Thursday, February 21, 2008


My wife and I were talking today about what makes a great neighbourhood and we came to the conclusion that the single most important thing is like-minded neighbours who share a few fundamental lifestyle positions. Not to say you need to agree on politics, religion, home decor or even proper lawn care. It just helps if there are some specific things that you have in common.

For example, a University residence is a great place to live... if you are a university student. You can always find someone to drink with, there is always a party just around the corner or on a different floor, and you can enjoy as much casual sex as your libido requires.

An old folks home is a great place to live if you have one foot in the grave and another on a banana peel. You have Bridge Night every Thursday, and a casino junket on Saturdays. Someone cooks for you, cleans up after you, and is there to help if you fall down and can't get up.

Can you imagine putting am 80 year old WWII veteran in a University residence? It just doesn't work. How about taking someone who lives in a $10,000,000 apartment in New York's Upper West Side moving to a Trailer Park in Arkansas?

It is not just a manner of our perceptions of luxury, utility, noise, or comfort... what I am talking about is more then all of that.

I loved living in Toronto's Corso Italia neighbourhood for many reasons that were likely shared by fellow locals. It was well linked to the transit system, serviced by 24 hr streetcars and buses and only 15 minutes walk from St. Clair West subway station. It was one of the most affordable neighbourhoods in old Toronto, where you could still buy a detached home for $200,000. (This was 8 years ago... today semi-detached are in the $300,000 range) It was a diverse neighbourhood of Portuguese, Brazilian and Italian immigrants that was predominantly working class (trades), retirees, and young families. Thanks to the ethnic influence the area was populated with wonderful boutique shops. We never drove to Big-Box grocery stores, instead buying meat at a traditional Italian butcher, bread at a Portuguese bakery, vegetables at a local Asian-owned market, etc.

At first glance we didn't have much in common with our neighbours, in fact many of them didn't even speak english. But in fact we did have many things that linked us, and created a great neighbourhood.

We all desired:

- Good access to public transit
- Affordable mix of apartments, row houses, and detached family homes
- Familiar culture and a neighbourhood with character

We all didn't want:

- Long commutes from the 905-belt (where you could buy a house 2x the size for the same cost)
- Endless rows of shoebox homes lacking mature trees
- Strip malls filled with identical chain stores and restaurants

Together we built something greater then the sum of our individual parts. That is the sign of a true neighbourhood.

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