Earlier this year, I started to consolidate many months' worth of thinking about a nagging issue for new parents: how to find decent places to take care of a child while away from home. There are moments when being out in public with a young child is terrifying: Is this diaper-changing table clean? Is his crying bothering everyone else? Did I bring enough (milk, snacks, diapers, wipes, toys, teethers ...)? How am I going to fit all of this stuff into that public restroom without getting in everyone's way?
I started asking friends about their experiences and discovered some innovative solutions to one part of the problem: finding safe, dignified spaces to breastfeed or pump. Two Vermont moms, Sascha Mayer and Christine Dodson, designed a free-standing pod for installation in airports and other places where mothers may need to breastfeed or pump. Their company, Mamava, sells the pods and advocates for a more welcoming environment for breastfeeding generally. In New York City, a team of graduate students at NYU's Wagner School of Public Service won a public policy contest with their proposal for increasing access to safe, sanitary places for mothers to breastfeed in public. Their proposal, called "Latch," has resulted in the development of a logo sticker businesses can display to show that they welcome breastfeeding. Similarly, a pair of art students in Texas developed an ad campaign, "When Nurture Calls," to bring attention to the way breastfeeding mothers often feel stigmatized and relegated to unsavory spaces (specifically, cramped and uncomfortable public restroom stalls) to nurse their babies, despite the fact that they have the right to breastfeed anywhere.
All of these ideas are valuable, but as an urban planner who spent years studying child-friendly cities, I realized we need more. Our cities need an abundance of publicly accessible places where all caregivers of infants and young children (not just moms) can comfortably retreat to breast or bottle feed, change diapers, soothe a crying child, take a brief rest, and refuel. We need to advocate for and design true havens: special rooms that are clean, safe, comfortable, and even uplifting for parents and their children, not simply diaper-changing stations in public toilets. Stay-at-home parents and other caregivers often feel as if they can't leave home or venture very far because they might not be able to meet their child's needs in a safe and dignified way. The more Baby Havens there are, the more people with young children can participate in public life.
It is abundantly clear to me now that child-friendly cities must be parent and caregiver-friendly cities. They must be baby-friendly cities. This week, Vancouver, BC, urbanist Jillian Glover published an article outlining the ways cities can better meet the needs of parents with infants, from creating more walkable streets to offering community programs for new parents and affordable childcare for babies. Glover's ideas mirror those expressed by the parents I interviewed for my One Day in Denver "Baby Havens" film, which you can view here in its entirety or in two short clips. The parents I interviewed reinforced the adage common among advocates of child-friendly cities: a (baby)-friendly city is a city friendly to all. Parents with infants and young children have much in common with elderly people and others who need frequent places to stop and rest, smooth sidewalks and restrooms roomy enough for carts and kids. Above all, the parents I interviewed emphasized the need for amenities that are clean, dignified and equitably distributed around the city.
Parents know how cities can work better, and consequently how vibrant urban areas can attract and retain more families with children. Urban planners and decision makers don't often focus on the needs of that population, yet they can learn a great deal from parents. Even though I spent many years studying how cities can better accommodate the needs of children, like Jillian Glover, my perspective on urban life and planning changed completely once I had a baby. I had never before thought about how it would feel to breastfeed in public or walk around with a loaded-down stroller and a tired, hungry or upset child. Once I had a baby, the city became circumscribed, limited to those places my sleep-deprived brain could navigate and those few spots that welcomed me and my son with the kinds of things we needed. I longed for the "mother centers" of Europe I had learned about in my studies and wished we valued community life that way.
I am now working to develop the Baby Havens concept into an interactive guide for new parents and caregivers, focused on the Denver/Boulder area. This fall, I plan to start reviewing and rating places that meet specific Baby Havens criteria. New moms and dads, caregivers of young children - where do you retreat when out in public with your child? Where are those places you make sure you stay close to when you have to run errands or you want to actually get out and do something? What do they look and feel like, and why do you love them, or what's lacking? Join me in making our cities more baby friendly!