Nelson has the reputation of a peace-lovin’, progressive arts town, full of kind and thoughtful dialogue. We visit and move here because of this reputation, but some might struggle with its validity as we pass our honeymoon period in town.
I’d like to share some of what I’ve heard from citizens, starting with “peace lovin’.”
Moderating the peace is not the role of a councillor, but my official ear is requested most often to discuss issues of neighbourly love, or lack thereof. I listen, and try to refer people to a staff person who can help, but I can’t make the problem go away (my wand is broken).
Curious about what we fight about?
The most frequent neighbourly divide is over noise… barking dogs, perpetual construction, loud vehicles and, surprisingly, careless placement of air source heat pumps or other loud equipment. It seems that while the owner of the pump is enjoying the savings and efficiency, it can cost of the golden silence of the patio on the adjacent property line. Please place carefully.
Then, there is olfactory assault from mounting piles of dog feces, cat litter heaps, household garbage (one house got so bad that a colony of rats developed), old cars left running in the mornings and even relentlessly wafting cigarette smoke.
Lastly, we have various forms of trespass… mostly by pets of unaware or uncaring owners resulting in piles of poo and/or destruction of gardens.
Another kind trespass (now gaining popularity as a form of harassment) is light. Before you roll your eyes, picture very bright lights directed at neighbour’s yards and windows, intended to harass while skirting bylaws that haven’t yet defined rules on lighting. Not merely straining our eyes and disruptive to nature,light trespass affects circadian rhythms. Without a nice dark sleep, we have higher rates of cancer, mood disorders, and reproductive disorders (see Environmental Health Perspectives, “Missing the Dark”). Best practice calls for restricting un-shaded light rays to our own property boundaries. Intentionally spotlighting a neighbour is a serious violation of their health and welfare.
Last but not least on the trespass front is storm water. If we happen to have a roof or paved area draining onto our neighbour’s lot, we might want to check how much of “our” storm water is ending up in the basement next door. A good gutter system could be wiser investment than paying for the rehabilitation of a neighbour’s house or yard… and would certainly result in a friendlier neighbour.*
What about bylaws, you say? Bylaws are not intended to dictate all behaviour, but rather to remind us what the absolute minimum acceptable standard is when we fail to act responsibly of our own accord. Enforcement comes at a significant cost, both to our city’s budget and to our self respect when we get “told” and “punished” as full grown adults.
Let’s look around at this beautiful little town and ask ourselves: “Might I be acting like a jerk, just a bit? Do I want to pay more taxes because I can’t play well with others? Maybe learning to get along wouldn’t be so hard.”
I hope the conflicts I’ve heard of represent only the smallest minority of our citizens and that there are still more neighbourly smiles being exchanged than dirty looks.
We all may have a renovation project, a pet, a party, or a porch light that we forget from time to time. But little irritations are easily smoothed over if we reach out to meet and greet our neighbours, check in with them to see if all is well, and exercise those skills that we all learned in kindergarten.
If the City of Nelson could spend less time creating bullet-proof bylaw systems, we could certainly dedicate more time and money to being progressive and supportive of the arts… topics to hit another day.
* Friendly behaviour to neighbours may result in spontaneous gifts of garden produce or fresh baked pies.