Children exploring the Brooklyn Children’s Museum
(Photo/Flickr-Brooklyn Children’s Museum CC BY 2.0)
Children exploring the Brooklyn Children’s Museum (Photo/Flickr-Brooklyn Children’s Museum CC BY 2.0)

In kid-friendly Brooklyn, realizing the parenting resources missing from S.F.

On weekday mornings in Brooklyn, the intersections fill with crossing guards. Wearing bright yellow vests and white gloves, these city employees are positioned outside most schools to safely usher children across the street. The crossing guard at my son’s public school greets every child by name and knows which kids walk to school by themselves and which need extra attention crossing the road.

I recently moved to Brooklyn from San Francisco with my husband and two young sons. One of the biggest differences I have noticed is how many more children there are in Brooklyn. There are playgrounds every few blocks — all equipped with sprinklers and splash pads for hot days — and they are full every day. In my walks around my neighborhood, I regularly see storefronts that host after-school programs and camps for kids. Older kids play on the sidewalk and walk home from school together.

I always knew that San Francisco had a very low population of children compared with other cities — they make up 13 percent of the population, down from about 25 percent in the 1970s. (Brooklyn has 23 percent.) And yet, I loved raising our young kids in San Francisco and felt like there were plenty of resources for my family. Our neighborhood playground was just a block from our home in the Mission District; we went there every day and usually saw someone we knew. We found a lovely in-home day care just two blocks from our apartment and, later, a wonderful preschool. Our weekends were filled with trips to Golden Gate Park, the Academy of Sciences and the Bay Area Discovery Museum. I never thought resources for kids were lacking.

But those resources are blown out of the water by what’s available in Brooklyn. When my youngest son turns 4, he will go to our neighborhood public pre-K — for free. My older son can choose from a plethora of after-school programs that specialize in everything from board games to outdoor exploration, and many of them will pick him up at his public school as part of the service. And the cultural resources of New York City are, of course, unparalleled.

S.F. has a very low population of children compared with other cities — just 13 percent.

What I notice more than any specific program for kids, however, is a stronger sense of communal responsibility for children and families in Brooklyn than I ever felt in San Francisco. The difference is subtle, but it’s there. There are those crossing guards, for one thing — they are employees of the police force and represent a civic investment in children’s safety. Children are just more visible in Brooklyn. The preschools, which operate in tighter spaces than in California, take the children to public parks and libraries daily, with the kids marching down the sidewalks in matching hats or high-contrast vests. People we pass on he sidewalk talk to my kids more than they did in San Francisco — and when my older son runs ahead of me, another adult will often pause and quietly wait next to him until I catch up.

I never realized that teenagers were an endangered species in San Francisco until I got to Brooklyn. Now that I see teenagers everywhere, it strikes me how few of them I crossed paths with in San Francisco, where families often leave the city as their children reach school age. We already have two high school babysitters who live within a five-minute walk of our home.

There are many sociological and economic explanations for why there are so few kids in San Francisco and so many more in Brooklyn, the cost of living and gentrification being huge ones, but I’m not going to wade into them here. I will say that while these weren’t the reasons my family moved, the support for kids and families that I’ve noticed so far in Brooklyn gives me more confidence about staying here as my children get older. We had every intention of sticking around in San Francisco for the elementary years and beyond, too, before the East Coast beckoned. And yet, our family’s future there seemed unknown, especially from the vantage of our one-bedroom apartment.

Here in Brooklyn, I see families on my block with kids in good public high schools who graduated from the neighborhood elementary school that my son attends now. I see the path forward.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a J. parenting columnist and former staff writer. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.