We all have neighbours. But West Enders have more neighbours than almost anyone in Vancouver.
In 2011 44,543 people lived in the West End — which equates roughly to 44,543 daily potential conflicts in the West End. From sharing dog parks to the ugly naked dude across the courtyard who insists on keeping his curtains open at all times, this kind of high-density living is rife for disagreement.
For example, in my 1977 low-rise, wood-frame building (read: paper-thin walls), my next door neighbours believe that it is absolutely necessary to use a bass subwoofer to maximize the sound of their stereo in 500 square feet.
A bass subwoofer.
Perhaps this is the trade-off for living in what is often touted as “the densest neighbourhood in North America” (after Manhattan). And while indeed the West End is dense, it’s all about how you look at it.
While the West End’s population has increased by 19 per cent over the last 40 years and accounts for 7.4 per cent of the city’s total population, according to the City of Vancouver, it no longer has the highest population density of any neighbourhood in the city. In recent years other downtown neighbourhoods have surpassed the West End with their high-rise residential tower developments, making the West End the fourth most densely populated neighbourhood after Triangle West, Citygate and Downtown South.
Confused? In case you haven’t considered a property purchase in Triangle West lately (see: City of Vancouver planning department for obscure neighbourhood references), you should also note that two of these three neighbourhoods border the West End.
None of this mitigates the fact that my neighbours have a bass subwoofer.
Noise issues aside, high-density can yield unexpected benefits. In my new apartment, my living room is so close to my neighbour’s balcony, that last week she was able to ask me to go around and open her front door when she inadvertently locked herself outside.
Which begs the question, if you support high-density living for all of the well-researched and clearly articulated social, environmental and economic benefits, how do you do it well?
To begin, you invest in wonderful public spaces. When you’re living in such close quarters, sometimes you need to get out of them. The West End is home to both the seawall and Stanley Park, two of my favourite examples internationally of brilliantly designed and managed public spaces.
My second piece of advice is get to know your neighbours. While this doesn’t mean having them over for weekly Sunday dinner, a general friendliness builds community, increases safety (the importance of knowing the residents in your building is particularly relevant after last week’s horrific stabbings), and has the added bonus of heading off conflict before it starts. It’s always more difficult to use your bass subwoofer to amplify the shooting sounds on your video game when you know you’ll be disturbing the friendly couple next door who always says hi in the elevator.
And perhaps, just in case this doesn’t yield the anticipated results, enforce a new building standard requiring concrete buildings (including low-rises) to ensure that noise complaints are a thing of the past.
Bass subwoofers for everyone!
Dara Parker is a West End resident and the executive director of Qmunity, a resource centre for the lesbian, gay, trans, bi and queer community.