Downtown Bureau

Banning Daycares: Gentrification Goes Amok in Toronto

How do we preserve our housing variety and urban fabric, while still encouraging revitalization and vibrancy in a sustainable manner?

By Jason Leach
Published May 28, 2009

Lately I've begun to wonder whether gentrification in urban neighbourhoods is really all it's cracked up to be.

Nobody enjoys the state of Barton East, or King East or Cannon or Main East (sadly, I could go on and on naming Hamilton streets), but I wonder if it possible to find a happy middle ground after hearing some of the stories coming out of Toronto lately.

We've all been following the bike lane war taking place on Jarvis Street, and in today's Star, there's this beauty: Residents in the High Park area have had the city slap a one-year moratorium on daycare nurseries.

That's right. Daycares.

Here in Hamilton we're still waiting for a moratorium on big box stores that are swallowing up the city, or more importantly, on halfway homes, shelters and group homes. Some stretches around Main Street, east of Sherman, the halfway homes are clustered like antique stores on Locke.

Heck, how about a one-year moratorium on surface parking lots in the downtown core? And I mean the entire downtown core, not some arbitrary district between Wellington, Queen, Barton and Hunter.

Incipient Snobbery

When I read stories like this one from Toronto it makes me realize that our cities, despite the similarities, are worlds apart.

Lately, some snobbery has begun to creep up in places like Locke South and Westdale, but I'd be shocked if those neighbourhoods tried to ban new daycare facilities. If anything, daycares in an urban neighbourhood would be a great sign that families are aplenty, and haven't fled for the burbs.

I suppose when a city takes care of its urban neighbourhoods and preserves that wonderful quality of life, children can be considered by some to be noisy. In my downtown neighbourhood, kids could stand on the sidewalk and cry their heads off and barely be heard over the roar of speeding traffic and nonstop transport trucks.

Of course, no parent would be crazy enough to let their kids on the sidewalk by themselves, in the same way that we wouldn't let them roam the shoulders of the QEW.

Is Upscale Gentrification Desirable?

The question that keeps coming back to me, though, is whether full-out, upscale gentrification is really what we should be aiming for in our neighbourhoods.

I was once at the Whole Foods Market in Oakville and had to strongly resist the urge to take off my shirt and start belching and talking really loudly. The fakeness, the plastic surgery and the snobbiness was too much to take.

My recent visit to Portland was wonderful and it was a nice break from Hamilton being in a city that is filled with neighbourhood after neighbourhood. I didn't see a box store in the entire city. It's one walkable, street-oriented neighbourhood after another.

It's no accident, either. The city has done well to preserve this fabulous quality of life and not surprisingly, groups visit from all over the world to learn from them. Shockingly, those same groups aren't coming to learn anything from Hamilton. Hmmmm.

Hip Street Goes Upscale

One disappointment on my trip, however, was the complete change on NW 23rd Street. Back in the '90s it was the place to be. Cool record shops, vintage clothing, diners, cafes...

I was pumped to get back to 23rd and walk the strip. Within minutes of beginning my stroll I noticed something. There were very few people around, and those who were out were much older and richer looking than me and my young friends.

There was no more record shop, no more cheap used clothing, no more cool cafes, and the diners were virtually all replaced with tony wine bars and restos.

I stopped and asked one restaurant worker on his break where a few of the hot spots had gone and he replied, "The street is gone. It's all yuppie bars and expensive furniture/clothing stores".

He was right. The street as I knew it was long gone.

Thankfully, Portland has several other urban neighbourhoods that are much more vibrant and cool.

Is Balance Possible?

I can't imagine neighbourhoods in Hamilton fighting a single bike lane on a multi-lane street so viciously (I'm talking about our urban citizens, not the media) or banning daycare nurseries from our neighbourhoods.

As we all know, however, there was a day when folks would have scoffed at the notion that things would ever happen in the Toronto neighbourhoods in which they are now taking place. Those neighbourhoods have revitalized and become vibrant, urban neighbourhoods.

But when is enough enough? We've seen artists flocking to Hamilton after being pushed out of Toronto so more glass walls can rise in place of lofts and art studios. Wonderful old diners and hotels are wiped out and replaced with yet another Starbucks and sushi bar.

Is it even possible to find the balance that I'm looking for? Or is this the inevitable fate of every urban neighbourhood that begins to turn around?

Sustainable Urban Revitalization

As I stated earlier, Hamilton is loaded with dead, lifeless neighbourhoods so there's no fear here that we'll be banning daycares anytime soon. But I'm sure folks on Queen Street in Toronto could have never imagined the day when the arts community is virtually gone and replaced with shopping mall retail stores.

Could the same thing happen to James North?

It would seem to me that Hamilton's neighbourhood associations and local business districts would be wise to begin planning now for a future of mixed-uses and welcoming range of activities. Our mix of housing stock would also appear to be another saving grace that could keep folks of various income levels living together.

But again, we only need to look to TO and see neighbourhoods much like my Strathcona neighbourhood where the wonderful little century cottages have been demolished and replaced with mega-homes.

How do we preserve our housing variety and urban fabric, while still encouraging revitalization and vibrancy in a sustainable manner?

And please help me understand how we can save ourselves from ever getting to the point where we are banning child nurseries.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted May 28, 2009 at 10:58:23

When you consider how hard it has been, in parts of Hamilton and elsewhere, to get a crack house closed down, it's amusing to see the ease with which this bylaw is going to be passed :)

I believe the issue relates to large daycares. Increased traffic is one concern. I would have this same concern regardless of the business type, however I think this is clearly on over-reaction to the placement of what is a modest sized business (we have a daycare at the end of our street. Sure there is traffic but it's only at certain times of the day and it's manageable. I love hearing the kids shrieking down my street).

As for gentrification, I agree that 'over-gentrification' is not a good thing. The key is to mandate some mixed income and different types of housing, along with mixed uses, so you get a bit of everything. My street has town houses, high end condos, co-ops and rentals - it resists over-gentrification by its design.

As you say, over-gentrification would be a nice problem for Hamilton to have...

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted May 28, 2009 at 11:47:37

"I was once at the Whole Foods Market in Oakville and had to strongly resist the urge to take off my shirt and start belching and talking really loudly."-- Jason

Ha! Yes, I was in there once myself (I'm from Oakville and my parents still live there) to pick up a bite for lunch, and I definitely felt underdressed. However, lots of nice stuff, and I'm afraid I found myself wishing I could afford a load of groceries from the place...

I couldn't help but think of the part of Oakville I come from-- the old village of Bronte, to be exact-- and how different it looks now compared to when I was a child, when it was quite rough and tumble. The biggest heartbreak there was the demolition of the old Granary on the lake at Bronte Harbour that had been one of Canada's largest grist mills in the mid 19th century (it housed an antique market when I was young) to make way for condos, which completely block the view of Lake Ontario as you drive south on Bronte Rd. (my childhood home is just off Bronte, about 3 blocks up from Bronte Pier). Local residents were also, I recall, annoyed about the breakwater built in the early 90's to accomodate the expansion of the Yacht club.

However, the area overall hasn't done too badly-- it really is a bit of everything, and still lovely to walk around. http://www.brontevillage.net/main.php

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 28, 2009 at 11:57:45

"I was once at the Whole Foods Market in Oakville and had to strongly resist the urge to take off my shirt and start belching and talking really loudly."-- Jason

This comment was very funny but there is true in what you say. Sometimes I wonder why people put such a emphasis on the dollar factor and not the human factor. People are people, the amount of money one has does not necessarily make one a better person.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2009 at 14:51:27

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By Matt (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2009 at 16:20:13

I always find it ironic that the people who complain about encroaching gentrification are the same people who planted the seeds for gentrification in the first place. In Toronto, the West Queen West Art District corridor is ripe with disposable income professionals who are complaining about the pricey wine bars and sushi shops, which arrived directly as a result of their relocation to that area. Gentrifiers by in large enjoy these services and amentities, but by the time the neighborhood becomes overrun by yoga studios and free-range organic meat shops, the "secret gets out" about what was once their rustic, forgotten corner of the city. This gentrification process, for better or worse, is undoubtedly being spread by the same people who decry it.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 28, 2009 at 16:43:03

Certainly planning for mixed-use, legislating to protect and allow various uses, and all the aforementioned things are valid.

However, I think at some level gentrification will inevitably move forward, and as people become dissatisfied with how posh the neighbourhood now is, new corners and neighbourhoods of each city will be found and revitalized.

The solution for me would to always try to be at the forefront of that wave working at new neighbourhood revitalization, preserve what can be preserved (especially lower-income housing as the neighbourhood gets wealthier) and mourn the loss of what's been lost while helping create something new.

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By ventrems (registered) | Posted May 29, 2009 at 07:56:24

Balance can, and is being achieved in Toronto.

In defence of the daycare ban, it is about balance. The local citizens are concerned about several daycare operations setting up shop in a relatively small area of the City. With up to 60 children at each facility, that is a lot of additional traffic, pedestrian and vehicular. The one year ban will allow city planners to do a proper study of the area to ensure multiple daycares will not cause chaos in the neighbourhood.

It is not dissimilar to the ban on new restaurants and bars on Ossington. network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/toronto/archive/2009/05/26/ossington-too-hip-for-toronto-council.aspx

Ossington is the so-called new West Queen West. There, a one year ban will allow planners to study whether restrictions need to be placed on development in the area.

From Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, in that article:

"There's a natural tension between people who want to party and are boisterous or so on and people who want peace and quiet because they want to go to sleep," Mr. Pantalone said. "There has to be a balance."

Jarvis, while contentious, ultimately achieved balance. Instead of five lanes for cars and none for bikes, there will be four lanes for cars and two for bikes.

So Jason, in response to your argument, balance can be achieved. It is achieved through processes exactly like the ones occurring in Toronto. Citizens are engaged with their communities, Council responds to citizen concerns, City staff study neighbourhood issues, and we find balance. Through these one year bans, rapid, uncontrolled development can be curbed so as to chart a rational plan for the neighbourhood.

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By Likiteer (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2009 at 17:33:51

Balance yes, but maybe an overall balance, and not every neighbourhood similarly balanced. Some streets dominated by bikes and pedestrians, others where space is shared with cars, others such as expressways, where cars rule.

As Cohen predicted, I now ache in the places I used to play. Used to enjoy Hess Village. Not so much anymore. I could complain it has changed to be too singularly focused on clubs, booze, entertainment but I've changed too and the city benefits from having a club district. I'm happy if I still have quieter corners of the city in which to pretend I'm still vital. But once in awhile I also like to visit other neighbourhoods that offer different forms of entertainment. Sometimes even George St.

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By mjclogan (registered) | Posted May 30, 2009 at 08:03:43

Gentrification is a process. Many would like to say that a little 'sprucing up' of a neighbourhood is good, but not too much. In in reality that's not very likely. Places like Yorkville, or Georgetown (in DC) or SoHo (in NYC) are examples. It is possible to mandate mixed housing types and protect housing stock, and it's important to protect the vulnerable (especially when it comes to issues like displacement of housing), but ultimately a city is about providing choices to those that make it up, and it is the built form that results from the choices made by those that live in it. The city itself is a process, and I think that's a good thing.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted May 30, 2009 at 19:46:04

Ossington is now "West Queen West", Queen East was the new Queen West a few years ago, and then the buzz was all about revitalization on parts of King, blah, blah, blah...

One of these days, I'm going to hear someone say "Ooh, James North in Hamilton is SO the new Super-West-West-Queen-West!"

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