We All Might Want to Walk to Breakfast

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I’m supposed to want a rambling four bedroom colonial with a two-car garage on a cul-de-sac, given my demographics of age, marital status and educational achievement. Big surprise: that’s not what I want.

Seriously, who actually wants to get in the car every time there is a need for a loaf of bread, a light bulb, a birthday card or a take-out meal? Why would I want that?

Urban neighborhoods are supposed to attract younger singles in their first apartments and first jobs. Persons with tons of disposable income also succumb to the lure of downtown chic.  I can tell you, I’m no longer young and single and certainly am not rich. But neither am I a statistical anomaly.

I chose the city because of its employment opportunities and its network of air, rail and mass transit services. After years of living in a rental apartment and saving money for a big down payment on a house, I was ready for a home purchase. My preference was a townhouse neighborhood within walking distance of all the amenities I might desire.

The quality of schools was an important factor, even before the arrival of any children into my family. The average cost of living was a factor, but the costs throughout the region are generally on the high side regardless of a specific zip code. Safe streets matter along with a sense of community among neighbors. I sought out a place where people were prepared to act in concert for the betterment of their shared block and street. For me, the Orange Hat Patrol was not a sign of high crime rates but a symbol for united neighborhood action.

Knowing the difficult automobile commuting patterns in my region, I made a deliberate decision to live in a smaller house in the center of the city, rather than a bigger property at greater distance. My street is decidedly middle-class, safe and clean. There are trees, sidewalks, gardens, dogs, public pools, shops, restaurants, a farmers market and transit.

So this is my choice. I can walk to breakfast. Where I chose density, diversity, destinations, distance to transit and interesting urban design, others in my exact situation chose differently.

But now the critical question: How can we ensure that everyone gets to make a choice from among a broad set of truly valued options? Is this the task of government; to guarantee equality of opportunity?

For the policy maker, there will always be a debate about how much government support is given to the student, the job seeker, the mortgage borrower, the entrepreneur, the elder, the differently-enabled and the veteran. However, an array of good choices, whether for schools or houses, ought to be available to everyone on an equitable basis. That’s the common promise that “We the People” expect from those we elect to serve our interests.