The Southenders is an excellent collection of stories from the neighborhood we love. I really want to thank Laura Ramsey for putting this book together. Sometimes you will laugh, and other times you will be on the verge of tears. But I don’t see this book as only providing entertainment or “remember when” sentiments. The Southenders is a virtual text book of what constitutes a community and a constant reminder about what has been lost. Anyone interested in overcoming the social problems in the South End should study this book. It is a good read for anyone, anywhere, who seeks to restore the notion of community. As we now begin the process of developing a Neighborhood Plan, time would be well spent reflecting upon the nature of the old South End and consideration of the lessons rooted in its history.
On numerous occasions the authors mention “everything you needed was within walking distance”. Haliburton Street had about a dozen shops strung along six blocks; a supermarket, general store, fish and chips shop, ice cream parlor, butchers, a laundry, to name but half of them. They were all owned by local people.
What does this mean? Haliburton was an active pedestrian street. The more people you have on the street the less likely the occurrence of anti-social behaviour. Local ownership means money generated by sales circulates in the community. Such shops tend to buy local produce, which in turn helps the Nanaimo region. Neighborhood businesspeople are a stabilizing factor in any community. Walkability means less auto traffic and less need for cars. This means a quieter neighborhood, safer streets and less need to spend money on transportation.
Community rooted business helps create the situation where “everyone knows everybody.” This gives rise to a sustaining, secure, environment, most especially for children. In the old South End, children spent their days unsupervised and devised their own play. They could do this because their living situation was secure, a result of living in a true community.
There was ethnic diversity, but social and demographic stability, rooted in little divergence between wealth and poverty. Everyone, shop
keeper, miner or auto mechanic, had more or less the same level of income or as mentioned, “We were all poor by today’s standards.” No one was homeless. Though not mentioned in the book, housing was not overly expensive relative to income.
No one writing about the old South End mentions addicts, though some folks undoubtedly liked their “likker.” Happy people do not become addicts. Lack of community, which means lack of connection and lack of roots, creates “social anomie” often called alienation. Some people turn to harmful drugs to fill their empty, dislocated, fragmented lives.
Work was integrated into the community. While we do not wish to return to the the coal mines or have screeching saw mills in our back yards, the South End was a place of work. This was not a “bedroom community” but a 24 hour a day community. There was no commuting, people were only minutes from their work and could walk.
By the 1950′s the mines had closed and there were not enough neighborhood industries to absorb the work force. By the early 1960′s all across Canada, shopping centres were the new craze, and malls built in the 1970′s featured national chain stores, both sounding the death knell for many small neighbourhood shops. Suburbs sprung up, with a greater focus on the back yard than front porch.
The stories in The Southenders reminded me of that front porch time, encouraged me to think about the future of the neighborhood as a community restored. I see once once again, an integration of residence, consumption, work and leisure. Shops along Haliburton, and not corporate logos either, but locally owned. Non-invasive businesses employing residents. Affordable housing, including housing cooperatives, low cost condos, secondary suites and lane cottages to maintain the demographic mix of working class, lower-income professional and small business people. New shops with apartments above them on the second and third floors. Allotment gardens for the apartment dwellers. No homeless, as they now have inexpensive rooms. Drug addicts receiving treatment, both detox and therapy. Expanded park facilities and a community centre hosting all manner of get-togethers. Less traffic and better conditions
for walking and cycling.
That’s what my version of a restored South End looks like. What do you see as the future of our neighborhood? Please don’t hesitate to share your vision with us, here, at What’s Up in the South End.
New Book Celebrates the South End - Nanaimo Daily News