Last week, I told you about visiting the Centre for Digital Media’s video game exhibit. On my way out, I decided to take a quick break at Momento, the school’s onsite café. As you can see from the photos, it’s got great design and a light, airy space. They’ve also got good food, including vegan and gluten-free fare, and (perhaps most importantly) know the difference between crema and foam when making you an espresso drink.
It’s a good thing they have the school for an anchor, because Great Northern Way isn’t known as a café culture hub. It’s four lanes of fast traffic through office parks and satellite campuses, a shortcut from the east side to the west side that avoids downtown altogether. Across the street, daunting stairs rise up a blank hill to clusters of 1980s condominium complexes. If the residents knew about Momento, I think they’d be willing to make the trip, especially in summer when the students have mostly vacated the campus. I’d wager they haven’t noticed it, though, just as I almost missed a sign for another café in a nearby office park. I didn’t feel tempted to look for it, since it seemed buried somewhere amidst a sea of concrete. I wonder how well it does?
In a truly walkable neighbourhood, places like Momento aren’t a secret at all, they attract a cadre of regulars and eventually become a draw for visitors, too. In the suburbs, even when visible, they sink.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently, while I was looking after my parents’ suburban home when they were away. Their neighbourhood has grocery stores and other shops within a similar distance to those in my neighbourhood, but you rarely see anyone walking home with shopping bags. There are also plenty of houses within reach of the old main street, but it can’t seem to support a café – people get their caffeine from places that have drive through windows, or head over to a mall if they want to have coffee with a friend.
As development threatens neighbourhoods like mine with suburbification, where only the chain stores will be able to afford rents, what will happen to the shopping style that prevails there now? Will there be a high street renaissance in smaller centres, as the city pushes out the kind of people who like to shop daily and locally by foot or bike? Or will there be a uniform culture across regions, divided only by concentric layers of increasing inequality? And what will happen to the little businesses that populate the nooks and corners of a well-travelled neighbourhood?
I suggest we find them and cherish them, so that they can thrive as long as possible. And to that end, tell me what hidden gems lie buried in your neighbourhood. Where should I absolutely go if I visit? What would I miss if I didn’t have you as a guide?