Two Solitudes? Meeting the neighbours in Little Burgundy and Griffintown

[Vues sur la Bourgogne, Vol 7, no 1 – Spring 2018]

The past decade has seen the face of Griffintown and Little Burgundy change beyond recognition. New construction of condominiums has radically altered the landscape, and Notre-Dame street is bustling with trendy boutiques, cafés and restaurants.

It’s a part of town where people are more likely to have moved away in the past five years than to have stayed put: far more people in the area are renters, and many rental units fall under the umbrella of social housing. Many residents get by on lower than average incomes, and there are more than 2,000 social housing units in Little Burgundy alone.

How are these “two solitudes” getting along? Depends on who you ask.

Some locals see an unbridgeable divide between the better-off and the less affluent. “Two worlds that don’t understand each other, one thriving while the other survives,” is how one woman who has lived in a housing co-op for six years describes it. Others take a more optimistic view, and think that any socioeconomic split is a matter of perception.

“I think that if there’s a divide, it’s in people’s attitudes,” says Lorraine, a retiree who has lived in Little Burgundy since 2001. “The less affluent are probably afraid to mingle with the better off, and vice-versa.”

Emilie, a local business owner who also lives in the area, agrees that any barriers are psychological, but takes it a step further. “It’s a non-issue,” she says. “The strength of Little Burgundy is its cultural and social diversity and instead of fighting it, we need to showcase it and be proud of it.”

For another long-time resident, the separation of neighbours along economic lines is part of a broader phenomenon. “Little Burgundy is hardly unique in this,” he says. “People always tend to associate with those who have common interests. It’s a very human thing to do.”

All residents who spoke to Vues sur la Bourgogne agreed the best way forward is to get involved. Block parties, events in the park, festivals, the Marché Citizen, even exploring the newly developed areas along the Canal. Paule, a retiree who moved to the area in 2015, points to the Little Burgundy Sports Centre as a place where she has met neighbours and made friends.

Perhaps the last word should be left to Alain, who has lived locally for 30 years, initially in low-cost housing in Little Burgundy, and today in a co-op in Griffintown.

“What matters is that people talk to each other. We have to learn to get to know each other to understand each other’s point of view.”

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