city vs suburbs

I love the apartments we saw in Meadowvale. I mean I really love them. They are huge, comfortable, beautiful. They are much larger and much nicer than anything we could afford in the city, at least anything we could find right now. Space has always been important to us, and since we'll be working full-time (at least for a time), comfort will be more important than ever.

These suburbs are as diverse as any city I've ever been in, and goodness knows I am ready to trade in the car-less life for one of greater convenience and big-box stores. (My favorite thing about traveling outside of NYC are the supermarkets!)

But in these suburbs, there is nothing. I mean nothing. It is the epitome of sprawl: just places to live and places to shop, and nothing else. There is no main street, no urban village. No cafes, no street life, no community. Just malls. And they are far out from Toronto. In order to get this kind of space at a rent we can afford, we have to be far from the city.

So we think it comes down to a terrific, spacious apartment in the middle of sprawl, or a smaller, unrenovated apartment in a more urban neighborhood.

This seemed, at first, a really tough dilemma, at least for me. If I was in my 20s and single, there'd be no question, I'd never live in the suburbs. But now... I don't know. It's easier for Allan: if he has the internet and the Red Sox on cable, and enough room for his stuff, he'll be happy. But will I feel isolated? Will I hate the suburbs?

I felt very torn, until, on our way back to the airport - stuck in traffic from an accident, we almost missed our flight, so we had plenty of time to talk! - I realized I was making the decision harder than it had to be. We've lived in our current apartment for more than 10 years, and in our neighborhood for almost 15. I was imagining I had to make a decision for the next 15 or 20 years!

As soon as I realized this, everything fell into place. We don't have to find a neighborhood that will suit us for a decade; that puts too much pressure on the decision. What's more, we probably can't do that long-distance. It's a whole lot easier to find a good neighborhood once you live in a city - you hear of things, a neighborhood is changing, rents are good, you can move quickly. Long-distance, it's enough to find a good apartment that you can afford, and just get established.

We'll be adjusting to so many new things that what neighborhood we're in might not make much of a difference. The idea is to find a place where we can be comfortable for a couple of years, then go from there.

As a friend of ours said, You don't know where the good neighborhoods are up there. But you know how to tell a good apartment when you see it, so just find that.

This seemingly obvious bit of wisdom was a great relief to me. On our next trip up there, we'll concentrate on Mississauga neighborhoods, and even farther out in Brampton and Markham.

One thing there is no shortage of in the Toronto area is housing. In the city itself, the skyline is filled with cranes: condos going up everywhere. In the suburbs, giant tracts of land are filled with mazes of what are euphemistically called townhouses (but there ain't no town), garden apartments and high-rises. It seems in every space that's not filled there's a sign announcing that more are being built.


laura k said...

Thank you for this thoughtful and thorough comment.

That's a funny coincidence re Meadowvale! We've actually decided on Port Credit (or near to - could be Long Branch or Clarkson) because of the better transportation into Toronto. The Lakeshore line seems like it will work much better for us. Plus, I really liked that Port Credit has a real town center - a little main street with independent shops - not just malls and subdivisions.

But we saw beautiful apartments in Meadowvale and the area seemed lovely.

As you're reading, you'll learn that we had decided to move to Canada no matter who won the 2004 election - but the results certainly vindicated our choice. I agree that few Americans will actually go through with it. But for us, it's a big adventure, and we're enjoying the ride.

Thanks for reading and I'll look forward to seeing more comments from you!

laura k said...

"He said something to the effect that 'when the world wants to be free, it moves to America. When Americans want to be free, they move to Canada'."

That's cool! I like it.

I think what you learned about dual citizenship applies specifically to people who are eligible b/c of parents or grandparents. Eg, my Canadian friends in NYC who have a Canadian mom and an American dad (dad was a Vietnam draft resister) are automatically eligible for dual citizenship. But I believe that is a special category.

In any case, I don't worry about the citizenship piece yet. It's too far in the future.

laura k said...

And thank you very much for your good wishes. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I don't blame you. Port Credit is great. Possibly the nicest part of Mississauga, though of course such judgments are entirely subjective. I used to drive down there just to visit the library. Port Credit and Streetsville, in spite of it all, have done a nice job of maintaining their small town feel since they were incorporated into Mississauga in 1974. Hazel McCallion was mayor of Streetsville back then and fought amaglamation as hard as she could, but when it went ahead she dug in and went to bat for the place in the new city. She became mayor of Mississauga in '78, and has been ever since. Good old Hurricane Hazel. :)

Port Credit's got that great marina down at the mouth of the river. There's a really chic restaurant down there in the marina... a bit pricy (for me), but quite the experience. A real summer place.

laura k said...

We haven't been to Streetsville, sounds like we should check it out.

We found Port Credit completely by accident on our first "fact-finding" trip up there. We were hungry and pulled off the highway to get some lunch. This gave us the mistaken impression all the suburbs of Toronto were like Port Credit, with a "village" feel. Ha!

Then as we learned more (esp about the GO train schedules), all roads kept leading us back there.

Hey, I don't know if you saw, I quoted you in a recent post. :)

barefoot hiker said...

Hi again! I did see, and I blush to be quoted, thank you. :)

Streetsville's immediately southeast of Meadowvale. They're jogging distance, if that's your bag. But Streetsville has a history; it's been there well over a hundred years. In 1970, there was no Meadowvale (at least, probably not the part you saw). Streetsville is probably the kind of thing you were talking about in NYC burbs. It has an identity, festivals, a main street wtih real businesses (when I was in university, I used to hang around the used book store there on Queen St.; it was called "Prof. Bookie's" back then and was run by a retired lecturer from Humber College). It's not as picturesque as Port Credit, since it's a long way from the Lake, but it has a sense of community. It's still kind of WASPish, but not oppressively so. And, like Port Credit, it's on a GO Train line (though not the same one). I often took it to work when I was living there and working downtown.

laura k said...

Sounds nice! I know exactly what you mean by "has a history" vs was built during the sprawl.

We were REALLY surprised how most of the GO train lines were set up only for standard 9-5, suburb-to-city commuting. We want to work non-traditional hours (as we do now) and the Lakeshore line seems to be the only alternative to both people driving all the time. Even that schedule isn't great, only once an hour, but at least they run continuously all day and on the weekends.

That's why we're looking only for places with proximity to that train line - Long Branch, Port Credit, Clarkson, Oakville.