My wife and I recently purchased our first home. The house is located in a neighbourhood of Winnipeg in which I have spent the vast majority of my adult Manitoba life. Moving back from Ontario it was like coming back home. I am referring to the Spence Neighbourhood in the West End of Winnipeg. I have lived on Spence St, Young St and I now reside on Langside. What is clear to me is that everyone, everyone from Winnipeg somehow knows this is a ‘bad’ neighbourhood. This is so implicitly ingrained in my psyche that when I tell people where our house was I began to rationalize or justify or downplay our decision. The truth is that I am not sure I can think of a more desirable neighbourhood to live in (maybe the Exchange District). I love it here. So I have decided to stop making any additional commentary when I tell people where our house is located.
What I have noticed (after the pause in conversation when I tell them) is that people are now filling in the justification for me or making explicit the public perception (One person actually asked, Isn’t that a scary neighbourhood?). What is going on here? Are people actually concerned about my safety? Maybe. Do people have a clue what this neighbourhood is actually like? Probably not. I would like to propose that maybe part of the need to react to my choosing and (of all things) embracing this neighbourhood is that it subtly questions dominant cultural motivations for home owning . . . namely fear. In as much as people choose homes out of desires and preferences for this-that-and-the-other I found that house hunting played as much on my fears as anything else. Will this place retain its value? Is this a safe neighbourhood? How will our house and neighbourhood reflect how people view us? These can quickly become dominant motivations as cities have driven for decades now away from the depraved city centres to faux Edens with green lawns, no sidewalks and high fences.
I recognize that our house purchase does not give me any moral high-ground in this larger conversation but our decision has exposed something in myself and seemingly in others. Our decisions are caught up in a larger system in which we are all participants. We affirm each other in our decision in live in a ‘good’ neighbourhood. What defines a good neighbourhood? I would venture the definition of a good neighbourhood as one in which I do not need to think about anything outside my immediate concerns. A ‘bad’ neighbourhood then in is one in which outside concerns run in conflict to my own pattern of living. Living in a ‘bad’ neighbourhood then becomes a call in itself to question our existing pattern of living. It demands that I make explicit and conscious choices about the things that our world and society are being confronted with and how I am responding to them. A good neighbourhood then is the capitalist dream. It caters to my choice and provides the goods and services that will maintain my flow of interests and desires without obstruction. So what is it again that is good about a good neighbourhood?