Why People Hate Your Lily-White Neighbourhood

Leaving my physiotherapist’s neighbourhood the other day really got me thinking: I hate everything about this place. There’s nothing wrong with it physically, it’s actually one of the cleanest, most well maintained and beautiful neighbourhoods I’ve ever seen. It’s situated in the northern part of the city where you enjoy the benefits of being in a metropolis but still can enjoy decently sized properties. They’re not mansions, just luxury homes that cost a few million and have every amenity you could want. The area is neatly tucked away from the busy thoroughfare but not too far as to be inconvenient when a resident wants to leave the cloister. One side is cut off by a massive cemetery. It’s not creepy, mind you, because of the high and comforting walls surrounding the entire thing. It just means that residents (of the neighbourhood, not the graveyard) never have to worry about development that might annoy them and can always take a nice long walk through the many passages in the perfectly manicured burial grounds. (Also, it costs more to die here than it does to rent most places in this city — and rent ain’t cheap.) Huge trees provide comfortable shade and privacy between houses, although you’d never think they wanted it with how much time they spend together just chatting and relaxing. Sometimes stopped right in the middle of the street for a quick twenty minute hello. Still, the option is there.

There’s no reason to mince words, people would kill to live here. It’s not so easily described as nice and neat. The whole place goes way beyond that. There’s something just so picture perfect about the whole thing. It’s a place where many young families live, their kids playing up and down the street next to the “Slow Down — Kids at Play!” signs and on their lawns that are surprisingly large for city homes. Old and new houses, all in perfect condition, line the blocks with plenty of activity, locals sitting on their verandas or just people watching. Others raking leaves or power washing multi-car driveways. They have neighbourhood yard sales a few times a year and every once in a while one of the local musicians puts on a small concert for the kids with her guitar and small amp on her balcony. I’m not sure how many eight year olds are into the Beatles but the sense of community just can’t be beat. Quiet little places like this dot every major city in North America.

At this point, I’m sure people are assuming I’m either an old curmudgeon or a perpetually angry twentysomething with dissociative issues. And they’re not far off, but who could really have a problem with a place like this? There’s no crime or litter, the kids get lots of attention, and the residents aren’t doing anything to bother anyone.

That’s kind of the point, isn’t it? No one here is doing anything. They don’t have to and, more importantly, they don’t want to. It’s early afternoon and middle aged people are raking leaves or sitting outside with their neighbours. There’s no rush, no urgency about anything. None of them are under the gun. A lady walking by once asked if I was new to the neighbourhood because she recognized my car. I’m here every two weeks for an hour in the middle of the day, how in the hell have you taken note of my car? Don’t you have anything to do?

When you turn into one of these areas it’s like passing through some unseen membrane into another reality. You can feel the difference here if you’re paying attention. It’s not just how nice the place is or the luxury cars in each driveway that catch your eye. Society with all of it’s issues stopped at the crosswalk and now you’re in a place that may as well be on another planet. Because that’s ultimately what you’re noticing. The people here aren’t bad. They don’t wish ill on anyone and they wouldn’t hurt a fly. They pretty much all vote progressive and they’re staunch supporters of every anti campaign out there — racism, sexism, homophobia, animal cruelty, the works.

They just don’t actually do anything.

This place has massive amounts of every resource you could ever want to enact change: money, influence, time, ability. Yet they’re spent making sure that the hedges aren’t too high or that the leaves are cleaned up quickly. The energy here is focused on ensuring their little bubble remains perfect. They will watch for new cars and new people so they can evaluate them and ensure they’re a good “fit” for the neighbourhood. The woman I know who has lived there for thirty years is sure to make note of that. And while they can’t actually stop someone from living there they can definitely keep them from being a real part of the community.

Speaking of fitting in, did you really need me to tell you that this entire place is blindingly white? What was it about my description of the people and their priorities that made you instantly know that it looks like a scene from the Brady Bunch? Somehow, someway, in the largest city in the entire nation, one of the most diverse on the planet, and the financial hub that represents 25% of the entire country’s GDP, not one black guy seems to have found his way in here. Magically. You might catch a brown couple now and then on the street just before the membrane, but every resident I’ve ever seen over the past few years has been white as milk.

Look, there’s nothing wrong with being white or living in a nice area. You should take pride in your home and do the best you can to ensure it’s a nice place for your family. But if you live in one of these oases and still don’t get it, do me a favour. Grab a pen and write down the top five issues you are now facing that don’t directly involve you as an individual but still have a direct impact on your life. So don’t tell me about your sick aunt or your bill payments, everyone deals with that. I want to know what issues you face that make your life more difficult as a direct result of something you have no control over that isn’t a health, relationship, or financial problem.

How’s that list coming along? Anything on it at all? I’m willing to bet it’s either a neighbour’s bylaw infraction or you trying to make the case that the plight of the Uyghurs is really directly hurting you somehow. I won’t waste time asking what you’re doing about it, but I know they have your thoughts and prayers. This here is the issue. The economy has taken a massive blow, hundreds of thousands are out of work, civil unrest (along with homegrown militias) is on the rise, another wave of the pandemic is tearing through our healthcare system, and the planet is on fire with an overly sunny/burning future. Yet you can’t find a reason why any of this is really making your life more difficult aside from not being able to eat at your favourite restaurant anymore. You’ve probably benefited from the elimination of your commute and found yourself with more gas money in your pocket and less stress from dodging the drive. The bubble you live in hasn’t so much as shaken. The only difference between your street in 2019 and 2021 is the 40% increase in the value of your luxury home.

You’re not doing anything wrong but you’re also not doing anything at all. You’ve never had to and it doesn’t look like you ever will. A near collapse of society would be going unnoticed were it not for your Google News updates. You still get to live in a dream without so much as your daily routine being altered. Putting it mildly, it’s irritating to everyone around you that has to sweat just to maintain the grim outlook they had before the pandemic.

Now is it any wonder that as I leave her neighbourhood I can’t help but think that she’s overcharging?

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