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Here Comes Money: Gentrification, Condos And Canadian Cities
September 24, 2012
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In downtown Toronto, a group of historic buildings known as "restaurant row" is being threatened by a condo development, according to local restaurant owners.

The buildings are in the heart of the downtown entertainment district. Some of them date back to the 1800s, and Al Carbone, owner of the Kit Kat restaurant, says a proposed new development could push bars and restaurants out of the area entirely.

"It's a landmark. It's not one building, it's several buildings. Once one landlord goes another one will go. This strip will be disappearing," he said.

The story isn't unique to Toronto. Similar developments are being proposed and built in urban centres across the country, and some of them are causing friction between locals and the companies doing the building.

In Halifax, for example, a proposed condo building on the site of St. Joseph's Catholic Church is "dividing a North End community," says an article on the Halifax Media Co-Op site.

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Church representatives say the development is "responsible in that neighbourhood," and that the developers are "good citizens." But one local calls the proposed condo "a monstrous building [that is] in our view totally out of character with the neighbourhood."

And just as the business owners on restaurant row in T.O. worry that there could be a domino effect if the condo development goes ahead, there is a concern in the St. Joseph's neighbourhood that other churches could be closed and converted into condos in future.

Questions about gentrification and urban planning have been around for quite a while. Jane Jacobs explained gentrification this way in her 1961 classic, 'The Death and Life of Great American Cities':

"Because of the location's success, which is invariably based on flourishing and magnetic diversity, ardent competion for space in this locality develops... Whichever one or few uses have emerged as the most profitable in the locality will be repeated and repeated, crowding out and overwhelming less profitable forms of use..."

So in an area where condo development is the most profitable use of space, more condo development is almost inevitable.

Vancouver is a condo-heavy city. Over the past decade, almost three-quarters of new housing units have been condos, and in the past 12 months, that figure has risen to 80 per cent.

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There is opposition in some quarters to the new developments. Community blogs like 'The DTES (Downtown East Side) is Not for Condo Developers' and the Carnegie Community Action Project are taking a stance against new developments in the mainly low-income community of the Downtown East Side.

And the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users released a statement this spring suggesting that a condo development in the DTES would lead to negative consequences for the "drug market" in the area: "Gentrification destabilizes the drug market and that makes it more unsafe for the most vulnerable people on the street."

But not everyone agrees that gentrification is a negative force.

Writing about Vancouver's DTES, a post on the This City Life blog suggests, "just because legitimate businesses and middle class people move in, it does not equate to a sinister sort of gentrification. As long as balance of support for low-income and middle/high income are in place and protected, you have a thriving community. Nobody benefits when a neighbourhood is not mixed income. Rich only exposed to rich, or poor only exposed to poor. Having a creative, vibrant neighbourhood involves a mixture of incomes."

Elsewhere in the country, some thinkers believe the sinister nature of gentrification may be overstated.

Alanah Heffez of Spacing Montreal suggests that gentrification in that city hasn't really hurt the community: "I can only think of a few isolated strips in Montreal where a certain kind of success has squashed diversity - Crescent Street and Prince Arthur come to mind - but these are short blocks that intersect far more diverse and vibrant neighbourhoods."

For a feature-length look at how gentrification is reshaping the city of Montreal, check out this documentary, 'Montreal, Tales of Gentrification in a Bohemian City.' But be warned: in the hour and 20 minutes it takes to watch, developers may put a new condo up where your house was:

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