Alexandra Lange | Essays

The Moms Aren’t Wrong

I live in Brooklyn, and have children, and in the eyes of most New York publications, that makes me a walking, whiny cliche: running people over with my stroller, insisting on breast-feeding in inappropriate locations, instructing my toddler in a loud, performative voice at every opportunity. But as a critic and a journalist, I began to wonder if we weren't dismissing mothers' complaints too quickly. Is it so wrong to want shade at the park at which you work several hours a day? Why is using public transportation so punishing?

The fruit of this line of inquiry is a new essay at GOOD: "The Moms Aren't Wrong: Why Planning for Children Would Make Cities Better for Us All."
When urban parents, particularly mothers, complain about the public realm they are often caricatured as whiny and overprotective. Your child was burned by the climbing domes at the new park? Kids are too coddled. You can’t carry your stroller and child down the subway steps? Make him walk. You can’t find a public bathroom? Stay at home. But what if the mothers, in many cases, are right? Access to safe, green open space, to accessible transportation, to clean bathrooms and places to rest are not solely the needs of children. What if catering to our youngest citizens, rather than dismissing them, would help us all live happier, healthier urban lives.

An article in The New York Times this summer detailed an initiative, spearheaded by the New York Academy of Medicine and Deputy Mayor for Health & Human Services Linda Gibbs, to make New York more "age-friendly." Longer walk signals, more public restrooms, minimizing corner puddles, "perches" in stores on which to take a break.

All these measures sounded admirable — but they would improve the lives of more than the elderly. The incentive to fix New York for seniors is money: According to the AARP, a third of the nation's population is over 50, but they control half the discretionary spending. Kids don't have cash, but their parents and grandparents certainly do, and more families staying in the city would have general economic and social benefits. Seniors and juniors aren’t the only groups whose interests align, but are balkanized in their advocacy. Children could lead cyclists, developers, school officials, and health nuts to their more perfect city, if only we would listen.

Read the rest here.

Posted in: Planning, Politics, Social Good

Comments [1]

This article has all the makings of a great lesson on design.

1 - empathy is important. Caricaturing mothers as whiny shows a lack of empathy. People without kids are not putting themselves in the shoes of mothers (and children for that matter) and so they are missing reality.

2 - simplicity. If it can work for well for children, it may also work better for adults and remove unnecessary burden on the adults who have become conditioned to work around poor design. I lvoe the quote from the movie Objectified about good design "dissolving unnecessary behavior". Don Norman used to tell our class, "Design for the extremes, profit from the means". Designing cities to take care of extremes (children, the elderly) will also make them more usable for the means (young+ professional).

3 - Love requires vision. It seems often the changes designers see as having benefit would take some time and aggregation to materialize. Making that investment requires vision beyond what most people possess when they are stuck in a routine or old paradigm.

Jobs | June 14