Shelter of Less Shelter

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It’s Sunday night, at a time when I would normally be crawling into bed. Yet I sit here awake – it’s a long weekend, you see, and apparently that applies to more than just me.

I live “downtown”, which to different people carries different connotations that range from glamourous to dangerous. I assure you I live neither type of lifestyle. It’s safe, but there’s no free parking. The people who live around me don’t all share a similar level of means, but I accept that and embrace what they add to the community, because they’re less likely to be welcomed as such elsewhere in the outward expansion of -urbs.

It would be correct to assume that my downtown community puts me in a multi-unit complex rather than a single detached home. My building is impressively quiet – far more so than other ones I’ve lived in – and on a day-to-day basis (or night-to-night in this case) there is little noise, as is common courtesy for anyone having to share some element of space with strangers.

The noise comes out on weekends, occasionally, but as I’ve firmly planted my working life in a Monday to Friday groove that doesn’t concern me anymore. I make my own noise, I’m sure (although I’m pretty boring and my friends don’t like coming over here [see “Urban Inconvenience” linked above] so it may rarely be noticed). And since it’s a long weekend, tonight too there are people having a good time audibly from my window facing the back alley. People are leaving from and arriving at neighbouring apartments with friends engaged in conversation, and I can hear them out in the halls for the brief period of transition. It’s fine, it’s reasonable, and it doesn’t affect me or my sleep. But that I live in a central, dare one say “inner city”, community, the conclusion some people may come to is that my area is becoming unsafe.

Months ago the person living across the hall from me moved out, and new people moved in. I haven’t met the new people (or maybe just person, I don’t know how many technically live there), but she (or he, or they) often has people over. The resident(s) and frequent guests also happen to be primarily native, and there are cultural differences carried along with that. The neighbour has people over more often than I do, perhaps because it was determined that she has the best place to convene and perhaps because the social pattern within her group is to meet up frequently. They listen to hip hop and the hallway gets whiffs of weed on weekends both short and long. Does this affect my perception of my neighbourhood? Not at all. Does it affect others’? Probably. Each factor of noise + smell + race + location adds to the level of discomfort some people may have, in spite of how irrational it is to jump to conclusions of harm.

And I think of that likely discrimination tonight because it’s a Sunday night, when I would expect the socializing noise to be more subdued. I don’t have to wake up early tomorrow, so I am not concerned about it. I live here, so I know when things are normal and harmless. But I was also shaped into the person I am today living somewhere other than here. So I know when things would not sell well to the suburban middle class mindset. I know what I would be thinking and feeling if I were not fueled as a youth by spite, and didn’t make conscious choices to move my life downtown in various phases. I’m a sociologist. I know what’s driven people away from the residential downtown core. And when that comes to light on long weekends when the change from routine creates that awareness, I’m reminded of where that uneasiness comes from and how glad to be that I’ve chosen to drop it.

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