Zoning and Driving

We Americans drive too much. We drive to the grocery store. We drive to the pub. We drive to the school bus stop.

A week or two ago, I made a connection between several things that had been bothering me a lot lately, and something clicked. Should have been obvious, I suppose.

All the locally-owned businesses in Lexington are gradually going out of business and being replaced by mega-stores and national chains. Why is this? Many factors are at work, of course, but a very significant one is the zoning laws. I have to drive to the grocery store, because it’s so far away. It’s so far away because where I live is zoned residential, and it’s a long way to the nearest place that’s zoned for grocery stores. And so, if I’m going to go all that way, I might as well do all my shopping in one place. So I favor the large mega-grocery store, rather than Fletcher’s Meat Market (which has gone out of business) or the produce wagon on the corner (which has moved to the corner of busier roads).

One of the things that I love so much about England, and much of Europe in general, is the tiny, privately owned stores, offering just a handful of products, and doing it really well. So I can go to the butcher and the baker and the candlestick maker, and know that they take pride in their store. And since they’re just around the corner, I can walk to them and not feel like I have to drive to Walmart where I can buy everything, and it’s all from China.

Zoning laws could, possibly, be reformed, and, indeed, it may become necessary as fuel prices continue to rise. But it could take generations before there there are neighborhood stores again, because we’ve just gotten into a certain way of living.

Not so long ago, folks went down to the local diner or pub, and talked to their neighbors. I don’t know any of my neighbors, except, vaguely, those with kids the same age as our kids. And even then, I can’t say I’ve ever actually talked with any of them about anything but when the kid is coming over for dinner or a sleepover, and when they’ll be back home.

So, there you go. Now that I have something to blame it on, it’s all better. That’s what life is about – blame and recriminations. Particularly if I can blame it on the government.