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Oh, the places we go (within walking distance)

The idea for this column came, as many things do, from a recent trip to Klein's ShopRite.

Now that our office is on North Main Street, ShopRite is pretty much the most convenient place to go for a wide variety of things.

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Besides food, clearly, the walk over there is also a good way to pass time and complain... err, make conversation with co-workers about things going on in our lives and how we don't feel like going back to the office (just kidding, editors!).

In most places I've lived or worked, there has been a place that served the role of ShopRite. When The Aegis was on Hays Street, on the other end of downtown Bel Air, the closest place like that was Thomas Street Cafe (now Dillweedz), although we frequently also walked to Wawa (now Gus's).

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I feel like most employees, and most people in general, like having a place like that around. At least I know I have.

I went to high school in a suburb fairly similar to the Bel Air area, and the school was next to a McDonald's and across the street from a strip mall, both of which were pretty regular hangouts. I remember on hot days, the McDonald's would often run out of McFlurry shakes before the day was even over.

As a college underclassman, exiled to the outer reaches of the giant College Park campus, the closest place to go was a small store in the Cambridge Community Center, named after the Cambridge Quad where I lived.

I don't remember if the store had an official name, but everyone called it the "incon," short for "inconvenience store." Ironically, the incon actually kept pretty long hours by my sophomore year, but the name still stuck.

Whether it's a great idea for young people to be gorging on fast food and convenience store snacks is another story. The point is, it's nice to have places like that around.

One other thing I learned in college is that people will walk pretty long distances if they have to.

I don't know about people at smaller schools, but College Park residents thought nothing of walking a mile at the drop of a hat. I once walked 20 minutes from one end of campus to the other to retrieve a pencil I had left at a dining hall.

On especially warm days, all the walking could be annoying, but for the most part, I don't recall people really complaining about it.

Walking is good for lots of reasons; you get more exercise, so you maybe don't have to join a gym or take Vitamin D supplements later on.

Anyway, I digress. You might be thinking, well, it's easy for college students with lots of time to kill to do all this walking.

But if you've ever sat in traffic trying to get to a store that isn't even that far from your house, or driven half an hour to find some basic staple, or been stuck for two hours in the Walmart parking lot because it's Christmas Eve and you're near Route 24, you might think otherwise.

This sneakily brings me to the topic I secretly wanted to talk about but couldn't because it's pretty boring: zoning. (Gotcha!)

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This is in no way an original idea, but one I stole from a lot of Smart Growth-y things I read a long time ago: Many of the places Americans like best, or like to visit best, can't even be built in most locales because of zoning that effectively forbids creative, mixed uses.

(If you don't know what Smart Growth is, look it up. I can't be explaining everything in one column.)

Now you might say: "But people want to drive to everything, they demand car accessibility over walkability, it's all about the CARS!"

That may be true, but the reality is, demand can also be manufactured. Just ask Apple! Before the iPhone came out, not one person was thinking, "If only I had an iPhone on me to look up a silly cat video..." Now millions of people suddenly "need" a tiny computer with them at all times. Why? Because the demand was created.

I think it makes sense to give people more places that they at least have the option to get to with their own feet. But a lot of that depends on how much the government wants to subsidize roads and uncreative zoning patterns over newer ideas.

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