rather than later, those future parents will have a good school, kid-centric entertainment, and more green space waiting for them. Then they can set the stroller brakes for a moment and contemplate staying in Downtown for good.

Susana Benavidez lives in South Park and is the mother of two 3-year-old girls. She will be writing weekly about life Downtown with children.

Published December 11, 2008

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