Uptown or Downtown Funk?

Considerations for Those Choosing Where To Live

Justin Eisinga | Reporter

Each and every year, students are tasked with a crucial decision: choosing where to live. For those of us who choose not to live on-campus, this decision bears significant weight. There are many options, not the least of which is reflected in one phrase: “location, location, location.”

Two years ago, I moved into an apartment on James St. North, in the heart of downtown Hamilton. My life changed drastically after I moved downtown. Assumptions were challenged and my expectations shattered as I hit the ground running.

I write these words with a two-fold purpose. On the one hand, I want to encourage those who are feeling the pull to live downtown, either as a student or a graduate. On the other hand, I want to provide caution and advice based on the many mistakes I have made along the way.

Don’t get me wrong; I have thoroughly enjoyed living off-campus and exploring what it means to live in community in downtown neighbourhoods. It’s been a rich learning experience. However, like everything in life, it has had its own set of difficulties and challenges.

Most of these challenges have a lot to do with sacrifice. As soon as you decide to live elsewhere after living on-campus for a period of time, the realization kicks in that life is going to be a little different. No longer is all my money stored on a single piece of photo ID, I don’t get to eat a catered meal with my school community once a week, and I definitely don’t have at least ten nearby houses filled with friends to hang out with at any and every hour of the day.

As soon as I moved downtown, the realization kicked in that I would be resting within the tension of living between three different communities. This tension wasn’t entirely new, as I had been attending a downtown church since the first month of first year. But this tension intensified as I found myself rooted or committed to the Redeemer community, my church community, and my neighbourhood.

I’ve been taught much from this experience of tension. Although at times it felt unhealthy as I endured the toll of my loyalty being pulled in many directions, I have developed the ability to build bridges between church, school, and neighbourhood.

However, after several months of living in the James St. neighbourhood, I became convicted of the role I could be playing in the gentrification of a community with rich history and deep ties to a culture of immigrants. Being the new, young, and ‘hip’ kids on the block may have played a role in rising rents and misguided development that impacts visible minorities and those living in poverty.

All things play out for a higher purpose, of course, and my life downtown has been enriched by new relationships and civic engagement. Living closer to my church community has resulted in deeper spiritual growth and the ability to contribute in new ways, such as preaching and leading a small group.

The best advice I can give to those students considering the leap into downtown Hamilton is: begin with prayer. Be sure you have endured the process of discernment. This step is one that can easily be missed in our fast-paced world, where decisions are made hastily and without deep thought.

Pray about the neighbourhood you are thinking of moving into. Pray for the community you want to be a part of. Draw near to God and listen for conviction and guidance as you venture into new territory.

After slowing down and listening for the Creator’s desire, I encourage you to think about the impact you are going to have in whatever neighbourhood you move into. Although we can’t control the forces of urban renewal and gentrification, I encourage you to think about what it will mean for those who are less advantaged when you move into the community they call home.

Remember, your affluence has influence; this is not a statement meant to induce guilt, but should inspire us to find ways to create more just and equitable neighbourhoods.

Ultimately, a community with a diverse set of cultures, incomes, and, personalities is a healthy community. Wherever you decide to live, your gifts and skills will move into the neighbourhood too. Be conscious of this fact. The opportunity to build relationships with neighbours can be an intimidating and challenging one, but it is rich with reward and filled with potential.

At the end of the day, whether you decide to live downtown, on the Hamilton Mountain, or move back home, you will be planted in a place for a purpose. Live out of this statement and remind yourself of it often, for you bear witness to the Kingdom of God wherever you reside.