This is what gentrification really is

Gentrification is a big, confusing, theoretical word for most of us – I’ve always heard at least two different definitions of it.

I’ve seen gentrification be described as the act of revitalization – breathing new “life” into a “run-down” neighbourhood through new restaurants, condos and other infrastructure projects. And I’ve seen it be described as the act of forcefully pushing longtime residents out of a neighbourhood in order to populate it with more affluence.

Quite simply, gentrification is the displacement of longtime residents of a neighbourhood that are most often low income, people of colour, and/or from other marginalized communities like women and people living with disabilities.

I’ve heard people say that gentrification is just what York South-Weston needs. I’ve heard people say that York South-Weston needs just a little bit of gentrification. And I’ve heard people say that gentrification is the next struggle that will plague York South-Weston.

This is the dictionary definition of gentrification:

the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods byupper- or middle-income families or individuals, raising property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses.”

So, is it a problem? Is York South-Weston experiencing it? The answer is yes and yes.

So what does gentrification look like then? While some York South-Westonites don’t live the effects of gentrification every day or even notice it, the reality is that the majority does. It’s already happening.

We have our fair share of systemic issues created by years of policy failure and neglect. People don’t have access to healthy and affordable food – we are in a food desert. The cost of childcare is through the roof – we are also in a childcare desert. Youth workers have told us that it’s easier for our young people to get a gun than it is for them to get affordable housing or a job.

The reality is that right here in our community, renters are being handed unfair and unjustifiable rent increases every day. York South-Weston is supposed to be one of the last affordable havens in the city but it’s getting more and more unaffordable for those of us who already live here. And it’s only going to get worse if we don’t hold developers and our elected officials accountable for the unaffordability of our neighbourhood.

What gentrification looks like is asking for a Starbucks at Weston and Lawrence when we already have Perfect Blend, Mati’s Coffee and God Bless Canada all around the corner. It’s going to a development meeting for a new “affordable” housing project and hearing the developer’s lawyer say that “they would like to attract a certain kind of person” to rent here and then hearing from the tenants in the room that the rents are in fact not actually affordable. It’s the fact that when a Loblaws or Sobeys replaces Greenland Farms, the majority of residents within a 200m radius will not be able to afford to shop at either of those grocery stores. And it’s TTC riders in Weston not being able to afford to ride the UP Express even though it’s being made a selling-point for new development in the area.

The gentrification of York South-Weston is happening and we need to think about how we will respond to it. Will we work to address the root causes of poverty and inequality that exist in our community or will we actively allow low-income and other marginalized communities to be pushed even farther away from the downtown core, out of York South-Weston?

Councillor Nunziata; it’s legacy time.

The results are in and the unfair effect of name recognition was once again an overwhelming factor in Toronto elections. The two incumbents in newly created Ward 5 topped the poll despite spirited campaigns, especially from Chiara Padovani and Lekan Olawoye. Even Frances Nunziata must have realized during her campaign that there was a yearning for change. Indeed, the vast majority of voters chose another candidate. About 68% of electors who bothered to vote, chose someone other than her.

Now for the more depressing part; voter participation was significantly down across the city and fewer than 38% of YSW eligible voters bothered to vote according to my calculations. The average for Toronto was about 41%. In effect, Ms. Nunziata retained her job thanks to about 12% of electors.

Given the march of time, Frances Nunziata only has a few years left at council before she retires or a more compelling candidate beats her in an upcoming election. What will be her legacy? Frances herself struggled to list her accomplishments when debating other candidates. Many pointed to the decline in Weston’s fortunes over the past several decades of her tenure. Weston and Mount Dennis are slowly beginning to emerge from years of neglect and disinterest, mainly thanks to the UP Express, all day GO Train service and the expansion of the city to the suburbs; none of which she can legitimately claim credit for.

It’s not all bad; there are some minor achievements – will she be remembered for the Weston Common / Hub / Storage Unit? Remember, the original concept was for an arts and cultural centre and year round (indoor outdoor) farmers market. What about the car-focussed community centre at Black Creek and Eglinton? There are critics of both of these projects while others have a legitimate claim to shared parentage.

The original Weston Hub concept as it was sold to the community. (Click to enlarge)

There are some notable failures on her record. The persistent flooding in parts of the ward surely should have been fixed by now. The shabby public domain and the lack of progress on a bicycle network are two others that quickly come to mind.

Frances began her political career as a corruption fighter, exposing and taking on crooked politicians. That reputation is long behind her. Now she is best known for her role as Council Speaker. There are many critics of her voting record which was the closest of any councillor to that of Mayor Tory – over 90% of the time. This blog has long criticized some of her positions which often seem to work against residents who are struggling.

Speakers are chosen by a council vote. Given the dramatic changes to Council, it will be interesting to see if Ms Nunziata can win a third term in that prestigious yet challenging position. Now that Mammoliti has gone, the job may be a lot more attractive to others in the chamber. Losing the Speaker’s job would certainly give her more time to work on the larger ward she now governs.

Regardless; for this new term, Ms Nunziata needs to find bold projects that inspire and uplift our community if she is to be remembered for anything other than her long years in office. Whether she can do this over the next four years remains to be seen.

I for one hope she can.

Who to vote for? I choose Lekan.

If Doug Ford hadn’t screwed everything up, this would be an easy choice. But he did, and now it isn’t.

For the first time I can remember, we are spoiled for choice in York South-Weston. We have four strong contenders, and three of them are worthy choices.

The recent amalgamation of the ward brought Frank Di Giorgio and Frances Nunziata into close combat. Chiara Padovani and Lekan Olawoye are attacking their left flanks.

Me, I’m going to vote for Lekan Olawoye. I won’t pretend I have good reasons for doing so, though.

I came to this conclusion slowly—although I was able to eliminate most of the candidates quickly. I started by zapping the outside-chance contenders; I’m sure most of them are fine people, but their relative absence and small chances in this high-stakes race make them non-starters for me.

Frank Di Giorgio was next to go. He is too conservative and was too close to Rob Ford. He votes against Toronto’s interests. He attends council meetings infrequently—and opposes bike lanes—and that alone is a deal-breaker for me.

That leaves three: Nunziata, Olawoye, and Padovani.

I like Frances Nunziata, as a rule. She is an excellent retail politician. If you call her, she calls you back. She fixes problems, and she’s given her riding endless hours of underpaid service. Finally, she is an excellent tactician.

But I can’t shake the feeling that Weston has fallen on harder times under her leadership. Certainly, most of these problems are not of her making—she’s subject to decisions made above her pay grade, just like the rest of us. I think, however, that with different leadership, things might have been better. That’s because she is not an excellent strategist.

Take payday loan shops, just as an index of what I’m talking about. We have too many, and they have dubious social value. I think the job they do would be better done by our oligopoly of banks, which enjoy one side of a social contract but are allowed to ignore the other: they get a government guarantee but shirk the social responsibility. Banks are allowed to close, leaving low-income and low-mobility clients (often one and the same) in the hands of high-interest lenders.

I know Frances can’t do much about closing banks. That’s for our provincial and federal masters to tackle. But she could have made Weston, bit by bit, an environment that banks don’t want to leave, with improved streetscapes, better local businesses, and improved transit. She’s been working on these, lately, but too lately for me.

Of course, it’s not about payday loans; it’s about all the things like them—the small, strategic failures that have let Weston down. What happened the long-promised college campus? The Humber River Trail link? St John the Evangelist? Buses on Jane? All are long-term projects; none have happened. Strategy.

That leaves Padovani and Olawoye.

Lekan and Chiara are too close ideologically to fit a card between. I went so far as to create a spreadsheet, and if I recall correctly, Padovani doesn’t have a parks plan but she does want the city to tackle climate change, while Olawoye has a parks plan but says nothing about climate change. Or vice versa.

It really doesn’t matter, because I can’t imagine Lekan (or Chiara) being against the climate or parks.

So, with two equally good candidates, I would normally back the one most likely to win. It seemed, for a moment, that Chiara was in that position. Then it emerged that Lekan had been left off the poll. And Lekan had a handy lead last time… and the polls have been showing wild swings anyway, which is understandable given how small the sample is. Finally, neither Olawoye nor Padovani is likely to defeat Nunziata. So who knows?

That leaves, as far as I can tell, character. Argh. What, really, do I know about character? Nothing.

My interactions with Lekan and Chiara have been vanishingly brief, and both left me with the impression that they were excellent, principled, hard-working and ambitious people. We are lucky to have them volunteering for such a lousy job.

So I’m left peering at the sediments, trying to divine some worthy grounds on which to make a decision.

Here’s what it comes down to: I like Lekan a little more. He seems more grounded, more open, and less partisan. He seems a  little less certain, and I like that. He’s been in the community, working hard, for longer, and he’s had tough positions at MaRS downtown. I like that too.

With so little to distinguish excellent candidates, that’s all I have to work with. We can blame Doug Ford for that—it was not supposed to be like this.

Padovani support surges

At the end of September, a Mainstreet poll found Incumbent councillor Frances Nunziata with 40% of the vote, fellow incumbent Frank Di Giorgio was at 30%, Lekan Olawoye at 7.2 and Chiara Padovani at 3.8.

In the latest Forum poll, Nunziata has kept her commanding lead over other candidates with 39% but Padovani has built support considerably to 20% with Di Giorgio’s support slumping to 19%.  The margin of error would mean that Padovani and Di Giorgio are in a virtual tie for now.

Padovani’s campaign manager, Riley Peterson told me today that she believes the surge in her candidate’s support comes as a result of intense organizing and canvassing.

The Forum poll is several days old so there is a chance for things to change over the last few days before Election Day on Monday 22nd. It remains to be seen whether Padovani can continue to pick up support from people who want to see change in Ward 5. On voting day it will also be important to persuade people to make the effort to vote. In 2014, nearly half of voters stayed home in what is now Ward 5.

Ms. Padovani should also hope for fair weather – apparently, bad weather favours incumbents. Monday’s weather looks to be partly sunny with a chance of showers.

In other Ward 5 news, Cycle Toronto has released the results of a questionnaire regarding cycling in York South-Weston (Ward 5). Only one candidate bothered to respond to the survey – Chiara Padovani.

Click to enlarge.

Urban Toronto has a Weston Common update.

The colourful exterior of the updated parking garage that will serve the adjacent  building under construction at 22 John Street. The Weston Farmers Market will occupy the open space behind the blue hoarding. Photo taken on September 19, 2018.

The people at Urban Toronto, operate a website dedicated to ‘condos, architecture, urban development and real estate’. They are in general, cheerleaders for the construction industry and have published an article detailing some of the latest construction milestones at the Weston Common site at 22 John Street opening early next year. While U.T. has glossed over some details of the project, of interest is the way that the existing above-ground parking garage on King Street will be connecting to the new building (the parkade was originally intended to largely serve the retail complex that never got off the ground).

What will the sudden influx of 396 new households do to Weston’s traffic, retail strip and culture? It won’t be long before we have the long anticipated answer.

Incidentally, October 27th is the last day of the 2018 Weston Farmers Market season and the last using the UP Express parking location. Next May, the market will return to John Street behind the new building.

Read the Urban Toronto article here.

Toronto Star pans Ward 5 incumbents

The Toronto Star Editorial Board has made its quadrennial candidate endorsements for Toronto’s newly shrunken wards. The Editorial Board is once again unimpressed with the current incumbents. They bluntly state, “Frank Di Giorgio and Frances Nunziata, should be sent to pasture.”. Four years ago,  The Star said of Frances Nunziata, “Painfully ineffective in recent years, she has been one of council’s most complacent Ford followers.”.  2014’s opposition to Frances Nunziata, Jose Garcia and Dory Chalhoub failed to get their campaigns off the ground. While Mr. Chalhoub successfully argued that Ms. Nunziata had done little to help her constituents, his and Mr. Garcia’s rightward leanings put them on a par with her politically. Despite endorsements from the Star (and Weston Web – go figure) Mr. Garcia and Mr. Chalhoub placed a distant second and third respectively.

This time there are two strong candidates among those opposing the incumbents and both are left-leaning.

The Star’s Board has given the nod to Lekan Olawoye as their 2018 choice for councillor stating, “His work on talent development at MaRS and numerous community organizations make him well placed to constructively address the issues facing youth and marginalized communities.”. The other local candidate, Chiara Padovani has built an impressive campaign and will no doubt take issue with the Star’s pick.

The good news for them is that the vote will be somewhat split between the two incumbents. The bad news is that the anti-incumbent vote will also be spread between multiple candidates, thus diluting any movement for change. That’s why all candidates will be working hard to ensure that as many people as possible get out to the polls next Monday.

Voter participation in 2014 was 53% in old Ward 11 and 55% in old Ward 12. There is plenty of room to improve as some Toronto wards had a voter turnout of over 70% that year. This compared to an average of 60.4% in Toronto as a whole.  A similarly low turnout in Ward 5 this year will probably result in one of the incumbents being sent back to city hall.

Nunziata protests unaffordable housing.

From CTV.

Councillor Frances Nunziata joined an ACORN protest march along Weston Road yesterday protesting against the high cost of housing in Weston. If only she could get the local councillor and the Mayor to do something.

For more, see this CTV news report. The item begins at 09:40.