MY EXPERIMENT IN HIGH-DENSITY LIVING
The trend for developers (also encouraged by town councils) is to build more high-density structures and encourage living inside city centres to accommodate the residential growth, instead of sprawling out into the suburbs. The benefits of this energy-efficient and more European life-style are well-known by now.
View from the development (my third-floor deck) across to Rowcliff Street.
For me, the move to my new condo offered the option to rent out (as I overwinter elsewhere), the benefits of the environmentally responsible construction standards (LEED), and the cleanliness and low maintenance of a brand-new flat. I am delighted that I could afford a new place for the first time in my seventy years of life. For most Canadians, not such a big thing, but as a European-raised person, housing is an altogether different ball game. I lived in urban, century-old, brick or concrete houses that are renovated endlessly, and mostly rentals fall under extensive rental subsidy programs, administered by municipal cooperatives.
A bonus benefit is my cost of living here in my Central Green unit: half of what I paid at my 30-year old condo, and I gladly gave up my gas stove for an electric one and the swimming pool. The latter was only usable during 3 months of the year anyway and at certain times of the day, when most residents and their (grand)children were watching TV, in bed, or not yet up.
So, how is living in this very high-density part of the city on a daily basis?
No age restrictions make this Central Green development indeed an experiment. As far as I can tell, residents are mostly young urban professionals, young couples with children, and many singles and couples—retired folks, and about a third have up to 2 dogs of any size. I see a variety of non-white residents or from other nationalities. Although most seem to be owners, a number of residents appear to be renters, sharing rooms. The odd penthouse seems still empty for most of the year, possibly used as a pied-a-terre for a rich owner, and some units seem to be used as Airbnb rentals, although technically, a short-term rental is against the strata bylaws. We have rather strict bylaws, a plus, in my view.
I like quiet environments. Considering the many people living in the roughly 300-plus residences in 5 four-story buildings within almost touching distance, the neighbourhood is surprisingly quiet. With the sunny season here and the adjacent 2-acre park completed, many people are using it now, and the city’s existing off-leash dog park is operational again. I am surprised at how quiet their recreation is. Of course, there’s always the odd misfit who likes to stir things up, but recently, strata management has hired a person for the three Mission Group buildings to coordinate a unified approach to any problems occurring.
In spite of being on the corner of a very congested main highway leading right through the city, the traffic is less of an acute noise problem here than at my former home when sitting on my deck. Certainly, during the daytime, the general din of a city with all of its noises hovers in the air but can be easily ignored. The drawback is the more frequent noise of sirens from ambulances and police cars racing by on Harvey, but knowing they are on their way to saving someone or catching a suspect, makes it alright. Inside my unit, all is quiet.
A reluctant driver, I now park the car, as I can walk everywhere for my daily needs. In case of future disability, my new condo has no stairs inside my unit, has double elevators, and all amenities are accessible by wheelchair.
After my immigration to Canada, I lived in freestanding houses and even on a lovely acreage once or twice. What your neighbours do, doesn’t affect you that much in that situation. Only once before, my home was located in an apartment building, where I was chased out by all the (elderly) smokers living around me, who thought I shouldn’t complain as they lived in a free world and they had the right to spoil my environment. It drove me batty! That selfish attitude about smoking is a no-no in my new development, where an all-inclusive no-smoking bylaw is in effect prohibiting smoking everywhere, even on decks/patios.
So, all of this sounds great, right?
Living closely together in Central Green, I have definitely discovered more about the polite, quiet and respectful born-Canadians. Full disclosure: I am a naturalized Canadian citizen but was raised and lived half of my life as a Dutch citizen, and culturally am still more Dutch than Canadian. Before now, I had an inkling about born-Canadians and their habits from observations here and there but these impressions were more anecdotal, defying a distinct pattern.
The pressure cooker of living close together makes me (and others) alert of when another breaks the rules. You can look away, or take note. I value rules and abide by them, now that I am past my youthful, rebellious behaviour when rules are broken to learn one’s boundaries, but I will still protest rules that are not valid or unjust. For example, I can’t ignore it, when somebody in another building loudly plays his music sitting on his patio with his rock music blaring into space for the second day in a row. Even with my doors and windows closed, I couldn’t hear the dialogue of the episode of Big Little Lies I was watching.
It reminds me of my days living in my three-story block of a densely populated blue-collar neighbourhood in Amsterdam. One reacted and communicated readily with neighbours and others in the street, even sonce topping a man hitting his girlfriend on the sidewalk, but not here in Canada, where I have to suffer through it and be quiet. Confrontation is so not-Canadian.
Of course, when I gently confronted the noisy man by handing him a pair of earbuds while stating that not everybody likes his music, and that didn’t have the desired effect, I filed a complaint through the formal channels with the management company.
The red building shows the back of the Friendship Centre’s supported living apartments.
Maybe I should make a distinction between the older and the younger Canadian generations because minor changes between generations are how society progresses and sheds old, redundant attitudes. For the first time in a long while, the baby-boomer generation is pushed aside by the younger, larger generation of gen-X-ers and millennials, and they may affect a major, societal shift in Canada. On the other hand, generations do not differ that much from each other, and the children as they mature generally adopt most of their parents’ values and attitudes. As a person of a certain age, I can confirm this for my own mixed Dutch-Canadian family, and I witness my poor child’s struggles to be either or both. So, for the purpose of this blog post, I will not make a distinction between generations.
This is part of my family, the youngest girl is me; my elder brothers had left home by that time.
I should limit my generalizations to the circles I know best: white, middle-class born-Canadians. My experiences with the members of First Nations, non-white Canadians, and recent arrivals to Canada were different. They were willing and eager to debate the issues in their worlds with me.
The Rowcliff community garden with Kariss’ apartments behind it.
What’s the use of generalizations?
a. As with any generalizations, there are exceptions to the rule. You, reader, might be the exception. I do not mean to insult anybody, these are just my observations.
b. In Canada as an overwhelmingly Christian nation, the Bible is a familiar guide for behaviour. One of the admonitions of Mathew points out that we cannot see the log in our own eye but see the speck of sawdust in the other’s eye. In other words, hypocrisy rules. Although I realize I might not make any friends with expressing my observations, Canadians who recognize some of the generalizations below may appreciate becoming (more) aware. What you do with that is up to you.
c. My own motivation for writing and generalizing is to heal myself and develop further as a person by analyzing the reasons why I sometimes feel a stranger in this land after some negative responses to me and my Dutch ways.
The adjacent development in the background: Kariss’ supportive living units and another townhouse development of Mission Group next to it.
Human social behaviour is an expression of underlying beliefs. (https://www.elsevier.com/connect/the-5-most-powerful-self-beliefs-that-ignite-human-behavior)
• Canadians may consider a rule, bylaw, or posted signage merely a suggestion for behaviour. They seem to think that a bylaw can be breached if they so desire or when more convenient to do so. This seems to apply especially to white males. The surprise on their faces when I dared remind someone of a strata rule is priceless. (Some of the bylaws: no smoking inside including on patios/decks, and outside we have a no-smoking bubble of 7.5 m. (CG2) or 10 m. (CG1) around the building, no dogs off-leash, pick up after your dogs, garbage in the appropriate bins, no (barking) dogs left alone in a unit, quiet time is from 10 pm to 7 am.) One person questioned my authority to speak up with: “Are you working here or something?” I replied, “No, I live here,” to which she had no reply. I saw: a resident of my building walking up to the back door and put their smoke out by the entrance in the cement planter box. Others let their dog poo by the back exit and didn’t it clean up. I found dog poo in the garage more than once. I heard dog waste was found in the elevator too.
The brand-new Rowcliff Park adjacent to the development has posted pictograph signs at its entrance as well: an outline of a dog with a diagonal red stripe through the image, which I think means dogs must be on a leash, an image of a cigaret with a red stripe, (no smoking), and an image of a pup tent with the red stripe: no camping.
A couple let their dog run off-leash on the park grounds, even with the presence of the separate, fenced, off-leash dog park adjacent, imagining to be the Duke and Dutchess of Rowcliff, and the park established just for them. I almost stepped on a big turd when I crossed the sports field, walking to the garden this morning. I know who it was, and this male also regularly smokes while walking in the alley within a couple of meters from homes to their ground floor unit. Others smoke on their decks or as they enter the park. It’ll just be a matter of time before tents will appear in the park.
I stopped a boy of around 8 years old from beating on his pup. His parents are never there and gave the boy the responsibility for letting their puppy of mixed bulldog/pit-bull breed out on his own all week. That’s all we need: a mean pit-bull.
So far, nobody has hit me yet after delivering my comments, although my daughter begged me not to tell the loud neighbours, who were drinking and smoking on the patio across the walkway, to turn down the music. The overall strata rule that nobody is allowed to interfere with another resident’s enjoyment of their unit, more than captured that situation, I explained to her.
Adjacent to the Mission Group townhouse development is an older rental building visible, and next to it is the Friendship Centre’s supported housing development (green and red) and to the right, the Central Green 2 building with a gap between it and the Central Green 1 building, with a view toward Knox Mountain through the gap. Behind Central Green 1 & 2 are two rental buildings from Al Stober Development adjacent to Harvey/Highway 97. In the distance, the tower of Mission Group under construction is visible on the corner Lawrence/Ellis across Harvey.
• Canadians seem reluctant to individually take responsibility for their community, and leave it to hired staff to enforce the rules, instead of reminding others. Go along to get along, is the motto. Their behaviour is much like Americans, but politer: each out for their own interest—ultra individualists. I saw that play out in the community garden. I was disappointed finding out that one (male) member of this small gardening community took the garden soil out of my plot next to theirs in my absence, instead of taking a few extra steps to get it from the excess heap, with my plot ending up short of dirt. After day 1, the composted heap for general use was left behind in a mess, as people just dug into without care and spilled much of it on the newly graveled path, from where it cannot be easily removed without picking up pebbles—unsuitable for the garden. We are now on day 3 after the plot allocation. We will see how that sense of community develops—or not—throughout the growing season.
The Rowcliff leash-free dog park.
• Canadians are very sweet, sensitive people, priding themselves on their politeness and their ability to accommodate others without aggression. I admire them (us) for that. The other side of the coin is that, in contrast with the louder and more aggressive Americans, Canadians also appear to feel self-conscious as the “lesser” cousin. One of the results of a perceived lack of competency or the aversion to conflict might be a lack of ability to assert themselves, and they appear to be somewhat repressed, risk-averse, with a lack of passion. I’ve heard Americans say: boring. The Canadian motto is: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
URBANA the last and third building of Mission Group at Central Green, corner Richter and Harvey, still under construction.
• If Canadians feel uneasy or are challenged in some way, their discombobulation might come out as a display of passive-aggressive behaviour. Ever so politely formulated, the rebuke is nevertheless clear and final. If not able to ignore the object of their uneasiness, a Canadian will switch the subject of conversation as a favourite strategy, rather than stating that they don’t want to discuss the issue further, or engaging in a direct confrontation. Taking their share in an interesting debate on a controversial issue is a skill that not many possess—or like—and as a rule, walk away from.
• Canadians consider politics to be a private affair, keeping their leanings a secret. Their prescription for the polite company is: no discussion about politics, sex, and religion. This social dance Canadians perform so well, in fact, prevents the exploration of different views. To most, a debate seems to make them uncomfortable, it’s unfamiliar territory. It is very hard to get to know a Canadian. Their deepest beliefs and desires remain a mystery, as polite chitchat about their travels become the preferred strategy in social situations. Of course, liberal use of alcohol may put a dent in their armour, and then surprises can happen. This is one of the things I miss most of my country of birth, where debate and political awareness is highly appreciated and practiced.
• Canadians live segregated in silos—groups of like-minded of similar economic or social status. Beyond their silo, life may become more complicated and could challenge their social skills. This segregated way of life is how this nation of immigrants and refugees survived their deprivations and dangers as they settled in groups in the new country—safety within the group. The early settlers passed on this unspoken attitude of self-protection from generation to generation. These separate silo communities live together as a collection of sub-communities, each living politely next to the other without a wish to mix: “never the twain shall meet”. (Rudyard Kipling, 1892, lamenting the gulf of understanding between the British and the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent.)
• More than any European nation, modern Canadians still frequently move to where the work is and then are forced to find a new silo to fit them. They are good at that, and they seem to readily suck up the losses of leaving nurturing relationships behind that goes with frequently packing up and moving. Like political emotions, grief is suffered in silence. Canada is a diverse nation according to the mosaic model, in which cultural differences are seen as a strength—as long as the “others” keep their culture within their own silo and only let it out on Canada Day at the multicultural fair.
I left my home country voluntarily to be with my Canadian boyfriend. Somebody recently asked me if I would ever want to live in The Netherlands again with its more generous social safety network and free extended health care, subsidised rental housing, multifaceted treatment for mental illness and addictions, a nurturing, rehabilitative justice system with few people in jail, and its history of receiving refugees—all things I sometimes talk about. The question forced me to think. Periodically, I have evaluated my life in Canada as an immigrant at significant milestones in my life, most recently at my retirement, three years ago. After a minute, I came up with the usual answer: no.
Many reasons why I wouldn’t return to The Netherlands.
1. Of course, my former stomping ground of Amsterdam has changed during my absence of over three decades in ways I may not even be aware of. My old neighbourhood adjacent to the centre went through a phase of becoming the place to settle for new immigrant families from Turkey and Morocco and is now turning into a gentrified, hip neighbourhood–expensive. Without any urgency qualifications, I would end up on the bottom of the waitlist for a subsidized rental home, and a home purchase would be out of my financial range. It would take years to get a home allocated as a new immigrant.
2. From a tolerant type of folk, the political climate changed into many Dutch now freely expressing anti-foreigner, neo-fascist attitudes with its abhorrent political party becoming prominent as the second biggest in the country. As a morally engaged person, the battle against that intolerance would be on for me, and life would be more difficult for me.
3. I would have to adjust again to the small spaces and too many people living close together, literally on top of each other. Not just in 5 high-density apartment buildings as my current home, but a whole city full of them, block after block, street after street, never quiet, never without people with little breathing space. It wouldn’t be easy for me falling back on my lightly-used coping skills of asserting oneself between so many people, whose lives intermingle with mine without a choice. Many Americans and other foreigners living in the city bring their own attitudes and cultural biases to their host country, and not always nice ones. During my last visit, I asked a passing runner in Dutch if I could ask her something (the way to the Zoo), and when she called out “no” as she ran by me, I knew her American accent was not the only thing she had brought with her. A rude refusal like that had never before happened to me—anywhere in the world.
4. I appreciate my current solitude and the option to remove myself from the company of others as I desire. My need for social interaction has changed over the years and into retirement, as automatic work relationships fell away. I would miss the Canadian reserved approach that prevents others from intruding into my private lives. My relatives all live back in the old country, except for my daughter. The current schedule of once every two years seems satisfactory—absence makes the heart grow fonder—and some old friendships I carried for three decades are finally petering out. I am not sure I am ready for their demands for more socialization. Resettling is hard and making new friendships is even harder, especially when children have grown up and work has fallen away. Much more effort is required to meet new people, and I of course would miss my Canadian daughter.
5. Life is relatively cost-effective for me in the way I spend it between Mexico and Canada. That would no longer be the case with a move to The Netherlands and Amsterdam. Enough said!
In conclusion, my exercise in writing about my high-density living experiences brought up some interesting questions for me. The first half of my life I lived in The Netherlands, the second half in Canada. In a nutshell, should I just observe the customs, surrender to the Canadian polite way of being and keep my mouth shut? As somebody with an internal focus, I am bound to use my new circumstances as a catalyst for personal growth and development, in particular in the area of social competence. I take responsibility and am accountable for my own success or failure as I strengthen the intrinsic value of my personal improvement. As a socially and ethically engaged person, not always an easy way of being, but that’s just me.
To be continued.
PS. I would welcome your comments.