June 8, 2012 - Some Thoughts on Gentrification
A few recent events, from the very local to the global, have me thinking about gentrification.
I opened Wise Daughters at the start of the Junction's latest upswing. It had finally gone "wet" at the turn of the century (this one!), so restaurants had opened to anchor the business strip along Dundas. But commercial rents were still reasonable This has changed quite dramatically even in the 3 1/2 years I've been here. As I watch one Bloor West Village shop after another close its doors, I can't help but hope the Junction resists and escapes this fate.
I love to see initiatives that bring people out into the street to enjoy each other and their neighbourhood. Pedestrian traffic is the cornerstone of a healthy and safe urban environment. But more and more, I notice Junction events being planned or billed as "exclusive", a term that makes me bristle. It always backfires when magazines or blogs try to sell me advertising on the premise it will reach only "high end consumers." Of course I want and need people to spend money here, but counter to some business approaches, I'd actually rather have 100 people spend $20 each than 20 people spend $100 each.
My background is in the not-for-profit world, where I fought to improve accessibility and inclusion for marginalized members of society. I want to make original art and quality handmade goods as affordable as possible, while still ensuring the artists receive a fair wage. It's difficult, but not impossible. Some of the vendors in the shop (such as clients of Sistering or Human Endeavour) are selling the things they make to get out of poverty and enjoy a new purpose in life. Others are young, wildly talented, and able to pursue their passions before mortgage payments and kids' dental bills dictate their choices (if they do).
I offer as many free hands-on crafty activities as I can manage, because these community arts events make me happy. There's nothing I like better than a random act of beauty.
Efforts to "clean up" a community can be fraught, even if well meaning. One person's graffiti is another person's free outdoor art. One person's loitering is another person's opportunity to get some fresh air. People like to boast that the Junction is full of artists, but that won't be true if they're all squeezed out, as happened along Queen West.
All over the place, from the streets of Montreal to New York to Spain, people are rightly questioning whether austerity measures that target the most vulnerable make any sense. I want the Junction's turning tide to raise all the boats, not just the yachts (ok, we're nowhere near a body of water, but you get my metaphor).
I guess my message to my community is this: be careful what you wish for.