The Dangers of Gentrification

By Ben Bull
Published October 01, 2007

As James Street North and South continue their upwardly mobile climb into thriving thoroughfares, there's a useful reminder in today's Star about the dangers of gentrification.

Some of James Street's newest residents have been transplanted from Queen West in Toronto. Scared away by the steep rents and the changing face of this once eclectic downtown stretch, Toronto's artistic community and Mom and Pop entrepreneurs are heading to the burbs, and as far afield as Hamilton, in search of affordable housing and a more receptive market for their wares.

The Star article highlights three main reasons for the "gentrification trap":

  1. Escalating rents and taxes - basic economics ensures that more Yuppies = higher rents, which equals higher taxes. Many shopkeepers and artists simply can't afford to stick around.
  2. Escalating house prices - many store owners can't afford NOT to move. A standard two-storey shop along Queen West goes for anywhere from $1.5 - 2 million.
  3. Changing times - businesses like TV repair and big box staples like hardware stores are no longer sought after in today's disposable society.

I find it a shame when a cool mixed neighbourhood becomes a little 'too successful'. Give me a Bad Dog or Infusions over another Starbucks any day. As I've said repeatedly on these pages, the best neighbourhoods are the mixed ones.

The trick is knowing how to keep them that way.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By HAMRetrofit (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 12:12:52

Hamilton does not need to worry about gentrification too much yet. They have high speed one way streets and falloff from industry that maintain property values artificially low. So buy up your sub $120,000 Victorian now kiddies. :)

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By H Mag (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 14:23:08

Hey Ben (how's T.O?)

Just wanting to say if anything James North is FAR from gentrifying... in fact I'll go as far to say that it is still VERY fragile in terms of a burgeoning neighbourhood.

Buildings are escalating in prices and so too are rents - but it is still possible to buy a building for under $200,000 and renting a storefront is on average about $650.oo p/m.

The arts are definitely a solid reason why this neighbourhood is changing - but I believe the real revitalization will take place when other shops, cafes and more people move in.

This is perhaps one of the most livable neighbourhoods in the core - as it has within a very short walking distance a few pharmacies, food markets, libraries, churches, schools and other amenities.

Gentrification is such a weird word and to apply it to anywhere in Hamilton almost seems too hasty right now. Perhaps we need a new word/term for the many positive things happening to our older neighbourhoods?

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2007 at 16:58:23

Hi HMag (Dave I presume...?!),

Life in TO is good thanks! I know it's a bit early to be throwing the term gentrification around in the Hammer. I just wanted to get across the idea that you need to be careful what you wish for :)

While 'revitilization' is a more apt description it doesn't quite capture the essence of the key objective, which is to create vibrant neighbourhoods which are home to mixed income residents. Anything too far this way or that is no good at all. I hate Yorkville if I'm being honest, and while I would happily trade it for St James Town or Regents Park I think it represents the same missed opportunity to allow folks of all income brackets to live side-by-side.

I think Corktown and James Street in Hamilton are 2 good examples of 'hoods that are turning a corner. And, although it may takes years - decades even - for any gentrification to take hold it is definitely something to watch out for.

Kepp up the great work at H Mag (and say 'Hi' to the missus)


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By urbanboy (registered) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 02:50:07

I think Ben's been out of Hamilton too long...Lots of great stuff happening downtown, but Infusions is a dump right now, unfortunately...

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By Vacant Lot (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 15:32:12 in reply to Comment 12286

One of of the unspoken dangers?

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By Vacant Lot (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2012 at 15:35:19 in reply to Comment 84253

Sadly, still timely.

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By JH (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 14:03:18

Living in the James South district, and teaching and living in downtown Toronto, I can appreciate the apt description of some of the effects of gentrification that Ben presents. To respond to the comments about terminology, certainly, gentirification is a phrase more explicitly associated with of some of the more detrimental effects of a phenomena also called "neighbourhood improvement, revitalization, etc.."
We needn't defend the perceived benefits of improvement ('hoods turning the corner)-but we do need to ask whether our conception of "better" is really an equitable one that people who already inhabit these spaces can enjoy. The question of "improvement" is always loaded with what kinds of values guide our vision of what "better" looks like. People like me (and, I'm assuming most of the other folk defending neighbourhood revitalization concept) benefit directly from the new restaurants, art galleries, and cultural scenes accompanying gentrification. And we would do well to simultaneously ask the question, "for whom is the space being improved?" and "what does our criteria of a "good" city include?"
Economic strength powered by the market is rarely good at distribution its benefits to all. My question, like Ben's, is how this development can to convey its benefits on all people who live in particular neighbourhoods. Perhaps this will have to entail a certain activism in resisting rent increases, and the creation of neighbourhood housing coalitions to better define visions for neighbourhoods which include the social, political, cultural, and economic spheres, and the development of policy to assess the effects of gentrification on housing security, such as eviction rates.

As I walk through Yorkville to go to school, I am entirely conscious of this being a "classed" space, in which some-the conspicuously affluent-own the space, the public, and the less well to do, the panhandlers, are clearly marked as "deviant", a sub-public.
Gore Park makes an effective foil to this restricted and classed space. Despite its rough and gritty character, is an example of a space in which, due to its relatively absent economic possibilities, is accessible and truly public.

If we look as what is happenning to Vancouver, for example, in the preparation for the Olympics, there is a move towards "beautification" of the city, which has involved plans to purge slum areas and make poverty unseen and invisible.

In our pursuit of a cosmopolitan lifestyle, let us not deprive others of their right to live in basic dignity.

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By Vetern (anonymous) | Posted October 03, 2007 at 05:38:26

Being a former Hamiltonian, I left there almost twenty-five yars ago and retired to beautiful British Columbia I can certainly relate to Ben's story and part of JH's comment. Here in West Vancouver where a condo suite can cost $1m and where an average house price is $1.5 (and many in double digits)there is no industry and the tax base is mostly residentual there is little hope that a young person born here will likely be able to afford property ownership and so they move to North Vancouver and even into the City of Vancouver.We have mountains and ocean and a beautiful village atmosphere and a Concil who are bent on "beautifying and turning the village into a village" for the rush of tourists in 2010 when our Cypress Mountain will hold the downhill races in the Winter Olymics. I can honstly say that we have no rundown areas,a blessing, but our pro-development council act as if we did. This is one of the most idyllic places on earth and our politicians just don't get it. Thia is a developers world whether they be in Toronto,Hamilton or here.

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