Saturday, March 25, 2006

Downtown Living

When my husband and I bought our house in the east end of Toronto, the shift in location was a big deal. We are a 5-minute walk from the subway and a 15-minute subway ride to the centre of the city, but to us it felt like the edge of the earth. There is a lot I have come to love about living here - being close to a grocery store, being dangerously close convenience store, having our own laundry and mostly having space and having a garden. I still go downtown to work and to the movies, to dinner and to shop, all with ease. But oh, there's so much I miss.

My sister is looking for an apartment, and she is committed to being downtown. Today we went to see a place and wow, it was clear that certain neighbourhoods just feel like home. I've been thinking about what makes that so for me. Here's what I noticed from our outing today.

An ideal home is within a walk of the subway, preferably also along at least one, maybe even 2 streetcar routes. Being able to come home easily and safely from a variety of directions makes me feel like I'm in the heart of things rather than the outskirts. Also knowing that at night you will see people out and about, walking home from work or leaving for the club or walking their dog, makes it feel safe and alive and like people actually live there.

There's a certain kind of architecture that says "home in the city" to me. I'll have to take a picture of that at some point. The houses are sometimes in excellent shape, sometimes well-worn, but they don't feel forgotten or rundown. These homes are loaded with memories and have seen plenty of life. On the inside they're usually rather quirky and require creativity and a bit of work, especially in terms of storage. Many houses are divided into rental units and everyone recycles.

You can live on a quiet street with trees and gardens and within a 5- or 10-minute walk there is a grocery store, a bank, a book store, a music store, a movie theatre, several restaurants and more. In the little section we walked through on College there was also an art gallery and a millinery. And when you walk around you hear all different languages. Someone walks down the street and bumps into a buddy and starts talking Portuguese. And then a woman gets out of her car and talks to her child in Polish.

When we stopped for brunch at one of my favourite spots, it really drew into focus what I miss most, though it's hard to put a name to it. I sat there feeling so at home over exceptional coffee and french toast with raspberries. The restaurant feels special but is relaxed and affordable. The walls are red and the room is full of dark wood. There's a fabulously tacky elephant lamp in the window. It's brunch on a Saturday and the hostess is wearing a chocolate-coloured sequined shirt. I think every member of the waitstaff has a tattoo. The guys beside us were talking about the film they just finished. In the washroom area there were tons of postcards and posters advertising theatre, dance, independent film, yoga and belly-dancing class.

Writing that I realize that part of what I'm missing is the part of me that belongs there - the me that's involved in a creative project, that works on her own schedule, that dresses up not down, that loves to chat about ideas and possibilities, that's passionate and engaged, smart and playful, the me that lives downtown.


sutrasweetie said...

I know that part of a personality. It is the same part of me that misses late night coffees and passionate talk with an interesting boy you just met, or doing something totally new and daring. Its going to your friends film opening, seeing an edgy new band or dying your hair pink for the hell of it. Its a part of me that wants to be young and excited all the time.

chest of drawers said...

Oh my! Reading your post I feel like I live at the end of the earth!!!
I know the feeling and I feel it on a larger scale because I used to live at Bondi, near Sydney, right on 2 bus routes to the city and a 15 minute walk from the underground.
I spent the day in the city - Graz - yesterday and I was going to write about it today, a little tour, but you have given me a new perspective. Thanks!

Sacred Suzie said...

Fantastic photo Jamie! Honestly, absolutely amazing.

I think feeling at home where you live is essential and to feel alienated over a period of time damaging. I'm so sorry you feel this way, but perhaps it will help you focus your attention on getting a new home downtown.

Now you know for sure that downtown is what is home for you. That's an important realization!

Shannon said...

Thanks again so much for coming with me Jamie, it was so great to be there with you. I'm thinking to about home and I get stuck but my brain is still working on it. I love how that restaurant always has foggy windows & is toasty warm inside. And definetly has the best coffee :)

Mardougrrl said...

I really related to this entry. I miss living in a city as well...there are many benefits to the suburb where I live now, but honestly, living here just doesn't feed my soul at all.

I hope you get to reconnect with the "you that lives downtown" more often. :)

jenica said...

see, i'm more at home in a city too. my hubs however grew up in a town of 300 people! 35 minutes by car to the nearest grocery store. i can NOT live like that! so we live in the suburbs. ;-D

Marilyn said...

Came to THIS post via Tangled Wings (as you so kindly read my link there)...but I read you all the time and seldom jump out of Bloglines to leave comments for you. And I'm going to change that, because you so often post things that I relate to and resonate with. I've been in that place that you write of here...and what really jumped out at me was in your comment at Michelle's you said just writing about this post was making you feel emotional. I don't know your circumstances obviously, but I would encourage you to pay attention to those feelings...maybe you're still feeling like you're not where you belong. Just as you asked me that most powerful question after reading my roles post: has it changed NOW? I feel about it NOW? And I'm going to spend some time thinking about that this weekend. I understand the appeal of a city and/or downtown lifestyle. I no longer have the urge to live in an urban area (although that could change later), so I have what works for me...I live in a university town, right downtown. I still get the small town feeling that comforts me, with the convenience of having most everything I need within walking distance. And can I just say that that photo of you in your black coat on the subway platform that you posted the other day...that, to me, is a DOWNTOWN girl. I recognize her...because I used to be one... ;) xoxo

daisies said...

when we bought our house, it was really important to me to be close to downtown too. we paid a little (a lot) more for a smaller house so we could be only 1/2 block away from a very cool art district and we can bike to work in the summer and catch the subway for a 5 minute commute to downtown. it was too expensive to actually live downtown and have a house but at least we're close. i like being close to the heart of everything ... the beat of the city. we looked at houses out in the suburbs but i just couldn't do it even though we could have had a new bigger house. i love my 60+ year old tiny house and i love that there are hundred year old houses on my block.