Opinion: CT families deserve better housing and transportation … – CTPost

Everyone knows that it takes a village to raise a child, but in too many towns in Connecticut, our housing and transportation policies make it virtually illegal to build those villages. Car dependence and a lack of housing choices are a burden for the state’s families, but we don’t have to accept the status quo. The 2023 legislative session is an opportunity to begin rebuilding walkable communities with a mix of housing options, and that will be a boon for our friends and family.

Raising children is becoming harder and harder, but most Americans don’t see how our transportation and housing policies exacerbate the challenge. Since the 1950s post-war suburban boom, places like Connecticut have been part of a radical experiment, going from living in multigenerational, walkable cities and small towns to living in car-dependent suburbs as atomized, nuclear families. This new arrangement has worked well for some, but not for everyone.

A lack of housing options across the state severely limits the way families live, as
over 90 percent of the state’s land
is zoned exclusively for single-family homes. This one-size-fits-all zoning makes it impossible for Connecticut’s families to adapt to changing life circumstances. For example, what if you and your sibling want to buy a duplex and live side-by-side so you can have dinners together and watch one another’s children? What if your aging parents need more support but aren’t ready for a care home — wouldn’t a backyard “granny flat” allow them to maintain independence, be near support, and help with child care when necessary? Or what about a divorced parent looking to rent an apartment in town so they can stay involved in their children’s lives? All of these scenarios are how people
live, but almost all of them are impossible in many towns in Connecticut. And even for those who want a single-family home with a backyard, our current zoning system — with its massive minimum lot sizes and other arbitrary rules — is
producing too little.

This “one-size fits all” zoning also forces families into expensive, dangerous and time-consuming
car dependence. Car dependence, or the need to have a car to access the basic necessities of life, is a result of our zoning and transportation policies, and it
adds one more burden to families. Our zoning codes separate every use and make a car a necessity to get to jobs and groceries, while our roads feature wide lanes and high speeds, making them dangerous to bike or walk on. Imagine how wonderful it would be to walk to the store instead of having to pile kids into car seats for every trip. Imagine what vacations families would take and memories they’d make if they weren’t forced to spend well over $1,000 a month on
car loan payments, insurance and gas. Imagine the free time parents would have if their kids could
safely and independently walk or bike
to their activities, as they do in other countries like the Netherlands.

Planning and engineering jargon like “zoning,” “land use” and “built environment” are the technical terms for some really common desires: can your children walk to school or activities safely? Are you able to rent out a room when times are tough or build a backyard ADU for your child who needs special support? Don’t get bogged down by jargon, just know that it’s well within our power to rebuild walkable communities with flexible housing types — but we need to reform our restrictive zoning and change our transportation policies.

Anti-homes “local control” activists in Connecticut are pushing a truly radical, one-size-fits all approach to how we live. When they say “local control,” they mean that they’ve decided that the “right” way to live is in a single-family home with a large backyard, two cars and nuclear family. This works for some, but it’s clearly not working for many. I think Connecticut’s families should have choices, not be dictated to by reactionaries who want to force their vision of the good life on us all.

What can you do to make life better for your friends and families and change the status quo? Support the state’s pro-homes, pro-housing choice groups like
Growing Together Connecticut, and join local safe street community groups such as
People Friendly Stamford,
Fairfield’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, and
Norwalk Bike/Walk.
are set to be major topics of discussion during the 2023 legislative session, so help make this state work for more of us.

There’s nothing wrong with cars, detached homes or backyards, and they’ll continue to be a great part of Connecticut’s future. What’s wrong is using our zoning codes and transportation policies to force every family to live that way at every stage of life. Don’t let anti-homes propaganda distract you from what matters — Connecticut isn’t building enough housing, and it isn’t allowing enough varieties of housing in walkable, bikeable and transit-rich communities. It takes a village to raise a child, so let’s actually make it legal to build those villages again.

Thomas Broderick is a Connecticut educator and Trumbull resident.


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