On neighbourhood

August 8, 2005 § Leave a comment

I had iced coffee on a terrasse with Khansahib today. After almost two hours of breathless conversation, we took a leisurely walk through the neighbourhood, which K. photographed as I searched for the perfect tomato for tonight’s caprese salad.

I ran into several friends along the way, and stopped for a few minutes to chat with each one. After the second run-in K. remarked, “Man, you know everybody up here!” I don’t, of course, but it occurred to me that I have lived in Mile End for exactly six years, which is long enough to ensure that I will encounter friends during even the briefest stroll.

Following from another conversation, neighbourhood is one of the ways that we recreate the experience of family. When one’s friends live within walking distance—that is to say, when friends are also neighbours, and when neighbours become friends—they are part of the rhythm of one’s daily life. They’re around for the afternoon coffees, evening walks, and late-night drinks that are not special occasions, to be planned for and journeyed to, but the everyday rituals of happenstance and routine.

The importance of this kind of proximity is most apparent in moments of crisis, when friends can arrive in an instant to help with a misplaced set of keys, a sudden break-up, or a plumbing emergency. There is no bus to wait for, no cab to call, no metro station that has already closed for the night; we turn the corner and we are there, and, when the crisis has ended, we make our way home just as easily.

As K. and I walked today, I pointed out where Ada used to live, before she was evicted by her landlord and had to move north to Park Ex. She is deeply unhappy in her new apartment for a host of reasons, not the least of which is the sense of distance she feels from the neighbourhood that used to be hers.

This is, by far, the cruelest thing about gentrification: if you don’t own the home in which you live, and none of my friends do, it can be taken away from you. And when your family does not live in that home with you—when it resides in the larger, public structure of a neighbourhood—then you risk losing that too.

If I ever win the lottery, I will buy up a whole block of apartment buildings for my friends to live in. Then, I will pay off all their student loans, and we will live happily ever after. Yeah.

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