When Your Choice of Home May Mean Putting Children at Risk


I am looking to buy a house and I have children. That second fact influences much of my thinking about achieving closure on the first fact.

I won’t, for instance, live in a house in the hills, gorgeous though many of them are, because I never signed up to be a kids’ chauffeur. I won’t live in a fashionable loft in Emeryville or a sumptuous house on West Berkeley’s Fifth Street, appealing as they may be, because, as far as children are concerned, those neighborhoods are no-man’s land. And, not surprisingly, I favor green spaces and areas filled with friendly families. (The Playborhood campaign is inspiring in this regard.)

One factor I had not considered until recently was proximity to freeways. This may be because where I come from this is irrelevant. (In London the M25 motorway and in Paris the Peripherique — pictured above — go around the cities not through them.)

But some acquaintances who have been on the home-buying trail with me — they moved from Brooklyn with their young child and have seen more than 100 open houses in Berkeley and Oakland — mentioned that they literally had a “no look” zone when conducting their search. They had read research that shows that children who live near a major highway are not only more likely to develop asthma or other respiratory diseases, but their lung development may also be stunted. As my friend put it:

“It’s kind of silly since we just moved from NYC. But I figure if I have the choice, I should try to put some distance between the freeway and our one-year-old son”

One of the key studies on this subject, which appeared in The Lancet, found that children who lived within 500 meters of a freeway, or approximately a third of a mile, since age 10 had substantial deficits in lung function by the age of 18 years, compared to children living at least 1,500 meters, or approximately one mile, away.

Looking at the maps of Berkeley and Oakland it is clear there are more than a few homes that would fall into those no-go zones, especially in Oakland:


Many people don’t have the luxury of choosing how close they live to a freeway — often that’s exactly where the more affordable homes are. But expensive homes are not immunue. Take this new $985,000 listing on Chabot Road, or this $1,295,000 home on Contra Costa Place which offers “sophistication” as well as a neighboring freeway. And you only have to take a drive along Highway 24 to spot new developments of homes going up all of which boast unobstructed freeway views.

My friend closed on a house last week which by my rough calculation is one mile from the nearest freeway. It also scores 97/100 on the wonderful Walk Score which means never having to get in a car. Brooklyn, Berkeley what’s the difference?

[Photo credit: www.palaisdescongres-paris.com/Plan-ParisP%E9]