In my last column here, I investigated the validity of my perception that over the last decade there has been an increase in families with young kids in Uptown neighborhoods. The results of my research of census data weren’t exactly what I had expected; but they did suggest that certain demographic groups have either been moving their young families here in droves, or getting very serious about making babies during the past 10 years.
Now, I know why I love living in North Park, and why I loved living in Hillcrest before we moved here, but I wanted to see why other Uptown parents chose to live in their respective neighborhoods. So I did what any serious sociological researcher would do: I posted the question on Facebook.
I asked: “What do you love about living and raising kids in your neighborhood?”
I wasn’t surprised to find that the responses were very much aligned with the reasons my wife and I love living here.
One of my parent-friends who responded to my informal poll had recently moved from a condo in a gated community to a gorgeous Craftsman fixer-upper just a few blocks away from my house, and was excited to live in a place where she was surrounded by diversity in everything from the architecture to the inhabitants. “I love that you’ve got old, young, gay, straight, kids, no kids and different ethnicities all in close quarters,” she said. Others agreed and added that they loved the charm of their old houses, despite the creaks and imperfections.
All the respondents mentioned proximity to fun stuff as one of their favorite things about living in Uptown. With Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo within walking or biking distance, you could practically raise kids here without ever burning any fossil fuels. Parks and playgrounds are so plentiful that there’s no reason we should ever be envious of our suburban friends’ big backyards. And if our kids tire of the neighborhood haunts, our easy access to the freeways puts us within minutes’ drives of beaches, hiking trails, downtown and Sea World.
But it’s not just fun stuff for the kids that Uptown parents cherish about our area. Most of my friends mentioned the great adult amenities as well with hip restaurants, cafes, shops and bars that one could theoretically frequent if one had the energy to get a babysitter and actually leave the house and do grownup stuff. Thankfully, many of these spots are kid-friendly; or at least no one looks at you askance when you bring your children with you. There are very few Uptown restaurants, for instance, where I would feel uncomfortable bringing my 3-year-old twins.
Several responses cited this as one of the charms of Uptown, and I agree. As far as I’m concerned though, small-town feel is best when it exists in a big city. Neighbors who know when you come and go are great if you happen to leave the garage door open or if your kids are wandering down the block; but it’s also wonderful to be able to drive five minutes and feel like you are totally anonymous.
Another feature of our neighborhoods that makes them feel like small towns, at least the kind that exist in the popular imagination, are all the mom-and-pop businesses. Like my Facebook friends and neighbors, I love the fact that I can walk to the place where I buy drinking water, which is right next door to where I get acupuncture.
The point is, I know my neighbors and the local merchants, and that’s part of what makes our Uptown neighborhoods real communities. Even if I have to distract my kids when we walk by certain store windows, most of the people we meet are invested in the neighborhood to some extent, and those are the kinds of people I want my kids to grow up around.