When Carissa Halton moved with her husband into Alberta Avenue, an older north-side Edmonton neighbourhood with a “tough reputation,” some friends speculated that the couple would relocate once they began to have children. But Halton didn’t leave. She stayed, met a wide array of local residents and became an activist committed to creating a community that welcomes all, regardless of lifestyle choices and perspectives. Little Yellow House: Finding Community in a Changing Neighbourhood, Halton’s engaging first book, weaves together stories of Alberta Avenue residents with the author’s own reflections on the “revitalization” of the neighbourhood, all while asking a fundamental question: “How do communities trust?”
Communities, asserts Halton, are all about perception. The Alberta Avenue neighbourhood can be viewed as run down and needing substantial change, or it can be seen as a place that, as it stands, offers something to those who live there. Writing with an honest, observant eye, Halton brings the latter view to life. One cannot help feel for the women who had little choice other than prostitution, the residents who deal with a drug house next door, or for the neighbours who care for the feral cats. These stories show the strength and resilience of people committed to making the neighbourhood a safe home within which to raise their families. A few chapters focus more on individual and family issues rather than the larger community, but these chapters don’t distract from the main message of the book.
Little Yellow House focuses on the power of collaboration in community development. Through telling the stories of her everyday life, Halton demonstrates that we can each help to create the change we want to see in our communities. At the same time, she openly admits to struggling with the changes she has been a part of, and what they mean for the future of Alberta Avenue. Halton ponders: “If not thoughtfully done, we risk an over-reaching; that in aiming for safer back alleys, clean parks and vibrant streets, our neighbourhood will become so desirable that its current culture and personality will disappear.”
This book is an excellent resource for communities wanting to create change. It can also be a starting point for discussion with students in professional programs—nursing, social work, public health—and academic disciplines, such as sociology and anthropology, to focus on identifying Who are the vulnerable? Who gets to decide that they’re vulnerable? and What community-based solutions honour lifestyle choices? Little Yellow House shows readers there are ways of working and living together that really do respect diversity. I loved this book.
—Judith Kulig is a professor emerita at University of Lethbridge.