An Ode On Parkdale: Why I Love Living In A Low-Income Neighbourhood

Residing in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood may come with its disadvantages, but Kaeleigh Phillips finds that there is much to love in its sense of community.

Have you ever walked down the busy street of an impoverished neighbourhood and realized how busy and vibrant the community really is? South Parkdale in Toronto, often known as ‘the hood’, is a neighbourhood full of people from all ends of the earth. The southern portion of the neighbourhood is replete with massive apartment buildings, many of which are dilapidated and infested with cockroaches, yet these streets are always bubbling with families.

In my experience from living in Parkdale, many people seem to forget the fact that there are children living in these impoverished conditions. Right in the heart of Canada’s largest city, children and parents struggle every day to keep cockroaches and bed bugs at bay, and have warm water and working fridges. Poverty is rampant and yet people continue to smile. Why? Many of the people that survive in Parkdale are poor students, single moms (I include myself in this group) or immigrants building their lives in the city. They have every reason to be angry living in sub-par conditions while people just up the road live in million dollar heritage homes where their water never runs cold.

I can honestly say that despite poor living conditions, greedy apartment companies, and a rampant population of homeless people, there is not one neighbourhood in Toronto that is friendlier. I walked from my daughter’s school daily and was given at least 10 hello's during our commute on foot. People would nod and chat with familiar faces, and even developed lasting friendships. I like to believe that it is because the neighbourhood is naturally friendly, but that is not the case. Quite simply I think when your living conditions are poor and you feel you have little control over your circumstances, it becomes essential to create a sense of solidarity and love in the streets of your community. We all shared the pain of poor housing in Parkdale, and that fact has unified people from all ends of the world into one cohesive, messy, and beautiful whole.

This is not to say that every citizen of South Parkdale does not deserve better housing, and a higher standard of living. With Toronto’s affordable housing waitlist of 97,000 households, it is easy to see how families remain in impoverished conditions. While the municipal and provincial levels of government continue to argue about the ‘best’ strategy to fix the housing crisis, families continue to live in unacceptable living conditions. It is maddening to witness, and damning to live in. I cannot describe how it feels to know you have no other option, but to live in housing that isn’t fit for habitation because your city can’t help you. If all levels of government in Canada understood that feeling, I believe arguing over who has the ‘best’ solution wouldn’t be the highest priority anymore. This is the crux of the issue in Parkdale, yet its residents continue on courageously. That is true strength and inspiration.

I once bought a mural of Parkdale from a local artist in Kensington and she had placed the word ‘mosaic’ inside of the art piece. It is a fitting description of the area. Parkdale is indeed a mosaic; it consists of a series of broken fragments of glass, often broken dreams and bottles, yet rebuilds itself into a beautiful piece of unified art through a sense of hope, rejuvenation, and community. 

There is more power in poverty than I believe I will ever see in a sterile wealthy suburb. Areas like Parkdale are frightening to some, but you only need to look deeper to see how bonded impoverished communities really are. I certainly saw it walking down the street one day, and I will never forget how empowering a sense of community can be despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. 

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