I heard it again today. It was during the panel discussion put on by the Downtown Lexington Corp. which was to feature the 6 finalists of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd district races. The thing is, one of them did not show up.
Most of the comments were very positive about downtown and how we needed to continue to plan for the economic development and a strong need for jobs. But I also heard the quiet cry for more family oriented facilities like restaurants and such. It was like families want to live downtown but not as it is today – or how it is being planned for by today's planners.
We can look at our successes, like Thursday Night Live, and how well they have grown in just a few short years but some families have begun avoiding the Pavilion because it has become so large. The crowd of young professionals out for an early beginning to their weekend of drinking can erode the feeling of festival that many young parents want to ingrain in their kids.
The number of new, trendy restaurants which have opened seem geared toward the single/dating young professionals or the more refined tastes of the upper echelon from the 02 zipcode or horse country. Few of them would accept the “wander around he table” child which frequents an Applebee's or Texas Roadhouse franchise. Why cannot some of those parents find a suitable dining experience in the downtown scene. (OK, I don't want to eat near this kind of action either.)
Family oriented recreation come to downtown at various times through the year, like the Ringling Brothers Circus or Disney on Ice, but the normal, run of the mill, child friendly activities are rare. The special events will draw from communities other than Lexington, but day to day stuff – not so much.
Finally, and maybe the most troubling, there are no new residential units designed for the family of four in which a couple can live with their kids. The latest units are designed with young professionals in mind but not families. The common mantra is that “families don't want to live downtown” and that is not just applicable to Lexington.
According to Brent Toderian, a Canadian planner, “The truth is that many downtowns are currently not great places to raise families, because they are not designed to be. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. A city gives up on kids downtown, as does the home-building industry, so no one designs and plans for them... ...Most importantly, no homes built that could actually fit a family. Perhaps a couple, but as soon as baby comes, they start planning the move. This perpetuates the theory that families would never want to live downtown.”
Do we want a vibrant, lively, complete downtown? If so, then an addition of children to the mix of seniors and young professionals(both singles and couples) will support a broader local economy and a safer community. These families will need certain support facilities in order to make it work; child-care, and nearby schools initially, then family appropriate retail and recreation and then the all-important family sized residential units.
I may be wrong, but I feel that the on-going efforts to put on event after event in an attempt to draw families to downtown would be easier if some of them lived “right around the corner”.