As the pandemic and inflation settle down, we’ll have lots of folk with new jobs looking for places to live. Let me suggest that we should rethink our housing, zoning, and living policies.
I was brought up in Brooklyn so I’m used to city living. But every summer we left the city on June 30, dad’s last day of work, and came home on the day after Labor Day in September. We spent that time in upstate New York, on the Southern Tier, on the shores of Lake Champlain, and at Chautauqua Institution in the western tip of New York, and traveled through and went to see the sites of New York going, coming and in between. I square danced and played ball with the locals wherever we were. And loved every minute.
When we returned from our Peace Corps service and married, we got a tiny apartment in Manhattan and enjoyed every cultural opportunity the big City offered. Then we moved to St. Louis and exploded into a full floor apartment owed by a lovely Black former postal carrier who wanted to integrate the block but rented to us instead and then, in his 80s, couldn’t do enough for his tenants. I commuted, when possible, across Forest Park by bike.
We lived there for three years, had our first child and then I got an offer for a job in Manhattan. I told my colleagues I was going back to nature. But I was serious. My commute was a two-mile walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a gorgeous walk. It took me a while but I convinced my wife that we should sell our car. We paid zero for gas, inflation be darned. In fact we had zero car expenses – no repairs, no insurance – except when we rented for a vacation.
When we moved to Albany we bought a home about two miles from my office and I continued walking to work although cars are necessary here. I did the same when I was invited to teach at schools in Boston, Milwaukee and Akron, loved the walk and kept my body in better shape. By the way, I think when I walk; ideas just pop up and I rush to my computer to write them down.
I recognize that city living means respecting our neighbors’ needs – some things are outrageously dangerous to do in cities. But it meant we had – and have – friends all around. When the kids were small they had friends in the building, across the street or down the block.
Heating and cooling apartments, condos and co-ops take much less fuel so they’re more environmentally friendly. And, this may surprise some of you, but great for the kids. They can walk to see their friends or take the bus to most of what they want to do. They grow up with more experience and self-confidence. And on streets with lots of friends, we weren’t worried something was going to happen.
With all the environmental damage taking place, I think we need to relearn the joys of city living, protect the green spaces and the farms. Did I mention vacationing on a farm when I was little?
Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.
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