Last week on the way to my brother’s apartment, I decided to take a little detour through my old stomping grounds. I grew up in the quiet Montreal suburb of Pointe-Claire, in a complex of middle-class townhouses called Somervale Gardens.
When I arrived there, I could barely recognize the paradise of my youth. All I could see was the twenty years of deterioration and neglect. Although I was young at the time (I lived there between the ages of five and eighteen), I can still remember the landscape, the community and the people.
Somervale Gardens was built for new families with small children, but the place accommodated pretty much anyone. The complex contains about 150 townhouses and a few dozen apartments. It was an open, tight-knit community where all the kids knew each other and the parents did as well.
If you were a kid living there in the 1980s, you were one lucky adolescent. When my parents would tell my brother and I to go play outside, we didn’t have a backyard, we had our own world. And we were often left unsupervised given the safe nature of our community within a community.
The courtyards just outside our little patios provided enough space to go bike riding, skateboarding, even play a game of street hockey. The place was so huge to us, the only downside was that hide-and-seek was a nightmare.
There were also three separate parks for us to play in, all of which had their own nicknames. Each one had sand, monkey bars, slides, and two of them had swings. There were no shortages of play areas if you were a kid.
In the summer, the swimming pool area located at the center of the complex was also central to our social life. We used to have massive sleepovers, BBQ’s, contests, you name it. The lifeguards were always friendly and back in the day, some of them were even medical students.
My teen years there were just as fun. It was a refuge away from my socially inept high school. It was in Somervale that I met my best friends, kissed my first girl, got drunk for the first time and got into a whole lot of mischief. It was also the place that offered me my first employment. At the age of fifteen I was an assistant to the janitor and I got to see the inner workings of the complex.
But now, as I walk around what used to be my playground, I have to wonder if I’m just getting old or the place is really going to hell. I’ve never been to Detroit, so I don’t want to judge either too harshly, but it was the first place I thought of when I stepped foot inside one of the courtyards.
Many of the trees that grew have been uprooted, the grass that grew in some of the courtyards is either half dead or been replaced with concrete. The open once patios have all been fenced off and are falling apart.
Two of the parks we used to play in are completely gone. The only remnants that remain of the third are rusty old monkey bars surrounded by last year’s fallen foliage and potholes in the dirt.
As I walked past the swimming pool, I saw graffiti on the walls and I noticed a padlock on one of the gates was broken off. Any toddler could walk into the pool area and drown in the un-drained pool (when I went back a week later to take photos, the gate had been sealed shut using a thin wire.)
Moving on, I noticed there’s now a large dumpster in every driveway, the fences are dilapidated (some are being held up by 2X4’s leaning into them). The lamp posts that lit up the night in the courtyards are gone. But, the thing that upset me the most, was seeing the townhouse where I shared that first kiss. It’s now completely burnt out and boarded up.
Along with the obvious things, you could tell the owners of the complex didn’t want to invest in the place. There were no more flower pots, bushes were growing wild around the pool area, and the paint was wearing off the façade of the townhouses. It was a terrible sight for me. I’ll admit I didn’t get a chance to look inside any of the homes, but after seeing the outside, I didn’t care too.
Somervale Gardens Group (after researching them on the internet, I can’t tell you if they are a subsidiary of a larger corporation) rents their townhouses for $1250 a month for a three bedroom place. On par or a little less than a mortgage on a middle-class home of the same size.
Back in the mid-nineties when I left, my dad was paying about $800/month which was actually higher than a mortgage at the time. It’s clear that over the last twenty years, Somervale has been milking their inhabitants for every penny they can get without putting much back into the infrastructure. I wouldn’t go so far to say they’re slumlords in the traditional sense, but they are slumlords of the middle class and they are getting worse with time.
As the housing market continues to rise across the country, fewer people of intermediate means are able to afford the large down payments and/or mortgages necessary to buy their own home. So, they have to settle for places like Somervale Gardens.
Whether this place is an indication on where our middle class is headed or just another case of greedy landlords, we’re in trouble. Our standards should not be lowered by the greed of others, whoever they may be.