Editor’s Note: TLC staff recently enjoyed the opportunity to talk with Edna Bernstein, a TLC sustaining member and resident of the Excelsior & Grand development in Saint Louis Park, Minnesota. Before retiring, Edna worked in the MPCA’s Water Quality Division. As a retiree she moved to a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood that matched her values. It’s a decision that she now credits for both her optimistic outlook and financial well-being. Read on for highlights from our conversation.
TLC: Edna, I understand that you’re a longtime member of Transit for Livable Communities?
EB: Yes, Barb Thoman, [TLC’s co-founder and executive director] was a coworker of mine at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The last part of my job there was in the library where we were lending materials on hot issues like how much does it really cost to drive a car. We got into that with passion. Some of us began to carpool, others highlighted the bicycle as transit. So I’ve kind of been living that belief and when I saw that this multi-use development was available I knew I had to live here because I would feel good in it.
TLC: And has that been the case? How do you feel now about your decision to live in a mixed-use development?
EB: It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. My kids think I’ve never been happier. It lives a belief and it validates the work I did back in my environmental days.
TLC: So for you it’s as much about values as the convenience?
EB: It validates our argument that if it was sustainable it would also be more enjoyable. There turned out to be lots more advantages. The park, the walkability of the neighborhood, the closeness to restaurants, and businesses, and services—an awful lot going on in this area.
TLC: Tell me about your average day, how you usually get around.
EB: I walk everywhere. I have some assistance: a cane and shopping cart that I imagine as blending in with other things like baby carriages and dog walkers. I can shop with the four-wheeled cart, fill it with groceries, and walk back home. A lot of businesses I can reach that way. Or I can use just a cane and walk in the neighborhood, up to Park [Nicollet] Medical Clinic. I should add that when I moved in here I had no handicaps except suggestions of future trouble. But since then, that has come around and I’ve had to test the reality of it. Now I use these devices and it’s very wonderful exercise to walk around. The outdoors is very pleasant. The sidewalks are extra wide, they are well lit, and it’s all charming. I used to drive many, many miles to everything I had to get to.
TLC: Where did you live before you moved here?
EB: I lived out in Golden Valley, a perfectly lovely place to raise a family. At the point where I had a sick husband and the children had grown, I was in charge of three cars and a deteriorating property. That’s when I decided it was a very good idea to downsize and change the scenery.
TLC: Do you own a car now?
EB: I had a car when I moved in here, just as I had my athletic ability. It was a good, older, mid-sized car. I thought what I really needed after I had a fender bender or three was to get a much smaller car. At the same time Golden Valley Courage Center was offering older drivers a private test of all of your facilities to see what you had left to drive with. And I thought, I’ll take all the training I can get and I’ll buy a car. My dream was a yellow Volkswagen. But it turned out I didn’t have the equipment working as fast as you need for today’s driving. After I took the assessment I had my family say, let’s hang it up. I said, yes, every signal says quit driving now. So I was able to sell that car immediately and then I had this extra cash. It was starting to show up in my budget. I suddenly had more money. That was the best decision I made. And the key was to have the right community around me. I could walk to most of my needs including the groceries.
EB: I gave up the keys two or three years ago— in 2009, I think.
TLC: Would you recommend a mixed-use community to other retirees?
EB: Without this I could never have pulled it off. I could never have said quite quickly, yes, I guess I’ll quit driving. I would have been overwhelmed in a minute. So it was this development. I told my children, it looks like I can walk to everything. At least 50 percent of everything I ever need I can walk to. And our community mix here is just really delightful. I really want a community where not everyone is using the same cane that I’m using. I want it to be mixed. Some have babies, some have dogs, some are old, some are young, and some have unusual stories to tell. Those are the surroundings I like.
TLC: Is there any advice you’d like to share or anything else you wanted to mention?
EB: You have to have a lighter heart about downsizing. It has to be something that gives you more companions, more friends, more money, and more fun. And then one is willing to downsize. You start to envision all of the different things that can happen. My daughter and I were saying this was the best move I’d made. Because I’m feeling more optimistic now than I was in my house. And you find people thinking that being older is destined to be lonelier, sicker, and more expensive. It’s not true at all. The loneliness is because you’re living in too big a house, far away from fun.