The Beach … deep in the heart of me

“How could anyone know enough about the needs of the human soul to prescribe the ideal city for happiness?” asks Charles Montgomery.

If it’s happiness we seek, then we better give the people some say over the city we live in – how it’s planned, how it’s built, how it changes.

NIMBYism some call it, derisively. But the Beach is not our backyard. It is our home. NIMBYism as a criticism fails to understand Montgomery’s quote – fails to understand how deep in our being reside the places we live. This is not an anti-condo cry. But it is a call for greater democratization of the decisions that have to do with the place we live.

I am not so naïve as to believe that there is not a mix of interests that rally behind the anti-condo lawn signs – including some basic material ones. But it seems to me that the defense of Queen Street is, by and large, a deeply personal cause. And, the experiences and histories that bring us to the cause are ones of “the human soul” – personal stories. Mine, in brief, goes like this …

Donna and I moved here in 1996.  Barely out from under student debt only to submit to a much bigger one, we bought our first home in the Upper Beach.

Donna’s law career was just under way and I had only recently abandoned academic ambitions as an economist with the Ministry of Finance. My oldest, Em, was born just a couple months later. Sister Hannah and brother Rory were to follow.

Over the years we wore ruts in the sidewalks between the Upper Beach, the beach, the Purple Park, (what we called it then) the Motorcycle Park and, of course, a great many coffee shops along the way.  Up and down that hill, I pushed and pulled wagons, wagons with trailers, single Pegs, double Pegs – and even a triple Peg for the months that my brother and his family lived with us – umbrella strollers, collapsible double strollers and a Bugaboo. And all of that, often, with one of the monkeys on my shoulders.

This was happiness. And this is how the streets, sidewalks, parks and even coffee shops of this community became part of the Kellway home and we part of it.

When we returned from being away, it never felt like we were home until we returned to this routine – feet in the sand, wagon wheels rumbling down Queen Street, kids in the sandbox, and at the end of the day, me Dad, huffing and puffing his way back up the hill.

The Beach is changing and so are all of we.  (It’s been a long time since strollers clogged up my front hallway.) I embrace that. But as change unfolds, I don’t want to lose the thread back to other times so that I don’t recognize my home anymore, so that these are only memories of what it used to be.

I am mindful of Jane Jacobs’ caution about sentimentality: “Neighbourhood is a word that has come to sound like a Valentine. As a sentimental concept, ‘neighbourhood’ is harmful to city planning. It leads to attempts at warping city life into imitations of town or suburban life. Sentimentality plays with sweet intentions in place of good sense.”

But she also told us that, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

The Beach that is my home was created by everybody. But now, it is a place being prescribed by others.  They cannot know how to change it for happiness. Only those with this place deep in our hearts can know that. We should have a say in how this place changes.

I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday. Peace!

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