Tag Archives: neighbors

Community in the City

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.

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Filed under Culture, environment, home, life, people, relationships

Neighbors

Vancouver has neighborhoods set up with market areas. It’s not all neighborhoods but some of the better known ones are Kerrisdale, Kitsilano, the West End, Champlain Heights, Commercial, Fraser/Kingsway, Main St., etc. We have a few malls outside of downtown but not a lot. What these community shopping areas do is keep people local and able to shop within walking distance.

I live near Commercial, which has many shops and numerous restaurants/bars. We have several fresh produce markets that are cheaper and better quality than Safeway’s, which I rarely ever go to (and it’s farther). Some of the places have live music and there are a variety of funky shops from clothing to futons. Other cities have different styled areas. Calgary is so spread out that they have big box shopping centers everywhere and you have to drive around the center as it’s not set up for walking. Of course, they sometimes get real winter too.

I do remember being in Montreal, and like Vancouver there were shopping districts. These tended to be much larger but then so is the population of Montreal. What these areas do though, is give a better sense of community and culture, as each place takes on a particular flavor. Kerrisdale has wealthy older people and part of the Jewish community. Kitsilano is trendy with a lot of young (yuppy) couples and families.

Commercial Drive has the old Italian community and a lot of artists. We’re considered the bohemian part of town and there are a fair number of artist studios in the vicinity, which spawned the East Van Culture Crawl. This happens once a year (this year it’s Nov. 21-23)¬†where studios are opened to the public to wander through. Some have demonstrations and some have items for sale. Thousands of people now go through the Crawl.

Even more than community of shops, I have found a community with my neighbors. Our street is not very long and partly blue collar industrial. Our particular block is the only one with houses on both sides of the street (about six per side). That’s pretty small and most of us have lived there for years. I’m not a homeowner but a long-term renter. I know my neighbors and through my landlords the people across the street. We nod to each other, stop and talk as someone is raking the leaves, or knock on a door to drop off a jar of jam.

My neighbors have a key to my place. If I’m stuck somewhere I can call them to feed the cat. We watch each others’ homes and cars and we’re aware if there are unfamiliar people in yards.The part I like best is just being able to say hi to my neighbors, to recognize them and their pets. On our little street, I like this sense of familiarity. When I was¬†young I don’t remember it being this strong but then I was a kid. My mother knew the neighbors and I was long-term enemies with my neighbor two doors down, while my brother and hers were best friends.

So I’m glad I have that community sense in my neighborhood. It makes it real, and borrowing an egg or a cup of sugar are things that happen often enough, as well as stopping in for a glass of wine or to watch a show. And we have a lower crime rate because we know each other, and better understanding of any happenings. Here’s to my neighbors.

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Filed under consumer affairs, Culture, entertainment, food, life, people, shopping