When is a neighbourhood, a neighbourhood?

Every year, this newspaper puts out nominations for its Readers Choice awards. And its readers respond with enthusiasm. And the paper presents plaques to the winners and those plaques hang proudly in the reception areas of the winning businesses.

I’ve often thought it might be interesting to ask Advance readers about their neighbourhoods. Who lives in the best neighbourhood, and why? You know, sort of get a handle on what people appreciate.

As one of the Baby Boomers, I grew up in a terrific neighbourhood. It was brand new, post war housing, little bungalows on huge lots. Eventually, when there was enough money, your dad built a garage. And our back yards had enough room for a baseball game.

Because our block was brand new, we looked out on George Judge’s farm fields. My mother’s vegetable garden was on one side of the cedar rail fence; George’s holsteins were on the other side.

I remember my dad coming home with a dozen huge painters planks, likely from some scaffolding project, and he tipped them all along the cedar rail fence, two to a section. My brother and sister and I stood and wondered what this was all about til he told us to gather up the neighbour kids. We had neighbour kids by the carload… this was post war and babies were the number one gross national product!

Aaaahhh. Kids climbed on either end of these planks and we had 24 kids all teeter-tottering up and down the entire length of yard. Those planks were there when my parents sold the house in 1967. George Judge’s holsteins had given way to a new subdivision behind us, but the teeter-totters remained.

So did neighbourhood fireworks parties, and kid-made circuses, and brass bands marching around the block. In the winter we all went Christmas Carolling, house to house, collecting coins to donate to Children’s Aid.

This was the era when you took off right after supper on your bike and didn’t come home until the streetlights came on. Same rule for everybody. Did our parents know where we were? No.

Together we all walked to Brownies, or Cubs, and later Scouts and Girl Guides. We were a neighbourhood.

As lot sizes shrunk and the houses on them grew, the garage became the real issue. Instead of being tucked in the back yard, where it belongs, the garage became the entire front of the house. No longer could a parent look out the front door and see up and down the street. The garage became a barricade between sight lines and neighbourly connection. Kids had to stay in their own yards.

I have a friend, the remarkable Lisa Gabriele, owner of Everything In Its Place. She calls herself a downsizing and relocation specialist. She helps people move from their lifelong homes into apartments, condos and retirement places. She’s very good at this. I had a visit with Lisa and I came away feeling really wonderful about her neighbourhood.

Why? She in Barrie’s first wide lot, shallow depth subdivision. Small back yards, but wide enough frontages to tuck a garage into the house rather than protruding out front.

Without mentioning garages, I asked Lisa about her neighbours, the people who live in this community called Maple Woodlands.

You can see the school up the street. Homeowners have built patios in their front yards. They visit back and forth. Coffee in one yard turns into a sandbox in another. Kids play. Kids know each other and each others parents.

I think it’s because they can all see each other!

So here’s to neighbourhoods where neighbours know each other. Wonder what the Advance can discover with a neighbourhood contest…