There are few larger life transitions than becoming a mother. Women expect their lives will change, but few consider how dramatically our physical environment can affect the experience of motherhood. Walkable neighborhoods can make motherhood easier and more enjoyable in many ways.
Many of the benefits new urban neighborhoods confer on mothers stem from the community their design promotes. Knowing and seeing neighbors frequently has a constellation of pluses that are especially relevant to moms.
Many mothers who stay at home are isolated. Kids can be a lot of fun but are not the most interesting conversationalists, and many women don’t realize how much of their socializing they did with their coworkers until they are no longer working. Compact, mixed-use design means people are often out walking, in the parks, and sitting on porches, so moms feeling lonely can head out their door and find some adult company relatively easily. They can also more easily find playmates for their kids without having to go through the scheduling gyrations of official playdates—kids will be out playing. Kids in my new urban neighborhood in Colorado, Bradburn Village, run in packs. It’s common for adults to socialize with neighbors in the parks, alleys, and porches with an eye on the kids while they run around—giving mom (and dad) a break.
The easy socializing that stems from good urban design really meets a need for moms: company for both adults and kids without adding to the mental burden of organization that seems to be a perpetual plague of modern motherhood. People are busy, especially in households where both parents work, and having to organize with other people’s schedules to arrange social time can be difficult. As a result, many may not do it, depriving themselves of important social interaction. Simply walking out your door to fulfill this need is helpful when your brain cannot stand to plan yet one more thing.
Kids seem to require a neverending river of specialized stuff. Knowing your neighbors means you can swap or buy cheaply many of these items, so you can save more money for the heart-palpation-inducing cost of college. Moms can also easily find people to carpool with to school, camps, and sports. The community in a place like Bradburn increases the odds that you know someone with kids slightly older than yours who have been through the angsty “choose the right school” gauntlet. In Bradburn we have a wonderful home elementary school, but we also have multiple magnet charter schools available to parents. Neighbors confer with each other about the pros and cons of each school in order to make their decisions. It’s not just school advice either—moms can more easily crowdsource parenting problems, or just not feel so alone when junior stuffs superman down the shower drain causing hundreds of dollars in damage to the pipes.
One thing having kids seems to multiply (other than expenses) is emergencies, and emergencies with kids are the most nerve wracking kind. This is when community support really helps, and neighbors are often the easiest and closest choice in these situations.
New Urbanism: Boredom buster
New urbanist neighborhoods are interesting. There’s stuff going on all the time thanks to their mixed-use design. If both kids and mom are restless, they can relieve cabin fever quickly without having to get into and out of a car. In my neighborhood one of the favorite walking destinations for people with kids is the frozen yogurt shop and the organic grocer which stocks the most massive selection of bulk candy for fifty miles. New Urbanism’s mixed-use also gives kids a more interesting environment to interact with, they can see people coming and going and doing business, and perhaps develop relationships with local merchants. In conventional large lot subdivisions that consist of only housing, little kids and parents home during the day hardly see anyone, and certainly have few if any, places of interest they can walk or bike to.
Modern parenting is a prescription for anxiety thanks to our 24-hour news cycle that endlessly covers every child abduction and horrible story involving innocent children. In actuality, stranger abduction is extraordinarily rare, but even knowing that, modern parents are constantly haunted by the “what ifs.” The liveliness and sense of community created by new urban design means neighbors keep an eye out for any unusual activity, and they know which kids belong to which family. As a result, parents feel more comfortable sending their kids outside to play or to walk to their friend’s homes because they know the neighborhood will be watching.
The narrow streets of compact neighborhoods, combined with on street parking, reduces vehicle speed, making the neighborhood safer for little people on foot or bike. Gridded street networks also diffuse traffic, and make it easy for kids to get around and navigate either with mom, or on their own.
Walkable, mixed-use design translates from planning philosophy to parenting aide on the ground, and with parenting being as challenging as it is, moms can use every bit of help they can get.
Petra Spiess is a freelance writing living in Bradburn Village, a New Urbanist community located in Westminster, Colorado. She has sent a thank you note to Bradburn’s planners since the neighborhood’s design helped her not lose her mind when staying at home with her toddler.
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