Monday, January 31, 2011

Growing Old In Lexington?

I grew up in one of Lexington’s streetcar suburbs. The old mule cars ended a route just two blocks(and a hundred years) from my front door and in their heyday the streetcars went down the middle of my street. Progress marches on and the tracks were rerouted a little farther out in the expanding subdivisions but they were never more than a block from the house. Sadly, I came along 12 years after they ended their run and I never saw them.

Many of my neighbors did see and used them to get from home to downtown and some of the other destinations at which they stopped. It was one if the reasons that they bought in the area. Houses close to shopping, entertainment and recreation. It was also a neighborhood where folks could grow old and still easily get the necessities of life. With the streetcar they could get downtown to major shopping or they could walk to the local market or pharmacy, get their hair cut or meet friends at the local eatery. It was a neighborhood designed for multiple generations to live together, a real social network.

As a young fellow, I knew all of the families on both sides of the street and the people on the other side of the block. I knew where the kids(what few there were) lived and which of the houses were home to the sweet old ladies. I watched as couples aged, the husbands retired, the widows followed their spouses and the houses sold to others or became rentals. Even lost friends as their parents moved to the suburbs, but that was the way of the world in those days.

My next-door neighbor was a retired high school teacher whose eyesight was failing her. She had taught at the high school just a half a block from our house. She rented out a room to another lady who helped care for her, but we all kept an eye on her. As I recall, she lived there until about 6 weeks of her death.

On the other side, on the corner, was a retired doctor and his socialite wife. He was friendly to us kids but she never took time to talk to us, unless it was to shoo us away from her husband while he was working in the yard. The drove their late model Cadillac to Florida every winter and back in the spring, till that one year of the accident on the way back. Their estate sold the house for apartments soon after.

These stories are repeated, house by house, as you go around the block. The retired State highway engineer (where I saw my first old drafting equipment), the retired antique dealer, the retired preacher, and so on and so on. These people bought in this neighborhood, not as an investment but, as a place to live and grow old. These folks bought for the long term.

These are also not the type of subdivisions which have been built in the past 60 years. Today’s suburbs are built for the automobile. Nothing is really as close as a few blocks, especially when those blocks feature many cul-de-sacs and winding roadways. A 5 minute walk to the store is not the same as a 5 minute auto trip when you’re up in years, just ask the lady who drove into the grocery on Romany Road a while back.

The reality of today’s suburban living is, that it is for the children of the “Baby Boomers”. Children who chose not to live like their parents, in modest sized cottages, just like their parents who chose not to live in the old Victorians I the old town sections. Status usually led us to want more land and a bigger house, which now is more than most of aging population can take care of. Then there is the mobility, the constant mobility, moving for job, for family, for downsizing. Retire to where the grandkids are, except the aren’t in just one place, they are all over the country. My grandparents houses were stable, all through my younger years. So was my parents place, right up until my dad died and my brother and I took it over. Forty-five years in one place, just like it was designed for.

These are the types of residential subdivisions we need to see more of, don’t you think?

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