Stepping Out of the Shady

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Walking through the downtown streets at night – or rather, down one street for what most people would consider a short and reasonable distance from the bus stop to my building – feels safer and more convenient for me than it did a month ago. I have never been in fear walking down my own streets (but caution is just being smart) because they are well-lit with neighbouring highrises. During working days it’s a bustling area, but that there aren’t traffic jams on weekends does not mean it’s a deserted and haunting place. On top of that, I got to celebrate a couple of things.

Days after I moved into my current building a couple of years ago, construction started on a multi-level parkade that blocked off the sidewalk on my side of the street. On top of that, renovations and landscaping in the foyer next to the city’s biggest library blocked off the only pedestrian access past the entrance to the building’s underground parking. Not only was there noisy construction going on – the days after I moved here were when the crew started drilling into pavement on a site I could see from my window – but it was ugly terrain, in that stage between boring and beautiful, when everything is being gutted and there are cranes and trucks and lifts everywhere.

The construction of that parkade seemed to be going on forever, and for quite a while recently there was work being done well into the sleeping hours of the evening. Last month when I had a chance to spend a week house sitting before a near-week traveling, I said that after I come back to my own place they better be damn well finished that parkade and I can have my sidewalk back. The noise didn’t bother me nearly as much as the principle of me having to wait two years into living here to walk down the street.

I’m happy to say that I just walked down that sidewalk for the first time. I walked through the library foyer, too, which has been accessible for a much longer time, but it now also has a beautiful fountain installation that is like a laboratory flask with a fountain and colour-changing lights. When I approached that installation I had to step aside for a moment, as there were a group of young women with a friend taking their photo in front of it. There’s a nightlife being built around having a functioning community again.

There’s pride in the façade. I know it’s not as glamourous as it looks, because on my bus ride a visibly drunk man with a joint in his mouth got off on the stop before mine, possibly to nowhere in particular as it didn’t appear he had a place to shave at any recent time. I also know that other places who call themselves world class cities, so above my home that’s the crime capital of this country, choose to ignore people just like this guy, like I chose to tonight before getting off the bus and into a fancily lit world. Over the past week and a bit I’ve been in Victoria and Vancouver. A friend who moved to the former last year described it as eerily Pleasantville-like, because everybody is happy and healthy and having fun. But the night prior, out with another friend, I saw a couple of men sleeping on the ledges outside the windows of the Salvation Army building. Even without the men sleeping there, having a Salvation Army building speaks that there are albeit hidden people in need. In Vancouver I took lovely strolls through the downtown area to get to cultural places of interest, and I could see the sharp turn of shade towards the infamous Downtown East Side. Somehow the 2010 Olympics managed to go smoothly in that town despite of that manifestation of the endless cycle between poverty and mental health.

Every major city is known for its vagabonds and its homeless as much as its culture and prosperity. Now it’s my turn to ignore that, just when I’m down and feel like I need a little pick-me-up of hometown pride.

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