How often, since we moved into Roncy two decades ago, have I heard people wax eloquent about what a wonderful neighbourhood we live in. And how many have moved here because it was a ‘great neighbourhood’? I’ve heard some say, “It’s always been great”. Probably debatable, but I’ll keep an open mind.
I’ve often thought about the concept of a great neighbourhood because it was important to me as a real estate agent. It helped me find good locations for buyers once I had a sense of the kind of neighbourhood that appealed to them.
But it’s one of those concepts that means different things to different people. Often, people attracted to Bloor West Village were not attracted to Roncesvalles Village. People who found Roncy ‘messy, chaotic’, would describe Bloor West Village as warm and friendly. People who found BWV ‘cold and conservative’ would say of Roncy that it was warm and friendly.
Recently, in my role as ‘fearless analyst’, I’ve been asking myself “What are the ingredients in this ‘great neighbourhood’.
The ‘Jane Bunnett’ evening at Revue Cinema the other night, illustrated beautifully some of the things that make Roncy great. The participants – the great clarinetist herself, the producer of the moving documentary about Bunnett, the Revue volunteers – all live in the neighbourhood, love it, and express that love in all the ways they support the theatre they love. It was creative and generous, hard work.
It struck me at some point that the people who love the Revue, also love the community. Expressing one’s love for the community in the ways we do, is exactly what makes it a great place. And the ‘neighbourhood ways’ are infectious. If you’ve recently moved into the ‘nabe’, you suddenly find yourself willing to take the risk of smiling at a stranger. They smile back.
Sooner or later it dawns on you that we must contribute in other ways too – that we can’t expect the same people to keep knocking themselves out to give us the pleasure of an amazing neighbourhood.
When people are looking for a place to settle, perhaps raise children, enjoy their ‘spare time’, like their neighbours, they explore a variety of neighbourhoods. They are tentative, wondering, trying to pick up a vibe. It’s tough, trying to make that choice. And the clues that we read are in the small and large things we notice about what’s actually going on.
Small thing: more people smile at us – or even talk to us — here, even though we’re strangers. Big thing: A wonderful, world-famous musician who’s lived in the neighbourhood for over 30 years, willing to give of herself to help the Revue. Amazingly, the producer of the documentary about Bunnett’s life – also lives in the neighbourhood. There’s Ellen and the other Program Committee members, who do knock themselves out. They not only organized the event and the advertising, but served the Cuban food we enjoyed.
We notice more eccentricity in this place, less in others. Eccentricity implies a level of acceptance of ‘differences’. We hear rumours that there are lots of writers, musicians, urban planners, living here. That sounds interesting.
We hear that this neighbourhood has more of a ‘compassionate’ streak than a lot of neighbourhoods. We notice events like a fund-raiser to help the owner of a pet store that burned, or to create some kind of memorial to a popular pan-handler who died.
You notice that the Home Hardware store is a little different here, in that the owner lives in the neighbourhood, and people call him Len. And Sheila, who owns Another Story bookstore (one of the most popular and respected in the city) on Roncesvalles, is a compassionate activist in the community. You begin to wonder, is anybody not?
But let’s not romanticize a neighbourhood that also contains all the flaws and weaknesses common to humanity: people who are uncomfortable smiling at strangers; people who seldom give of themselves; people who only moved in as an investment in trendiness; people who express a chronic cynicism – no doubt because of their own growing up years. Attitudes spread. I wonder which ones will win out here. I hope we all consciously keep spreading the currently dominant Roncy culture – the one that values inclusion, acceptance of differences.
Until I moved into Roncesvalles Village, I had not in my life lived anywhere more than seven years. My affection for this ‘village’ has been a slow and steady growth. It will be twenty years next May. I figure in my old age I’ll be able to enjoy most days somewhere in walking distance (Jane Jacobs is looking down, smiling in approval!) If I am unwell, there’s always St. Joe’s. For aesthetic pleasure, there’s the park and the lake. As long as I can walk. And when I can’t walk any more, knowing this village, I bet someone will bring me soup!