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.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I can't get over it; you're thinking of moving to Meadowvale. I mean, not just Toronto, not just Mississauga, but Meadowvale. I lived there for sixteen years. Finished high school there, spent most of my adulthood so far there (till about five years ago when I moved further east in Toronto).

I still have a buddy there. He's been there longer than I was. An immigrant himself, he moved to Mississauga from Glasgow, as a boy, in the 70s. Just in time for the big chlorine gas train derailment in 1979. First time most Canadians ever heard of Mississauga. Lucky him, huh?

You're hitting it at kind of a weird time, good and bad. When I left, Meadowvale Town Centre was a bigger mall. They built phase II in the late 70s or early 80s before I arrived; they tore it down a couple years ago after I left. I was really sad to see that go. I spent a lot of time and money in the arcade there in high school, and the book store generally. First place I ever ate in Mississauga was in that mall... at Appleby's (nothing to do with the US chain). But you can still eat there. It's just that its interior wall is, once more, an exterior wall. :)

But it's a good time, too, because a lot of new shops have been built in the past few years up at Winston Churchill Blvd. and the 401. When I lived there, there was nothing there. In fact, when I moved there, there wasn't even an interchange there yet. So you can probably get most of the stuff you need without having to come further into the city. I moved because my job was north of the city and I didn't want the long drive every day.

I don't know how I found your site last night. I was just kind of surfing around, and there it was. I haven't read it all yet, of course; just the most recent stuff and then I thought I should start from the beginning... find out what prompted it. I mean, when GWB was re-elected in November, we heard all this "I'm moving to Canada!" stuff, which I took with a grain of salt. Most people will just ride it out, and hope 2008 is better (I hope so too!). But it was interesting to see there actually were people in the States taking the idea seriously enough to act on it, even before the election. I was surprised, reading your blog, to learn how difficult it is. Frankly, I was of the opinion that moving to Canada involved saying, "Hey, Canadian Government, I want to move to Canada", and it was "Well, okay, do you have enough money... do you speak English and or French... do you have skills we need... do you have relatives here? Oh, good, bonus. You're in." All this stuff about medical tests and FBI reports (!) is news to me, and slightly disturbing. Hundreds of thousands of people move to Canada every year... is it this hard for all of them??? I'm amazed anyone bothers. Well, unless they're coming from a country where the quality of life is considerably lesser, which you are not (which would explain, of course, why so few Americans would bother, even after last November).

I'm pretty sure that if you eventually elected to become a citizen, it would have no ramifications for your American citizenship. A few years ago I was doing research into becoming an Irish citizen, as I was eligible to do so having a grandparent born in Ireland (who knows when having the right to work in the EU might turn out to be an ace in the hole?), and most of the sites about it were American. The State Dept.'s been pretty much okay with dual citizenship since the 1970s. Taking out another citizenship doesn't abrogate American citizenship these days. I mean, don't take it to the bank, but I'm about 95% sure of that. So if the country still suits you after a decade or so, it's an option you might pursue.

I had a friend down in Dallas (he died of cancer last summer, very unfortunately), and his dad, whom I've gotten to know pretty well, has talked a lot about leaving the States, either to Mexico (his SO's home country), or Canada. I sent him the URL to your site, just to give him some idea of what's involved. It's kind of daunting. But given his political leanings, it's something he might consider. Anyway, it's a realistic slice, and I'd like to thank you for taking the time to make this available. I know not many folks from the States will ever undertake this seriously, but some will, and I think you're doing such people a real service.

You shouldn't think of it so much as leaving your country, though, for someone else's. After all, Canada (English Canada, anyway), was founded by Americans who left the US for political reasons in the first place. In essense, all you're really doing is continuing that heritage. Canada has always been a safety valve for the United States. Years ago, I had a friend in Seattle who surprised me by saying he hoped Canada would never become a part of the US... he told me it was far too useful the way it was. It provided a few necessary examples of practical alternatives that would vanish if it weren't there, and gave people in the US with unpopular views a means to voice them (Malcolm X, Ralph Nader), or even, if needs be, a familiar place to escape to (draft dodgers). 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'. It's an oversimplification, but I've always thought it was a nice, pithy way of summing it up.

I guess that's enough for now. Canada's not perfect, but it is sometimes a better fit, and I hope that'll turn out to be the case for you two (esp. given all the trouble it's putting you through to move). Best of luck to you, and I'm looking forward to reading more on your site. :)

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.