Most of our cities are so large these days that there arises a suspicion of anyone who seems too friendly. Don’t smile at anyone on the street. Don’t answer their queries and if, like me one day, you ask if they can change a dollar into four quarters run away as if you’re stealing their soul. We are packed in tighter, in this new ecotrend of eco-density, which if anything raises frustrations and issues of not enough breathing space, but we don’t get friendlier.
Many people live in high rises and condos, or even single dwelling homes and may never get to know their neighbors. It’s more likely, if you have children that you will get to know neighbors who also have children. We might go through life, suspicious or concealed behind our apartment doors, doing no more than giving a nod to our neighbors.
I live in an area of Vancouver that is surrounded by blue collar industry. Our block is the only street with houses on both sides. One neighboring block has business buildings (foundry, fish factory, T-shirt manufacturers, stuff like that) and the other block has houses only on one side and a housing co-op. The homeowners range from those on one side of the street going from 30 years to 7 years ownership and on the other side from 7 years to a year. The house I live in and the adjacent houses are all from circa 1910. My neighbors like to garden and work on their homes.
Like me, we shop in our neighborhood, walking up to the Drive and going to local restaurants. I once in a while go drinking elsewhere but it’s best not to drive while drinking and walking up the street is easier, and cheaper than taking a taxi. We have quite a few local restaurants, a library, a bookstore, poultry market, several fresh veggie markets and coffee shops, bakeries, stationery stores, health food stores, clothing stores, etc. There are many areas in Vancouver that do not have these amenities in walking distance and people must drive or bus to them.
But in our area, this helps create a community. You see regulars in the shops and restaurant. There is a sense of knowing the denizens if not knowing them. But on our street, I can stop and talk over the fence to any one of my neighbors. We have keys to each other’s homes, should anything happen and a rescue is needed. If I don’t make it home I can call and say, pretty please will you feed the cat? We stop by at each other’s places from time to time and have a drink or watch a movie. A friend of mine who lives in a different area says that their neighbors cook outside on the boulevard in the summer and people wander up and down the street with drinks in their hand visiting each other.
In the winter, and one like we had in 2009, we end up shoveling each other’s cars out, or shoveling a walk. We can borrow cups of sugar, taste each other’s garden produce, pet and feed each other’s cats, watch out for each other’s property and generally enjoy a community camaraderie. I’ve come to not only appreciate this sense of community but desire it. It would make moving an extremely hard thing as these are my people. We might not all be bosom buddies but we get along, enjoy each other’s company and generally look out for each other.
This is community. It was what the earliest forming of “civilization” was all about: humans living together to bring strengths to the individual and pool resources, to share when times were tough and to help each other, to form a society. It’s too bad that in general our cities have become too big and too cramped, causing more and not less crime and people becoming so suspicious because the media over reports every crime until it fills every minute of your day.
But for me this community of shops and stores, of regulars in the area and of my street and the people who live there, that’s an important aspect of interacting with life. I’m not separate from but part of a whole and it’s been part of humanity has long as we’ve been civilized.