A new website – Ottawa Neighbourhoods – was recently launched, and it provides all kinds of interesting information about neighbourhoods in Ottawa.
My own neighbourhood – Carlington – didn’t fare very well, which probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to most of its residents, or to those of you who saw The Citizen’s interesting piece about Carlington earlier this week.
A year and a half ago I bought my first house, and chose this neighbourhood because it was the only neighbourhood I could afford that was within walking distance of downtown. I wanted to buy in Chinatown, Little Italy, Mechanicsville or Centretown, but the only houses I could afford in any of those neighbourhoods were woefully run down and would have required more money and work than I was prepared to invest.
I found a well-maintained, modest little three-bedroom townhouse, 1100 square feet, in excellent move-in condition in Carlington. It didn’t have any extras like a dishwasher or a fireplace, but it had all the basics plus hardwood floors, and it didn’t require any major work other than a new roof. Most importantly, it was only $171,000, so I could afford it.
The neighbourhood, on the other hand, seemed a bit sketchy. Parts of it, like the war house district, were bursting with neighbourhood charm. There were streets upon streets of well-kept, tidy little houses with lots of character and enormous back yards. My street, which borders the war house district, was considerably less charming and more utilitarian. The projects, further west and south of me, were less charming still. The neighbourhood wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t awful, and I felt I could make it my home.
A year and a half later, I still don’t feel like my neighbourhood is home. This is partly my fault, since I haven’t gone out of my way to get involved in the community. As a matter of fact, I’m still on the Board of the recreation association in my OLD neighbourhood. In my defence, I will say that there doesn’t seem to be much of a community to get involved with here. There’s something kind of cold about this neighbourhood – I’ve had virtually no conversations with anybody here in a year and a half. People around here don’t spend much time outside, and I think it’s because there’s nothing out there.
The neighbourhood has potential, but there’s something alienating about it. It lacks cohesion and vibrancy. It also lacks some basic services that make a neighbourhood convenient and livable, such as a coffee shop and a grocery store. If I want to do something that isn’t in my house, I have to leave my neighbourhood because there is nothing to do here. Whether it’s to buy groceries, go to the gym, meet someone for a coffee, go to the library, buy a book, go for a drink, etc, I have to leave my neighbourhood. On the plus side, we have the Experimental Farm, which is lovely, and it includes lots of recreational pathways for walking, running, biking, etc. And we have a pawn shop. (Yes, I know, I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here…)
In my old neighbourhood, Little Italy/Chinatown/Lebreton Flats, there was a community garden, a dog park, a recreation centre, and a river. I knew lots of people and dogs by name, and children talked to me.
The closest I’ve come to a conversation with a child in Carlington was one day I was out running and a girl of about twelve accused me of checking out her ass when I ran by her. (I wasn’t.) (I probably didn’t need to add that, but I just wanted to be absolutely clear about that.)
It’s interesting that the two neighbourhoods have such a different feel, because they share many characteristics: they’re both ethnically diverse with a low average income, a high rate of poverty, and no grocery stores. But Little Italy is vibrant and cohesive and Carlington is kind of cold and alienating. Even though only a third of Little Italy residents own their own homes, 59% of residents feel a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood. In Carlington, on the other hand, two-thirds of residents own their own homes but only 38% feel a sense of belonging. There’s something wrong here.
Do you like your neighbourhood? How much does neighbourhood matter to you when choosing a place to live? Would you rather live in a so-so house or apartment in a terrific neighbourhood, or a terrific apartment or house in a so-so neighbourhood?