Neighbourhoods

What Makes a Neighbourhood?

By Michelle Martin
Published May 29, 2010

What makes a neighbourhood? Is it the houses, or the people in them?

I was dismayed to come across this article. It describes one family's plan to knock down a hundred-year-old house in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood, and then to design and build a completely accessible dwelling for the wife and mother who is paralyzed from the neck down.

So far so good, as far as most of the neighbours are concerned. However, there is a small but vocal group who have managed to get the community council to agree to report on designating the current house, with its stairs and narrow hallways, as a heritage property.

This means the plans to build an accessible house are on hold until at least 2011.

You know, it's not even like the people who want to build an accessible house are intruders, as if you could label anyone in this age of mobility with that epithet. They already lived in the neighbourhood when the degenerative neurological disease struck, and they wanted to stay in the only neighbourhood their sons have known, and where services and amenities are easily reached.

I wonder how many of the owners of the other hundred-year-old houses in the area prepare their meals in kitchens that have been gutted to make way for granite counter tops, stainless steel fridges and dishwashers.

Some may argue that the kitchen is on the inside, and its decor doesn't interfere with the century-old streetscape - but I've often noticed that modernized open concept family rooms and up-to-date appliances are easily seen from large, double-glazed front windows when the inside halogen lights are on after dark.

This family has undergone quite a blow, and it will take a lot of effort on their part and the part of others to make sure that Mom, as well as her family, doesn't end up socially limited.

What if the NIMBYs spent their time and energy recognizing the gift of these people in their midst and made sure instead that this gift is acknowledged and appreciated, instead of clucking over the possible loss of a "circular turret and five-sided dormer window."

You know, by saying something like, "How are you doing? Maybe I could give you a hand with something," instead of "I'm reporting you to the community council."

Michelle Martin lives in Hamilton where she and her husband are watching their 10 children fly the nest, one by one. She has been published in both the Hamilton Spectator and Raise the Hammer, as well as in the online edition of the National Post and, more recently, in the Canadian Urban Transit Association's Urban Mobility Forum. Michelle is coordinator of the Community Access to Transportation program. She was formerly on the writing/copy editing team of the original Crown Point hub paper, The Point. However, the opinions she expresses in Raise the Hammer are her own. She sometimes tweets @deltawestmom

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 30, 2010 at 01:20:30

Wow. I'm surprised, even in the Beaches, that this has happened.

I understand if it's already been designated as a heritage property you don't want to make an exception, but to put the process in place after a property's been bought for that express purpose is rough on everybody, and pretty backhanded. If it was that unique, the heritage designation should already have been there

I understand the concerns of the neighbours about preserving unique architecture and character, and I understand that real estate in the Beaches is a crazy, crazy market where properties get renovated and bought out and changed dramatically all the time. (A friend was a nanny for a family out there, and other friends who still live in the neighbourhood).

I think this is probably a case of a few "watchdog" individuals hypersensitive about the issue trying to apply it equally to all the cases they see... and forgetting about the real people involved.

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By Dianne Wood (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2010 at 10:48:34

We should have the right to build on our own property if it meets the acceptable building standards. I would assume that eventually all the homes in the beaches will have to be rebuilt for a house can only last so long. Their new plans looked beautiful to me and should enhance the neighbourhood. I am really surprised that the people in the Beaches are so callous. I thought that was where all the nice people lived.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 01, 2010 at 11:54:30

A neighbourhood is made up of people and it is the interaction between people, that makes it a neighbouhood.

If you ask me some people have either too much money or time on their hands to be worrying whether a family can update their home to accomodate a person who become disabled.

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