I’ve always found the topic of gentrification fascinating and spent a lot of time in uni writing papers about it. Fahbio and I bought our house when I was 25 years old. We have been living in it for over 20 years now. At the time we were looking for property, we made a list of what we required in a house and one of the items was “detached”. Another was “not suburban”. Since our budget was small, that meant that our real estate agent brought us exclusively to the prostitution/biker-gang/crack-infested neighbourhoods. In one of these, we found our perfect boîte – a 100 year old red brick rooming house.
But I’ll tell you that in all those years, I have never felt unsafe in my neighbourhood. The number of times we’ve gone to bed with our house keys still hanging outside the front door are numerous. In past years, we used to open all the windows in May and close them at the end of September. Since replacing the old windows with new ones with nice wooden frames and since having a bunch of kids whom I’m convinced someone will sneak in and kidnap, we now close our windows at night. Let the record show that I believe this theoretical pedophile to be an opportunist from another neighbourhood.
A few days ago, I woke up in the morning and came downstairs to find the front door wide open. I was alone in the house and freaked out, although my purse was still hanging by the front door so robbery didn’t seem to be a motive. My next-door neighbour was kind enough to walk through the house with me and nothing was amiss. Turns out that Firstborn didn’t close the door properly when she left in the morning. Whew!
My neighbourhood was very affordable twenty-some years ago so there were many people living here who were creative and artistic. There were a lot of people with little money but the reasons for the low-incomes ranged from mental illness to bad luck to laziness to life-style choices such as staying home with kids to studying at post-secondary institutions to a whole host of other things. In short, my neighbourhood was mixed and we all thrived and got along. Sure people’s homes were trashy and falling apart. Big whoop, they were old.
Things really started to change around 2005. By then, there were enough “pioneers” around to make the more risk-averse notice the ‘hood. That year we moved to Montenegro and when we returned in 2006, I knew the other shoe had dropped. The former Chinese restaurant that had become a tattoo parlour with the tattoo parlour sign simply nailed onto the Chinese restaurant sign so that the edges of the Chinese restaurant sign poked out all around the edges of the tattoo parlour sign was no more. In its place was a doggy day spa. I kid you not.
Long-time residents (and there are a surprising lot of us) agree. It’s time to get out. Trouble is, we love it here. We love it here so very much. And many of the changes that have happened have been positive. I don’t deny it and neither does anyone else.
For one thing, our homes are worth a fortune. That’s the only reason we can afford to live here. So all the new people coming in have to be independently wealthy or they have to take out massive loans which keep them shackled to high-paying office jobs. Forget about entering this zone on a single income. The neighbourhood is still interesting because of us long-timers who are more colourful and freakish and bring the tone of the neighbourhood down (in a good way :-).
But with property taxes rising dramatically and the hipster cargo-bicycle shop:laundromat ratio widening at an alarming rate, it’s only a matter of time before all the lifers un-life themselves and move on.
Here are a few paraphrased Quotes of the Day, from longtime neighbourhood residents.
From a hilarious homeschooling mom and neighbour of mine:
My friends in other neighbourhoods wistfully tell me that my house is worth 1/2 million dollars. I point out to them that it is a lopsided shack that screams in the wind. Life is absurd.
This same person told me yesterday that she should have bottled the spicy brine left over from the pickled banana peppers she made and sold it as Artisanal Pepper Spray. I agree.
She could have flogged it to the line-up of people waiting for maple bacon donuts. Or she could have labelled it as Yogi Bhajan’s Famous Muscle-Rub and sold it at the yoga studio directly behind the fancy donut place. Or she could have called it a Detox Cleanse and tempted customers at the raw store next door. Or she could have pitched it as Small Batch Bloody Mary mix and handed it out at the liquor store next to the raw store (two doors down from the fancy donuts and kitty corner to the yoga studio). In short, it’s that kind of neighbourhood and she could have made a killing.
From the dad of one of the kids at choir. You know he’s one of the long-timers because he smokes. New-timers don’t smoke – they enjoy a single glass of red wine on Friday night and go for a long run on Sunday to make up for it:
When I moved here, there were a lot of different people in the neighbourhood. They were harmless but at the same time unusual, weird, creepy, maybe losers. Now I think I have become that unusual, weird, creepy, maybe loser in the minds of the new hipsters moving in.
From my long-timer, smoker, carpenter-artist friend:
This neighbourhood used to be a great mix of everything. Now its just more and more urban lofts and rich young people. If I see one more skinny guy wearing burgundy cords and a handlebar moustache, I’m gonna scream.
And a final quote from a wonderful former Brooklynite I met. Obviously, he had intimate first hand experience with gentrification.
When I first lived in Brooklyn, the sound of crack-pipes crunching underfoot was common. Now, people stroll up the same street to get their bespoke tonic water.