Cities are magical places to raise children. Zooming trains turn everyday journeys into wide-eyed adventures. Urban plazas echo with shrieks from delighted toddlers darting into splash pads. From bustling streets to hidden pockets of nature, around every corner is something new, just waiting to be discovered.
But big-city living with small humans can be hard. Urban environments are not always designed with kids in mind, and parents need all the help they can get. We’ve tapped designers, policy experts, and our in-house parents for their tips on how urban families can flourish, as well as various ways to advocate for a more kid-friendly city.
Because cities built to support families are better for everyone.
1. Plant a tree. Trees are essential for improving public health, which is why some cities are planting a tree for every child born. The effort is more than symbolic—52 percent of the U.S. population under 15 is breathing toxic air, and trees can help prevent chronic respiratory illnesses like childhood asthma.
2. Help open a toy library. Since the 1930s, toy libraries have distributed free toys on a rotating basis to families. At programs like the Northwest Denver Toy Library in Colorado, kids can play with toys and then check out three items for three weeks at a time using their library card. There are over 400 toy libraries in the U.S.; ask your local library about starting one in your own community.
3. Host a lemonade stand. Encourage youth entrepreneurship and score a few chats with your neighbors. A lemonade stand—or perhaps a crowdfunding campaign, knowing kids these days—helps a neighborhood feel more connected.
4. Flip your backyard to the front. There’s plenty wrong with the traditional American front lawn. If you have some rare urban acreage, ditch the grass and move your vegetable garden, swingset, or sports-playing to the front yard to connect with neighbors and make new friends.
5. Screen a movie outdoors. From a small gathering with neighbors to a larger, site-specific event, cinema can expand horizons and bring people together—and an impromptu movie night isn’t as hard to organize as it may sound. Here’s how to host your own screening, whether it’s on an actual screen or the side of a building. Curbed’s even got a list of 101 city-minded movie picks.
6. Let kids explore on their own terms. Toddlers roam free on urban sidewalks in this remarkable film series by Jacob Krupnick, who says part of the reason he makes the films is to capture the reactions of shocked adults. But in countries outside the U.S. it’s not unusual for kids to travel alone as a way to cultivate urban independence—Japan is known for kids as young as 6 taking the subway. Join the “free-range kids” movement, which believes kids should be able to walk unsupervised to school and local parks.
7. Door-knock for a cause. Teach kids the importance of community organizing. Gather signatures for a local effort and get to know the neighbors, all at once. The group Little Lobbyists, which advocates for kids with complex medical needs and disabilities, has tips for canvassing with future voters.
8. Turn your parkway into a play space. Okay, there’s going to be a ton of regional slang to fight through here: You know that little sliver of property between the sidewalk and the curb? Whatever you call it, replace whatever’s there with a space that encourages people of all ages to stop and play.
9. Open a little free library. Libraries may change and evolve, but the joy of reading a book remains. The Little Free Libraries movement is a network of 80,000 (and growing) tiny outdoor libraries that anyone can take from or contribute to on a “take a book, return a book” basis. Dallas’s Little Free Libraries/Libros Libres project constructed and decorated little libraries around the city as part of a wider literacy and community design initiative. Here’s a guide to starting your own.
10. Share your street. The Dutch shared street, known as a woonerf, is designed to allow pedestrians, cyclists, and cars to safely mix in a barrier-free corridor. Ask local engineers for traffic-calming devices like curb extensions, short posts, or raised crosswalks that can help drivers slow down and notice other people on the road.
11. Take the “popsicle test.” Urban planners have a test for walkability that’s also a fun summer activity. Can your child walk to a store, buy a popsicle, and walk back home before the popsicle has melted? If your child can’t, what can you do to make your neighborhood more walkable?
12. Consider grandparents in living situations. Family units are changing as the U.S. population lives longer, and grandparents can play a more active role as caregivers, provided they can live close by. That could mean backyard ADUs, or “granny flats,” or requesting kid-friendly facilities like playgrounds and gardens at senior housing developments.
13. Discover hidden nature. “With a little nudging, the forgotten corners and in-between places will become tiny grottos for tiny explorers. Where I live, there’s a bit of land between the train tracks and freeway, essentially a drainage ditch with an oil pipeline running beneath. If designed with concrete and rebar, it would be a forbidding and dangerous spot. Instead, willows bend over pools of water. The thickets grow with abandon in the rear, but workers cut them back in the front, along a path, so that children can find entryways into this wilderness. My girls are just as entranced by this feral spot as they are by national parks.” —Nathanael Johnson, author, Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness
14. Take full advantage of your library card. In today’s tech-driven world, your local library likely offers many resources beyond books. Kids can check out DVDs and take classes—often for free. Most libraries have free Wi-Fi, and older tweens will love downloading e-books and audiobooks. Many cities also offer discounts for library card holders to other services like classes or complimentary access to cultural institutions.
15. Volunteer for story time. Most libraries have a kids section, but they don’t always have the funding for a weekly—or even better, daily—story time. Ask your local library if you can start a story time; we’ve got a list of recommended titles.
16. Dine at every walkable restaurant. To turn dinner into an adventure, and support local businesses, make a map of all restaurants within walking distance from your house. Make it a game by trying to visit new places one by one. Eater has great guides to kid-friendly spots in LA and New York City.
18. Legalize family-friendly pubs. Many U.S. cities don’t allow kids and alcohol-consuming adults to mix. Advocate for social spaces that welcome everyone. For inspiration, Germany’s beer gardens are famously family-friendly, providing menus for kids and even play areas.
19. Turn everyday moments into learning experiences. “Research out of Temple University in Philadelphia showed that putting up signs with conversation prompts in the grocery store (e.g., ‘Where does milk come from?’) boosted conversations between lower-income parents and kids. And Micromuseums is a New York City-based nonprofit that places science museums the size of vending machines in unexpected spots like hospital waiting rooms.” —Anya Kamenetz, co-host of NPR’s Life Kit parenting podcast
20. Throw a kid-organized block party. The only thing better than gathering for a neighborhood celebration is making the neighborhood kids do all the work. Let kids create committees to advertise the date, plan the menu, and provide the entertainment. They can even get a taste of local bureaucracy by securing the proper permits—with a little help from adults.
21. Organize a clothing swap. While kids are outgrowing pants monthly, there’s no reason to keep buying new clothes. Get together with local families and go home with new-to-you outfits. Donate the leftovers to a local nonprofit.
22. Tuck games into vacant lots. The Urban Thinkscape program transforms blighted and unused landscapes across Philadelphia into activities that can help kids develop various skills, like a puzzle wall that teaches math and logic basics. Look for similar opportunities where you live.
23. Form a babysitting co-op. Child care can be expensive—in some U.S. cities, it costs more than rent. Creating a babysitting co-op with families you know and trust allows you to bank hours so everyone gets a night out.
24. Look into play streets. The play streets initiative creates temporary car-free blocks that help neighborhood residents engage in physical activity. When you apply for Los Angeles’s Play Streets program, you’ll get a kit that turns the asphalt into a pop-up playground, including plastic “wobbles” to encourage free play.
25. Sign up for reciprocal museum memberships. “One thing I love about belonging to museums is the reciprocal benefits program many of them offer, which allow members free entry to other museums both locally and throughout the country. On a recent trip home to see my parents, we were able to convert our local transit museum membership into a free afternoon at an aviation museum. Not only did that reciprocal program introduce us to a museum we most likely never would have known existed, it broadened our kids’ knowledge and experience in the process.” —Nina Pearlman, deputy managing editor, Curbed
26. Teach urbanism through video games. Kids are natural city-builders—just look at the popularity of SimCity or Monument Valley. Check out Block by Block, a program that uses Minecraft as a collaborative design tool to engage younger residents in municipal decision-making processes.
27. Turn kids into tour guides. “As soon as they could walk, I started letting my kids lead me on short walks around the neighborhood. We’d only go a block or two at first, but it gave them a sense of independence and taught them how to read the urban environment. They now have their own itineraries where they point out their favorite landmarks.” —Alissa Walker, urbanism editor, Curbed
28. Thank your public employees. Have kids write thank-you letters to letter carriers, sanitation workers, bus drivers—anyone who keeps the city moving.
29. Slow down. “Slower speeds are safer for children—and everyone else. Posted speed, design speed, and operational speed should be less than 30 kilometers per hour (about 18 mph) in urban environments.” —Anna Siprikova, senior program associate, NACTO’s Global Designing Cities Initiative
30. Don’t make cars the default. About half of all urban trips are three miles or less. Track your trips for a week to see how much you rely on cars for short errands. You’ll be surprised how many of those could be made car-free.
31. Let kids take transit alone. “Part of growing up is becoming more independent. Free transit passes for students encourages them to get to school on their own—and normalizes transit use for tweens. Taking the subway to middle school may be the most important lesson my sixth grader has learned this year.” —Alexandra Lange, Curbed architecture critic
32. Ride a cargo bike. One of the barriers to increased bicycle use among families is the sheer difficulty of hauling multiple kids, backpacks, and lunches to school and work. Part of the reason cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam are two-wheeled paradises is because whole families commute every day by bike—often in large, bucket-style cargo bikes. Cargo bikes are available with racks, baskets, and space for groceries, and often come with electric assist to make pedaling easier. Curbed has cargo bike picks right here.
33. Load up the wagon. Not ready to commit to the cargo bike? Haul children, beach supplies, groceries, or anything else in a stroller wagon, which has harnesses for squirmy kids, an optional shade canopy, and plenty of room for storage.
34. Board more trains. Driving can be boring and flying can be stressful. Kids love trains, and traveling by rail allows the whole family to slow down and enjoy the ride.
35. Make bus stops destinations. Impatient toddlers don’t like long waits between buses (and neither do their parents). The city of McAllen, Texas—winner of Streetsblog’s “sorriest bus stop” competition—collaborated with nonprofit KaBOOM! to build a bonafide bus stop playground complete with swings. How can your bus stops become more playful?
36. Sled to school. Pick up a few affordable sleds at the start of winter and go dashing through the snow to school. The kids will have a ball, it’ll change up your commute, and it shows that weather can be an exciting part of your family life instead of a deterrent.
37. Wear your baby. A baby carrier is the most efficient way to transport your small child through a city. It helps eliminate elevator anxiety, and gives your babe the best view.
38. Embrace scooters. Yes, there are electric scooters for adults everywhere. But getting kids into kick scooters young might bring about a lifetime of low-carbon transportation habits. “There’s a whole cohort of Americans who are aging out of their kick scooters and simply graduating to a grown-up model,” says Micro Kickboards’s customer service director, David Stebbins.
39. Ask for protected bike lanes. “Build a comprehensive network of protected bike lanes that families feel safe using, and permit all classes of electric bikes so parents have clean transportation choices that aren’t SUVs.” —Andrew J. Hawkins, senior transportation reporter, The Verge
À #Tocane, les enfants vont à l’école en pédalant ! Se déplacer à vélo est un plaisir et, en plus, c’est bon pour la santé et la planète ! L’école élémentaire expérimente cette semaine le @SCool_Bus, un vélo collectif à assistance électrique pour le ramassage scolaire. #Dordogne pic.twitter.com/42eMmFclFi— Dordogne-Périgord, le Département (@cddordogne) May 20, 2019
40. Carpool on a bike. In 2017, around 30 students in Louviers, France, started taking the S’Cool Bus, a large tandem bike with electric assist, to class. Founder Amaury Piquiot imported the bike bus idea from the Dutch city of Nijmegen, and now the S’Cool Bus service includes buses, drivers, maintenance, route development, and safety training. Each bus can travel up to 18 mph with nine kids and costs about $11,000; dozens are in use throughout Europe.
41. Know where to go. Part of raising in-the-know city kids is helping them experience the best of what urban life has to offer. Fortunately, Curbed has maps of the best things to do with kids in cities across the U.S., from top-notch children’s theaters to epic splash pads.
42. Find places to pause. Meltdowns are inevitable for kids, especially those sensitive to stimulation. Adding “tantrum spaces” like a patch of grass, sand tray, or climbing rocks along walking or biking routes provides stress-free places to recover. “These spaces give kids and caregivers the space to calm down, regroup, have a snack, or rest,” says Annie Peyton, senior program associate at NACTO’s Global Designing Cities Initiative.
43. Deploy bike share for kids. Yep, there are tot-sized bike-share programs, too, like the ones found in Paris and Fortaleza, Brazil. It’s one way cities can make bike share more family-friendly. Want kid bike share in your city? Send a message to your local bike-share organization.
44. Welcome strollers on transit. “Allow families to bring their strollers onto city buses—and let them keep their children strapped in on a space-permitting basis. Santa Monica recently did this. Too often families may feel compelled to drive because riding transit, especially with a baby or toddler, seems daunting. Stroller-friendly policies take away some of the uncertainty.” —Sirinya Matute, author, Raising Wilshire
45. Ask for car seats in ride-hailing vehicles. Lightweight, portable car seats are an easy way to get kids around safely—but you still have to carry them with you. A better bet is requiring taxi and ride-hailing fleets to come equipped with car seats (Uber and Lyft only offer car seats in a handful of cities). When kids are older, a bevy of apps provide safe rides.
46. Talk to your schools about opening playgrounds on weekends. In some cities, kids can walk for miles before they come along a green space or playground. These “play deserts” could be mitigated if school playgrounds were opened on weekends. In San Francisco, the Shared Schoolyard Project opens up more than 50 school playgrounds across the city to add nearly 38 acres of additional open space.
47. Paint traffic gardens in parking lots. In Washington, D.C., schools are turning blacktops into “traffic gardens,” networks of miniature streets that teach students the rules of the road so they can practice biking safely to school. The project is supported by the D.C. Department of Transportation’s Vision Zero grant program.
48. Start a walking school bus. It’s better for children’s health to walk as much as possible, and a “walking school bus” can help. An elementary school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, started one such program where parents and volunteers met at designated bus stops and walked to school together. The program helped get kids active and led to a 20 percent reduction in student tardiness.
49. Advocate for closing streets when school’s in session. “In many parts of London, they close the streets immediately surrounding schools to car traffic around the morning pick up and drop off, so kids can walk and bike without having to worry about minivan chaos. I would love to see the concept catch on in the U.S.” —Angie Schmitt, editor, Streetsblog USA
50. Plant sensory gardens. Beyond the typical school garden, a sensory garden combines colors, scents, textures, and activities that can stimulate and educate children of all ages and abilities. There’s also evidence that sensory gardens can alleviate stress associated with city life.
51. Organize a walk-and-roll day. Encourage all kids to walk, skate, pedal, and scoot to school in a kids-only version of bike-to-work days. The bike-to-school program is so successful in Davis, California, that the city employs RFID scanners (that can read RFID tags on backpacks) year-round to track whether students biking to school made it safe.
52. Pay off your local lunch debt. Students not enrolled in free lunch programs must have funds in meal accounts to eat. But if their families can’t afford to pay, those students accrue debt. At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, nearly 75 percent of school districts had unpaid meal debt. Alarmed that some children with meal debt may be denied meals, 25 human resource workers in a Madison, Wisconsin, school system fundraised $25,000 to pay off meal debt. An ongoing campaign in Boulder, Colorado, has raised similar amounts.
53. Support sidewalk food vendors. “Street vendors, like the ones who sell breakfast sandwiches outside my son’s school, are a great, cheap source of food for kids who are moving through the city quickly and don’t have a lot of cash. More street vendors!” —Sarah Goodyear, co-host, The War on Cars
54. Recruit grandparents as volunteers. By 2050 there will be more Americans over 65 than under 18. As school-age kids are outnumbered by seniors, there’s a good opportunity for these longtime residents who are invested in their communities to pitch in at local schools. Some school districts have programs that allow older adults to volunteer in schools in exchange for a property tax rebate.
55. House your teachers. The affordable housing crunch has been felt acutely by teachers, who must work in some of the priciest markets without the salaries to accommodate rising housing costs. Now developers are stepping up with workforce housing projects targeting teachers, and the startup Landed helps teachers achieve homeownership by assisting with down payments. Tell your local city councilmember to prioritize affordable housing for educators.
56. Support full-day camps when school is out. Most parents can’t stop working when kids are off school. Free, citywide drop-in centers at parks and rec centers can save parents the stress of patching together temporary care or taking days off from work. If you’re financially able to send your family to camp, consider a donation to your local rec center or YMCA to sponsor another child, too.
57. Let kids design their own playgrounds. Participatory design shouldn’t have an age limit. Involving children in the creative process for local parks and playgrounds not only guarantees the result will be more engaging to the end user, but also fosters an early appreciation for design. Firms such as Public Workshop are renowned for working with a much younger set of clients when making play spaces a reality. What kind of play space would your child design?
58. Tell city leaders where more public bathrooms are needed. Every parent knows that a child will need to use the restroom the moment you leave the house. Ask for more public bathrooms near parks, playgrounds, and transit stops—especially ones with family-sized spaces. Public bathrooms have been proven to reduce crime and boost local economies too.
59. Visit a lesser-known park. Become a tourist in your own city by visiting a park you don’t often play in. You’ll meet new friends, see an area of the city that might surprise you, and show your child that there’s always something new to be discovered. We’ve got maps that plot Philly’s secret gardens and LA’s most underrated greenspaces.
60. Turn alleys into sports courts. A quick paving and paint job can transform a dismal alley into a compact, colorful space for basketball, volleyball, or soccer—creating an accessible, centrally located, safe place to play. Get in touch with your city’s parks and recreation department if you spot an alley that looks promising.
61. Ask for free swim lessons. Citywide programs that teach kids to swim at public pools can form lifelong health habits—and develop potentially life-saving skills. San Diego has a portable pool that brings water safety classes to disadvantaged neighborhoods.
62. Increase your city’s access to green space. Three in 10 Americans living in cities are not within walking distance of a park. Using the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore tool, you can find local neighborhoods that lack green space and campaign for more public parks. After a push from residents to improve its ParkScore, San Francisco can now boast that 100 percent of the city lives within a 10-minute walk of a park.
63. Promote skateable parks. Skateboarding is inextricably intertwined with urban architecture, yet most skateparks segregate skaters from everyone else. A better idea is to design a skateable park accessible to all, says Peter Whitley, programs director for the Tony Hawk Foundation: “Park furnishings that are ‘skateable’ enhance the benefits.”
64. Envision more linear parks. Longer than they are wide, linear parks take people on a journey but can also serve as destinations themselves. They can be as short as a few blocks—even the expanse of a single bridge—or as long as several miles. Find an underutilized corridor near you and start to imagine how it could become a more family-friendly thoroughfare.
65. Document urban nature. The City Nature Challenge taps kids in hundreds of cities worldwide to observe the plants and animals all around them. Last year, citizen scientists documented 1,000 rare or endangered species, and a similar program in LA discovered 30 brand-new species of flies.
66. Visit blank-slate spaces. “Unprogrammed public spaces allow kids to bring their own ideas to how they’re used, rather than prescriptively designed parks. One of the most popular areas of Vancouver for my kids is the Robson Square ice rink, when it’s not an ice rink and just a concrete slab. They use it for dancing, scooting, tag, pizza parties, and lots more.” —Adrian Crook, author, 5 Kids 1 Condo
67. Advocate for more splash pads. As extreme heat becomes the norm, not the exception, cities are looking for new ways to keep cool. Enter the splash pad—also known as the immersive fountain, water playground, or wet plaza. These urban oases offer residents a refuge from the summer singe, provide accessible recreational opportunities, and create a heat-friendly public space. Don’t have one nearby? Tell your reps.
68. Make a park from a parking space. Parking spaces don’t have to be just for cars. That’s the idea behind Park(ing) Day, a worldwide event that encourages artists and designers to turn metered parking spots into temporary community installations. The concept has even become city policy; the Ground Play program allows sponsors in San Francisco to test similar projects and turn some into permanent public spaces, as does the People Street initiative in LA.
69. Build a pop-up playground. “Explode the static notion of the playground. No city resident is too old to play, and no city space is too small to become a playscape, even if just for a few hours. Gather loose parts (wood scraps, old tires, cardboard boxes, stones) and sponsor a session of Pop-Up Adventure Play. When people of all shapes, sizes, and colors come together to play in unexpected ways, communities grow stronger.” —Kate Tooke, Sasaki Associates
70. Demand accessible playgrounds. Nearly one in five people have a disability in the U.S., yet most playgrounds aren’t built to accommodate differences in ability. Inclusive playgrounds feature wider, ramped play platforms to accommodate wheelchairs. They also include supportive swings, activity panels at ground height, descriptions in Braille, accessible group spinners, and elevated sand tables. The best part? Kids of all abilities love them.
71. Pick up trash. “I throw a small garbage bag and some gloves in my stroller or backpack and use my daily walks to the playground as a chance to pick up trash. My kids love to help and it leaves our parks—and our neighborhoods—a bit cleaner.” —Megan Barber, news editor, Curbed
72. Assess your 20-minute neighborhood. The quality of life for families would be drastically increased with neighborhoods that have jobs, shops, cafes, health care facilities, and child care all within 20 minutes of travel by walking, cycling, or public transportation. Find out what’s within your 20-minute neighborhood, then share what’s lacking with your local city councilmember.
73. Find opportunities for kids to try out city jobs. Here’s an idea from Lora Appleton, founder of Kinder Modern, that’s a twist on the traditional take-your-child-to-work day: How about convincing the city to let kids try out city jobs for a day to learn how they really work? “Always wanted to be a fire chief? A subway conductor? Take tickets on the ferry?” asks Appleton. “A campaign like this could be a great bird’s-eye view.”
74. Learn about the superblock. Vox’s David Roberts wrote an epic five-part series on superblocks (or superilles), Barcelona’s effort to transform over 100 intersections into a network of public plazas with few vehicles allowed. Certain neighborhoods with superblocks, like Poblenou, used the space once devoted to cars to install more playgrounds. “It’s a very young population, with a lot of young families with little kids,” resident Cynthia Echave told Roberts. “Once you have a safe space for your kids, you’re happy!”
75. Normalize breastfeeding. More corporations, universities, and airports are implementing “baby-friendly” policies that support moms who want to breastfeed in public (it’s legal in all 50 states). That includes providing comfortable seating but also rooms for pumping, feeding, as well as diaper-changing—with places to wash your hands and supplies afterward.
76. Use public water fountains. Because kids get thirsty—let’s face it, so do adults—and refillable water bottles are better than single-use plastic ones. The app WeTap maps locations of public drinking fountains and has tips on how to advocate for more near you.
77. Help organize an open streets event. Over 40 years ago, activists in Bogotá, Colombia, closed a few streets to cars to address street safety and combat pollution, inspiring a global movement. At least 400 cities have followed Bogotá’s lead, but no other event is better than the original one in Bogotá, Ciclovía, which opens 80 miles of streets every Sunday.
78. Call attention to the unique transportation needs of child care providers (who are mostly women). “Curb ramps, wide sidewalks, narrow crossings, stroller spaces on transit, safe routes to schools, a robust mix of land uses: cities designed to make travel with kids safe, comfortable, and convenient are places where women—and their children—will thrive.” —Katie Matchett, Where the Sidewalk Starts
79. Demand wider sidewalks. It’s difficult for two people to walk hand-in-hand on most U.S. sidewalks, let alone a family of three or more. Walk-first cities design streets that prioritize the movement of pedestrians.
80. Ask for “20 is plenty” zones. Driving just 5 mph slower might save someone’s life, and that’s why Portland, Oregon, passed that law that made a 20 mph speed limit mandatory on all residential streets. Campaign for a similar “20 is plenty” policy in your city’s neighborhoods.
81. Envision a more bikeable city. “As a child, there are few acts as liberating as first learning to ride a bicycle. But over the years, we’ve systematically built cities and streets that rob our children of their freedom and independence, forcing parents to instead chauffeur them to school, sporting activities, friend’s houses, and everywhere in between. By building cohesive, direct, and attractive cycling infrastructure that is comfortable for all ages and abilities, we can give kids access back to their communities, simply by prioritizing their health, mobility, and safety over the movement and storage of automobiles.” —Melissa and Chris Bruntlett, authors, Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality
82. Pay attention to elevators. Accessibility is a major oversight on many subways and light-rail trains—not just for families, but also for disabled people. Campaign to make sure all stations have elevators to make trips easier for everyone.
83. Support universal child care. “We all know the benefits of early child care on future academic success. Low-cost or no-cost child care for kids up to age 5, particularly with expanded hours, would not only help our kids to thrive, but put their parents in positions to get the jobs or training they need to excel in today’s economy.” —Pete Saunders, urbanist blogger, The Corner Side Yard
84. Advocate for family-size apartments. Growing cities can’t consist of just studio or one-bedroom apartments if they want to attract families downtown. “We assume families don’t want to live downtown, we therefore don’t design for family, and, sure enough, families don’t come, or they don’t stay,” says Brent Toderian, the former chief city planner for Vancouver. He recommends regulating family-sized housing to keep families downtown. This means affordable apartments with at least three to four bedrooms that are large enough for teenagers.
85. Tell cities to make the trains run on time. “Reliability is key to encouraging children and their caregivers to choose sustainable, people-oriented transportation. Knowing that transit will arrive on time and get them where they need to be can be the difference between families choosing to take the train or bus, or having to pay to maintain a private vehicle or take a ride-hail service.” —Ankita Chachra, senior program manager, NACTO’s Global Designing Cities Initiative
86. Endorse child mayors. More cities seeking input from the 18-and-under crowd are putting kids in power. Winnipeg has two kid mayors who tackle street safety and gender equality. Amsterdam has a 9-year-old junior cycle mayor who wants to get more kids on bikes.
87. Advocate for free transportation for pregnant moms. A lack of convenient transportation can get in the way of important prenatal doctor visits. Columbus, Ohio, which has a high infant mortality rate, won a federal grant to use autonomous buses to get women to prenatal checkups.
88. Ask cities for free Wi-Fi. Want more public places that teens will love? Request free, fast Wi-Fi in downtown corridors.
89. Engage kids in city planning. “Create a fun smartphone app that lets kids ‘spy’ on their neighborhoods—like Oslo’s Trafikkagenten project [which allows children to map their route to school and point out where the city can make improvements]—and tell politicians how to make it easier for them to get around on foot or by bike. And make sure there’s a dedicated budget for responding to their ideas.” —Tim Gill, independent researcher, rethinkingchildhood.com
90. Demand more day cares in job-rich areas. Do you work in a child care desert? Some workplaces offer on-site child care, saving working families time and stress. Ask your city to incentivize more offices with child care facilities—and locate them close to transit hubs.
91. Consider a baby box. Scandinavian countries famously send new parents home from the hospital with a cardboard box filled with newborn basics (and then the baby sleeps in the box—really). It’s a simple gesture that could serve as a catalyst for a bigger movement to support families.
92. Tell cities to add free transit programs for kids. “New York City gives out free MetroCards to all students starting in the fifth grade—a true rite of passage. The cards, unfortunately, are limited to school days. Why not expand it to a monthly card issued 12 times a year, including weekends, school holidays, and summers? Two rides a day on school days, four rides on all other days. That would be liberating for individual kids and make family outings with multiple children significantly more affordable.” —Daniel Heuberger, principal, Dattner Architects
93. Advocate for family leave. The U.S. lags far behind its peer countries when it comes to offering parents paid time away from work to care for a newborn. California is proposing a six-month paid leave—proven to be best for parents and kids—something the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, implemented earlier this year.
94. Learn about “missing middle housing.” The term was coined to denote diverse, sustainable housing options like fourplexes and bungalow courts. Legalizing triplexes—like Minneapolis recently did—can go a long way toward creating affordable, family-centric housing with shared amenities and outdoor spaces.
95. Tell politicians you want free college. There are plenty of good arguments for debt-free college tuition, but one of the best is that it relieves young families of the burden of having to stash away money that they could put to better use while raising their kids.
96. Support public libraries. “Whether it’s throwing an alternative prom explicitly so queer and trans teens can be themselves, hosting 3D-printing workshops to encourage creativity and curiosity, or simply being a place to relax with friends, the library makes the city stronger. By prioritizing the library—our buildings, our staff, and our collection—the city supports an essential institution.” —Caitlyn Colman-McGaw, manager, young adult programming, the New York Public Library
97. Support children’s museums. Any museum can provide all-ages fun, but there’s something about meeting kids where they are with an experience scaled for their bodies and designed for their minds. And cities big or small can build new child-focused spaces—Santa Barbara, California, has a population of around 92,000 people and recently invested in a 17,000-square-foot children’s museum.
98. Demand family-friendly high-rises. Toronto’s Growing Up plan ties a program for adding residential density with family-friendliness, making sure high-rise developments have day cares, bike paths, and indoor play areas.
99. Let the youth lead. “Young people should be part of the decision-making process for issues that affect them. Youth participation should not be a token gesture; it should give teens a platform to communicate their grievances and assert their needs and desires, as well as the power to substantively influence the ways these concerns are addressed.” —Chat Travieso, artist, designer, educator, and Yes Loitering project lead
100. Empower teen advocacy. In recent years, young climate, social justice, and gun violence activists have demonstrated the power of protest. Teach teens their rights when it comes to standing up for what they believe and being heard in public spaces.
101. Vote. And take your kids with you. Studies show it can spur a lifetime of civic engagement.