Monday, August 4, 2014

Where We Live Now & Then

If you happened to pass two seniors on the road who fit the following description, you saw us during the past three weeks: the wife is up front driving either at the speed limit or below it. The husband is in the back behind the passenger seat. He is dressed as if it is late fall in layers of clothes whereas she is in a summer dress since it is July. They are probably arguing about whether the windows should be up (him) or down (her). He is always cold. She loves driving her convertible with the top down but that is out of the question with him in the back.

Fortunately, he has to keep his head in a down position for post-op recovery so is limited in giving driving instructions. But oh, does he feel each bump or imperfection in the road, muttering about his wheel alignment and its probable wreckage. They are passed by everyone on the Ohio Turnpike because there is no way he will ok going 70mph. She stays in the right lane going 60mph and attains some quiet, making the slow pace worth it. He hates being late so they always must allow 30-40 extra minutes in addition to the driving time when they set out. They thus spend more time in waiting rooms than anyone else since they are so early.

On Thursday the surgeon announced Jim could resume driving. On Friday he took his maiden voyage. If I had had a magnum of champagne handy, I would have drunk it. This was more important than launching a thousand ships; it was Freedom from Felix day. He happily took off to run his errands and returned in the best mood he's been in during this month. Now that he is a master of the highways again, my daily life has resumed and I have hung up my chauffeur's cap. I am not a patient person to begin with so taking on the role of ultra considerate and accommodating chauffeur to a single star was the role of a lifetime for me.

This all caused me to think back to a section of Cleveland Hts., my growing up suburb which I have discussed in earlier entries. Back in the 1950s and 1960s people divided into ethnic, racial and religious lines when it came to where they lived. Some of this was voluntary but a lot of it was not. One was often not welcome in a neighborhood if not of the same group. This was outlawed by the fair housing laws in 1968 and slowly our country has become more multicultural in its neighborhoods.

Multiculturalism is not the purpose of this entry though. This entry focuses upon a neighborhood, the above South Taylor-Superior-Cedar Roads section of Cleveland Hts., which was almost all Jewish in the 1950s and 1960s. I'll examine its different setup and the resulting advantage to seniors. Having been brought up in the real estate industry back then, there was also a sharp divide even as to whom one would use as real estate agents. People stuck to their groups so strongly that entire agencies were based solely on being Jewish (or other special interest) as a Jewish customer could be expected to use only a Jewish agent by choice. I'm sure a younger reader would be amazed at this parochialism but to anyone of my age, this is just the way it was. It was not only legal, but advisable, to tell such a buyer about how perfect this neighborhood was for him because he "fit in." Such a statement is illegal today.

However, this neighborhood worked exceedingly well for everyone in it and this is what is forgotten. I am supposing that this neighborhood was set up differently because everyone was not that long removed from Europe. Thus they reproduced the way you could move around in a European town instead of the American car based living pattern. Had we been living in a community like the way this one was, the last three weeks would have been so much easier. Below, is the map of the area with the red dots going down the main drag. Short of going to the hospital, you could live within this perimeter day in and day out quite nicely. Notice the huge expanse of Cain Park for the residents.

The area was heavily residential consisting of single family, double family or apartment houses. Some people even lived over the stores on Taylor Rd. (practice your trade on the bottom and live on the top, again in the European tradition). Taylor Road had stores all along the way filling the basic daily needs. Coffee shops, bakeries and delis were there as well. You could walk to the stores or bike there. If you took your car, it was a drive of two to three minutes at most. Also on Taylor Rd. was the synagogue and a funeral home. Buses ran along the road constantly. Side streets were used extensively to get to the schools, parks, library, swimming pool and other amenities. The Jewish Community Center was steps from the Mayfield and Taylor intersection. Cain Park was off Superior Rd. and one went to the performing arts there all summer long. Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals were at most 15 minutes away by car or ambulance. Tons of seniors lived here and most of them died here. Few people went to nursing homes then so most people had their final illness here and died. Since everyone knew everyone else and the entire family was located here, this was easily feasible. When I was in my 30s my friend Aleta's parents had lived and then died here so I was able to visit the family while they mourned. This was in the 1980s but the children of this older generation were not moving back into the neighborhood to replace them.

This kind of neighborhood was not unique to suburban Cleveland. It was replicated in big cities throughout the country. One very famous one was the South Beach neighborhood in Miami, which was made up almost entirely of Jewish seniors. South Beach was gentrified in the 1980s and became a hip art gallery and celebrity hang out, largely ending that neighborhood's former use. Gentrification always pushes out the former residents and brings in a much richer, trendier and younger crowd of people. Instead of elderly Jewish people walking around their neighborhood on canes, South Beach became famous as the home of Madonna and Versace (who was ultimately killed on his front steps by an assassin). CSI Miami was often shot there as well since the show had murders occur in the trendy nightclubs of South Beach. Above left, elderly Jewish men in South Beach; right, Italian Fashion Designer Versace at his South Beach mansion where he was killed.

We do not live in a bad set up for seniors, Greenwood Village above. We have 4,000 people of varied ages in a Planned Unit Development of mostly condo apartments or duplexes. There are some single family homes in it. I can walk to the indoor-outdoor swimming pools, the small park with playground, tennis courts, picnic tables, hiking trails, and pond with fishing. We can even walk to the strip shopping center adjacent to the PUD which has a market with a drug store. We are surrounded by parks, including the national one and several county ones. Biking and hiking are the major sports all around us. We do know our neighbors and do try and help one another.

This is all located inbetween Cleveland and Akron in an area that was previously described as "in the middle of nowhere." Our development was built in 1970 and everything else was built up in the ensuing years. So we are not set up badly for the senior years but it is still a far cry from the South Taylor-Superior-Cedar Roads section of Cleveland Hts., South Beach, or their counterparts in cities across the country. We still do need a car. We cannot live within the perimeter of our neighborhood without budging. You did not need to think about your senior years in those earlier neighborhoods, by contrast, because the aged were woven right into the fabric of the community from day one.

Where we lived before Greenwood was in Geauga County, Ohio. I always told Jim that it would be an awful place to live as seniors. This is because the style of living is entirely large lot, single family house with virtually no community services. Left is two acre lot living which was increased to 3-5 acre lot minimums after we moved there.

There was no community pool, only one supermarket ten minutes away by car, no public trash service, no public transit, and so forth. It was 20-45 minutes to go anywhere by car and you could walk nowhere. There were no sidewalks and all students were bused to school. Even the library was 10-15 minutes away by car. There was no post box within walking or biking distance. One had to go to the actual post office, ten minutes by car away. There were no movie theaters or any other form of entertainment. There were no apartment buildings and no shared housing of any sort. Geauga County was also in the worst of the snow belt so we got two to three times the snowfall that we get here, on the South side of Cleveland. In legal circles, this was referred to as exclusionary zoning because the people sought to wall themselves away from most others simply by not allowing most uses within the community.

Nevertheless, as shown above, it did appeal to a lot of people, especially non-seniors. It did harken back to a simpler time of life when these communities were all small towns and largely supported themselves off agriculture and some home grown industries. For those who wanted to live in wide open spaces in Ohio or who were rugged individualists, this was the place to be. However, it was also a county where it was increasingly unlikely that several generations of people could live side by side with their different levels of needs being met. It was as opposite a neighborhood from the South Taylor-Superior-Cedar Roads section of Cleveland Hts., as one could be. Nonetheless, the Jewish children originally from that neighborhood (of our age) had also moved to Geauga County.

In some ways we Americans are a better people than we used to be. Everywhere I go in northeastern Ohio, there is now increased diversity of people and more tolerance shown for people of mixed races, religions and ethnicities. I see people accept neighbors who are different from themselves, who are using the same facilities they are using, such as pools, schools and other entities. I also see mixed race, ethnic or religious couples and couples who have a child of a race other than their own. I have even met gay and lesbian couples at our pools.

I doubt this is true through 100% of America but that it is becoming more and more commonplace is amazingly encouraging. You certainly saw nothing of the kind in our coming of age era. This is our huge step forward. Our huge step backward is that we also became a more fragmented people. That fragmentation is something we are only growingly aware of and that we will continue to explore as America's huge population of boomer seniors soars.

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