Neighboring Part 3: First Steps - Reflections on Early Parenthood in a New Neighborhood

Neighboring Part 3: First Steps - Reflections on Early Parenthood in a New Neighborhood
A winter walk to Rocket Ship Park

This is part three of three in a series of articles in which I explore the concepts of neighborhoods and neighboring, and why they are critical to navigating parenthood based on my experience as a new parent. This final article is a personal essay on my formative neighborhood experiences at different stages in my parenting journey. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Choosing a neighborhood to call home in Edmonton, Canada is a right of passage on the journey to becoming an “Edmontonian.” North side, south side, core, historic, post-war suburbs, developing neighborhoods. The choices among Edmonton’s 265 residential neighborhoods seem endless and ultimately, the one you choose can become a fundamental part of your identity.

In July 2020, my partner, Sarah, and I chose to change this part of who we were, moving from Downtown to Inglewood. Like many North American couples who are expecting, our decision came down to needing to adjust our physical living space to the upcoming reality that we would soon have a new family member to accommodate. We moved from an extremely open, loft-style walk-up apartment in the center of the city to a newly built, two-storey duplex in a predominantly low-density neighborhood a little over two miles away.

The Inglewood neighborhood was annexed to the City of Edmonton in parts in the early 1900s, with the first plan of subdivision using the name ‘“Inglewood” appearing in 1905. While some development occurred in the pre-war period, the majority of the neighborhood built out after World War II when Edmonton was experiencing rapid population growth. By 1950, the Inglewood Community League was established. The neighborhood has experienced the ebbs and flows of a typical neighborhood lifecycle over the past 70+ years. Most recently, it is experiencing a resurgence thanks in large part to community-led revitalization initiatives which included a robust revitalization strategy, and municipal investment in the form of neighborhood-wide infrastructure renewal.

As a one-car family, Sarah and I were attracted to Inglewood due to its proximity to Downtown, convenient transit connections, and access to shared paths that make it quick and easy to walk or bike almost anywhere in central Edmonton, including its world-renowned North Saskatchewan River Valley. Affordability was also a key factor. Market housing in Edmonton continues to be some of the most affordable of Canada’s big cities - whether you buy or rent. Sarah and I wanted to build an infill home which was more achievable for us in Inglewood than in other central neighborhoods like Westmount and Richie.

Sarah and I moved to Inglewood six months before our boy, Oliver, was born. Because of this, our entire experience of the neighborhood has been shaped by our journey as parents and ultimately, the neighborhood has shaped us as parents.

Parents-to-be

When we first moved into our new home, our experience of Inglewood was hyper-local. Most immediately, we were focused on getting the house ready to welcome our new tiny roommate. However, we also began meeting and building relationships with our immediate neighbors next door, across the street, and on the surrounding blocks. Those relationships set the table for us to navigate parenthood for the first time. Many of these people are now friendly and helpful acquaintances who look out for us (and us for them), and they serve as familiar faces for Oliver. Some have even become close friends - or to Oliver, Auntie, and Uncle.

New Parents

Becoming a parent was a blur for me. I recall a handful of extremely vivid memories - the first time Oliver’s tiny hand held my finger, the sheer terror of driving him home from the hospital - but for the most part, I remember feelings. Feelings of numbing exhaustion mixed with immense pride in my boy and sincere, daily gratitude for our neighbors. 

Heads-up to any parents-to-be out there: You will forget about your own well-being at times while you try to keep a new, completely helpless human alive. That includes cooking and feeding yourself. While our families were quarantining so they could safely see Oliver and help out around the house, we were lucky to have a supportive neighborhood to fill the gap.

Planting the seeds of neighborliness before Oliver arrived created a support network of friends and acquaintances who dropped off care packages and sent UberEats gift cards. Most profoundly, some of their friends - people we had never met - even dropped off packages. Speaking of which, another vivid memory I have of new parenthood was scarfing down the best lasagna I’ve ever eaten, dropped off by complete strangers from a couple blocks away.

Toddler Life

Few things will simultaneously fill a parent with joy and dread as much as watching their baby take their first steps. For me, walking represented one of Oliver’s first physical expressions of independence. It meant he could start going where he wanted to go and his world was getting bigger. Introducing a Strider bike to the mix on his second birthday accelerated the process.

Having a strong, connected neighborhood, with all that we need within walking distance has made it relatively easy for me to support him as his world grows (certain urban design limitations notwithstanding). As I discussed in my first post for Density Dad, the coffee shop and playground have been integral to our father-son neighborhood experience - our most frequented third places

The walk (or roll) gives us a chance to bond, use our senses to explore the world around us, and say hi to our neighbors. Having a destination provides a simple reward for the journey in the form of play or a snack. And more often than not, we find ourselves bumping into friends or playing and socializing with strangers.

Pre-schooler

As we transition into Oliver’s pre-school years, his world continues to get bigger. Inglewood is still absolutely central in our day-to-day life. What I’m noticing most now though, is his keen awareness of when we’re not in our neighborhood, what makes neighborhoods like Downtown or daddy’s office in the University area different from ours, and where we are in the city relative to home.

Our location in Edmonton and Inglewood, and the community of friends and acquaintances we’re building here offers me, Oliver, and Sarah a variety of ways to connect as a family, engage with our community, and take care of our daily needs. Not long after we moved here, I mapped out our personal 15-minute community in Google Maps. Now that Oliver’s entering his pre-school years, our personal 15-minute community has evolved - some of the places on that map will have heightened (or diminished) importance for us and those evolutions will continue as he grows.

Inglewood’s structure, amenities, and people make those evolutions possible - a true community of communities. As Oliver grows up here, I hope that he continues to find himself and his place within the community and becomes a positive force on his block, in his neighborhood, in the city, and in the lives of his neighbors. And along the way, I’ll continue to cherish our time together in the neighborhood and the opportunities Inglewood affords us to grow and bond together.

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If you enjoyed this series and would like to learn more about neighboring and child-friendly community development, consider checking out the following sources whose writings, toolkits, webinars, and other content inspired this series:

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