A neighbourhood is a location and a socio-economic homogeneity. It’s a location because people don’t want to have to drive to borrow a cup of sugar. And it’s socio-economically homogenous because they like to chat when they’re borrowing a cup of sugar, not out of politeness but out of interest. That is, we want to have enough in common with our neighbours that the differences we talk about are interesting rather than just baffling.
So we move to where our peeps are. Or if it’s a new suburb, to where we expect them to be. My own neighbourhood is inner city, but the city’s too small for that to mean what it would in a larger centre. I’m surrounded by professors, teachers, professionals, bureaucrats, small (but successful) business owners, and retirees who had been one of the above. The average tradesman makes more than most of us, but they live in the next valence out, where they all have a chop saw, so they borrow the neighbour’s camper trailer instead.
As I say, the city’s too small for any neighbourhood to have been gentrified. That’s a bigger city phenomenon. Somebody with some sense buys a having-seen-better-days house for a song because he can see it has good bones. He fixes it up and invites his buddy over for a beer. He gets the same idea and buys the house next door. So now at least two of them have neighbours worth borrowing a cup of sugar from. And so it goes, until the original inhabitants, most of whom have been renting, have to look to rent shelter elsewhere.
Moving to the suburbs is like Forrest Gump’s box o’ chocolates. You’re prepared to take what you get, but you don’t know what it’ll be. If the family moving in are Chinese or East Indian or African, you know they’re going to be at least as well-educated as you. And the first two, though not the last, can cook. But you can be reasonably confident that they won’t be African American, or in Canada that they won’t be indigenous. And you’ll be mightily pissed if they are. You’ll be pissed not because they’re different, but because they won’t be interestingly different. And your grumbling about them, as you’re sure to do, will sure to be misunderstood as racism.
You wouldn’t invite a multimillionaire to dinner either, and for the same reason, for which you’ll be accused, as I am for shopping at Walmart, of reverse snobbbery. But the truth is, I just find rich people boring, because they live in, what is to me, a boring world. And I find the same is true – pillory me if you must – of people with an intellectually impoverished group history.
Am I alone in this? In confessing it perhaps. But that’s just the kind o’ guy I am. Always willing to take the hit for my friends. And my neighbours.
Whenever a for-sale sign goes up in my neighbourhood, I want to attach a note listing range of income and the two-block radius currently lacking a good south Indian curry. I’d like to be able to add – and I would if I lived in America – that we could also use a Republican or two. But I’m guessing the real estate agent would object. I don’t know why. Surely she of all people should know that a neighbourhood is a neighbourhood, dammit!