Monday, March 20, 2006

Urbanite in Suburbia

I grew up always saying I would NEVER live in suburbia, yet here I am.

I grew up in the city. The house in the center of the picture. Zoom out from the link to get an idea of the breadth of the city around. Now I would love to exaggerate and say I lived in the 'hood, but really it was a semi-dense urban neighborhood called Northcenter. Similar to the Montreal neighborhoods of NDG (for ethnic make-up) and far east Plateau or far west Hochelaga-Maisoneuve (for density of buildings). There was talk of gangs occasionnally passing through the neighborhood along with scattered graffiti. My cars over the years had been broken into at least four times that I could remember. Almost everytime for a radio. But it was a relatively safe place with some of the same trappings as anywhere else. Before the car, I walked, ran (as in jogging), or took the bus to get places. We grew up playing amongst the factories behind our house or at the nearby parks. We'd climb up on the factory roofs or over their barbed wire fences to retrieve balls. Or we'd play whiffle ball at the street intersections with the manhole at each corner serving as a base.

When I returned as an adult, another aspect of the city became accessible. Bars, restaurants, street festivals. All within walking distance. One summer when I was painting our apartment, we listened to the dance music being blasted just down the street where they were setting up for the Pride Parade. Taking public transport to work. Not using the car for weeks on end. It was hard to imagine living life a different way.

So how exactly did I end up in suburbia (emphasis on the sub). Well, life changes and priorities change. Safe and an affordable place with a yard was the primary motive. Also one of the driving factors for the more to Montreal. Though, we are still only 15 minutes from the action. That is, when we have time for it.

What are my impressions or suburban life? Well, the big plus has been becoming a homeowner. I love doing work around a house and having space to breath has been great. We did home repair and maintenance when I was a kid and I enjoyed it so much it steered me to my profession. Now I don't get hung up on how good the grass looks, but I do really like an immaculately shoveled driveway. Weird, I know. Considering it's only a quarter of what we cleared at the house I grew up in, it's not too difficult to keep clear.

As far as the suburban environment, we are in an established suburb with mature trees so it has some similarities to what I grew up with. The people in our neighborhood have been very friendly, though there are some upturned noses at the grocery store. The noise level took a little getting used to. We had trouble going to sleep the first few nights because it was so quiet. I don't even remember any crickets. I grew up hearing ambulances, police sirens, and even the el train passing off in the distance. Not to mention the buzz of traffic or planes passing overhead. But here there is nothing.

To sum up, the transition has not been very difficult. Though if it was a newer suburb with no trees and farther from the center city, then there would be problems. I have no qualms with rural life. I could probably live there just fine as long as there was something interesting to do and/or see (not just endless cornfields). It just that weird transitional suburban area I don't care for of endless car-centric strip malls and cookie cutter homes.


Blork said...

I grew up in a very small city (a town, really, but it was the biggest place around -- pop 30,000). Once I got to Montreal (almost 20 years ago) I realized that I was a city boy at heart. I always said I could live in the country or the city but never the suburbs.

Two years ago I moved to the suburbs.

My story is very similar to yours. Our hood -- which you've been to -- is somewhat older (not as old as yours) and doesn't have that "new burb" smell. But Martine and I wanted a bit more space (a yard) and a quieter lifestyle.

Like you, we have shifting priorities. Somewhat unexpected, but there nevertheless. Fortunately, our 'burb is also so close to the city that it barely feels like a burb.

Unknown said...

It's funny because we keep saying that once we are empty nesters (a long time from now) that we'll move back to a place like the Plateau or maybe Old Montreal. We really enjoyed the vitality and convenience.

But just as our priorities have changed over the past five years, they may change again in the next 15 to 20.

Your location is nice because you are within walking distance of that nature park.

Montreal is fortunate to still lack the density that would make it too difficult to get in, out, or around the city. Maybe loosing some of the population to Toronto because of the referendums was a good thing.

Anonymous said...

"We had trouble going to sleep the first few nights because it was so quiet."

Reminds me of the scene in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil when John Cusack's New York reporter character turns on a tape recorder of city noises (the aforementioned sirens and cars honking, etc.) so he can go to sleep in quiet little Savannah!