Creating Child-Friendly Downtowns
Is Your Main Street Child-Friendly?
Promotion: Welcome them today and tomorrow they will support Main Street
Children are active consumers and enthusiastic participants in the tapestry of Main Street. Children enhance the vibrancy and diversity of downtowns. Today their continued participation is more important than ever. Downtowns that welcome children today will ensure the continuity of future generations of Main Street owners, shoppers, volunteers, and residents.
Downtown walking tours for k-12 students help familiarize children to downtown. Other classroom-related architecture or history programs can combine downtown visits with classroom instruction. As shown here, Executive Director, Dana Whiteman, of Vandalia Main Street, (Illinois) regularly leads school tours in her downtown. Dana treats them to the more intriguing stories about downtown Vandalia’s history.
Downtown Special Events: Many downtown events are child-friendly now. Traditionally parades, fairs, fireworks and circuses have always welcomed families. Some seasonal events like downtown trick-or-treating at Halloween, Santa’ House, outdoor ice rinks, and outdoor movies can be specifically aimed at children. Other special events such as car shows, music festivals, and farmers markets offer pedestrian-friendly outdoor settings that are very child-friendly.
Here, the former Assistant Director of Downtown Springfield, Inc., (Illinois) stops to chat with several young attendees at the Farmers’ Market. Why not proclaim all of your downtown’s child-friendly special events in a child-friendly section of your website.
In Store Promotions:
Bookstores, scrap-booking, beading and pottery shops, dance studios and other businesses have easy opportunities to sponsor child-friendly promotions. Holiday related activities and other events can provide fun for both parents and children. Main Street can provide an online list of child-friendly promotions at downtown restaurants and retail.
Banks and Savings and Loans have long understood the benefit of being child-friendly. This 1950’s photo show a “beginners” deposit window that was just the right height to encourage banking customers who were “starting young.” (IHPA collection)
Architecture and History Related Promotions:
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has “build your own” cardboard models of historic buildings from real main street communities. The ten main Street buildings are now being joined by ten Build Your Own Lincoln Sites also. All are aimed at encouraging kids (of all ages) to learn more about historic downtowns by “doing”.
There are a large number of networks designed to help parents connect with each other and learn about opportunities for children and parents.
Encourage parent and child play-groups to meet downtown. Find a location (a downtown restaurant or church?) that includes an area which can be baby-proofed. While downtown, participants can partake of coffee and snacks from a local restaurant and discuss parenting while the children also get to interact.
There could be some time at the end where the parents can go shop for an extra hour while a sitter continues to watch the kids. Familiarize the parents and children with what downtown has to offer and become a “home base” for parents.
Main Street 2.0:
Go web 2.0 with your downtown. Use social networking along with your Main Street website to promote your child-friendly downtown features and activities. There are innumerable, parent-and-family-oriented websites, blogs, and other sites that discuss parenting issues. Tie into those networks and ask them to recognize your child-friendly business or activities. Post things on their blogs. Add a children’s section to your Main Street website if you don’t have one. Young people and parents alike are linked in to social networking. Make sure your Main Street social networking sites talk about child-friendly or youth activities and initiatives in your downtown.
Travel sites geared towards families promote locations that are family- friendly. Find out what it takes to get your downtown included. Make your Main Street tourist-family-friendly. Be familiar about local or regional businesses where parents can rent strollers and cribs and other necessitates. Encourage businesses to welcome families from out of town.
For more information, please contact: Carol J. Dyson, AIA, Illinois State Historic Preservation Office, DNR. Carol.Dyson@Illinois.gov