For the first time today in the year that I have lived here, a woman from my complex called up to say hello while I was sunning on the deck. She made the initiative to say hello and although we had a conversation that consisted of me yelling down like Rapunzel in a sports bra, it was one of the first positive interactions I have had IN A YEAR!! On my run earlier today, I said hi to multiple "neighbours" in my complex and was returned with nothing more than a steely glare. I know that ethnic diversity does play a factor in how we regard one another on the street, but lets be real, a smile is universal. I wish that I would be torn to move out of my complex, torn to move away from people who have opened their arms to myself and my roommates, however this is not the case.
After my interaction today, I started thinking. Perhaps the actual structure of the condo is what is hindering social interaction. Individual amenity space is located on the second level in the form of a deck and does not provide the easy access or visibility that is necessary to actually see another human being and think "hmm I may like to interact with that human." Each condo is equipped with a garage, making it very easy for residents to drive into their condo and disappear into the depths of their urban caves. People are rarely out and about and even when they are, there is no designated space for residents to congregate, unless you consider the "visitor parking-lot" or the lane-ways in front of each condo to be a great space for hanging out.
It's sunny out. People have THREE months to build relationships and when the winter snow storms plague the city, it's easier to congregate indoors with people you have already met. It's also the season where it's easier to talk to people in passing without freezing your tits off or dying of hypothermia. Basically, forge relationships when the weather is privy to such a business.
I'm not asking for relationships that are as intense as small town nosiness, but it's no secret that in a small town people will stop to help, chat, snoop.. it's one of those added bonuses on being a small-town resident, but even our small towns are becoming inundated with weekend warriors, breaking up the social fabric we worked so hard to weave together. If only the predisposition to want to seek out our neighbours was instilled in everyone, imagine what beautiful communities we could form? They would be resident created and hell, no developer can sell that, but they sure can create spaces that are going to be the building blocks to this change.
I'm going to go as far as to say that having positive interactions with my neighbours makes me feel the same as volunteering for a good cause. You arrive at the end of your day and know that something that you have partaken in hasn't included a monetary value, yet you feel like you have engaged on a different level than you typically do on a day-to-day basis. Like my momma taught her grade one students, acts of community fill our buckets; these interactions are bucket fillers.
Obviously I care about community and the good feels that come from living in a neighbourhood (city planners are taught to care), but the relationships you gain from living in an area, both spatially and emotionally are unquantifiable. The warm fuzzies from having positive interactions with neighbours cannot be rated on a scale and bought and sold to buyers.
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So with all of that being said, how are young, social buyers moving into built neighbourhoods supposed to figure out if the area they are about to invest their entire savings, wages for the next 30 years and first born child, is going to be a gem or a complete dive?
I suppose this starts with renting in the neighbourhood you want to move into, but often house purchases are a little more rushed and don't offer the one-year buffer required to take an area for a test drive. We should be able to buy with this guarantee, the guarantee that newer, affordable neighbourhoods will be able to offer the prizes hidden within the boundaries of the old, established areas.
When people ask me why I want to pursue a career in urban planning the answer is pretty easy to see: every single person is affected by urban planning decisions, whether these be good examples or poor examples. Condo complexes get thrown up in the blink of an eye, and I know for a fact that my condo complex isn't the only crap example in Calgary. Involving planners in roundtable discussions regarding developer manufactured plans for communities provides the input developers should consider to create better thought-out developments which ultimately will increase their success, credibility, reputation and (unfortunately) potential profits. It's a two-fold process and although I can imagine that many planners don't want to busy themselves with the tiny nitty-gritty details of multi-family developments, their involvement can make or break the lives of all condo-bound residents. Even comments as simple as questioning the building orientations on the parcel or how pedestrian flow and vehicle access can be better situated with one another, can make HUGE impacts on the day-to-day movements of residents.
I know that when I am home searching this time next year, it is going to involve a lot of sketchy drive-bys, perhaps a few reports of odd behaviour by neighbourhood-watch members and I will even go as far as to say a chat with the police. We are going to research neighbourhoods on a grassroots level, on all days of the week and at different times of the day. I want to move somewhere where we feel welcomed into the existing community and where I actually want to offer my neighbours butter should they come a-knocking (I feel like this is a big deal because butter nowadays is pretty expensive). I'm going to hangout in the amenity space provided and observe how people interact. If we are looking in a high-rise tower, then I guess we will have to casually sneak in behind an actual resident to gain access to the interior.
I know what I want from a home and a community and it might seem over the top, but I don't think thorough investigation is considering the sheer amount of money that is involved in the purchase of a new home. Perhaps once I have established myself as a planner, I will move into a neighbourhood I have had a hand in improving. Heck, everyone should have the chance to move into a connected neighbourhood, and if it's all about connections, networks and "who you know" in the work place, this mentality should be extended into the home-lives of homeowners across the country.