Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Like a Good Neighbour

When I got the notice that the water main replacement on my street would occur this fall and not next year as I had originally been told I was not particularly pleased. However, the rapid pace of the project this year meant the municipality could move forward more quickly than anticipated, and so I accepted that I would be using a temporary water supply (consisting of a hose leading up to my house) and being unable to access my driveway and street for about 3 weeks. It was inconvenient, of course, particularly given the zoo that requires a large amount of heavy things like kitty litter and dog food, but I stocked up and hunkered down, recognizing the only real inconvenience would be parking.

Unable to access my own driveway, which as of yesterday is now home to several tons of gravel and dirt, I have been using street parking in my neighbourhood. While the municipality provided a parking lot for displaced residents it is: a) as far away from my house as is physically possible and still be in the same neighbourhood, b) directly beside the forest belt, c) unlit, d) usually full at the late hour I arrive home, and e) not very comfortable feeling for a woman who travels solo. As I did not feel safe using this lot I have been parking on the streets in my neighbourhood, closer to my home and where the lighting is better. And I have been studiously following the street parking rules – not leaving my car too long in one location, leaving ample clearance for driveways, parking the requisite number of feet away from corners and stop signs.
Twice in the past five days I have parked in front of the same house, ensuring I left good clearance for their driveway. This morning when I went to collect my car (a two block walk from my own driveway, a bit inconvenient but pleasant enough on a brisk fall morning) I found this note – and it made me so very sad for our community:

I will share the note I penned in return and left in their mailbox at the end of this post, but I really want to talk about neighbourhoods here, and why they just aren’t the same as they used to be.
I have had this discussion a lot – about why neighbourhoods don’t feel like they did when we were growing up, how we have lost some of that connection and cohesiveness. But the trouble isn’t with our neighbourhoods. The trouble is with us.

Somewhere along the way we began to stop thinking about our neighbours. We started thinking a lot more about ourselves – our needs, our wants, our homes, our parking. We stopped thinking about what our neighbours might need or want, what challenges they were facing and how we could help them. Instead we began to think about how our neighbours got in the way of what we want, like the parking in front of our house (even when it is a public street and does not belong to any of us).
When I was young I used to watch my father as every summer weekend he would mow our front lawn – and then roll that damn lawn mower up and down the street mowing every single lawn that needed mowing. In the winter out would come the snow blower and there he was again, that crazy old man o’mine clearing the snow from every driveway. It took him HOURS and I thought he was completely nuts as only rarely did the neighbours return the favour. He did it for decades, too, right into his 70’s – and right up until the lung cancer that eventually stole his life took away all his energy for lawn mowing and snow blowing and, well, pretty much everything else. But as my father lay in the hospital bed we had installed in my parents’ living room he would watch as neighbour after neighbour would come over to mow his lawn and clear his driveway of snow, meaning my mother, in her late 70’s by then too, did not have to do anything but be there with my dad as he was dying.

That’s around when I realized maybe my old man wasn’t crazy at all.
You see it isn’t our neighbourhoods that create the environment we all want to raise our kids in and live in and enjoy our lives in. It’s us. It’s how we treat each other. It’s understanding that maybe it is inconvenient to have someone parked in front of our house, but maybe it’s because they have been displaced from their own, or they are visiting from out of town, or myriad other reasons. It’s learning to take the small frustrations and inconveniences and brush them off our shoulders, knowing that at the end of the day what matters more is that we can either build a great neighbourhood by being a great neighbour, or we can contribute to it becoming the kind of place where even we don’t want to live.

My father was, in all actuality, a very smart man. And a damn good neighbour, too.
I sat in my car for a few moments this morning, and then I wrote this response and dropped it into their mailbox. Should they happen to be reading this, the offer at the end is genuine. You see, I am my father’s daughter in the end.

Thank you for the lovely note. Unfortunately due to water main construction I cannot park in front of MY home, forcing me to seek alternatives, including parking on a public street.
I’ve taken a photo of your note. As a local writer I am exploring the theme of the demise of neighbourhoods and the concept of community, and your note will serve as a great illustrative example.

The public street is not yours. Any further notes left on my vehicle will be given to bylaw.
Incidentally should you wish to park in front of my house when the road construction reaches your area call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX. I will gladly allow you to park in my driveway. It’s what good neighbours do.



  1. You are a beautiful person. You have responded well and with respect and dignity. I surely wish you were my neighbour.

  2. Excellent response! Indeed you are your father's daughter!

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I feel that the loss of community is a north American phenomenon wherein people feel the need to police one another. Just this evening, as my 3 year old son and I left the community Centre after his swimming class and walked back to my car parked in the parking lot (between two white lines) he was the first to notice that someone had scrawled ASSHOLE in permanent red marker across the back of my car. This is vandalism...and while I admit I was not perfectly parked with equal space on either side of the white lines, I was parked to account for the lack of space created by another car beside me not parked neatly in their space. I am not upset about now driving around town with a vandalized vehicle, but echo your sentiments 100%. The fact that people go out of their way to seek revenge and in the process somehow make themselves feel better whilst being completely ignorant about other surrounding circumstances, saddens me. So thank you again for putting down on paper and sharing what I cannot put into words.

  4. Should you want anymore visuals for your article, I am happy to share the photo of the vandalism on my car.

  5. Make sure we hear about it when you get that phone call!

  6. I love that you are such a good and kind neighbour so as to post their note before you have heard any of the reasons why they may have (politely, I might add) requested that you regularly park your car elsewhere.
    I also love your hubris. You are so wise to list all the reasons why someone would need to routinely park in front of another's house, but completely miss the irony that they may have as many reasons why they might need to ask someone NOT to do so. In a twist of your OWN words - Unfortunately for your neighbours, they cannot park in front of THEIR home due to an inconsiderate ignorant neighbour who insists she should be inconvenienced less than her neighbours by taking their spot and forcing them to park elsewhere.
    Ive got news for you Theresa, you don't own the street either.


    1. For the record when I chose to park in front of the house mentioned in this piece I noted they had a double car driveway and a corner lot. There are at least 4 spots on the street associated with this corner lot (3 on the main street and 1 on the side) meaning they have at least 6 parking spots in close proximity to their house. It doesn't seem particularly audacious to use one of these spots twice during a five-day period, particularly when none of the on-street spots can be considered "their spot" but are public street parking owned and maintained by the municipality.

      As for inconvenience - currently 1/2 of my driveway has been destroyed and the shaking of my house thanks to the water main construction is unending. My neighbours and I are forced to navigate our street by making our way through each other's yards, which is particularly difficult for my elderly neighbours and one neighbour who is disabled (incidentally the reason I am parking a bit further away as I believe the closest available on street spots should be reserved for these neighbours). Did I mention I am blind in one eye due to an eye disease and have trouble with depth perception? This makes traversing new areas difficult and during my daily trips through neighbouring yards I have so far fallen twice thanks to uneven areas I cannot detect due to my vision. Inconvenient indeed.

      You are correct - I do not own the street, and nor does my neighbour who feels leaving notes on cars is appropriate behaviour. Unfortunately when you leave a note on someone else's property you have no control over what they do with it. I could have easily identified the house, the street, the area...but I did not. Since writing this post I have received dozens of emails about such notes and other less-than-neighbourly behaviour - and only one in support of this kind of attitude, being yours.

      And while I do not own the street, I do own this blog. As I do not intend to provide parking space to anyone who chooses to launch attacks on others (including myself) any further comments you leave will simply be deleted.