By Joseph Moore, Instructor of Sociology, Douglas College
Should everybody and everything be allowed everywhere in our cities?
The superficial answer to this question, the one I am most guilty of resorting to, is yes, of course. We take pride in the diversity of our cities, our neighbourhoods and our families. We celebrate cultural, political and sexual differences and tell each other that everybody belongs.
Yet, in the lived reality of our neighbourhood it turns out that many of us have rather clear ideas about what and who belongs where. While conflicts over sites for social housing offer stark examples, subtler and more local tensions are equally revealing. My neighbours often speak of the frustration they have with “other” people parking in front of their house. Today, I hear that White Rock has decided that cannabis shops don’t belong in their fair city. Remember the great chicken debates in Vancouver and beyond?
We don’t like to admit it but often these arguments are, at least in part, about our discomfort around people and things unfamiliar. While we will tolerate and even enjoy throngs of people and strange sites and sounds when we are on vacation or when we travel downtown, we don’t necessarily want these things in the neighbourhood where we live.
As New Westminster grows and densifies it is becoming more difficult to “keep everything in its place”. Potential conflicts between users and uses will only grow. For many years when faced with the complexity of urban life, residents and planners alike have called for clearer and stricter rules and boundaries to ensure we feel comfortable in our neighbourhoods. Good fences, we are reminded, make good neighbours.
But an alternative path has been suggested, one that argues it is time to rip down the fences that exclude others and trap ourselves. Maybe cities are no place for quiet, single family neighbourhoods or neatly planned parks. Maybe we’ll all just need to learn to live in denser, “messier” places and streets filled with strangers.
I believe that for ecological and social reasons the latter approach is the future of our cities. However, if we are to avoid nasty confrontation and unhealthy effects we are going to need to rethink what a “good” home is. We will need to find a way to feel at home amongst strangers and to feel comfortable in places that we don’t fully control. Most of all we’re going to need new cultural skills that allow us to not only live but to thrive in truly urban places. Is this possible or even desirable in a place like New Westminster?
Join the discussion at the next Urban Challenges Forum, “Creating inclusive communities: What are the limits?” on Feb. 21, at the New West Campus in room 2201 from 6:30–8pm.
This is a free event and open to the public.