Neighbourhoods have been in existence for as long as humans have inhabited villages, towns, and cities. People have an innate instinct to sort themselves into groupings for living that make them feel comfortable, accepted, and appreciated. They have a need to “fit in.” They seldom stay for long in neighbourhoods where they feel uncomfortable, shunned, fearful, or socially isolated.
Neighbourhoods are as unique and numerous as snowflakes falling on a meadow. Mountains of research, especially generated by early town planners, have attempted, with limited success, to define the term, “neighbourhood”, because it has experienced many rebirths over the years. It was once thought to be, “a geographically localised community within a larger city, town, suburban, or rural area”. Another definition pegged it as “a distinct territorial group, distinct by virtue of specific physical characteristics of the area and the specific characteristics of the inhabitants”. Other experts defined it as “differentiated according to wealth and occupational status”.
One expert, Clarence Perry, an American town planner of 1960s’ fame, stated that there no longer exists “the sense of community gained by people living and working in proximity to each other, their movements restrained by how far they could walk or what they did for a living.” The term is now defined as “social interaction of people living near one another”. The names of many neighbourhoods are now simply the creative invention of real estate developers who wish to attract homeowners.
The term, “We are a city of neighbourhoods” is a common boast of numerous cities around the world. There are thousands of descriptive or catchy names attached to various neighbourhoods throughout each country and in each town and city. Historic names such as Harlem, Queens, and The Bronx in New York City are well known. Cabbage Town, Little Italy, Bloor West Village, Swansea, and High Park are familiar to many people who live in Toronto. Some neighbourhoods acquire informal, negative nicknames such as Slum City, Red-light District, Shantytown, or Snob Hill. Still others are identified with names that depict the people who live there, such as hipster, ethnic, high-end, gated, retirement, or working class neighbourhoods.
Ten years ago I moved to Dundas, a little town squeezed into a pretty valley against the Niagara Escarpment at the western end of Lake Ontario. It had its origins at the beginning of the 19th century and was incorporated as a town in 1847. With a plentiful supply of water power and proximity to Lake Ontario it grew as a manufacturing village with grist mills, furniture and cloth factories and two foundries. It had a population of 24,000 when it amalgamated with Hamilton in 2000, but has retained its small town identity and charm.