Toronto, The Beautiful and Bulldozed?

 Photo: Lauren Clewes

Photo: Lauren Clewes

Since the great amalgamation of 1998, Toronto, much to the euphoria of its denizens, has experienced a population and infrastructure boom. The once sleepy streets and quiet alleyways of the city have been repurposed, re-stuffed and resold to fill the city to the brim with people eager to call this place home. But the mass-mobilization of yuppies has taken its toll on Torontonian space. Toronto, often praised for its sensible and well-paced urban planning, has taken a complete 180 degree turn from ‘Toronto the Good’ to ‘Toronto the Bulldozed’.

Four years ago, when Toronto surpassed Chicago as North America's fourth largest city, the streets were practically humming with self-congratulatory pleasure. The constant chip of inferiority on the average Torontonian’s shoulder was finally filled and cemented over. But what cost has this soaring market come with? The unfortunate reality of Toronto’s recent rise to stardom has left the city a shell of what it once was; with traditional businesses closing up shop, and anything of interest being torn down to make room for four thousand new GTAers to get their 6ix fix. The high-gloss, high-glamour lifestyle that so many crave is, ironically, the exact thing that is suffocating this beautiful, ballooning city. Let’s look at what we’ve lost and the danger thereof.

When Honest Ed’s, one of Toronto’s most beloved and quirky department stores announced its closure last year, most people seemed to pretend it wasn’t real. Disbelief quickly turned into shock when we learned that one of the city’s most humbling and beautiful symbols was to be demolished and turned into a high-rise condominium development named The Davies. Even though a shiny high-rise in The Annex is about as appropriate as an Apache attack helicopter in a Charlie Chaplin film, the damage is not limited to just Honest Ed’s itself. Indeed, all of the beloved businesses in the neighbouring Mirvish Village are to be replaced as well - Torontonian staples such as The Central and The Beguiling are heading to Bar and Bookstore Heaven.

Although this classic tale of gentrification seems rather unremarkable, upon further reflection, it offends (or should, at least) even the most basic of senses. These venues are bastions of expression and learning, and should be protected as such. The Central, home to Toronto’s very own youth poetry slam and weekly open mic, is an especially affecting loss for the city. Although one can understand a fresh-faced newbie’s excitement at living in the heart of the action, it should not come at the expense of destroying that action itself. For every crane in the sky, two pre-existing dreams die.

But these new developments themselves are not the only problem. The blame goes equally to their demographic, who have an insatiable appetite for glamour, ritz, and obnoxiousness. While historically significant bars and venues continue to close, (Hoxton, Silver Dollar Room, and Soybomb, among others) nothing is being done to replace the authenticity they gave the city. Dime-a-dozen clubs, preying on poor students desperate for a cool-looking snapchat at an overpriced booth have killed the chill spirit of the city. Wannabe-ism is the new black in Toronto, and it comes at a price.

Aside from the huge cultural losses these closures entail, gentrification also has unfortunate consequences for our more subaltern citizens. Soaring home prices, 23% alone in the last year, have left many residents stranded in their own city. Although many see low-income Torontonians being priced out of the city as “betterment,” I can only see it as a curse. Residents of traditionally working-class areas such as Regent Park and The Junction frequently find themselves unable to stay in the neighbourhoods they grew up in, pushing them to the corners of the GTA as newer denizens take their place. These new home-dwellers, unfamiliar with the area they live in, essentially cut the neighbourhoods off from their history: The Junction isn’t The Junction without the people who grew up there and helped shape it into what it is today. Although City Hall claims to fight for social justice in housing, it is unclear if the social benefits are as evident to city planners as the economic benefits.

With construction in Toronto hitting a 25-year high, Toronto is teetering on the edge on self-destruction. Every stakeholder in the city must ask themselves this: are we what we want to be? Do we want to live for the glam and glitter of glass condos and packed subway trains, or do we want to be authentic, peaceful and productive? On paper, Toronto’s boom seems great: increased GDP, increased home value and increased business activity are all things to celebrate. But on the streets, it just isn’t quite so happy without the live music and libertine values.