Building Family-Friendly Communities
In any community across America, you’ll find families of all types and sizes. Though families reside in a community, it may not be a family-friendly place. In fact, communities that are built today are often considered unfavorable to families. That does not mean the community is unsafe or unkempt. A community that is unfriendly to families can be one that restricts families’ choices or limits their ability to function effectively because it does not provide adequate transportation, housing, education or community services.
While 40% of the U.S. population resides in urban areas with more than 50,000 residents, city planners are becoming increasingly aware of the important role families play in their urban communities. In years past, urban areas and major cities were considered to be for young adults with no kids or empty-nest older adults looking to downsize. Urban areas are beginning to discover that when they support the families in their midst, those families become the backbone of the community, creating a one-of-a-kind place that draws others from around the world.
What Is a Family-Friendly Community?
Simply put, a family-friendly community is one that is designed with families and their specific needs in mind. These needs can include good schools, a high-quality public transportation system, affordable and available housing, and ample recreational spaces. Family-friendly communities are designed to keep kids safe when they walk or ride bikes to and from school, and they’re designed to help kids and adults of all ages improve and maintain their overall health.
Creating the spaces families need to grow and thrive is essential to building and maintaining a community. When architects and city planners commit to improving the physical and social infrastructure of an urban area, they are uniquely positioned to influence and improve the quality of life in communities.
Ways to Design Family-Friendly Communities
Many urban planners tend to focus on the things that attract young professionals — including restaurants, entertainment venues, social networking and lucrative employment opportunities. Or, they may choose to focus on offering the amenities that appeal to rapidly retiring baby boomer adults, such as walkability and smaller, more manageable homes. While both of these demographics deserve consideration, when planners focus on them exclusively, they lose sight of a significant demographic that will have a huge impact on their community for decades to come.
Families with kids may not be interested in nightclubs or loft apartments, but they are interested in the amenities that will keep them rooted in the community in the future. These amenities are high-quality school systems, adequate housing, a good transportation system and areas for playing and recreation, such as community parks and playgrounds. When planners focus on these elements of city planning, they set cities up to become diverse, inclusive communities that are supportive of society and its families.
1. High-Quality School Systems
Modern communities often opt to position newer schools on the outskirts of the city because the land is cheaper and more plentiful. This typically means kids and their families must travel farther to get to and from school and they aren’t able to walk or ride a bike to school. In fact, between 1969 and 2009, the percentage of kids walking or biking from school dropped from 48% to just 13%.
In building these new schools farther outside the city, new roads must also be built. However, the distance and volume of traffic traveling these roads prevent students from traveling to and from school on bike or foot. This means cities must rely on a bus system and parents to get kids to and from school safely. This can be challenging for parents who need to commute to work or who struggle to find housing within a reasonable distance from a newer, nicer school.
What many city planners miss is that a well-designed school in the heart of a city can serve as an asset for the entire community. By choosing to renovate an existing building to be a school, that building becomes the center of education for students, their families and the community at large.
When schools are situated inside the community, they are more accessible, even for those without a car or bike. They can also offer services beyond K-12 education, such as GED classes at night, computer training and language courses. It can position the school and its students to be supported by the community when offering events that appeal to a wider audience, such as plays, concerts, sporting events and civic meetings.
Even parents of kids who aren’t old enough to attend a K-12 school are looking for ample child care opportunities. Cities that provide these opportunities, especially in conjunction with their schools, can be more appealing because they give families the child care they need while parents work. Since 23% of kids live with a single mother, affordable and accessible child care should be a top priority in any family-friendly community.
2. Affordable Housing
Walkable urban areas are in high demand, but there’s not enough suitable housing in these walkable urban areas to support families. Because there isn’t enough suitable housing, what is available can be expensive. This can make it difficult or impossible for families to find housing they can afford in the areas where they want to live.
One reason for this problem is that many cities focus on building single-family, detached housing, which isn’t an option for many low-income, minority families. Cities also tend to have many one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment units, which aren’t conducive to families with multiple kids.
Middle housing, which includes duplexes and low-rise apartment buildings, is essential to include in urban planning in order to develop a city space that supports families of all kinds. Cooperative housing also often includes a courtyard or common outdoor space that gives kids a place to play and families a place to interact with one another.
Despite the fact that many families are looking for a city with walkability, today’s cities have been developed around cars. In compact cities with high populations, this can result in narrow, crowded sidewalks and danger at crosswalks when pedestrians aren’t given the right of way. Proximity to crowded, dangerous streets can deter families from wanting to settle in certain cities. Most cities have some form of public transportation, but it isn’t always available during off hours, and it may not be accessible for people with disabilities or parents with young kids in strollers.
Some cities, like Atlanta, Georgia, have had success in finding ways to encourage residents to spend more time on foot and less time behind the wheel. Atlanta Streets Alive organizes afternoon events in and around the city where streets are closed to vehicles and residents are encouraged to get out and walk or ride bikes. The purpose of this initiative is to demonstrate to residents and city planners what it would look like if city streets were designed to prioritize walkability for its residents before drivability.
4. Family-Friendly Amenities
Schools, housing and transportation are at the top of any family’s list, but that alone is not enough to entice families to settle in your community long-term. Families also want plenty of activities and options to keep them busy on the weekends.
Designing a community that includes museums and kid-friendly entertainment venues like trampoline parks, bowling alleys and movie theaters should be high on the list of priorities for city planners. Targeting businesses that offer discounts for kids or families, such as a designated free admission day or free kids meals on certain days of the week, is also a great way to engage with families and show them they’re important to their community.
Offering a variety of kids’ sports, day camps and recreational activities is also important for city planners and urban managers who want to prioritize families. One of the reasons many families move to the suburbs is that they find more opportunities for age-appropriate engagement for their kids. When cities make these amenities and activities a priority, they make it easier for families to stay put with the confidence that their kids are receiving the same level of engagement and opportunity they’d receive elsewhere.
5. Recreation Areas
All city plans should include a plan for public spaces where families can relax and play together. Especially in a large city, incorporating open green areas is essential for providing residents of all ages the space they need to exercise, interact with friends and explore their community.
Parks are also an important way to bring more trees into an urban environment. Trees are associated with cleaner air, improved mental health, calmer streets and cooler sidewalks. They also provide beauty to any space. By providing families with green spaces where they can play and interact, cities are demonstrating interest in their residents’ mental health and well-being. They also reinforce the importance of family togetherness by providing accessible, inexpensive ways for families to interact with each other.
No park would be complete without a playground. Whether your city opts to build a themed playground, inclusive playground or a combination of the two designed for kids of all ages and abilities, providing a place where kids can climb, jump and swing is an important way to demonstrate your city’s commitment to family-friendliness.
Another important reason city planners should take an interest in designing recreation areas is that these areas provide constructive places for kids and teens to congregate. By investing in spaces designed for residents of different ages, cities may cut down on the negative issues they encounter. For example, a city that invests in a supervised skateboard park for teens or a plaza near fast-food restaurants and coffee shops shows that it values its younger residents and wants to encourage healthy ways to hang out.
How Commercial Outdoor Playgrounds Can Transform Your Community
Cities are limited in terms of physical space, but it has never been more important to incorporate parks and playgrounds into the space that’s available. To understand why playgrounds are important to a city landscape, it’s important to first explore why playgrounds are important for kids.
1. Physical Development
Playing at an outdoor playground can encourage the development of gross and fine motor skills in kids of all ages. Even something as simple as swinging on a swing or climbing a ladder can have an impact on a child’s physical strength and endurance. Playgrounds also encourage kids to get outside and be active, rather than sitting inside in front of a television or tablet.
At Miracle® Recreation, our equipment is designed to help kids enjoy being active outdoors. Traditional playground offerings, such as swings and slides, are a must-have, but our designs go one step further. Miracle Recreation also offers exciting spinners and spring riders.
The human body needs vitamin D to function properly. This essential vitamin contributes to everything from immune function to bone development. One of the best ways for kids and adults to get the vitamin D their bodies require is to spend time outside. Even when wearing sunscreen, kids’ bodies can absorb vitamin D from the sunlight. And their parents absorb sunlight while they’re sitting nearby watching or visiting with another parent.
2. Mental Development
Outdoor play has many benefits for a child’s physical health, and playgrounds also provide benefits for a child’s mental health and well-being. When kids play on a play structure, they typically are engaging with other peers. They can build more confidence by interacting with other kids, and they also learn how to share, take turns and resolve conflict. Spending time playing outside also gives kids a break from the rigor of a school schedule and after-school activities.
With Miracle Recreation sensory playground equipment, playing on the playground isn’t just about moving and climbing. Our equipment helps encourage cognitive development and awareness of the world we live in.
Playgrounds provide an engaging atmosphere for kids and their parents to socialize with other families who live nearby. A community park is an important place for families to engage with each other and build connections with neighbors. These connections are essential to a family’s overall health and happiness and can have a profound impact on their desire to live and engage in their community in the future.
4. Environmental Appreciation
Space is a desirable commodity in a city, but making room for an outdoor playground and surrounding park can play an important role in fostering environmental appreciation among kids and their families. Encouraging communities to take pride in their outdoor spaces can motivate them to keep the space clean. In giving kids and their families an outdoor space to play and explore, they become more aware of nature and appreciative of all it has to offer.
Advantages of Bringing More Families to Your Community
The debate about living in the suburbs versus the city has continued for decades. There are benefits to choosing to live in either place, however, today’s city planners have an important opportunity to create cities that beckon families to come and put down roots. After all, cities provide higher numbers of job opportunities and cultural attractions. They offer more extensive opportunities for kids to pursue hobbies they love and expand their education in different directions.
The following are advantages you may experience when your community encourages families to stay:
1. Resident Retention
City residents are typically younger and child-free because they can easily live in a small apartment and make ends meet without much financial strain. When those adults grow older and begin having kids, sometimes it doesn’t make financial sense to stay in the city because of the lack of affordable family housing. If city planners design areas with affordable family housing, families may be more likely to stay in the city, meaning their tax dollars and civic participation stays put.
2. Long-Term Financial Stability
According to Tim Gill, the author of “Urban Playground: How Child-Friendly Planning and Design Can Save Cities,” the three advantages of family-friendly cities are:
- Economy and demographics
- Sustainability and community
- Kid’s rights, health and well-being
Gill writes that Rotterdam saw major economic benefits when they concentrated on becoming a family-friendly city. By bringing more families into the community, they will spend money at restaurants, stores and cultural attractions. They will support civic groups and local government. Encouraging more families to move to the city also increases the diversity of the people there. This provides cities with a more varied offering of cultural and ethnic attractions, as well as an appealing atmosphere for families who want to raise their kids to be more aware of the diverse world we live in.
3. Gender Equality
Cities have played an important role in women’s rise in the workforce. They’ve provided women with more job opportunities, allowing them to climb the corporate ladder and establish themselves as equals with their male peers.
When families are forced to leave the city in pursuit of affordable housing or better schools, many times families struggle to maintain a household where both parents work full-time. This can be for many reasons. In some cases, jobs may not be as plentiful in the suburbs. In other cases, commute times may make it too difficult for both parents to work full-time and keep up with their kids’ school and extracurricular activities.
4. Healthy Living
Designing a city with families in mind doesn’t just benefit families. After all, parks, open green spaces, museums, movie theaters and entertainment venues are for everyone to enjoy. Who doesn’t want safe, walkable streets and affordable housing? While these tend to be priorities for families, the truth is that adults of all ages and life stages can benefit from access to these offerings.
Parks and open spaces are especially beneficial because they provide safe places to exercise, get fresh air and socialize with others. In cities where space is at a premium, having a designated space to take a walk with a friend, jog after work or sit on a bench and chat with a neighbor provides invaluable physical and mental health benefits.
Enact Family-Friendly City Design Ideas With Miracle Recreation
There’s a lot that goes into a child-friendly city concept. As Tim Gill talked about in a presentation, a family-friendly city has playful elements throughout the community in addition to playgrounds and parks. One of the simplest ways to approach child-friendly city design is to start with developing playgrounds and open community spaces where kids and their parents can engage in exercise, recreation and community interaction. Miracle Recreation has some great pieces that can be used for that, like our Sensory Maze, Miracle Museum™ and the Concerto line.
Miracle Recreation is committed to helping communities create fun, engaging play spaces that address the unique space constraints and configuration needs of urban areas. Whether you’re working with a limited budget, limited square footage or you’re looking for a structure that can easily be kept clean, you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for in our extensive playground equipment inventory.
We have a reputation for innovative equipment, and themed playgrounds are some of our favorites to design. We’ve found that pirate ship playgrounds, fire engines or a cityscape that mimics your own are inventive, alluring ways to make the most of a playground space that’s limited in square footage.
Browse Miracle Recreation outdoor playgrounds and request a quote to start transforming your community today.