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Life In the City: The Daycare Hustle!

I’m just a country girl with big city dreams. At least that’s what I tell myself every time I’m confronted with something that seems out of the ordinary. City life isn’t for the faint of heart or for those of us who like to carefully watch our pennies. There is a price (usually a steep one) associated with everything. On a trip back to my native state, Alabama, I scrunched my face and squinted my eyes when I realized I could buy milk and eggs for what seems to be half of what they cost in the District of Columbia. As I’ve gotten married and more recently, had a child, I have soon found out the grocery store isn’t the only place with prices exceeding my expectation… and my pocketbook.

Fortunately, for the first year of my son’s life, we had willing family members who came for extended visits and helped fill our childcare gaps.  For us, this worked out great because his initial medical issues would have made it hard to comfortably place him in a traditional daycare; however, that wasn’t a permanent solution. A few months ago, once all the family had gone home, we started the daycare search. Of course, my husband entirely entrusted me with the process, and so I trudged around the city going on site visit after site visit.  We had already heard all the horror stories. You need to be on the list before you’re even pregnant.  Your boss needs to write you a letter of recommendation. You need to cough up three goats, two cows and one chicken every month. It was all true!

Our initial search started near our home in southeast DC. Prices weren’t as cheap as Alabama but were reasonable compared to the area – about $700-$1200 a month. However, I hung up each call more frantic and anxious than the one before. There were literally no openings at ANY of the daycare centers within my geographic boundaries. Everything near my house was entirely full until basically 2027.

Time was starting to run out, and I entered into full on panic mode. By this point, I was working from home or trying to bring my kid into the office.  We were still on several waitlists, but nobody was calling me back.  We decided to try a home daycare in our neighborhood—one of the few that had space—at first it was a relief, but after a few short weeks, we realized it wasn’t a good fit.  And so, we were back to the daycare hustle.  I decided to expand my search closer to my office and voila!  I lucked out and nabbed what had to be the only open toddler space in all of DC. It was more than double the cost of what we were paying the home daycare, but we realized that at this point, peace of mind was everything. But still.  When my friends in Alabama discuss their $80/week daycare center, I cringe wondering how people—myself included—afford to live and raise a family in this city when daycare costs are comparable to mortgage and rent.

Finding suitable, reliable, affordable childcare in the District shouldn’t be this difficult. I’ve watched this panicked scene unfold several times in our office as babies make their debut. Families have to make really hard life choices because of child care, like deciding if it’s really worth it for both parents to work. When calculating the costs, some families decide it’s better for one parent to stay home. Let’s keep it real. The majority of the time this falls on the woman’s career taking a back seat. No matter who has to stay at home, the impact is negative because it takes valuable people away from the workforce. It sets them back in their career in terms of upward mobility and keeping their skills sharpened, and financially their future social security takes a hit. Emotionally this is draining because these are parents who want to work but have to choose not to. Unfortunately, our institutions are just not set up to accommodate two working parents, especially in major cities. Not only is the cost challenging but think about our institutions and how they are not designed to fit homes with working parents.  (yes, this is a tangent but it’s my blog) The post office and schools close before most parents get off work. Schools open from 8-3 or 7-3 but “typical” work hours are 9-5 leaving parents scrambling to identify before and after school care, juggle schedules or rely on family for support. In a place like DC, where many people live far from family the latter is usually not an option.

Reform is necessary in the childcare space so that it is affordable and accommodates two working class parents. Beyond childcare, we have to rethink the way our institutions are designed and if they support the way we work or maybe the way we work needs to change. These issues aren’t mutually exclusive. There is much “talk” about it but working parents need action. It shouldn’t be a hustle to find quality, affordable, reliable daycare that allows both parents to work. We have put a man on the moon and even developed driverless cars. Certainly, our childcare can be better than this.

Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.

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My First Year at TransportationCamp

The Transportation Research Board Conference is one of my favorite times of the year. For me it’s like a big reunion where I get to see everyone who has moved away from DC (we’re so transient) or who I met through various transportation events throughout the years. This year, however, is the first year I attended TransportationCamp (yes, it’s all one word). I had no idea what to expect from this “un-conference”, but as I did expect, I had a great time and was introduced to ideas I had never considered.

One aspect of Transportation Camp that is very different from other conferences I’ve attended is that, after someone from the host organization, Mobility Lab, gave an introductory speech, they went around the room and almost every single one of the 400 attendees said who they were, where they worked, and three words that described why they were at the conference. I was pleasantly surprised that there were attendees of all ages (‘camp’ made me think ‘young’), in all different stages in their career, and from a wide variety of countries and backgrounds. And TransportationCamp had sessions to please all groups, including the planners, engineers, data crunchers, GIS specialists, and more.

TrnspCmpThe first session I attended was my coworker’s Christine Mayeur. I may be biased but it was one of my favorites of the day. Each of the five or so tables were given a Google Map printout and description of a particular area in DC, trace paper, and colored markers. She began by giving a brief presentation about how the widespread switch to autonomous vehicles will open up street space for other uses by reducing the need for parking and allowing for narrower lanes. Each group was then asked to redesign their area for how it could look once this change happened. The ideas were interesting and I can definitely see them happening if there’s enough will for them. For example, blocking off car access on H St NW in between 5th St NW and 7th St NW. Removing car travel lanes and parking would create room for a cycle track, bus lanes, and wider sidewalks, since the area is always crammed with tourists and residents. See the drawing below for all of the ideas for the area!

I also really enjoyed a session that focused on transit videos, not just because I got to watch some wonderful, horrible, bizarre, and hilarious YouTube clips, but because it made me really think about the best way for transit agencies to advertise themselves and provide public service announcements. One video that really stood out for me was an LA Metro PSA about a superhero called “Super Kind”. It would definitely fall under the bizarre category. I can’t really even explain it well – you’ll just have to watch it yourself – but I will say there’s a big furry monster eating Skittles on the train and a superhero girl trying to get him to stop. The first time I saw it I was turned off because of just how weird it is, but after the panel started discussing it I realized I was approaching it wrong. The whole point of the video was to remind people that they can’t eat on the train, and it sure imprinted that on your mind. One of the panelists shared how she showed it to her 4-year-old and ever since then he is adamant about not eating on the train and is upset with other people he sees doing it. I guess it has its audience. Was the production cost worth it, though? Not sure. What do you all think?

The video that was rated the highest, though, and my personal favorite, is from our own WMATA to advertise the opening of the Silver Line. It’s probably because I’m a transportation nerd, but every time I see it I get excited about the work we’re all doing to improve transportation around the country (okay, so it’s definitely because I’m a transportation nerd). But here’s the thing I love about Transportation Camp, TRB, and all of the other conferences I get to go to – we’re all transportation nerds who love getting together to bask in our nerd-iness and our shared passion for creating better transportation systems. I can’t wait for the next one!

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Do You Know How Smart Our City Is Becoming?

Washington, D.C. is full of smart technologies, some of which you know about (apps such as Uber, Lyft, Google Maps, Bikeshare, etc.) and others you probably don’t. This past summer, I attended an event called Smart City Symposium- “Solutions for Business Growth and Economic Development” (include a small exhibition) in downtown D.C., hosted by the DC Chamber of Commerce and Verizon.

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https://twitter.com/vorangedc         @VOrangeDC

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https://twitter.com/dcchamber        @dcchamber

The Office of the Chief Technology Officer shared some of the technologies the city is already using. Further information on this can be found on their website.

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But “5G Technology” was the key word through the whole event. For people who don’t know about 5G, it is basically 4G with user data. For example, Google will detect the amount of traffic by counting how many people are using their map at a specific location, same as they are tracking the restaurant rush hour by counting how many people are searching for it online.

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Verizon is working to engage 5G technology in the D.C. area to make people’s lives more convenient. Here are some of the great products they demonstrated:

  1. Smart trash can

I was really impressed by this new trash can. They look like unimpressive boxes, but can fit four times more than a regular trash can. The smart part is that it can sense how full the trash bin is in real time and send a signal that it needs to be emptied, allowing garbage crews to come only as needed instead of on a set schedule, emptying bins that are not yet full. It can save time, resources, and energy emissions.

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2. Home clinic

Home clinics are long-distance personal doctors. A doctor can talk with patients over video chat and then send devices the patient can use to measure their own vitals, such as blood pressure or blood sugar. After they know the patient’s health information, they can provide suggestions and prescribe medication. This will save patients time and money by allowing them to skip a trip to the doctor’s office if they have only minor symptoms and don’t need to go to hospital. The same methods can be used for other doctors, such as psychologists.

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3. Agriculture drone

Agriculture uses more natural resources and has a greater carbon footprint than almost any other sector. Agricultural drones, however, will change the way crops are produced. Drones will gather information throughout the day on weather conditions like temperature, moisture, and wind. As more information is collected, the system will analyze the data and tell other devices how much water different crops need, if a certain action needs to be taken, and so on. This will significantly reduce resource waste and improve production.

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4. Smart car

This program is similar to Zipcar, but it’s currently only implemented on some university campuses. It works like Car2go, where the customer can use the app to track where there has an available car. However, Verizon is still testing this technology so I do not have too much information about it.

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From what I can see, 5G technology will save people time and help make life easier and more convenient. One of the downsides, however, is that I feel less secure because our personal information is publicized and stored on the internet. The internet will have information on where we are, what we are doing, and what we are talking about. I am excited about how the world is becoming more and more advanced, but I also want to be reassured that our information can be private. This is something people should keep in mind as these types of technologies become more prominent.

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.





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