I previously wrote about politics in Parents magazine. As it happen, the October 2011 issue of the large circulation periodical for impressionable moms is not without a its dose of politics, thinly veiled. Under the health rubric Parents featured a top 10 “Smart Places to Settle Down”. “Smart” as in “smart water” or “smart diplomacy,” I gather.
This top 10 lists cities in mostly deep blue urban locales. I suppose a little house on the prairie is no longer a smart place to settle down. The #1 city is… (drum roll) San Francisco. Here is the scorecard:
MEDICAL CARE A
HEALTHY SCHOOLS A
AIR AND WATER A+
OUTDOOR FUN A
FAMILY SAFETY A-
The City by the Bay rose to the top of our list in part because of its gutsy moves to bring healthier foods to schools. San Fran booted soda and high-fat, empty-calorie food out of its schools in 2004 (five years before the state did) and was one of the first places in the country to push for school gardens. Salad bars — stocked with California-grown produce and whole grain breads — debuted in 25 city schools in 2007; now at least half have them. “Students are definitely eating more fruits and vegetables at lunchtime since we installed the bars,” says Ed Wilkins, school nutrition service director.
San Francisco also goes the extra mile to keep kids active, running 182 playgrounds (including Golden Gate Playground, with one-of-a-kind slides and a sand-castle-building area), 82 recreation centers, and 60 soccer fields. The Sunday Streets program creates miles of car-free roads during designated times so families can go outside without traffic worries. “My 3 year-old squealed when she rode her bike down the middle of the steep roads near our house,” says Sumi Das, a spokesperson for the 4,300-member Golden Gate Mothers group.
So San Francisco, apparently, is the poster city for “Let’s Move!” Or perhaps Michelle Obama gets her ideas from San Francisco.
Many things make a city a good place to settle down, like decent neighbors, good schools, low crime rate, affordable housing. Some of the reasons are health-related: Clean air and water, and so are good doctors.
But school lunches? If you don’t like what’s served at the school cafeteria, pack your own lunch. Problem solved! What I find infuriating is that the talk of “healthy” schools is substituting the talk of good schools. Do we still know what constitutes a good school? I’m amazed by all locals who are in awe (or at least claim to be in awe) of schools with garden patches. The small ones growing pumpkins are cute and all, but in reality it’s but a botany lab. They don’t provide excellent education, and, contrary to the claims of neo-hippies, they don’t raise a citizen.
Also, maybe if we cut back on lavish student lunches, we won’t need “school nutrition services directors”, thus cutting money spent on educational bureaucracy and saving local taxpayer some dough, thus making a town a smart place to settle down.
I’m not sure what was “gutsy” about SF “moves to bring healthier food to schools”. Generally San Francisco voters will support any totalitarian measure to drive out business, especially in the name of food. Think of their notorious Happy Meal ban.
“Outdoor fun” in San Francisco does exist — for grown ups. Well, depending on what we mean by “fun”. I recently talked to a San Francisco refugee mom who used to live near Dolores Park. Every morning parents like her had to literally sift through the sand to get the hypodermics out. I doubt the other 181 playgrounds are much better.
If I were raising my kids in the City, I’d discourage them from spending time outdoors. With all the nude men walking around parents should be reluctant to allow their children to walk the streets. I’m not being panicky here; those naked men are actually a pretty common site these days. DH only works in SF once a week, but he’s seen one already.
Pathetic San Francisco doesn’t even dare to tell nudists to cover up. It merely tries to force them to bring a towel to sit on for… health reasons. Parents magazine doesn’t factor in the health risk of sitting on a chair where a naked butt recently rested. Actually, infectious diseases play no role in its selection of of healthy cities. Considering that San Francisco is a sanctuary city, it probably has its fare share of open TB cases. Although SF, wisely, has a very stringent immunization policy, it doesn’t specifically cover TB.
Another reason why a parent probably don’t want to frequent to San Francisco with kids in tow are the homeless. I suspect Karen Cicero who compiled the top 10 list never visited her #1 city. The homeless are everywhere, and many of them obviously not well. I was thinking about taking Yelena to San Francisco to ride a cable car, but, I guess I forgot just how nasty it is. I recently had to run an errand there, and I can just hear her asking “What happened to her?” about every single bag lady. I don’t want to raise a sheltered child. When she’s old enough I’ll take her to the City and explain homelessness. But right now she’s four.
“Car-free roads” is a very Bay Area idea. We hate cars here, of course, because they are too American and they are, like, the root of all evil. A nice thing about suburban or semi-urban parenting are easy logistics. If I have a new baby and urgently need a pack of diapers or detergent or a thermometer or whatever else is absolutely necessary this very moment, I don’t want to be stuck in traffic or go on a long detour because my street is closed. Instead of creating multiple inconveniences for others, city-dwellers need to accept traffic as a part of their lives. And personally, I’d hate to explain to a 3-year-old that bicycling in the middle of the street is OK, but only on Sundays.
SF traffic is particularly bad. The city is notorious for car accidents and traffic fatalities. In fact, San Francisco tops the California list of traffic fatalities by miles driven or the population. I suspect the high statistic might have something to do with the sanctuary city status. Many accidents involve MUNI buses, although the City finally reigned in the frivolous drivers on its payroll by installing MUNI cameras. Drivers around here are by no means the only ones injuring and killing pedestrians. Our bikers are unbelievably obnoxious. This July one of them killed a woman. How’s that for “family safety”?
San Fran tries to present itself as a colorful urban center where bringing up kids is cool, a kind of Paris on the Pacific. In reality, outside the Sunset and Richmond Districts where families still settle, and that are San Francisco in name only, the City is a playground for the rich and the single. Parents are voting with their feet, moving out of the city to more family friendly areas, like the East Bay.
I was curious about Parents “Shape Up!” list. On it was Newark New Jersey, where the residents only have 16 playgrounds. No word on whether or not it’s safe for tots to play there or how big an average backyard in Newark is. Because many SF families have no backyards. Also on the list was Lubbock, Taxes for not having a bike-helmet law, because nobody ever raised a child without bike-helmet laws.
And with this thought I’m leaving you for Yom Kippur.
UPDATE 08/04/2012: Linked by Leslie Loftis over at PJ Media. Thanks!