The Unpaid Cost of Urban Living

I have a neighbour who has a drum set in his garage. He is not very good at playing it, but he does so fairly often. His garage is not particularly well insulated, and it’s right behind by house (we share a back alley). Sometimes, it’s pretty loud. At no point have I ever been bothered by this, or even dreamed of going over and giving him shit.

I consider this part of my contract with the neighbourhood I live in. I grew up in the suburbs, and at some point decided that that wasn’t really for me, and that I’d like to live as close to downtown as I could reasonably afford to. I think most people are pretty familiar with the appeal of moving into the inner city from the suburbs; beyond the obvious logistical conveniences of living close to the places you want to spend time, there’s also a certain culture that comes with living in the city that doesn’t quite make the jump to townhouses and shopping malls in the ‘burbs.

I’ve always accepted that those benefits have some implicit baggage included with them. The reality of living in a place as densely populated as most big cities are is that privacy becomes by and large non-existent. You’re going to hear the older married couple next door yelling at each other in a language you don’t understand; you’re going to hear the bullshit pop music the mormon girls upstairs listen to incessantly. And you’re going to put up with it, because that’s the deal you signed when you decided you wanted to live in the city. There’s a place you can go if you want to have your own kingdom and sequester yourself away from the other human beings around you. It’s called the suburbs.

Sometimes, it seems like there are a lot of people who don’t understand this, or at least don’t agree with my assessment of it.

For example, when you move into a brand new condo development and there’s a live music venue across the street that’s been there for a decade, common sense would dictate that you don’t get to tell them to shut up. They were there first, and you knew they were there when you bought your half a million dollar condo. If you want to move into a neighbourhood with a “vibrant culture” or whatever line the realtor sold you, you don’t get to dictate the terms on which that culture reaches you.

Strangely, this is never how it pans out. As soon as the condos go up, the institutions that made that neighbourhood worth building those pricey flats in in the first place start to come down. The noise complaints flood in from the indignant new homeowners, and soon enough the art studio or DIY venue or cheap Mexican restaurant is replaced with a Starbucks or a Lululemon. It turns out the people who thought they wanted to live in the city actually just want to live in a suburb that’s closer to their downtown office.

Maybe it’s cynical of me, but it seems the higher the price tag on the new condos is, the more swiftly they manage to suck the life out of their vicinity.

I’ll be frank here: this shit is a bummer. I’ve seen it happen to countless formerly cool spots in my city, and I can’t imagine it doesn’t happen in most other large-ish cities. Somebody – a large number of somebodies – aren’t sticking to the deal. They want to eat their cake and have it too, by getting all the benefits of city living with none of the sacrifices. They think because they spent way too much money on a condo, they shouldn’t have to hear the guy upstairs doing his P90X tapes.

If you are one of these people, you need to have a hard think about whether you belong here. Living in the city means compromising with your neighbours and putting up with their intrusions sometimes. That is the price we all pay for being a part of our city’s culture and community. If you’re not willing to do that, then there’s a nice big house in South Surrey with your name on it. You won’t be missed.

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