For the Love of Boyle Street
In the winter of 2019, my partner and I moved into our home in Boyle Street. I knew a number of people in the neighbourhood, as one often does, but the connections were loose. I had yet to exchange a “hello” with the people who lived on either side of me. In fact, having previously lived in apartments, I had never seen the neighbours to my right. This was not unusual, as we had come from Oliver to the west of downtown and are well acquainted with the hustle of urban life.
Living in urban spaces, especially apartments, while amenity-rich, can be isolating despite being intimately connected through shared spaces, tight corridors, and thin walls. Despite being so full of life, the blocks of our cities can be the loneliest places on earth. As do others, I often address this pang for connection through commitments outside the sphere of my neighbourhood, connections based on interests and similarities rather than proximity.
However, Boyle Street has nearly 7000 folks within a five-minute walk of my little door. Certainly, it is not for lack of diversity that I remain unconnected. Over 35 percent of our homes in Boyle Street have more than one language spoken within. I know that we are a generous mix of students at MacEwan, the U of A, and NorQuest. We are office workers with such short commutes it’s brag-worthy, condo-dwelling singles, couples, retirees, newcomers to Canada, artists, and a long-term few who are lovingly restoring the historic homes peppering our streets. I live in Boyle Street very intentionally, and I long to share this experience with others – just like I would share a great meal.
Boyle Street is already a livable, walkable, urban community. Boyle Street works because it offers access. The River Valley, downtown cultural institutions, MacEwan, Chinatown, and Little Italy are all a quick bike ride or easy walk away. What I long for is not the neighbourhood of my dreams – it’s a collective Boyle Street experience. It’s a group of people to share it with.
City builders and urban planners have much to say about this concept of shared connection and shared experience. Urban renewal activist Jane Jacobs’ concept of “eyes on the street” offers one often-referenced safety benefit of connection. However, in addition to safety benefits, surveys find that connected neighbours are more politically engaged, have better physical health, and that optimism and life satisfaction can actually be reliably enhanced.
Luckily, there’s growing awareness of the power of connection and lively streets, along with efforts to make neighbourhoods across Edmonton look more like ours, by introducing programs to add more infill development within close proximity to quality public transit, amenities, and services. There is also substantial investment in Asset Based Community Development programs like the Abundant Communities program that provides neighbourhoods with resources to intentionally weave together the skills, gifts, and abilities of residents.
So how do we connect with each other in Boyle Street? The answer lies partially in amplifying the diversity of approaches already working. As neighbours, we can invite others to participate in activities that we wish to share or would love to lead (volunteering, knitting, dog-walking, mountain biking, game watching, or perhaps eventually sharing meals). As well, the Boyle Street Community League should, as a core responsibility, encourage and facilitate connection between neighbours.
Social media is one way to spark connections in a winter city. Boyle Street is already connected on Next Door and Facebook, and over the coming months we will be encouraging neighbours to connect with the hashtag #BoyleStreetSocialClub on whatever platforms you already use. The Community League will be sending invitations for a free membership in March, along with information on membership benefits and activities going on in our neighbourhood.
If you can, I encourage you to download Facebook and Nextdoor, to share and watch for ways to connect with your neighbours through your Boyle Street Social Club:
Go to Nextdoor at:” https://ca.nextdoor.com and use Invite code: LQPPRJ
Go to Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/BoyleStreetCommunityLeague
Jonathan Lawrence (Twitter: @Jonathanlaw_ ) is a Boyle Street Community Member and serves on the BSCL Executive Team.