What makes a neighbourhood?

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      In response to my recent opinion piece about the lack of dog parks in East Vancouver, the Vancouver Park Board responded to me in an email, saying that I had picked arbitrary boundaries for my study area. What I actually did was pick an area contained within four major arterial roads, and look within that area for an off-leash dog park. There were none. 

      But, yes: there are off-leash areas (or OLAs, because bureaucrats love acronyms) in the area outside of what I originally defined as East Van. The off-leash areas (because I hate acronyms) are on the periphery, and all of them are at least 15 minutes away from where I was looking. They all require crossing at least one major arterial (sometimes two).

      As an urban planner, for me the issue comes down to how do you define “neighbourhood.” And “walkable.” And “accessible.”

      As a dog owner, I chose to look at an area where I could walk with the least risk of being killed by a distracted driver. This means not crossing a major arterial, as that is where most pedestrian deaths happen. I also like to walk where there are trees, where it is quiet, and where it is fairly flat. Residential areas are nice for that.

      When I think about the boundaries of my Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood, they seem quite arbitrary. I live within walking distance of Commercial Drive. Because of this, I rarely go south to Broadway, and even less often north to Powell Street (the far extent of my “neighbourhood” boundary). For me, my neighbourhood is really the six blocks on either side of my high street.

      The City of Vancouver has 22 areas or neighbourhoods, and they vary drastically.

      In 1996, the downtown neighbourhood had a population of 17,405 people. By 2016, that population had grown to 62,030. In comparison, Shaughnessey—the neighbourhood that hates to grow—started out with 9,090 people in 1996, and shrunk to 8,430 people in 2016. (The City has not updated the statistics to 2021 data, which is...interesting.)

      Some studies suggest that 10,000 is about the number of people that can best be addressed in any coherent organizational manner. Perhaps neighbourhoods should be in units of 10,000 within an easily-defined area with shared common amenities. From a dog park perspective, that would mean an off-leash area for every 1,700 dogs, which seems reasonable.

      It’s likely that each of us would define “neighbourhood” differently. If you drive a lot, it may be a larger area than if you don’t. If you access local services such as community centres or libraries, it may be based on where those are. 

      Earlier today, I walked to my local hardware store to buy salt for the snow—our building had run out. On my way, I saw a large produce truck that was jackknifed in the road, its wheels stuck in the snow. When I got to the hardware store, there was a gathering of people watching a four-by-four pull. the truck out of the powder.

      When the truck was free, we all cheered. And then we continued with our days.

      Maybe, at the end of the day, it is not the City’s arbitrary lines that define a neighbourhood, but something much different: what we share as a community.