Today on my way back from the corner store, I said hello to José, a retired man who loves to joke with anyone who passes his house. I waved to Gretel, who was on her way to the bus stop, heading to work. I chatted with Susan, a queer mom, out for a stroll with four-month-old Lucy.
It hasn't always been this way for me. Until recently, I rarely spoke to my neighbours, even though I've been a Torontonian for almost 15 years. I figured this was how Toronto was. Wasn't it normal to feel a little alienated in a big city?
Community comes in many forms, and so I satisfied my need for connection through various queer, people of colour and other political groups I'm a part of. But I still hungered for a feeling of belonging - I wanted to have my own neighbourhood.
Three years ago, my partner and I relocated to an area known as the Brockton Triangle, a few blocks enclosed by Dundas to the north, the train tracks to the south, Lansdowne to the west and Brock to the east.
We moved in the middle of winter, and the pipes in our old row house were bursting with raw sewage. The main commercial area up on Dundas, with the exception of the lively Lula Lounge, was reminiscent of a ghost town, with its many abandoned storefronts and its abundance of busy-by-noon sports bars.
We didn't know anyone. We missed being close to bookstores and groovy cafés. Why did we ever move this far west?
As time passed, we began to warm to the place. We heard whispers of other queers and people of colour nearby, and learned about the many artists and labour organizers living in our block. There were murmurings of a community get-together, perhaps a potluck - and what dyke doesn't like a potluck?
Then last summer, it happened. Fifteen people carried covered dishes over to the Shirley Street schoolyard. Most of us didn't know each other at all. We awkwardly shook hands and introduced ourselves by street names. "Hi, I'm Farzana from Wyndham ."
Still, the mood was excited, expectant. We spread blankets on the brown grass, and over plastic plates full of macaroni salad and lentils and rice, we talked about organizing ourselves into something more formal and passed around a sign-up sheet.
Later that evening, we started the Brocktonneighbours listserv, which now has over 125 members.
People began to use the listserv to talk about daycare, argue about Councillor Giambrone and borrow and lend lawnmowers and leftover paint. Even better, a sense of neighbourliness erupted among us. The conversations on the listserv broke the big-city ice, helping us to talk to one another more on the streets, too.
We've since had more potlucks, but we've organized beyond that. In the last year alone, we've successfully lobbied for speed humps (our quiet streets seem to attract drag racers), held an all-candidates' meeting, planned a neighbourhood-wide yard sale and a summer festival.
Could our good vibes be building even beyond our listserv? We rejoiced when a new Vietnamese restaurant and an artist-run co-op opened on Dundas during the same period. Even the real estate agents have begun to advertise Brockton as "trendy."
Now I speak to my neighbours. I even know some of their dogs' names. I've borrowed a lawnmower, brought over food to new parents, received a jar of fresh grape jelly.
The Brockton Triangle feels like home.
Farzana Doctor is a writer, social worker and consultant. She is the author of Stealing Nasreen (Inanna, 2007). For more info: www.farzanadoctor.com.