Making a Neighbourhood

I’ve spent the past three or four months deeply involved in the process of selling our townhouse and buying a house; a real house, with a yard, and a non-matching-with-your-neighbour-front-door and, importantly, no strata council. It’s been an extremely complex process complete with volatile mood swings and nail biting moments but all, as they say, has come out in the wash and sometime in July I will be saying goodbye to my beloved Brow of the Hill and jumping rather headfirst into a new neighbourhood I know only secondhand: Sapperton.

Sky Above Hume Park by Graham Ballantyne via Flickr

When we bought this place five years ago after a long string of rentals (most memorable was the 4 years in an apartment in the Downtown neighbourhood) I had already nomadically traipsed across a lot of New West: Moody Park, the West End, Downtown, and Uptown. Our realtor assured us it was an up-and-coming neighbourhood, that it was a great complex, a great location, good schools and all sorts of other selling features. And he wasn’t wrong. It’s all this and more including nice neighbours that stop and say hi, people who care. We’ve been good Brow of the Hill ambassadors, telling people about its walkability, it’s great traits.  I wish I had gotten involved in the Residents’ Association but hindsight is 20/20 and I seem to run out of time. I have felt connected here and will be a bit nostalgic when the moving truck pulls up and trundles across our tiny city to our new, unexplored neighbourhood.

I spend a lot of time these days wondering: what does it take to make a neighbourhood something more than a collection of homes? How do you turn a residential neighbourhood into a community? Friends who live in Sapperton praise its friendly people, its convenient shopping, its great location. There is often a lot of mention of the history of the area, the timeline and the former residents. The City of New Westminster’s website provides me with a great deal of information about some of the new development in the area, as does the marketing website for a new planned neighbourhood. Others tell me there is great walking trails, and it’s hard to deny the attraction of Hume Park – I don’t even know what all is in there (holy cow, it’s 31 acres!).

Sapperton Sunset by Ann Badjura via Flickr (BelCan75)

I have been following the street full of neighbours in Glenbrook North who have embarked on a Zero Waste Challenge and I admit freely that I long for a neighbourhood like that, where neighbours pull together to make a difference not just in their house, but on their street, together, as a group. (You know, “the people, united, will never be defeated” et cetera.) Elsewhere in our little city, a friend of mine has a block party twice a year with her New West neighbours. They apply for a permit to close their little road, drag out the BBQs and the folding tables and chairs, set up a pot luck sharing table of incredible food, and spend a lovely evening in the company of their neighbours – laughing, talking, communicating. It’s something they look forward to and the sense of community and caring is palpable. Kids, adults and even pets mingle.

I guess the short answer is that people have to make up their own communities. It’s up to each individual to make it all happen, I suppose. But how does one start? How to reach out to the people who share space and say “hello, I’m friendly, I promise not to bite”? In this world where we as a society tend to err on the side of suspicion and paranoia about the motives of our fellow humans, how do you start that process of creating a bond? I think we are lucky in our small town feeling city in that many of us try hard to not be suspicious and trust no one; rather, I’m proud that many New Westminster residents see through that and reach out hands to introduce ourselves to one another for no other reason than it’s the neighbourly thing to do.

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8 thoughts on “Making a Neighbourhood”

  1. I’m a transplanted “brow of the hill” type person. Once the brewery site is developed Sapperton will have a more enhanced character I think. For now, its somewhat akin to a village. The fact that there are cranes now working on the Labatt site is very reassuring.

  2. Your timing is perfect, in that in my experience, new friendships / connections are easier to build when the days are long and warm and you sit outside on your front steps while your kid digs in the dirt and people walk by and talk to you and you walk by their houses and talk to them. You don’t have to work as hard to interact with people. & having kids, (or dogs) I find, makes it easier to talk to people and not seem like the biting kind of crazy.

    I have a soft spot for Sapperton b/c when we were looking in NW, 4 years ago, we looked at an adorable, ramshackle house there. It was, you know, on an angle, had rats in the basement and was priced at a then-modest $449k but the street so appealed to me and the little shops and the bike shop and all of it. Sapperton park is pretty nice too.

  3. It’s too bad that you’re moving away from my neighbourhood, since I just discovered this blog.

    Ever since the birth of my son(almost 8 months ago) I’ve been so aware of community and keenly interested in creating and maintaining it. I live in the Brow of the Hill, and I love my neighbours and have also been dreaming of us coming together to create a tight-knit, progressive neighbourhood. (I have wild fantasies about a new kind of society, too, but I think it might start at the neighbourhood level.)

    Thanks for sharing the link to the Glenbrook North Zero Waste blog. I had no idea something like that was going on so close to home!

    I’ve been thinking of throwing a block party of some kind, and now I’m inspired to look into permits and see if I can really do so this summer.

    I’m really enjoying this blog!

  4. Hey Jen, welcome to the neighborhood! One big plus is that you won’t have to take the bus to StrongStart anymore :-)
    Strictly speaking, I’m actually in Fraserview with all the retired folks…it’s quite different than Sapperton with all the young families, but wonderful in its own way. We have a wicked block watch program with so many people at home during the day, and a great block party every year.
    But we are also pretty close with many of our Sapperton neighbours because our kids all go to McBride school. Once you’ve moved, you should swing by afterschool and meet me at the playground, I’ll introduce you to some of your new neighbours with kids (and several have little brothers and sisters for Kale to play with…)
    Also, Sapperton park is my favourite spray park because there is no concession there so we can go and enjoy the park and I don’t get harassed to buy junk food by my kids.

  5. Jen, welcome to Sapperton and New Westminster’s birthplace.
    BTW: the MSRA is planning on starting a zero waste project too. A new MSRA member recently volunteered to spearhead the project in our neighbourhood.
    Sapperton also has a fantastic residents’ association and the annual neighbourhood party, Sapperton Day.
    I could wax on but the truth is New Westminster is comprised of a number of great neighbourhoods.

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