Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Neighborhood I Call Home

Our Newest Park

I live in a new suburban subdivision in Playa del Carmen, which is currently one of Latin America's fastest growing communities. Before I owned this house, I had never lived in this kind of neighbourhood before; I had lived in small towns and villages, old residential neighborhoods in big and medium sized cities, and even a student residential village, but never an new suburban-style development.

Playa del Carmen isn't big enough to really have suburbs, but currently it has a growing number of new, lower-middle class developments in the outlying areas of the city.  I suppose most of them are like mine. This one was still under construction when I moved in, and is now nearing completion.  It has some things I love, and things I hate.  Here they are, randomly switching between "love" and "hate."

I love: the good neighbors I've got to know here.  We've had surprisingly good luck with almost everyone who lives near to us, and some of our closest friends live a couple of blocks a way.

I love: the gossip ring.  While sometimes "gossip" and "nosy" (which are the same word in Spanish) is a bad term or criticism, in my case it's by far the best way to know what's going on, and to get information like where visitors can park their car without bothering anyone, who's sick, who's having a baby, who's going on vacation, etc.  Some of my friends who live a few blocks away have an old lady as a neighbor who can provide any of this information and much more about any given person on the street, and my wife is an admitted addict. No harm has come of it yet, and it allows people to show support when needed.

I hate: very, very, very loud music.  This is a Mexican thing, and not something I'll ever be able to change in any way.  But I really felt that Guns 'n' Roses at 4 am Sunday morning was a little over the top. My neighbor (a teenaged girl who was getting up to do the laundry), was very understanding when I knocked on their door, and kindly turned it low enough so at least the bed stopped vibrating.  I guess it could have been worse ...

I love: our many parks.  Everyone who lives here has 4 small parks within a 5 minute walk.  My son has already distributed these parks to family and friends.  The newest and nicest is his, and the first one, which has been heavily vandalized, is mine.  I guess he figures I can deal with it.
The street I live on

I hate: the vandalism which destroyed  the playground in our first park, which is a 2 minute walk away.  They not only spray-painted, but they removed and broke the stairs, the slide and the swings. There are no gangs or anything around. These are just bored teens. I admit, this neighbourhood would be boring for teens, but really, it would cost 50 cents to go downtown, at lot less than their can of spray paint.  Besides that, I wonder what on earth the parents are doing.  Everyone on that street (which is not mine) seems to know who did it, so the parents must know as well.  I guess they just don't care.

I love:  the fact that no other park in the community has been vandalized.  I think there are 10 in total.  All the others have been left in tact, thank goodness!

I love: the jungle surrounding the community.

I hate: the fact that in a year or two, all that jungle will be gone.  This one's my fault as much as anyone's; I bought a new house that was built in clear-cut virgin jungle (to be fair, though there is no other choice around Playa del Carmen.)  In the capitalist world, the successful sales means that other companies now have stronger motivation to follow suit in the same construction style.

My son at our first park, partially-repaired
I love: the fact that many lower-middle income Mexicans (i.e. earning $10,000 or less) can afford to buy and own their own home, built decently, in a nice community.  These factors were our motivation to buy here.  It's a paradox I can't really work out.  I believe in decent housing for the masses, but I don't believe in destruction of nature.  I haven't seen a reasonable way to balance two, though.  But if they didn't do this, then the people here would just come and cut down the jungle on their own, and live in huts made of thin tree trunks and corrugated fiberglass panels.  So, I guess this is somewhat better.  I hope they can come up with better solutions soon.

I hate: the fact that there is no recycling service.  This is also a rarity in Mexico.  At least near downtown there is a park with a recycling drop-off area.

I love: that there is very little garbage in the streets.  Lower-income Mexican communities, even though almost picturesque in other ways sometimes, are horrendous for lots of litter and even whole bags of garbage strewn all over the place.  So far, people have kept this neighborhood nice and clean.

The jungle across the street - now the "new park" - see picture at the top
I hate: having to take transportation everywhere.  There are 24 hour convenience stores within walking distance, but that's it.  A lot of people have taco shops run out of their living room, so at least there's tasty food available.  Bikes and motorcycles come by selling bread and tamales as well. The next community back (the only one going farther back into the jungle) has a drug store, a butcher and a food store that sells only dry and canned items (for very good prices, mind you.)  There are also a few video stores.  So we aren't entirely lost, but for any major stores, or specific items you may need, there's no choice. Since it's a worker's suburban neighbourhood, there's no need for more, unfortunately.  Everyone drives out in the morning, and picks up what they need on the way home in the afternoon.

I love riding my bike.  The streets are very calm here, and it's relatively safe.  My wife prohibited me from owning a bike in Mexico City.   In Playa del Carmen, I can ride my bike to any part of the city within 30 minutes (I've had practice, though.)  The hot summer days aren't particularly good for this, though.

Well, I could go on for a while. But overall I'm very happy with my neighborhood. #1 for me is the people I know here.  The problems - well no place is perfect.

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