A google search for “families in high-rises” will generate endless articles about the failures of public housing, urban poor in blighted neighborhoods, and yard-less, barren environments for children. It’s proof Google doesn’t know everything. Families love high-rises and flock to them across America – just not in the way you think they do.
You’ve probably stayed in a high-rise with your family on a vacation. Most hotels and fancy resorts after all are multi-story buildings.
Growing up, we stayed at a hotel once a year with extended family. We cousins would run between hotel rooms, to the lounge, the arcade or swimming area thrilled with our freedom to explore.* Pizza was ordered, activities were planned.
These great memories live along side:
- 18 years growing up on a farm
- 14 summers lake side in the north woods at kid’s camps
- 13 years owning single family homes
- 6 years in a neighborhood walking distance to downtown
- 7 years in the suburbs
- 2 years spread across Nicaragua, Russia and England at different times
- and now 5 months living on the 6th floor of a 300+ apartment building inside St. Paul’s urban core
So, it is with great authority and experience when I say: high-rise life rocks, and with kids it’s even more amazing.
Conventional wisdom says it’s singles and retired folks that are drawn to to high-rises, but now that I’m here with my family I’m amazed more families aren’t doing it. All the reasons a single or retired person would like it – less stress, more time, fun amenities, easy living are doubly appreciated by working parents and kids.
There is a perception that single family home life is easier and more desirable. No landlords, no shared walls, kids play in the yard, and indoors no one (other than mom or dad) complains about stomping or squealing.
The reality is single family homes are work. Lawns need mowing, decks need staining, filters need changing, appliances need fixing. When cabin fever strikes, playdates must be planned and trips taken, usually by car, to gyms, pools or other activities. It’s hectic and exhausting. Vacations are planned to escape it – a night at a hotel is a much needed break.
Don’t get me wrong, farms, suburbs, and inner ring neighborhoods are wonderful places to live and raise families. All that work creates a sense of pride and a sense of place unlike any other. I’m suggesting simply that life in well designed high-rises are a needed addition to our collective concept of a good family home.
5 Characteristics of a Great Family High-rise
1. Location, location, location
If a you have an awesome location, how do you share it with as many people as possible? If you want a vibrant retail, service and restaurant scene, how do you ensure there are regular customers to support those businesses? Answer: the highrise.
Successful developments are:
- near parks, nature reserves, walking and biking trails
- near attractions, services, restaurants and retail stores
- right on public transportation routes
Why developers and city planners think only millennials and baby boomers would want to live in these ideal locations is a terrible shame.
Our location puts us walking distance to world class Children’s and Science Museums, the Central Library, 6 city parks, plus the Mississippi National Park System. Special events, city festivals and parades seem to be always happening. What’s not kid friendly about that?
2. Amenities galore
Kids need places to play indoors and outdoors. Dedicated playrooms and private yards have captured our imagination, but if the kids could choose between a park or a yard, a playroom or a swimming pool, which would they choose? Before moving, our kids preferred the park to our backyard any day of the week. The fact that all our outdoor spaces are shared, for them is a bonus. Our building wraps around a city block with a gated courtyard in the middle. Grills are set up, trees are planted and the girth of the building sets the city apart. We gave up a dedicated playroom, but in exchange we have spaces that we never could have afforded in a private home just steps from our front door.
Imagine just like at a great hotel you had access to:
- Indoor or outdoor swimming pools
- Hot tubs
- Game rooms with pool tables, ping pong or Foosball
- Lounges, community rooms or party rooms
- Business centers to have meetings, send faxes or work quietly
- Workout rooms and yoga studios
- Libraries with books or DVDs
- A shared workshop with access to tools
- Or extra bedrooms when you needed them
If the kids have cabin fever in a high-rise, with even some of these amenities, it’s not hard to get them “out of the house.” Alternatively, let them stay at home and you can escape instead. You’re only ever an elevator ride away from each other.
3. Safety and security
- I have 4 keys to keep track of: the garage key, building key, my apartment key and mailbox key. This is the most secure place I have ever lived. Even gated communities don’t have that kind of restricted access.
Since our building is 100% rentals, I know my neighbors have all been screened. Their life histories along with mine are on file with the building management. Find out what minimum requirements your building allows. If they accept felons for example, that may be a red flag.
- We chose an apartment without a balcony to avoid worries about kids climbing and falling. (Let the millennials and baby boomers have the upper floors. The lower apartments are less expensive, closer to the outdoors and often closer to the amenities anyway.)
- God forbid, something happens and you can’t meet your child at the bus stop, the building’s office is a safe place for your child to go.
- Video cameras may exist in common areas. Ask if this important to you.
4. Well built
I’m talking concrete, steel and good insulation. Wood construction is notorious for transmitting sounds, especially thumps and bumps through the floors. Since most single family homes and low rise apartments use wood materials,”family apartment” seems like an oxymoron. When I asked our management office what precautions I should take to make sure we didn’t bother our downstairs neighbors, they assured me it wasn’t something I needed to worry about. Think of a high end hotel room, have you ever had to hit the ceiling with a broom to tell people to knock it off?
5. Well managed
High rises should have full-time staff. Maintenance issues will be taken care of. Emergencies will have a first responder. There will be someone to help if you are locked out or have questions. If there are noise issues or bothersome neighbors, someone can intervene on your behalf.
I can’t wrap up without talking about cars. Car accidents kill more kids than anything else in America.
Most people interpret this data as a reason not to live in densely populated areas. But kids are in cars when they die. We high-rise dwellers walk everywhere. I wish I could find some statistical model to show how not putting kids into cars increases their survival rates. Google couldn’t find it for me. What I did find was advice designed to avoid guilty feelings about driving. Check out these government safety tips. #1 and #2 will make you scared stiff to let your kids walk or bike in public. They give percentages of pedestrian and biking accident deaths involving children. Without hard numbers though it’s impossible to compare real risks. Tip #3: school buses are the safest. Then, buried under tip #4, it clearly states, car crashes are THE NUMBER ONE cause of death for kids ages 3-14 years. Tip #5 says 420,000 people were injured or killed in cars in 2010 – just from “distracted driving”, no data on weather conditions, drunks or technical malfunctions.
Our son takes the bus to and from school. We hang out mostly in our own building and take sky bridges over roads around our neighborhood. When we do walk outside, the sidewalks are wide and intersections all have walking signals. Traffic moves slow.
It’s counter-intuitive, but I worried more about cars running over my kids in our former cul de sac than I do here. How? The kids used the road in our old cul de sac to bike, skate or play ball. It was generally free of cars, but then the pizza delivery boy would zoom through just often enough and fast enough to give me a heart attack. In the city there is no gray area, the roads are for cars and only cars – we stay out of the way.
I’ve been asked a couple times if the loss of prestige bothers me – going from a big house to a small apartment. It takes me by surprise because we made the move precisely because we wanted our kids to have “prestige” from the education and future accomplishments available to them in the city and because we wanted more hoity-toity culture for ourselves. With a smaller apartment we can afford theater tickets, after school activities and summer travelling. We are living an enchanted life.
It’s true, however, that upon entering our current abode there is no breathless wonder or gushes of compliments over “how beautiful your house is” or “how lovely the property”. It’s comfortable and functional, but certainly not the 2 wooded acres on a cul-de-sac with hardwood floors and designer kitchen we once had.
The compliments come belatedly now after playdates, when the parents of our kid’s friends tell me that thanks to us their kids are now begging to live in “hotels” too.
*Adults were always in the swim area with the kids and we always are with our kids in the swim area in our apartment – just need to make that clear.