Won’t you be my neighbour?

Posted by & filed under Catherine, Complaint Department, Suggestion Box, Usability, Vancouver.

For the past few years, I’ve lived in a Vancouver Special, chopped up into a few suites. My entire street, and in fact, most of my neighbourhood is like that, I suspect. It’s the sort of apartment realtors and landlords describe as “cozy”, but it’s decent.

I know a few of my neighbours:

  • There’s the autistic tween two doors down who throws extremely loud temper tantrums.
  • There’s the students on the other side of my house, one of whom once dated a guy who was extremely emotional during sex, to her irritation: “I just love you so much.” “Yeah, whatever.”
  • My upstairs neighbour and her teenage son, whom I do see and speak to regularly, are nice: she plays golf, he likes video games. Their (great-) uncle lives down the street in what I suspect is the first house to be built on that lot. Vancouver is an extremely new city, remember.
  • I don’t know the guys next door, but they always have very entertaining conversations in Mandarin. One of them frequently sings commercial jingles and Frank Sinatra medleys. They then argue about them. Once, he was playing a flute!

But this all brings me to my point. Today I was thinking about the fact that it’s actually kind of weird that I do know any of my neighbours’ names. Most of us don’t. We live in apartment buildings, or commute from the suburbs. My street definitely has more in common with the latter, with its stupid wasted space and identical “technically it’s a detached home” houses.

It's not much, but the view's amazing.

It’s not much, but the view’s amazing.

But worse, we all buy into it. Between my house and my neighbours’, identical to my own and built at the same time, there lies approximately 6 feet of space, more than half the width of my weird, narrow apartment. So what do we do with it? On my half, there’s a two-foot-wide path from the front of the house to the back, a foot of cedar chips, ending at a terrible, rusty chain-link fence. On theirs, the inverse. Only they have gravel instead of cedar chips.

Bravo, architects. Instead of having access to a fairly nice shared patio, allowing us to sit out in the cool breeze between the two houses, to barbeque, fix a bike, or do some windowbox gardening, we have an ugly fence dividing the space, forcing the addition of a buffer zone in the middle, lest we brush up against it and totally get rust particles all over our spiffy new bike’s handlebar tape. (Not that this happened to me recently or anything.)

By putting up a barrier and maintaining the fiction that we can’t actually smell each other’s dinner, we’ve wasted what amounts to an entire laneway. In some cities, there would be an actual street sign along a gap that wide between two buildings.

This is ridiculous, honestly. It’s time to stop catering to the idea that enclosing a chunk of lawn with a fence is a status symbol. Nobody is helped by this fence remaining here. The owners of our two houses don’t even live here. It’s not helping resale values. Anyone wanting to buy one of the properties and return it to a single-family home would incur tens of thousands of dollars of construction costs, only to be left at a disadvantage paying the mortgage. (Seriously, is there anyone in Vancouver who can afford to own a detached home and not rent out a suite?)

Without the fence, both units would have an extra amenity, appealing to renters. As tenants, we’d have more usable space. I could turn my bike around without having to lift it above my head or pick it up on the back wheel.

And most of all, maybe I’d actually talk to the guys across the fence sometime and ask them if they want any help settling the argument over the Sleep Country Canada jingle.

4 Responses to “Won’t you be my neighbour?”

  1. Susan

    This is why I like my housing co-op so much. I live in a set of three attached townhouses. Our shared yard space is a mini-community garden and there’s a swing and plastic play house. Last weekend one family had family here from out of town — and all three families had an impromptu potluck barbecue. Of course we all have privacy too. So your post makes me appreciate my home.

  2. Luke

    Awesome thoughts Catherine!

    So what are your next steps to try out such a great experiment?

    It’s hard to choose between the Go-Through-The-Owners route or the Tenants JFDI route. :)

    Cheers,
    Luke