A child at play.

A child at play.

What exactly makes a city family-friendly? And how do we design a public space with families in mind?

We’ll discuss issues of accessibility faced by families in the Washington region, from commuting with a stroller to locating a clean bathroom — and changing table — on the National Mall.

WAMU’s Elly Yu and Martin Austermuhle join the conversation to discuss their own reporting. Plus, architect and urban researcher Nidhi Gulati weighs in on how cities can design public spaces for their most vulnerable populations.

Produced by Julie Depenbrock


  • Elly Yu Reporter, WAMU; @ellywyu
  • Nidhi Gulati Program Manager, Project for Public Spaces
  • Martin Austermuhle Reporter, WAMU; @maustermuhle.
  • Eric Feldman Senior Associate and Urban Planner, Rhodeside & Harwell

WAMU's Family Series

Series | WAMU

What does it mean to be a family in the Washington area? There are as many answers as there are families. WAMU is spending three months exploring the challenges and joys of family life in our region.


  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. What makes a city family friendly? Whether you're commuting with a stroller in tow, trying to locate a bathroom with a changing table, or even looking for a restaurant that's kid friendly? Getting around with kids can be challenging. WAMU series on Families in the Washington Region is exploring these topics, along with many others. So joining me in the studio are Elly Yu and Martin Austermuhle. They're reporters with WAMU for the past 3 months. They've been working on that series about families in the Washington region. Elly, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:36

    ELLY YUI'm glad to be here.

  • 12:00:37

    NNAMDIMartin, always a pleasure.

  • 12:00:38

    MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEThanks for having me.

  • 12:00:40

    NNAMDIMartin, you wrote recently about becoming a parent saying, quoting here, "Starting a family is a shock in many ways. There are new responsibilities, significant costs, and exhausting schedule, and the feeling that previous life is gone, done, over. A late night at a bar, not likely, a pleasant meal at a restaurant, sure, but you're on thin ice." In addition to experiencing this yourself, you talked to a lot of new parents. What did you hear most often?

  • 12:01:04

    AUSTERMUHLESo, the story kind of -- yes, I shared my own experience -- but the story was essentially about families, people, parents who have kids and kind of want to still enjoy some of the life that they had before and part of that involves going out to restaurants. I mean, D.C. has a very vibrant restaurant scene. There's a lot of places to go, but what every parent has discovered at some point is that there's different degrees of family friendliness at restaurants, and bars, and places like that.

  • 12:01:26

    AUSTERMUHLENow, again, how you define family friendly is very flexible. A lot of people think just having a high chair and having like some crayons is good enough. Other people say, no, like maybe some toys, maybe some books, maybe something else, maybe just a friendly staff. You know there's very, there's a range of definitions, but the story kind of explored what different restaurants are actually doing.

  • 12:01:45

    AUSTERMUHLEAnd I spoke to an owner of a restaurant in Mt. Pleasant, Purple Patch, who is a mother herself, and decided to set aside a little area in the back of the restaurant. There's some benches, there's a big TV that she shows kind of kid shows on. There's a bunch of toys. And the whole logic being parents want to come to this neighborhood eatery and have a good meal. They don't want to worry about their kids getting bored, and becoming, well you know, tantruming and that sort of thing. So the best way to avoid that is give them something to do. And you know once you give them something to do they're generally pretty tolerable. And you can have a pleasant meal.

  • 12:02:14

    NNAMDIWhat are some of the issues that restaurants and bars that cause some restaurant owners not to want to attract families with young kids?

  • 12:02:22

    AUSTERMUHLEWell, I'm not going to lie. I think the feedback was, there was some surprisingly negative feedback to the idea, because I think people, and there was terminology too. People heard, kids at bars, like how could you do that. And I'm not saying that, you know, we family, folks with kids are coming for your bars. Like I'm not going to take my kid to a bar at 11:00 at night, because --

  • 12:02:36

    NNAMDIYeah, but a lot of restaurants have bars also.

  • 12:02:38

    AUSTERMUHLERight, exactly, it kind of goes both ways. So I think the idea from some restaurant owners is just concern about, you know, having a kid running around amongst tables and servers and like if there's a couple that's on a first date, maybe they don't want a 4-year-old running up and kind of like being snotty at their table. That sort of stuff concerns folks and I get that. I do. I mean when I take my kids out to a restaurant I'm pretty strict about what they do, and I'm not one to lightly let them go off and kind of bother other people.

  • 12:03:05

    AUSTERMUHLESo I think restaurant owners have to serve different types of customers. They have to serve the sorts of customers, who don't have kids and want to come in for a quiet pleasant meal, and they probably also want to serve families. They don't want to say, okay, well once you have kids you are dead to us as customers, like you want to still kind of cultivate that consumer base.

  • 12:03:20

    NNAMDIThere are establishments that go out of their way to accommodate parents with kids. You mentioned in your story the particular case of Purple Patch in Mt. Pleasant. That's a favorite among our producers here. Can you tell us more about what the owner of Purple Patch envisioned when she opened her restaurant?

  • 12:03:34

    AUSTERMUHLEI mean she wanted, again you know, it's a place in Mt. Pleasant. So Mt. Pleasant is a pretty vibrant area. It's close to a Metro station. It's close to Columbia Heights. So there is a lot of foot traffic, but it is a neighborhood restaurant. I mean it's not that people don't travel there from across the city, but it serves locals. So she saw it as a place, or she told me she saw it as a place that she wanted to serve the community. And she recognized in a place like Mt. Pleasant that includes families, that includes people with kids, and you know, she just wanted to be open to that.

  • 12:04:01

    AUSTERMUHLEAnd her own experience as a young mother kind of informed that. She told me that she would go to restaurants around D.C. as a restaurant owner and as a parent, and see how those places were less friendly than what she wanted to create. So that kind of, she was inspired by personal experience and also I think a sense of business that in Mt. Pleasant, a place with families, it was good to cater to families.

  • 12:04:23

    NNAMDIThere are a number of others. I'm sure listeners will chime in with their thoughts. I'm thinking of Capitol Cider House in Petworth, which has an area set aside for kids.

  • 12:04:31

    AUSTERMUHLEYeah, and it has, they have little train kind of a table for kids, which was designed or proposed by the owner's son. He has three kids. And he was telling me that a lot of that, the kid friendly ideas were actually proposed by his own children. They do a weekend morning, kind of event gathering space kind of for families. They've had kid bands play, and that sort of stuff. And so I think there's a recognition that, you know, there is an audience for that.

  • 12:04:53

    AUSTERMUHLEAnd the owner also told me, and I heard this from a number of owners, and I think parents know this. The good thing about parents with young kids is that they operate in very limited chunks of time, like you know they're going to be in early for breakfast or kind of like around lunch time or for dinner at like 5:30. But you know that by like 7:00 o'clock they're gone. I mean, there's very few people with young kids that linger and have coffee and dessert. I mean, to them it's like expediency. It's like get your meal, get your kids fed, have a good time, but get home for bedtime.

  • 12:05:20

    NNAMDIWell, you've had experience with Dulles Airport. We got a Tweet from P.K., who says, why don't any of the bathrooms in Dulles baggage claim have baby changing stations? The bathrooms are labeled family changing room, but don't have a changing table.

  • 12:05:33

    AUSTERMUHLEThis is something that comes up often with anything from airport bathrooms to convenience stores. I mean, Wawa, the big national chain that is now opening a bunch of stores in D.C. historically has not had changing tables in its bathrooms. Apparently it's a liability issue I was told once by someone at the company. But it's one of these things that parents have become very sensitive to, 'cause again, your kid if they're in diapers, things happen, accidents happen. You have to change them. And I think every parent has had to do those emergency changes like on the floor of a bathroom, 'cause there's not a changing table or do some standing diaper change, which I do not recommend. It's a nightmare. So again, I think these things are, it's just stuff that parents notice that may, other people may not be aware of.

  • 12:06:12

    NNAMDIElly, one of your recent stories centered on the perils of commuting with kids. Here is an excerpt from that piece.

  • 12:06:21

    OLGA CANOWell, it's just a regular morning of a family of four. By this time my husband is usually out of the house, because he has a very early schedule. So I'm on my own. I'm definitely outnumbered every morning. So I think we're all out of bed at 5:45. If I don't get ready first, then it's like I just run out of the house without brushing my teeth. So, I usually go in and attend to the older ones. Emma, she likes to pick her outfit. I kind of build in some time to accommodate for that, otherwise we have meltdowns. The baby cries, but she won't remember these days. So it's okay if she cries a little bit. (laugh)

  • 12:06:53

    NNAMDICan you tell us about a day in the life of Olga Cano.

  • 12:06:58

    YUYeah, do you feel anxious just like listening to that clip there. So, Olga Cano. She's a parent, a 38-year-old mom in D.C. in the Edgewood neighborhood. And she let me follow her on her morning commute one day. And so we met her early in the morning.

  • 12:07:13

    NNAMDIBy that time her husband was gone already.

  • 12:07:14

    YURight, right. So she was already up, it was around 6:00 a.m. The kids had got up by then. One of them is already crying. And she was crying for most of that morning as they're all trying to get ready. Olga is, you know, getting her older daughter ready. Her 3-year-old, doing her hair, getting her dressed, all of that while the baby is also just like, she just continues to cry. And she has a lot to do before getting out the door. So she has to feed them. She has to get the stroller ready. She has to just make sure nobody has like a full on meltdown. And things go pretty smoothly this morning. And she's out the door by 7:00. And so she tries to go to the bus stop where she is, which is a couple minutes away from her house.

  • 12:08:01

    YUShe hasn't been taking the bus recently, because she has two kids that she's commuting with every day. But when she had just the one, she would take the bus pretty frequently. So when they get to the bus stop they notice a lot of their neighbors. They greet, you know, neighbor's friendly faces, who've seen a lot of the kids grow. They, a bus comes by, you know, the driver, she's trying to get the stroller on the bus, asked the driver if he can lower the ramp. They go up the ramp. But by that point she asked to, you know, close her stroller, fold up her stroller. And she, you know, she's unable to do so. She has a--

  • 12:08:37

    NNAMDITaking care of two kids and folding up a stroller at the same time.

  • 12:08:40

    YURight. And so, you know, she gets off. She's like, I'm going to go walk to the Metro, which is 15 minutes away. So that's, was a failed attempt at her trying to get on the bus that morning.

  • 12:08:51

    NNAMDIWhat is Metro's policy on strollers and what are the reasons for it?

  • 12:08:54

    YUSo kids can't be in strollers on the bus, and metro bus policy requires strollers to be folded. And that's, Metro officials say, you know, there's just, it's a matter of space, and it's a matter of accommodating a lot of different people. In terms of strollers can take up a lot of the aisle space. That can cause issues if people with disabilities need that space. But Metro officials say they are taking a hard look at their policy. That they've been in preliminary discussion about whether they can relax it or not in the future, due to recent improvements and bus design.

  • 12:09:28

    NNAMDIHere's Liz in Takoma Park speaking of Metro. Liz, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 12:09:33

    LIZHi. Yeah, hi Kojo and thanks for having me on. I, yeah I just, you know, we kind of stopped, we have two kids, we have an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old. And we kind of stopped taking the Metro, even on the weekends, just go down and do stuff downtown. You know, go to the museums or go to events or whatever. Just 'cause we had a couple of disaterouus episodes where, you know, we had a potty training kid, a 2-1/2, 3, 4-year-old kid who, you know, they can't wait to go to the bathroom. And there's no bathrooms at any of the Metro systems, any of the stations.

  • 12:10:03

    LIZAnd, you know, if you need to use it, you have to get out of the station and leave. And then repay, and then come back in. And with, you know, four people, you know, running around trying to do that, it's just, we just kind of gave up. And we're like, forget it, we're just going to like drive down and pay the $20 to park or whatever it is, and deal with the traffic, and deal with that headache, because we at least can stop and take our kid and use the bathroom whenever he needs to or she needs to. So I think, you know, that's a big challenge I think for parents using the Metro with little kids.

  • 12:10:34

    NNAMDIExactly right. You trade in the stroller for the car seat. And that means there are a lot more people, who are going to be driving cars on the road because of their frustrations with getting their kids in strollers on the Metro. Is that something you can talk about?

  • 12:10:45

    YUYeah, that's, so in terms of, so I've heard more positive things from parents about Metro rail versus Metro bus. That it's easier to, you know, there's space for strollers on the trains, on the train cars that if the elevators are working, you know, things go pretty smoothly. But on the bus it's just a little more difficult if you have at least more than one child. I mean, even with one child, you're often carrying a baby bag, a diaper bag. So it's hard to just navigate it all.

  • 12:11:14

    YUSo there, Cano, who we just spoke about, who I followed on her morning commute, she actually started a petition about a year and a-half ago when she was pregnant with her second child to have Metro relax its stroller policy, to allow for open strollers on Metro buses. Some cities already do that, including San Francisco and Boston. But she said, she kind of gave up on the petition after she had her second child. That was just too, like I have too many things to worry about. I just can't.

  • 12:11:43

    NNAMDIWell, since we're talking public transit I have to bring in our resident expert, Nidhi Gulati. You are Program Manager at the Project for Public Spaces. And your focus is transportation. Nidhi joins us from studios in New York. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:11:58

    NIDHI GULATIHi Kojo. Thank you for having me on, really happy to be here.

  • 12:12:02

    NNAMDINidhi, I'm wondering if you can begin by talking about your own experiences with taking the bus or the subway.

  • 12:12:08

    GULATIRight. So my experience is going to sound a little bit different from what everybody else has said. I'm a born and raised Indian. I grew up in a small town in North India, taking a lot of different types of public transportation growing up. And, you know, we took the buses. We took shared auto rickshaws. We took, you know, other types of transportation. And I remember that there was a really huge social component to taking the bus. You know, you always meet people from different walks of life. I made a lot of friends.

  • 12:12:36

    GULATIAnd even though, you know, we have our own challenges in India with public transportation. Buses can be very crowded. Women are not the safest on buses. The younger you are the more vulnerable you are. But there was always the fact that if there are two bad elements on the bus, there is a possibility that there are ten good elements, who will potentially, you know, come to your rescue and things like that.

  • 12:12:59

    GULATISo I carried that habit into my life. As a professional living in Delhi I would take buses and Metro everywhere. Our Metro system was still being built in Delhi at the time, so I didn't a train really close to me. And my sister use to live in North Delhi, when I was in South. And I remember taking 1-1/2 hour commute every time to go see her. And even though, like I said it had all the challenges of, you know, you have to be awake, you have to be vigilant. You have to take care of your belongings, I could just read a book. I could just listen to music, look outside. And I got to learn the city like nothing else. So never felt the need of wanting to drive, never learned how to drive. And there were some, there was some emotional baggage behind that too, which I won't get into right now.

  • 12:13:46

    GULATIBut I just was a fully grown adult living my best life using public transportation and being fully independent as a woman living in Delhi. Fast forward three years, I you know, start graduate school at Texas A&M and I vividly remember my first day. I had researched everything about college station and A&M, and somehow, you know, I knew who the mascot was and what research department got how much money. I just forgot to research public transportation, because I thought, you know, what city doesn't have a bus. You know, so it was something that I took for granted. And I arrived in College Station from, you know, a shuttle from Houston Airport.

  • 12:14:26

    GULATIAnd I remember asking my roommate at the time, I was like, how do I go back to Houston? And she tells me, I was like, oh, you drive or you hitch a ride or you take the Greyhound, which takes you 5-1/2 hours for the same commute that I just did in an hour and a-half. And I remember inside my head thinking, oh my God, I've gotten trapped. And curling into a ball and crying that night that, did I just make the wrong choice. So as a trained architect, and landscape architect I just stumbled upon transportation advocacy, because it suddenly crippled me in ways that I had not imagined before.

  • 12:15:01

    NNAMDIIt made you change your thoughts about a major, right?

  • 12:15:04

    GULATIYes, it did. I quit landscape architecture in two semesters. I was fully funded. I disappointed several people, but I just wanted to understand why people did what they did. What was the effect that the built environment was having on people and the other way around. Why did people live so sparsely? Why didn't people want to run into, and you know, bump into their neighbors? Why was that happening? So I ended up transferring to a Recreation Park and Tourism Sciences Program. I know that sounds funny. People didn't understand why I did that. But my rationale was clear, I went to an environment psychology based program to understand again, why people lived the way they lived, why people do the way they do, you know, their commutes.

  • 12:15:48

    GULATIAnd what is the impact that designers, city designers are having on a daily basis on our lives that we don't even understand. So it was a very people centric program. And in my mind it made perfect sense. And I got a degree in Park Planning and Community Development and ended up at Project for Public Spaces from the very beginning in Transportation with no formal education in transportation. What kept me interested and driven was the fact that transportation had such a, you know, significant impact on my own life.

  • 12:16:17

    NNAMDIAnd the rest as they say, is history. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation on Family Friendly Cities or the lack thereof. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:16:48

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about Family Friendly Cities or not with Elly Yu and Martin Austermuhle. They're both reporters for WAMU, who have been working on a series for the past three months about families in the Washington region. Nidhi Gulati is Program Manager at the Project For Public Spaces. About restaurants that are family friendly, Mitch e-mails, there are times when I wish to take my partner to a restaurant that is specifically not child friendly for a romantic dinner out. Unfortunately, sites like Yelp and Google only provide a search filter for child friendly. I'd love to see the addition of a filter for not child friendly for these special dinners. Martin, did you encounter that in your coverage?

  • 12:17:27

    AUSTERMUHLEThere's a lot of strong opinions about that. And I think, you know, as a parent, or as a non-parent, I think you absolutely can understand and respect, that yeah, if you're going to spend some good money and you want to go to a nice meal, you don't want a three-year-old screaming in the background. I mean, it kind of ruins the mood a little bit. That being said, I do think that there is a sort of experience that one bad experience with a kid can make you think that all kids are bad or annoying, or can be bad in restaurants. When, generally speaking, I mean, I don't know that that's the case with every kid. But I think, again, business owners, restaurant owners are very aware of this. And there are places that say, or kind of stress, that listen, you know, this is a place for adults.

  • 12:18:05

    AUSTERMUHLEThis is a place for quiet conversation, or kind of like that sort of experience. And maybe, you know, don't bring your three-year-old in. They may not even have, like, a high chair to serve them. So, it kind of, they send the message in other ways. They don't want to overtly be, like, we don't want kids. But you'll know when you walk in. You'll get that sense of, okay, this is probably not the place for the kids.

  • 12:18:22

    NNAMDIWell, CJ Tweets: here's a novel idea. Teach children how to act when they're in public. You kind of addressed that in your response. Anyway, so I'd like to go to Lisa in Arlington, Virginia. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:18:34

    LISAHello. I am a mother of three young girls. And we've been talking a lot about children sharing space with people. I also struggle with my children sharing space with the number of dogs that we have around here. I love that there are dogs, and that they can see them. And I feel this is very blasphemous to say, but it's really hard when you have young children sharing the sidewalk with dogs that may or may not be friendly. But also just the dogs that use the bathroom all along the sidewalk, or in parks, as well, too. And I have these young children who just want to touch everything. And it's just, as a parent, it's just like horrific to watch this. And I struggle with trying to find a balance between having animals and my young children share the same space.

  • 12:19:21

    NNAMDINidhi Gulati, you care to respond to that?

  • 12:19:23

    GULATIYes. I think one challenge that, you know, leads to something like that is just the lack of pedestrian sidewalk space that we have in most places. You know, we're scrunched to such a small amount of space, that barely two people can walk side by side in most cities. Forget about somebody with a dog, and forget about somebody with a double stroller. So, the lack of space that we have contributes significantly to that, as well. And also just lack of sort of little rescue places where you can actually sit down or wait for a moment when, you know, the person with the dog goes by while you're just, you know, if you saw them ahead of time, you want to, you know, be able to just wait 'till that passes. So, we do have a lack of space here.

  • 12:20:05

    GULATIAlso, we do have a lack of sort of dog parks, where dogs can actually just go where you can take them. So, you know, you don't have to rely on the sidewalk for everything. So, dog parks are often not there in communities, not at the top of the list. Same as I can say playgrounds, as well. But we just have sheer lack of amenities in the public realm, so that the streets become the only place where everything and all the things happen. So, that does create those conflicts. But if we had more space, I think people are good at negotiating space, but that space has to be available. And most of our sidewalks in most cities are just way too narrow.

  • 12:20:40

    NNAMDIElly, we got an email from Emma, who says: one thing I've noticed since having my first child, and now my second, is how hard it must be for people in a wheelchair to access the Metro, and just enjoy city life around D.C. Elevators are often broken, not all stores make sure to have a 36-inch-wide clearance. And not all sidewalks are easily navigated on four wheels. I've grown a greater understanding of what it is like to experience inaccessibility, and I'm sure other new parents can relate.

  • 12:21:08

    YUThat's exactly what I've heard from new parents, about how they've become just more aware about accessibility in the city, about sidewalks, about broken elevators, escalators. And just, you know, getting around with a stroller is one thing, but how do other people also with disabilities navigate the city as well. And I think that's, it's, I know Nidhi, you've written about this, about creating cities for around children, and how that sort of automatically kind of reaches the most vulnerable populations.

  • 12:21:42


  • 12:21:43

    GULATIYeah. I think that's a very fair assumption, that if you are in any way differently able than other people, or, you know, unable to get around the city as a well-bodied adult, your life is just that much more difficult. Sometimes I like to joke with my friends, it's like you almost have to be a millionaire if you are in a wheelchair, to live your best life. Because, oftentimes, we do have, you know, all these sidewalks without curb cuts. You know, how do you expect somebody to sort of get on the sidewalk if there isn't a curb cut? What are they going to do? Sometimes, if you have a stroller, you can have somebody help you pick it up. But if you're in a wheelchair, it's a no-go. So, one thing that I like to talk to people in communities where I'm working is, how about let's just do a wheelchair test.

  • 12:22:28

    GULATILet's put you in a wheelchair for two hours, and go to the closest store, and get a gallon of milk. See how you feel. And I know that the Bernard van Leer Foundation in the Netherlands has similar exercises to show people what it's like to get around with a stroller. You know, put a stroller in a ten-pound bag of rice in it, and, you know, take it around. Go do some of the daily life things that you would be doing as an adult. And then come back and identify all the things that you found. And, oftentimes, people come back with the kinds of things that you just mentioned, that, oh, the escalator was broken. And there wasn't an elevator. And a simple thing as a curb cut was aligned the wrong way. And cars coming at the intersection couldn't see me. And if I could actually think about a child being in that stroller, I don't want to cross that street, even if I have the walk sign.

  • 12:23:17

    GULATISo, just making people think of somebody else's life, and making that experience more sort of human-centered really, really helps. But the challenge here is that we have to make everybody see that reality. Everybody who's involved in city design has to understand that, and see it. So, we have to make this a part of, you know, our planning processes. We need to do a stroller test and do a wheelchair test.

  • 12:23:38

    NNAMDIWell, in that case, can you just get right into talking about universal design?

  • 12:23:44

    GULATIYeah, I think that's what we're talking about, here. Yes. There's several things -- and I'll talk about public transportation first, because, you know, we started talking about that in the beginning. Public transportation is a very -- it's a complicated system, but if we think about it as a backbone system of our cities and a backbone system for a young family, we'll start to do everything differently.

  • 12:24:06

    GULATIYou know, first of all, we'll stop thinking about it as a secondary system. We'll stop putting, you know, train lines and bus lines in places where they don't belong. So, let's think of that as a backbone, and that changes a lot of things. For young families, the first thing they care about is service, because, as we heard about in Elly, your store, and Olga's experience, if you have a kid with a full diaper right before you are ready to step out of the house, you've just caused a 10-minute delay to your commute. So, if that happened, how do you know that when you get to the bus stop, there will be a bus, and when you get to a Metro, that there will be a Metro? So, reliable service is very, very important, and it's something people care about more than anything else.

  • 12:24:51

    GULATIThe second thing that people care about a lot is when you do get to that bus stop, what is that infrastructure like? How close is the bus stop to a fast-moving car lane? You know, are you safe where you are? Is there shelter? Are there restrooms? Is there water, and things like that? So, that becomes very important, where the bus stop is. Then there are other things that, you know, become a priority, especially if your service is delayed, if you have 15 minutes between two buses, and you just saw a bus leave. What is your child going to do? Is there some sort of activity or, you know, distraction, so to say, until the next bus arrives? Is there a playground nearby? Is there a coffee shop that's child-friendly, where you can go and wait for a little bit?

  • 12:25:33

    GULATIAnd then let's say we got a really perfect bus stop, and we got a perfect service, then the third layer becomes the vehicle itself. Is the bus actually allowing you to have a stroller? Is there a place to safely put the stroller? Once you did that, are there enough seats for people to sit down? Are there enough places for kids to sit down and families to sit down together, instead of those single seats that don't allow, you know, a mother of twins to comfortably sit and be there?

  • 12:26:00

    GULATIAgain, this shows the layered system that it takes to create a public transportation system for children and young families. But the good thing here is that if you did that, if you created a system like that, it works for everyone else. If you are an able-bodied, young adult going to work, who wouldn't like good service? And if you were, again, that able-bodied young adult, who wouldn't like a good stop next to a coffee shop, and who wouldn't like a place to sit down on the bus? So, it works for every other person just as well, but we have to start designing for the more vulnerable populations in order to get there.

  • 12:26:40

    NNAMDII'd like to bring Eric Feldman into the conversation right now. He is an urban planner who is based in Alexandria, Virginia. Eric Feldman, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:26:50

    ERIC FELDMANIt's a pleasure to be here, Kojo.

  • 12:26:52

    NNAMDIEric, what does family-friendly urban design look like in the Washington region? I'm curious about your take here.

  • 12:27:01

    FELDMANWell, the short answer, Kojo, is that child-friendly urban design really is -- it's not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It means different things at different scales, from the block to the neighborhoods, citywide considerations. And what's most important, it changes a bit as kids grow older. They become more mobile. They become more independent, and their worlds become bigger. But for younger children -- which has been our focus mostly, so far -- right, their worlds tend to be quite small. And so the small details often matter quite a bit.

  • 12:27:36

    FELDMANSome examples, as Nidhi mentioned, you know, the width of sidewalks is a key consideration. They also need to be free of obstructions. You can't have a telephone pole in the middle of the sidewalk. Are there street trees that provide shade and also a sense of enclosure and separation from the street? Parked cars are even great as a buffer to keep kids from running into the streets. And so parents feel free to let kids roam a little bit more freely. And they also help slow down traffic, which is another key consideration.

  • 12:28:14

    FELDMANAnd Nidhi also mentioned the crosswalks, just allowing enough time to get across the street. You know, if your child makes a sudden movement and decides to pick up something off the pavement in the middle of the street, there needs to be enough time to, you know, adjust for those kinds of events. And also, the ramps for the strollers is really important. In public spaces, I'd say there's -- obviously, we need places to play which is so important for kids' healthy development. And there's more and more research supporting this.

  • 12:28:49

    FELDMANBut also, we need spaces that work for caregivers and parents and spaces that can accommodate parallel intergenerational activities, and also the amenities that make caregivers feel comfortable as well as kids: bathrooms, shade structures, subtle things like creating spaces where adults can sit from the sidelines and, you know, have some form of natural surveillance while their kids play and, you know, engage and disengage, you know, as they see fit. But also not hover or stand uncomfortably, as is often the case.

  • 12:29:29

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, you're an urban planner, but when did family accessibility -- in particular, accessibility for kids -- become really important for you?

  • 12:29:38

    FELDMANFor me, it was really the process of becoming a parent. And this opened my eyes to the world in different ways in terms of how my child viewed the world around her and, you know, navigated physical spaces. But it also informed my own perspective as an urban planner. I started noticing things that I hadn't thought about, even -- well, I've been doing this for quite a while and have formal training in the field. And that's enabled me to bring that perspective back to my work right now. And...

  • 12:30:24

    NNAMDIHave you faced any pushback when trying to ensure that everyone is taken into account when planning things like sidewalks and entrances in Alexandria?

  • 12:30:33

    FELDMANI think, ultimately, as Nidhi was alluding to, it's really -- it's not a controversial topic. It's really, you know, creating child-friendly cities for -- or really creating good cities for everyone. And, in many ways, if you can create spaces that work for kids and families, then they're really going to, you know, create successful places for everyone.

  • 12:31:02

    NNAMDIOkay. Eric, we've got to take a short break. Sorry to have to interrupt you. Eric Feldman is an urban planner based in Alexandria, Virginia. Eric Feldman, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:31:12

    FELDMANThank you.

  • 12:31:13

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on family-friendly cities. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:31:42

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about family-friendly cities with Nidhi Gulati, program manager at the Project for Public Spaces. She joins us from studios in New York City. Joining us in studio, here's Elly Yu and Martin Austermuhle. They're both reporters with WAMU who have been working on a series about families in the Washington region for the past three months. Martin, you wrote an article a few years back about a children's play area at Dulles Airport known as the Funway. What difference do play spaces like these make for families in transit?

  • 12:32:11

    AUSTERMUHLESo, this was one of these things I only discovered after having kids. This was two, maybe three years ago now. I was traveling back to Europe, where I have family, to visit them for a couple weeks. And I was traveling at the time with my wife, and then, I think my kid was two-and-a-half-years old, or so. And we get to Dulles and Dulles is, you know, big wide corridors. I mean, there's all sorts of stuff for kids to do, mostly running around, going into stores, probably getting into trouble. And, you know, that's what we did.

  • 12:32:35

    AUSTERMUHLEBut then we flew threw Copenhagen, so we had a connection there, and it was like a nine-hour layover, which was like a parent's worst nightmare. But we get there, and the first thing we notice, they had communal strollers. They just had strollers lying around that you could just use. And it was great, because ours had been checked. So, that was like score one for Copenhagen. Score two was that they had two playgrounds in the airport terminal itself. And that was just a game-changer for me, because it was something for the kids to do.

  • 12:32:58

    AUSTERMUHLEWe get to Switzerland, we see the same thing in the airport there. And then even there, the regional trains, like their version of Amtrak, there is a specific car that has a playground in it, like an actual kids playground in a railcar. So, the kind of working in of kid-friendly amenities into, you know, basic needs of transportation was kind of a game-changer for me, at least as a parent. And then when I got back to Dulles a couple weeks later, it was around the time that they were installing their own kind of version of a play area called the Funway. It's in one of the international terminals.

  • 12:33:26

    AUSTERMUHLEAnd so I kind of looked into it, and found out that there are more and more airports across the US that are now starting to do this, kind of recognizing that, yes, you know, parents do travel. And what I thought was funny and what I've noticed recently, I go to a lot of airports when I'm traveling, and I've noticed there's a lot of pet-friendly amenities. I mean, there's little -- I was in an airport in Reno, Nevada, like, two weeks ago that it's a set aside room with some fake grass and a fake fire hydrant for dogs. And it's adorable. It's wonderful. But at the same time, I'm, like, hold on. There's got to be more kids traveling than dogs. (laugh)

  • 12:33:57

    AUSTERMUHLESo, I think it's just a matter of how, you know, planners and people who kind of make big decisions think about who they're serving and what sort of amenities are useful, and also what's feasible. I'm not saying, you know, put like the equivalent of Disney World inside of a local regional airport. That's obviously not going to work. But small, little things along the way I think help parents a lot.

  • 12:34:15

    NNAMDIElly Yu, how child-friendly is our area when it comes to getting around, and how does it compare to other cities that you have lived in?

  • 12:34:22

    YUSo, I have lived in mostly really car-centric cities, so in Los Angeles and Atlanta. So, this is a city where I'm using public transit pretty frequently, so that's a difference. But, for the most part, a lot of parents I've spoken with say, yeah, you know, there are things that can be better that they'd like to see changed, but that D.C., for the most part, has been a good experience for raising children. There's a lot of free amenities, for example, a lot of things to go to. There's a lot of parks, public pools, a bunch of splash pads that are around the city that D.C. residents can go for free.

  • 12:34:54

    YUD.C. actually recently got a top spot in the ranking of city park systems this year. So, park score, the Trust for Public Lands annual ranking of urban parks and recreational opportunities in the top 100 cities in the country ranked D.C. as number one. And they looked at things like percentage of people living within a ten-minute walk to a public park, the average size of a park, the percent of land devoted to a park, how much the city spends on parks amenities like basketball hoops and splash pads and things like that.

  • 12:35:23

    YUSaint Paul got second and Minneapolis was third. And Arlington, Virginia was actually fourth, so not very far behind. But, interestingly, the ranking also found that D.C. did fall behind on playgrounds, with just 1.7 playgrounds per 10,000 residents. Arlington had more than 4 per 10,000 residents, for example. So, Arlington beat us out.

  • 12:35:44

    NNAMDINidhi Gulati, you've talked about the importance of making sure our cities are designed with everyone in mind, from parents with small kids to the elderly, to those navigating sidewalks in wheelchairs. But you also talk about making sure to keep in mind the most vulnerable among us. Who do you mean, and what are the dangers you see?

  • 12:36:03

    GULATISo, I personally mean by the most vulnerable, young girls. Because, again, growing up in India, not only are women more vulnerable, the younger they are, the more vulnerable they become. So, again, if we had to zero in onto one population group, let's think about three-, four-, five-year young girl. And I have a niece who is in that age rang, so that really helps me really ground myself and think about that all the time.

  • 12:36:29

    GULATISo, if you think about my niece -- who is very young -- and how she gets around and what she gets to do, it changes a lot of things. But I also love my sister a lot, so it's not just what my niece gets to do. It's also about how has that changed my sister's life. So, you know, we talked about when people have kids, you know, your life is over. And all the environments that we have here in the United States -- for the most part -- are separated. So, if there's a playground, there's nothing for the mom to do. And if there's something for the mom to do, there's nothing for the kid to do. So, not only thinking about the most vulnerable population, but their caregivers is very important.

  • 12:37:04

    GULATISo, if we were to plan a ten-minute neighborhood for my sister and her daughter, where they could do all the things that they need to do in their day within ten minutes, that's what we need to get to. And that makes us think about beyond parks. It makes us think about where is here school, can we safely walk to the school, how far is it? And then we get to think about where is her daycare, is there a daycare? Then we get to think about what is the housing situation? Are there family-friendly housing choices in their price range available there? Is there primary care? Where's the doctor close by? Where's the market, where's the grocery store, and all the things, that full day within a ten-minute neighborhood, can both of them do that?

  • 12:37:52

    GULATIAnd not just be able to do that, do those safely. Because, again, I'm not going to forget where I come from. And, you know, two-thirds of the world's population lives in the global south, that is looking up to the US for best practices. So, how do we do these things safely and remove that stranger danger by creating a built environment that makes more eyes on the streets, as Jane Jacobs used to say? Where, you know, you do have enough lights, enough way-finding and all the storefronts that look onto the streets, as people can see you, and all the other things that it takes to make a woman feel comfortable.

  • 12:38:27

    GULATIAnd you know what? We don't even have to come up with that list ourselves. We should take the Project for Public Space's approach about it. If that's our audience and we've identified it, let's go talk to 20, 30, 50 moms of young girls and ask them, what are the types of things that would make them feel comfortable, and what are the things that they need in their ten-minute neighborhood? And that is an approach I would propose here.

  • 12:38:50

    NNAMDII'd also like you to talk briefly -- because we don't have a great deal of time left -- about what's known as the pink tax for transportation. First off, for listeners who might not be familiar with the phrase, what is the pink tax, and how does it affect women and others when trying to get from point A to point B?

  • 12:39:06

    GULATISo, the pink tax is the hidden costs of living your daily life as a woman, and it appears in different ways. You know, there was a more popular version of this conversation around razors, women's razors costing more than men's, even though it's the same material, it's the same everything. It's just a different color and labeled for women. So, pink tax for city living and transportation is just the hidden costs of what it takes for a woman to feel safe. And a lot of it has to do with the perceived safety in public spaces in the city.

  • 12:39:39

    GULATISo, let's stick with public transit here, for a second, and talk about that. So, as a woman, if I get to JFK at midnight, and I live in Astoria Queens, there's no safe or convenient way for me to get home at that time, at that late in the night, because I'll have to transfer, you know, between multiple trains. And not all the train stations are well-lit or very active. So, I will end up taking a taxi. And that taxi is going to cost me $50. And that is something that, if I felt more comfortable and if I were a man, I wouldn't have to think about that.

  • 12:40:12

    GULATIBut it manifests itself in smaller forms, too. Getting to a subway station that somehow feels dark, dingy, unsafe at 11:00 o'clock, which is just -- I had an evening meeting, I got home at that time. And that subway stop is only a quarter mile away from home, but no businesses are open. The subway stop is not well-lit. I'm going to end up calling an Uber or a Lyft or a taxi. And, again, that is a cost I wouldn't have had to worry about if I felt comfortable walking home at that hour. And these costs add up.

  • 12:40:43

    NNAMDIHere's Patricia in Arlington, Virginia. Patricia, your turn.

  • 12:40:46

    PATRICIAThank you, Kojo. Two points. One, I was a devoted Metro commuter for many years, until I had a young son. How do we change the commuter culture? There were too many times on the train when somebody wheeled around quickly, completely unaware that there was a child, and they would hit him with their big backpacks, that they didn't quite seem to perceive how big it was in the space available. So, that's one thing. And the other...

  • 12:41:20

    NNAMDISo, after you stopped using Metro, what did you do?

  • 12:41:24

    PATRICIAI drove.

  • 12:41:26

    NNAMDIOkay, you used your car. And the other point, quickly? We're running out of time.

  • 12:41:29

    PATRICIAYes, the other point is, I hope that in the drive to ensure friendliness to young people and children, that we don't forget the large and growing population of elders who are not yet in a wheelchair, but who may use a cane, who may move a little more slowly, who may be a little more fragile. Their needs are important, and that is a growing segment of the population. Thank you.

  • 12:41:55

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Elly Yu, I'm just wondering how many people that you talk to, who, like Patricia, found themselves either unable or unwilling for some reason to use public transportation find themselves using rideshare, having to buy a car because getting around would just be too difficult otherwise.

  • 12:42:13

    YURight. Well, Olga, who we spoke to, you know, on days where it's raining and the Metro rail is a 15-minute walk from her, or days when it was snowing, we had a lot of rainy and snowy days this year, she would drive to work and pay the $20 or more parking fee each day. And so that cost really adds up, yeah, over the rainy days.

  • 12:42:38

    NNAMDIWell, Alexandra comments on our webpage: when I was a new mom, I constantly found myself either relegated to my home, with the accompanying of cabin fever, or getting glares or snide comments when tending to my baby's needs in public, be it nursing without a cover -- as D.C. law allows, because my baby would not nurse otherwise -- or changing his diaper at the restaurant table, because the restrooms have no changing stations. I think a big part of creating a family-friendly city is a welcoming and understanding population. To which you say what, Nidhi Gulati?

  • 12:43:08

    GULATII think it's a chicken-and-an-egg situation. A lot of times, we just haven't designed our cities with kids in mind. And people keep saying that, you know, young families move to the suburbs. I think that's a perception thing. If there aren't any opportunities in our cities, why are people going to stay in cities? They are going to go to the suburbs. So, it's a chicken and the egg. Let's start designing our cities with these people in mind.

  • 12:43:32

    GULATIAnd when we design that, more and more people will come. And when we see them more in the spaces, the perception will start to change. When you see more women feeding their kids in the public space, because it is allowed by the law, we just have to create an inviting place for them to be there first. So, as somebody who is in the profession of building a better built environment, I say it's our responsibility to create that environment, and then users will come. And the more of them that there are, the more okay these things become, because you just see them more, and then it becomes more okay.

  • 12:44:04

    NNAMDIHere's Michelle in Bowie, Maryland. Michelle, your turn.

  • 12:44:09

    MICHELLEKojo, thank you for this most important conversation. I'm a children's entertainer of just about 30 years, and I will say that children respond immediately to good design and intelligent, present adult interaction. So, we're building the next generation of intelligent people who can live publically. Thank you, everyone.

  • 12:44:32

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. Annie Tweets, pro tip for restaurants: put changing tables in men's rooms, too. It's 2019. Men change diapers, too. Right, Martin Austermuhle?

  • 12:44:45

    AUSTERMUHLEAbsolutely do. Absolutely. And, yeah, but the amount of times that I've kind of deferred to my wife on that one, because I'm, like, well, we have daughters. The woman's restroom has the changing tables. This is on you -- yeah. (laugh) So, if she's listening, I'm sorry but, you know...

  • 12:45:01

    NNAMDIAnd Nidhi, Kathryn in Rockville emails: as an unwilling suburbanite in my 50s, I think one of the reasons US public transportation has such a negative spin is that developers and auto manufacturers have, for decades, pitched perfect isolation as a whole mark of affluence. You shouldn't have to hear or see your neighbors, let alone their children or pets. An experience I know you never had in Delhi, but do you care to comment on that? (laugh)

  • 12:45:25

    GULATII want to say that you have to really think about what you are giving up when that message resonates with you, when that automobile ownership -- and you never have to listen to anybody else. What are you giving up? Because there's research that shows that there are cognitive benefits of kids taking the public transit. You know, they get to learn how to navigate the city better. They know how trains and buses work. They know what it means when you say around the block, because they've, you know, been in a stroller, walked with their mom around the block. So, there's actually cognitive development benefits to taking public transportation.

  • 12:45:59

    GULATIAnd then, it's 2019. Let's talk about the social benefits. You know, we have a largely divided country on many different issues, and the fear of the other. So, public transit is a way to sort of break some of those barriers from the very get-go, when the child is very, very little. If you get to see people from different walks of life, if you get to hear different languages, different skin colors, different cultural sort of expressions, you become more socially aware, and your world expands.

  • 12:46:29

    GULATISo, there are all these benefits that we're giving up. And you can find more about it. Researcher father and son Donald and Bruce Appleyard have done a lot of this research. So, you have to think about what you're giving up. I think the biggest issue is that our advocacy is not as well-funded as that car lobby. We don't have a motordom backing us, or our voice is not as loud as that.

  • 12:46:51

    NNAMDII'm afraid that’s all the time we have. Nidhi Gulati is a program manager at the Project for Public Spaces. Nidhi, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:46:59

    GULATIOf course, thank you for having me.

  • 12:47:00

    NNAMDIElly Yu and Martin Austermuhle are reporters with WAMU, who have been working on a series about families in the Washington region. Elly, Martin, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:47:08

    YUThanks so much.

  • 12:47:08

    AUSTERMUHLEThanks for having us.

  • 12:47:09

    NNAMDIOur show today about family-friendly cities was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow on the Politics Hour, D.C. Councilmember and former Mayor Vincent Gray joins us to talk about the plan to close United Medical Center, the just passed 2020 budget, and what he thinks people should call the part of D.C. that is east of the Anacostia. That all starts tomorrow at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

Your Turn: Inauguration, Insurrection And Extremism In Washington

Tuesday, Jan 19 2021The inauguration of President Joe Biden will happen under military lockdown amid a pandemic. The Washington Post's Marc Fisher joins us to discuss this extraordinary moment in our country's history. Plus, computer scientist Jen Golbeck on what's most worrisome about the chatter happening in the darkest corners of the web.