Revitalization

Chance Meetings Produce Successful Neighbourhoods

By Ben Bull
Published November 26, 2007

This weekend brings exciting news from the St Lawrence neighbourhood - Sobey's has arrived! Just five minutes up the road from my house, where an abandoned warehouse used to be, there now stands a gleaming new Supermarket.

It's just what my neighbourhood needed.

Apart from the obvious convenience of the new store, I am happy that my neighbours and I now have a new destination to hang out and bump into each other.

This is, after all, how communities are built: on the street, in the shops, in the cinema, in and around the public spaces.

I have written about my neighbourhood before, about how its people friendly walkable design encourages foot traffic and chance encounters. It is more of a community that many of the higher end car-friendly neighbourhoods I have endured.

The Toronto Star recounts this theme in its review of Jay Walljasper's new book, The Great Neighbourhood Book - A Do It Yourself Guide to Placemaking.

"Chance meetings are vital in successful neighbourhoods," says Walljasper. "People need places to hang out."

The Star's review highlights the need that we residents have, to create communities in our midst, and the lengths that we will go to, to create them:

In Delft, Netherlands, citizens upset about speeding traffic in their neighbourhood streets hauled old couches onto the road and relaxed there, forcing cars to drive around them and slow down. These neighbourhood guerrilla tactics were effective - they've now become part of the city's plan to introduce woonerfs (living yards) on streets where drivers are a nuisance.

In Portland, Ore., residents made a friendlier neighbourhood by painting patterns on a busy intersection, erecting community bulletin boards, and bringing in a tea wagon, all to make people linger.

I recall watching a popular British Soap Opera in the 1980s and early '90s and questioning the inordinate number of chance encounters that occurred while people were putting out their milk bottles at night or throwing out the trash.

There's nowhere for these residents to meet, I thought to myself. This show won't last. Evidently the same thought had occurred to series producer, Phil Redmond, who promptly installed a mail box at the top of the street, and soon after, a row of shops at the back.

Gradually, Brookside Close evolved from a typical quiet suburban cul-de-sac to a bustling community full of legitimate 'chance' encounters.

Coronation Street fans will have noted the same thing. Anyone who watches Corrie knows it is full of meeting places - The Cabin, The Factory, The Hair Salon, Roy's Rolls, The Bookies, the bench by the bus stop and, of course, The Rovers Return.

All these places bring the characters together and build the community of humorous, murderous, bed-hopping Northerners we have come to know and love.

"It's hard for a neighbourhood to become a community if no one is bumping into each other," says Walljasper. Sounds simple but it's true.

The Great Neighborhood Book is published by The Project For Public Spaces (PPS)

Some tips for creating your own communities, by Jay Walljasper:

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 26, 2007 at 13:18:47

Must pick up that book. I'm all about 'placemaking'. Thanks for the heads up.

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By h (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2007 at 15:13:31

Highwater and others - Mixed Media will soon carry the PPS line of books and publications in our shop at 174 James St. N.

Great reads. Even better actions resulting from the reads!

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 26, 2007 at 15:23:06

I'm itching to get a tea-hut started in the Strathcona neighbourhood somewhere...I've always loved the PPS in-street squares in Portland's Sellwood neighbourhood. Look them up. They have artwork on the intersection and little bulletin boards with info for the community and a little tea hut where residents take turns keeping the water supply hot. The intersection of Inchbury and Florence has always struck me as a perfect place for one of these. Right at the entrance to Victoria Park. 2 quiet streets. Lots of strolling families and seniors from the nearby apartments. There are so many little things we can do to improve neighbourhood life. In Hamilton it seems many good ideas die because the folks behind those ideas don't want to face city hall. It's worth trying though.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 26, 2007 at 15:52:36

Thanks Dave. I'll wait till you get them in.

Placemaking at its finest:

www.dufferinpark.ca/home/wiki/wiki.php

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