Livable streets need bustling places

“Livable streets have stuff!” ’Nuff said.

Alicia Bowman was heartbroken when she had to take her parents’ car keys away because it was no longer safe for them to drive.

The natural question following that was: how would they get to the grocery store?

“They should be able to walk out their front door and go anywhere,” Bowman said.

But her parents’ house in Newton is neither close to public transit nor walking distance to anything they need.

Bowman looked at an apartment that suited their mobility needs, but it was far away from any necessities — except a grocery store across a busy roadway.

“You have to cross a six-lane highway (to get there),” Bowman said, with a laugh. “It’s really close.”

Bowman’s in-laws went through a similar experience and had to move out of their home that had four flights of stairs. Bowman said her father-in-law felt very guilty that his physical needs put his wife in a situation where she, too, was losing her independence.

“It was breaking their hearts,” Bowman said.

Great communities should enable aging residents to retain control of their lives, she said, rather than forcing them to live in dormitory-like situations because there are no better options.

Density of different types of uses — such as housing near places to work, study, and play — can provide freedom as well as public health and socioeconomic benefits, said Stacy Thompson, executive director of the LivableStreets Alliance.

Across the country, Thompson said, it is common to see suburban neighborhoods that appear to have adequate sidewalk access, but those sidewalks do not lead to anything.

“You can walk through a number of sprawling … suburbs with fancy, pristine sidewalks, but no one is on them,” Thompson said. “The places that are most desirable are walkable and have stuff.”

Thompson recalled a similar story to that of Bowman’s parents. She spoke with a woman in her 80s who said she grew up in Roxbury and enjoyed the independence she had as a child, being able to take the train or walk to the park to play with friends. Yet as a senior, she lives alone in a suburban community and is dependent on people to drive her around.

“We’re limiting her potential to contribute to society,” Thompson said.

This is why LivableStreets supports the Great Neighborhoods campaign. The GN bills (Senate 81 and House 2420) call for better planning and more housing choices, which foster more walkable neighborhoods with a range of activities and amenities. Compact neighborhoods are also easier to service with public transportation.

Bowman and her parents want to age in their hometown, Newton, rather than moving to Boston just to find a home to fit their mobility and accessibility needs (and contributing to the housing crunch there). Sadly, Bowman said, the apartments they can find in Newton are not walking distance to anything they need.

“They stick them in places where they are not near anything,” she said.

While some say seniors who cannot drive can call a taxi, Bowman noted that calling a taxi or, worse, a shared ride like Uber can be intimidating to some seniors. This deters them from simple activities like going to the store or meeting friends for a cup of coffee.

“People think it won’t affect them until they’re old. But I have friends who have become disabled (and faced similar challenges),” Bowman said. “We have to have some more options. It’s something that will impact everybody.”

Join Alicia and Stacy in supporting walkable neighborhoods (with streets that lead to something) by signing our petition.

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