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:
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