One neighbourhood, many politics

It could have been an awkward conversation — me: a manager; my neighbour: a striking city worker; and another neighbour, who makes her living in the service industry, depending on tips.

The topic of the city workers’ strike, now ending its third week, had just popped into our front porch chitchat.

I froze, tried to shoo the topic away.

But instead, what started as a snipe about “greedy unions” turned into a wide-ranging discussion about the integrity in collective bargaining and the hard and very human realities of living through a strike. The exchange became a chance to soften hard lines which missed the complexity of our situations.

By the end, we were laughing, teasing, empathizing.

We were able to have this conversation because we had all know each other for over a dozen years. We trusted each other to have this hard conversation.

The Toronto Star profiled a similar encounter between neighbours. It is, though, a conversation that may be less and less likely in Toronto neighbourhoods, which are increasingly divided along income lines. (Why do we build homogenized houses of similar value in separated neighbourhoods?)

What happens in neighbourhoods which have less diversity, whether those differences are along political, class, or racial lines? Political science presents a useful concept to answer this: supermajorities (more than a majority, often 2/3).

In supermajorities, diverse opinions are not heard, and political positions harden. What was a conservative or a progressive belief becomes, in an unchallenged field, an ultra-conservative or a radical one.

Conversations like the one on my front porch tonight reminded me of one more reason why mixed neighbourhoods are important.

The riches that social networks provide

Five reasons why mixed neighbourhoods are important

Toronto’s disappearing middle class

Diversity in neighbourhoods

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