Posts tagged ‘Leslieville’

March 10, 2013

Gaming Toronto’s neighbourhoods

Do you know the names of Toronto 140 official neighbourhoods? Click that ‘hood tests your knowledge of officialdom, making a game of the City of Toronto’s administrative planning areas. Developed for Code for America by Matt Keoshkerian, a transplanted Torontonian, the website uses data now available through Open Toronto.

In a Google world, Click the ‘hood cleverly avoids the perennial problem of double spellings between the spelling of neighbourhood and neighborhood. The site has gamified city neighbourhoods around the world, including Montreal (20 neighbourhoods), Vancouver (23 neighbourhoods), and Saskatoon (59 neighbourhoods).

With the growth of mapping, neighbourhood names are facing a new revival. Sociologists argue the naming of a neighbourhood is an important marker of social cohesion. Condo developers know this well, too. Donmount public housing was subject to an entire re-branding when it became Rivertowne, and the neighbourhood around it as taken the name Riverside. My favourite recent example of this is the new development at the corner of Woodbine and Upper Gerrard within days of local residents voted to call their area Beach Hill, a name marketed by a local condo development.

English: Neighbourhoods in East Toronto

Most of these cities have geographic gaps, parts of the city where no common consensus has emerged on the name of the place. Even within Toronto this was a problem.

Developed about ten years ago in an effort to coordinate competing geographic descriptors across various service divisions, City of Toronto staff divided the city into 140 areas. The areas were clustered to capture similar social demographics among residents and to be similar in population size. Natural boundaries, such as ravines and railways, were used where possible. Finally, neighbourhood names were selected, without broad consultation, on historic names or local geographic features, such as street names.

Through this method, the entire city was mapped and, now, with the power of gamification, the City’s 140 administrative neighbourhoods will become more familiar to Toronto residents.

(P.S. My best time? About 80 seconds for 20 random neighbourhoods.)

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April 20, 2012

Gentrification signifiers: A story of one neighbourhood

When two grandmothers stopped on my street recently to tell me their adult children had bought a nearby house, I didn’t tell them why the young family who lived there was moving out. They had moved in with high hopes to this same freshly-painted and pot-lighted house, ignoring the “as is” in the stipulations. The house had undergone a quick flip from a man who bought it after a house fire burned out the tenants who lived there. The house attached to them had also suffered fire damage, but those tenants, renting rooms, stayed on in a more deteriorated house.

And then last summer, it got bad. A man with a violent criminal history moved in — and took over. We neighbours sat on our porches and watched the drug deals and solicitation. It had happened before on the street. The normal knock-and-run behaviour of drug buyers played out along the sidewalks where kids pedaled past on their bikes, part of the ballet that Jane Jacobs described. But this time, it was scarier.

Physical fights became the norm, and the local men became protective, taking to long smokes at the ends of their porches. The police raided the house almost weekly through those hot months. By-law officers arrived and spent three days carting refuse away. The landlord, a former neighbour, was rumoured to be incapacitated, unable to intervene or maintain control. Then, too late, a woman died there of an overdose. The house was padlocked and put up for sale.

I couldn’t tell all this to the cheery women I met. But I recognized their story — their children had got “such a good deal!” But I did recognize this stage of gentrification – the grown children had moved eastward, having rented in Kensington Market – and had  been not able to afford a home closer to the downtown core.

When neighbourhoods shift from working class neighbourhoods to higher income ones, several signs and stages are notable.

Neighbourhood Market

Neighbourhood Market (Photo credit: omegaforest)

First arrivals were people like me, my partner and our new baby. We had some family connections to the community, but while comfortable here in the neighbourhood, we were no longer working class. Higher education had boosted our personal prospects. So, our arrival acted as a signal, that the neighbourhood was “safe.”

Others like us soon came, and the occupations of my neighbours switched from taxi drivers, factory workers, and train conductors, to book editors, teachers, and non-profit workers. Single women thronged to the neighbourhood’s small houses, and young families used the low housing prices as a launching pad until they could afford a larger place. Homes which had housed multiple children (and sometimes a couple of families) were converted to single households. Population density dropped, and racial diversity paled. As housing prices rose, residents told each other this neighbourhood was “arriving.” (One elderly neighbour, disbelieving the rising house prices, chortled to me, “Diane, we’re quarter millionaires,” as housing prices rose over $200,000 for a 12.5 feet wide lots.)

Next, come the speculators. Housing flips are common in the neighbourhood now. Another couple, lured by granite counter tops and a street-front entrance, all at the price of a condo, has moved in across from us, but lawsuits have ensued as the rotted timber covered by the new drywall had been discovered. Our neighbourhood had become a bit of a destination point.

As a critical mass of newcomers builds, another sign emerges: residents’ associations. Their focus is often on remnant parts of the neighbourhood: ‘common’ concerns such as traffic flow, garbage, run-down properties (like the ones up above), and most often the desire to “clean up” the neighbourhood. Every couple of years, these small citizen efforts have emerged. GECO (eerily echoing Michael “Greed is Good” Douglas’ character in Wall Street) is the most recent incarnation, springing out of some of the sentiments expressed in the comments section of BlogTO’s recent article, What ails Little India?.

One of GECO’s members explained to me she thought it was important to have “more diversity” in the neighbourhood commercial strip, that there are “too many sari shops.” Toronto Life described this more diplomatically as “new businesses…revitalizing a dreary stretch of empty storefronts, noodle houses, laundro­mats and hair salons.” Others explain they hope for a Starbucks or “nice” set of restaurants like nearby (upper-income) neighbourhoods have. After all, they say to me, they have paid a lot of money for their homes and they want the neighbourhood to look good. A neighbourhood blog cooed “A few more cool shops on gerrard (sic) and even the Queen Street hipsters will allow us Northerners to be part of Leslieville.” Academics have described this as commercial gentrification. In fact, some have described how Toronto’s “ethnic neighbourhoods” can act as a branding mechanism, in the same way artists do, attracting others and driving up housing prices. It’s a familiar process to those who know Little Italy or Greektown, where many of the original ethnic stores are closing and residents have moved on.

But tolerance for social difference is limited. Another long-time resident, one of the original working-class residents who’d watched these changes with more good humour than I, reported one of new neighbours were discomfited to learn a gay (!) couple lived next door. So he explained to the new couple that good people lived up and down our street.

But the revanchist sentiment has grown.

The final stage of gentrification is when the higher income folk arrive, when the place has been sanctioned as “clean” and “safe.” Cleanliness is defined by such amenities as granite rocks and Japanese maples in the front garden and new windows adorning the home. Safety is not the definition of old, of neighbours knowing when a new neighbourhood child has gotten a tooth or who can be depended upon to hold a spare key for nearby neighbours. Safety is more about beaming spotlights and alarm codes. This final stage concentrates wealth to the point that some researchers call it super-gentrification.

More and more of the neighbourhoods in the old City of Toronto are undergoing this transition. Affordable housing stock is disappearing. The latest move by Toronto Community Housing to sell off single family units means the touted ideal of mixed-income neighbourhoods will be further away. New developments aggravate the problem, filled with homes all in the same high price range, inclusive zoning not yet a practice.

As income inequality is carved into our housing structures, our neighbourhoods suffer. Those who work in neighbourhood shops, filling our coffee orders, or the education assistants in our children’s grade school, won’t live in our neighbourhood, won’t be our neighbours. Our children won’t know difference. This is not Toronto, our motto “Diversity, our strength.”

Driven by individual choice, we are losing a common good.

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May 9, 2010

East end history re-discovered

Three delightful pieces of history collected on the recent Jane’s Walks in the Greenwood Coxwell Corridor (Little India) worth posting:

1. Footage of a soccer game in 1930s at the Ulster stadium, formerly located east of Greenwood and south of Gerrard St. East:

The Toronto Ulster United versus the Rangers.

Apparently the stadium was behind the Ulster Arms (nicknamed the Empty Arms by locals), for about 20 years and torn down after the war to build housing. There had been a football field and dog racing track too.

This picture from the Toronto Archives of 1940s Leslieville shows a racetrack along the very eastern edge of the photography, which is Highfield. (Dundas Avenue has not yet been extended through the neighbourhood, and a dirt path crosses what is now Greenwood Park.)

2. Denny Manchee collected this story from local historian, Joanne Doucette. Jane Farrow passed it on:

In the 1880s, real estate developers started marketing tiny lots 10 ft. wide to very poor people. The Ashbridges family owned the west side of Craven Road, which was still farmland, but the east side became this string of shacks called Shacktown. The developer was the same company that created Parkdale. Shacktown had the reputation of Regent Park did – drinking, guns, drugs. The shacks had no running water, no toilets, no police or fire protection, no schools.

Inevitably, people got sick from lack of sanitation (some died), so in 1909 the City took over that area and insisted people install running water. Many couldn’t afford it so they were evicted. Houses were condemned by the health authority and about half the people were turfed out. The fence was part of the cost the City had to pay when it expropriated a good portion of the west side to the street. It was erected to keep the riffraff away from the wealthier folk on the west. The street was named (rebranded!) Craven Road in 1923.

Joanne is a font of local lore and does a lot of guided walks for both the Toronto Field Naturalists and Lost Rivers.

3. The flat-roofed homes on the corner of Walpole and Woodfield Avenue were some of the first ones built in the neighbourhood and now house the fourth generation of the same family. The current residents explained that when their ancestors settled in the neighbourhood, the two brothers dug a hole in the ground, put sod over the top and stayed there until their homes were ready. Farm fields lay to the east, and Natives who worked the fields, lived in teepees to the west. They built many other homes in the neighbourhood, as well.

Also, the City of Toronto Archives has posted historic photos of Leslieville on Flicker.

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June 28, 2009

A neighbourhood by any other name

No one in my neighbourhood agrees where we live. We laugh about our multiple names, but if attachment to a place begins with what we call it, we don’t know where we live.

The situation is aggravated by the bisection of the community into two different political ridings a few elections back. Confusingly, parents call a school trustee for whom they cannot vote, yet from whom they require help.

Even, a recent incarnation of a residents’ association debated the topic of a neighbourhood name at a few of its meetings, considering an on-line poll after no consensus was found. The website is still entitled ?? Residents’ Association.

When the Toronto Star tried to map out Toronto neighbhourhoods, they ended up leaving our 16 square blocks blank – nameless – hanging there between Riverdale and the Beach. Debate renewed on the Star’s website over it, many suggesting their version.

So, as a neighbour and I called this year’s Jane’s Walk, we are Greenwood-Coxwell: A neighbourhood of many names.

The naming of neighbourhoods is important, if you look at the energy that goes into it.

Spacing Montreal recently profiled a few Montreal quartiers struggling with their boundaries and their names.

Residents in a few of the Toronto Priority Neighbourhood Areas have also demanded changes to the original, City-imposed names. Crescent Town is looking at a version of Taylor-Massey Creek, and Jane-Finch is variously called Black Creek, University Heights or Elia. Residents in Eglinton East-Kennedy Park, Westminster-Branson have also reportedly rejected the City-imposed appellations.

As part of its newly introduced Historic Neighbourhood Strategy, the city of Barrie, Ontario is trying to involve local residents in just such an exercise. When residents identify with and are attached to their neighbourhood, engagement grows.

Identification with the geographic area in which you live is one of the key markers of belonging. Community developers often work with local residents to help them define, and if necessary, name their neighbourhood.

So how did we become a neighbourhood of many names? Through the complex evolution and structures that make up any neighbourhood.

Historically, we are:

  • Ashbridge Estates, as sometimes suggested by residents who live close to the original Ashbridge home.  Harkening to this semi-regal historical connection, but similar to an attempt to carve out a separate identity, as documented in some New York city neighbourhoods.
  • Ashdale Village, a now-defunct effort by some local residents who, through the efforts of a few residents, tried to re-create a cohesive identity. Yet, strangely, they focused on only a small section of the neighbourhood and faded away when one key member moved away. Such grassroots efforts are not always doomed to failure. AshdaleVillage.com has re-emerged with a new suffix.  The Pocket, just to the west of here has successfully established their heretofore unnamed identity, through the creation of a residents’ newsletter and regular events.
  • Leslieville, as sometimes used by those closer to Queen Street, or by real estate agents intent on capturing us with the re-branded neighbourhood to the southwest. (Jane Farrow, at the Centre for City Ecology, taught me that locals also call it colloquially Lesbieville because of the settlement of gays and lesbians into the neighbourhood. See the Star’s map of the week.)

Economically, we are:

  • the Gerrard India Bazaar as the local BIA’s version of our neighbourhood. Gerrard Street is the commercial centre of the community, but tensions arose with this name because it excludes others South Asian communities who live in and visit the neighbourhood. The (re-)branding of a neighbourhood is almost common, now. One neighbourhood in Seattle was tarted up by local businesses with a new name, banners hung, without most its residents even knowing about it.

Socially, we are:

  • Little India. This is probably the most popular among local residents. It is the name I was taught when I moved here, the commercial strip well-established, and what I often say, by habit, although it’s also a name which carries unfortunate colonial overtones.

Geographically:

The neighbourhood is proximate to a few others, so we are sometimes attached to:

  • Riverdale (for those who orient west)

and Administratively, we are:

  • the Greenwood-Coxwell Corridor (Greenwell? Although some in the neighbourhood prefer the perverted spoonerism Coxwood). During the development of the City of Toronto’s new 140 neighbourhoods, planners grouped demographically similar census tracts into larger “neighbourhoods.” Our name was chosen for two of the main streets which as boundaries to the community, and we were lumped with folks on the other side of the tracks – a long walk.

Now, mainly, when people ask where I live, I’ve learned to just give the nearest major intersection.

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April 11, 2009

Crime: Targeting the few "bad apples"

The police division in which Riverdale and the Beach lies has the second highest Break & Enter rate in the City. Only the downtown core/entertainment area outranked Division 55 during this period (January  – October 2008). (See Toronto Police Service data and the Toronto Star crime maps for the source of this analysis. Another interesting website, allowing individuals to pool their collective knowledge is the Spotcrime website.)

So these high stats make one of the stories buried in the 2005 annual police report all the more interesting.

The Division’s Major Crime Unit developed a program to track serial offenders, out on bail for Break and Enter and other major crimes.

Through the program, police met with offenders and their sureties as they were released from jail and then tracked their bail conditions, making regular follow-up visits weekly.

A regular, rotating list of the Top 15 offenders was maintained. Police found, by tracking these few people, they were able to drop the break-in rate by 38%.

The pattern is reminiscent of the one described by Malcolm Gladwell when he wrote in the New Yorker about Million Dollar Murray, a homeless man who in the final years of his life absorbed a large portion of health, social and police services. Gladwell makes the compelling argument that the most effective use resources is not when they are spread across a population, but when they concentrated on the most needy.

It’s a focused tactic that runs counter-intuitively to our Canadian sense of fairness and universalism; however it’s one now seen in the Province of Ontario’s  poverty reduction strategies, the City of Toronto‘s and United Way‘s Strong Neighbourhood Strategies, and TDSB’s Model Schools for Inner Cities. Each of these strategies brings additional resources to those identified as most in need.

At worst, this tactic prioritizes the vulnerable. As best, it just may work.

November 9, 2008

Class Warfare, they say….

broke out in Leslieville last week. Some of you may have seen the news reports.

Signs, looking much like the “No Big Box” posters which sprouted in front windows around the neighbourhood all summer long, were plastered to telephone poles and mail boxes, saying “No Yuppies in Leslieville.”  Official reaction was swift. The signs were scraped off wherever they were found because, although they reflected tension in the neighbourhood, they also, unfortunately, crossed the line of free speech with an incitement to violence, in the small print, invited readers to smash windows.

Almost all who saw the posters had a strong reaction to them – either positive or, in politer company, more negative. It was after all all evocative act, one which had also sprung up in graffitti on condo bill boards or in murmurs on street corners.

The neighbourhood is in flux. According to the the South Riverdale demographic profile on the City of Toronto website, from 1996 to 2001, median household incomes grew by nearly $11,000 and the number of people who fall below the low income cut-off fell by 29%. See The 2006 numbers are still being crunched but will no doubt show the trend continues.

It is, as the local city councillor Paula Fletcher, says, a mixed neighbourhood. But it is, more accurately a neighbourhood, in transition. And that is a time when tensions, rightly or wrongly will surface.

The Toronto Sun, former bastion of the working class, rose quickly to the defense of “Yuppies” and those who like “venti pumpkin-spiced lattes.” Ignored were the complaints of rising rents and new, too-expensive stores.

The Toronto Star obfuscated, explaining that because the process wasn’t complete, because the neighbourhood still had rough edges, this wasn’t gentrification – and so, presumably, no one should be up in arms about the neighbourhood newcomers who were driving up housing prices (and therefore realty taxes). People are arriving, we are told, because they like the grittiness of the neighbourhood; no worries about what happened similarly on Queen St. West.

Even Garth Turner, (yes former Conservative M.P.), describes a process of gentrification in Leslieville (or South Riverdale if you have lived there longer) where “Greedy developers are trying to turn it into a yuppie park, which will displace those who have lived there affordably.” Turner says that the neighbourhood will never switch to upper class enclave, though, like nearby Riverdale or the Beach. He explains, in his blog advising a woman to sell and move away, that Leslieville is “iffy” and “a dump” hemmed in by highways and hosting a “smelly” waste treatment plant.

Still, whether Leslieville/South Riverdale becomes so trendy that it reaches some magic gentrification tipping point, some people are feeling angry about the changes in their neighbourhood.

At a minimum, a space for community dialogue is needed.

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