What about gentrification?

From The Economist.
Gentrification holds both a promise and a threat, depending on who you talk to.

The gentrification of an area, once under way, seems to be an inevitable and unstoppable process once wealthier people move in. This causes rising prices that drive a significant number of people away – perhaps some of the area’s more vibrant members. At least that’s the theory pushed by the left. On the other hand, gentrification proponents say that non-gentrified communities miss out on cleaner, better surroundings with people stuck in poverty while crime levels rise.

Gentrification is hard to study. If someone moves away, how do we know that gentrification is the cause? All neighbourhoods have a ‘churn’ with people arriving and leaving for various reasons. We do know that change comes slowly to neighbourhoods.
Toronto’s downtown area is expanding and gentrification of adjacent areas has followed. Forty years ago, the Junction was an artistic haven with cheap rents and property because of  its grimy industry and toxic residues in the soil. It’s been cleaned up since and is a now hot area. Bloor West Village the same. Mount Dennis with its vibrant residents’ association, new Crosstown Station and Net Zero initiative may be next.
Once gentrification starts in an area, more people want to live there and demand drives up prices. Is there a danger of this in Weston / Mount Dennis? A review of the literature on gentrification found that,
New fixed-rail transit has a generally positive effect on both residential and commercial property values, but its impact varies substantially according to context.
There are signs of greater investment since the UP Express became an affordable commuter train.  How then, can we keep people from being forced out as prices rise?
There is a fair amount of subsidized housing in our area. This is unlikely to change. In addition there are affordable rental apartments. Elsewhere, rent control keeps accommodation costs down but may stifle new housing.
 In a study of Philadelphia neighbourhoods, Richard Florida found that there are benefits to gentrification that are enjoyed by all but the poor and vulnerable. He also found that there are fairly unstoppable market forces behind gentrification when it occurs and the secret to minimizing damage is to ensure that the most vulnerable are still able to access housing and work opportunities and that their micro neighbourhoods are well maintained.
If the secret is to have a variety of housing and work options, it doesn’t help to have penny pinching councillors (as we do out in the boonies) who make it their business to keep taxes down and starve initiatives that help poor people.
Here’s an example. The expansion of Woodbine Racetrack was recently under discussion at council. More gambling will bring problems to the community. A motion was put forward to ameliorate the negative effects by requiring that the new gambling facility install a daycare for employees and also hire a percentage of local residents. Here are two motions put forward:
1. OGGLP provide a maximum of $5 million to develop and equip a child care centre on site or within the vicinity land and work with the Children’s Services division in recruiting a not for profit operator for the site and request that the selected operator provide extended hours of operation and provide casino employees with priority access to the centre.
The motion carried but local councillor Mike Ford voted against it.

3 – Motion to Amend Item moved by Councillor Joe Mihevc (Lost)

That City Council amend the Community Benefits Agreement with the Ontario Gaming Greater Toronto Area Limited Partnership set out in Attachment 1, as amended, in accordance with the following:

a. amendments to the employment and hiring terms to provide that:

i. OGGLP will hire a minimum of 50 percent new hires through social or local hiring, of which at least half must be local hiring; and

ii. after two years of operation, at least 60 percent of employees shall have full-time employment;

This motion lost narrowly by 19 to 23. Guess who voted against that? Local Councillors Mike Ford,  Vincent Crisanti, and yes, our own Frances Nunziata.
It’s voting like this that does not help vulnerable residents.
Here’s another example; living in a rooming house is probably quite cheap but the city fights rooming houses and accommodations that don’t fit into the middle class mindset e.g. the alleged illegal dwellings above the Weston Station restaurant.  Surely there is a way for these accommodations to be cleaned up, made safe and licensed – especially when housing is in such short supply.
If we had affordable housing spread evenly throughout the city, gentrification would not be an issue. The city did help recently with a ban on Airbnb basement apartments but unless some brave city or provincial politicians enact legislation to insert affordable housing in every area of the city, we’re going to be stuck with the present model of an expanding gentrified zone spreading out from the core and no amount of protests and marches will stop that.
The left needs to get its act together and figure out a way to embrace the positive benefits of gentrification without allowing it to drive people out of the area. They haven’t done that yet. The right needs to understand that cutting services to the poor simply entrenches poverty and the consequential crime that comes when people have no route to prosperity.
Finally, a well managed community has room for everyone regardless of income or personal circumstance. The mark of a good society (and good people) is how well it takes care of its most vulnerable.

New entrant in race for councillor

Ward 11 has been Frances Nunziata’s turf for as long as the ward has existed, and nobody has come close to unseating her: the last serious challenge was by Paul Ferreira, in 2006, and he was walloped.

Nunziata’s long reign may, at least, be challenged. Chiara Padovani, a left-leaning activist, announced her candidacy this week. In her letter to residents, she said,

For too long, we’ve been forgotten by City Hall.

Overcrowded buses, potholes, flooding, abandoned lots with overgrown weeds – these are just a few examples of the municipal neglect in our community. Growing inequality, unaffordability, declining city services, and a lack of meaningful community engagement from the current leadership at City Hall, threaten to worsen the quality of life for all of us.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Chiara Padovani
From Twitter.

Padovani has institutional support like no challenger has had in more than a decade, and she will flank Nunziata from the left, where Nunziata is weakest. She has also been positioning herself for a several months as an advocate and community member, and led opposition to a meat plant at 200 Rockcliffe (including in these pixels).

Nunziata has not yet filed her election paperwork, but when she does so, she will be the third candidate in the riding. Joey Carapinha, with whom your correspondent is unfamiliar, has also registered.

1705 Weston Road Meeting well attended

There was a crowd upwards of 70 people in attendance last night at 1901 Weston to hear details of a by-law amendment proposal that would allow a (so far, nebulous) 25-storey, 82 metre, mixed-use building to be built on a site at Weston Road and Victoria Avenue. The meeting was called by the City of Toronto so that residents could get more details about the proposal from the developer, architect and city officials. No decisions have been made yet -comments from residents concerning the proposal will allegedly guide the Planning Department as to what they will or will not approve. Councillor Nunziata and MPP Laura Albanese were present.

The meeting was kicked off by Sean Rooney a member of the planning department who stated that their goal is to see something built that fits into the local environment. He referenced the 2004 Weston Urban Design Guidelines state that buildings should be restricted to 8 storeys, having an appropriate size and scale and support the vitality of the area. There’s also the tall building guidelines that somehow come into play. In addition, new guidelines have also been added to encourage more children to be raised in high rises.

There were several groups in the crowd, not all on the same page. A group from ACORN would like to see an affordable housing component built into whatever ends up there. Local homeowners are concerned about the extra noise, shadow impacts and traffic; some want a condo built stating that we have too much rental accommodations in Weston while others reported that even Weston’s comparatively low rents are too high for them.

The proposed building. Note that there will only be four balconies per floor – these will be a feature of the two or three-bedroom units.

The building, it was revealed by the developer, will be a condo not a rental but in these early stages, there is openness to some leeway. According to the owner, talking about the interior details would be speculative as nothing has been decided yet.

The architect explained that the odd placement of the top section lumped onto the lower is to “align with the residential zone across the street” and also to assist with shadow impacts. Incidentally he glossed over the shadows that the building would cast in December. Weston Road will be widened in the future by 12 feet further restricting the site. A further limitation on the site is that there must be a 30 metre setback from the rail line. (I wonder how this would affect future rail corridor widening.)

Many expressed concern over the height of the building and the impact of traffic in the area. With a potential for over 500 residents in the building, and an assumption from the developer that 50% of residents would be using public transit, 6 visitor parking spaces seems low.

Other concerns from residents:

  • Noise from trains would be reflected by the tall building to other residents.
  • Property values of nearby homes will be negatively impacted.
  • 500 additional residents will bring unacceptable traffic levels along Victoria Avenue.
  • There is not enough ground floor retail space for a supermarket.
  • The development is not in keeping with the scale of the neighbourhood.
  • Other Toronto communities think 14 stories is too tall – why 25 here?
  • This is not responsible development.
  • Concern about density.
  • Concern about affordability.
  • The proposal does not fit into the community.
  • This will create a precedent if approved.
  • We don’t need another rental building.
  • Can a community control its own destiny?
  • What about affordable child care spaces in the building?
  • Why is there confusion over height guidelines? – They conflict with each other.

Sean Rooney from the Planning Department would like to hear further comments on the proposal.
Tel. No. (416) 394-8245
By email: here

Ward 11 Cycle and Pedestrian Report for Weston / Mount Dennis

The recently released ‘MOVING FORWARD‘ is ‘An Action Plan to Improve Safety and Opportunities for Pedestrians and Cyclists in Ward 11’. It’s a huge and detailed report by the Ward 11 Pedestrian Safety and Cycling Committee (PSCC) and contains 31 recommendations. The plan was commissioned by Councillor Frances Nunziata in an effort to create a safe environment for cyclists and pedestrians in Ward 11. It has already received praise in other jurisdictions.

One of the slogans used by the authors is, “A safe pedestrian is a happy pedestrian.” If I may be so bold as to suggest a corollary, “An unsafe pedestrian or cyclist becomes a motorist”.

A map of Ward 11 with locations of recommendations. (From the report.) Click to enlarge.

The PSCC Plan has 31 recommendations grouped around four main areas:

  1. Pedestrian safety
  2. Add safe cycling options to our streets and roads.
  3. Ensure that people can reach key destinations safely by walking or cycling
  4. Ideas that don’t fit into 1-3.

It’s well worth a read. Let’s hope it doesn’t gather dust somewhere.

CityTV report on 1730 and 1736 Weston Road

A screen shot from the CityTV article.

If there was evidence needed of gentrification in Weston, this next item might provide some.

CityTV did a story on Thursday, March 29 about the building at 1730 Weston Road where it seems the landlord, Westhaven Property Management Inc., has issued 60-day notice to tenants, many of whom are on year-to-year leases. There are apparently no plans to renovate or demolish and replace 1730 Weston Road.

The building right next door at 1736 Weston Road is home to Grace Restoration Ministries and has a notice in the front window stating that the site will be redeveloped.

Councillor Nunziata makes an appearance at the end of the news segment but provides little comfort to tenants, basically saying that if the building does get redeveloped, the new one must have retail on the ground floor or else she won’t support it.

Watch the video here.

The latest take on the Weston Hub

The Farmers Market with lots of room on its old site back in July 2004. (File).

Churchill once said that, “History is written by the victors”. An article in  UrbanToronto.ca, (basically a public relations organ for the local real estate and development industries) tells a sanitized version of the background story of the soon to be opened Weston Hub.

The article’s author, Dean Macaskill, has been involved in Toronto real estate since 1980 and was with the company given the GO Station parking lot listing back in 2012. The land was put on the market by the Toronto Parking Authority and according to Macaskill, the 5 offers received on the 1.42 acre site were, ‘at rather depressed pricing levels’.

What’s not mentioned in the article are thoughts at the time that the land belonged to the old town of Weston and that it should not be sold. Also, unlike the wealthy Wychwood Barns neighbourhood which received close to $20 million from the City for their Artscape project, poor old Weston received essentially nothing.

The message seems to be that no one wanted to invest in Weston until this development came along and since that time, developers have been falling all over themselves to buy into our community. He neglects to mention that his listing stated, “Area Is Undergoing Significant Change With Other High Rise Condominiums Planned In The Immediate Area.” Also missing in action is any mention of the 370 rental apartments and 40,000 square feet of storage units that came as part of the deal.  The 8000 square foot space devoted to the cultural hub seems rather ungenerous by comparison. Another unmentioned issue of contention is the tight space given to the Farmers Market .

Now that the Hub is nearing completion, we’ll all have to make the best of it and hope it’s a success – but it could have been so much better no matter what shine is put on it.

Just to cheer you up, here’s a Metro Morning  interview with Artscape’s Tim Jones talking to CBC’s Matt Galloway recently on the same topic.

Interesting assessment of Toronto Council

From nevillepark.ca. Click to enlarge.

Political blogger Neville Park has created a chart of Toronto’s current council and has sorted members into a matrix of four attributes; Progressive (good)/ Conservative (evil) and Lawful / Chaotic. If your political leanings go the other way, simply switch the good and evil terms.

Interestingly our own councillor has been classified by Ms. Park as Chaotic / Evil and is lumped in with some kindred spirits in the bottom right. She states that Ms. Nunziata started the term off well but has, “…since backslid into ‘peevish substitute teacher’ mode”.

Park tells councillors who object to their placement to, “…vote and act differently”.

Read her placement rationales here.