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?