Stepping Outside

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I have lived in my condo for about a year and a half and have been reflecting on my feelings now compared to when I first moved in. It’s very interesting that my reactions are very similar to the way they were back then. One of the things that I was concerned about when I opted for higher-rise housing was that there could be barriers to the simple act of stepping outside. My pre-move concern became a reality after I settled in and I am still feeling it these many months later.

I am not at all sorry that I unburden myself of home ownership responsibilities. I had had it with plumbing blow-outs, potential electrical catastrophes, ice dams, and, of course, shoveling. The place where I live now takes care of all of these things – how terrific. I have done some work on my space so that it fits my life’s necessities and it has worked out well.

But, still, the sense of complexity with something that should be so simple lingers. In my house, I could just step outside in seconds. All I needed to do was go to my back door, open it and be in fresh air, and green space. Once outside, I could either walk or drive. Here (as I have written about before) I have a corridor to walk down, a wait for the elevator, a trip to the lobby, a walk to another elevator and a ride down to the underground garage – assuming I am driving. If I use my outdoor parking space, I save half a lobby-walk and one elevator ride, but, it’s still a lot of steps just to get outside. Even when I get outdoors, only big malls with chain businesses are within walking distance. With this pattern, I have experienced an unwanted change in the character and design of my life.

In the past I could walk into Newton Highlands to meet a friend for coffee or lunch, pick up a gift at one of the independent stores, or go to the post office. I could walk to the T in 5 minutes and get to Boston for a concert, Back Bay Station, or the Airport. Now, I am using my car more than I would like for basics – stamps or a loaf of bread. I am not walking as much as I used to. I am trying to do some form of physical activity a few times a week, but just walking the mile or so round-trip to the Village, combined easy exercise with ordinary routines and pleasures. This is gone and I miss it. I could have moved out of Newton but I wanted – actually needed – to stay because of kids and grandkids, and my community involvement.

Thinking about this makes me consider a what-if scenario. What if there had been a small amount of well-thought-out, one-floor, slightly denser housing in the Village at a price I could afford? If I had the choice to stay in my little “village” I would have jumped at the chance. However, my only options were to stay in my house and deal with onerous maintenance, or move to a place where it takes a lot of effort to step outside

I listen with great interest to the debates about the development projects around my city, and mostly I am dismayed. It is well documented that with increasing numbers of people like me (older), along with younger people who want to live near public transportation, there is a crying need for more density in housing. This density doesn’t have to be (as some people are instigating fear about) an effort to make our city a concrete jungle, but as a way to plan for the future in a livable, sustainable way. Yes, I need to park my car when I’m out but if I could walk more places, I wouldn’t have as much need for a car.

The people who may live in a denser complex would be working folks, environmentally aware people, and seniors like me – ordinary people who are looking for a convenient and friendly place to live. Although I am not impacted directly by the development proposals, I still sense that I and others like me are being marginalized – unintentionally, I am sure. However, whether intended or not, I have a growing feeling of being unacknowledged, undervalued, and unwelcome.

I am lucky to have found a reasonable compromise in my living situation but it is not necessarily the best thing for me, local businesses, and a city that wants to plan for the future. My personal vision is that a whole range of people – young and old – could live in a forward thinking community, where it is easy to step outside and walk. It sounds so simple but strong voices are pulling us away from reality.

Here is my voice. I wish for a place that welcomes me as a senior citizen, along with others who want to live a socially and environmentally conscious life– here.

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About Marian

Marian Leah Knapp, Ph.D., wants to start a new conversation about “aging with intent.” Much of what is written about elders is from the point of view of physicians, psychiatrists, gerontologists, and adult children. In her roles as author, columnist, speaker and elder activist, Marian is reporting from the front lines.
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