In an article (bearing the same title as this blog post) on the Dooney’s website today, Max Fawcett describes the slow decline of The Annex, my old neighbourhood.
It might be time for Toronto’s urban geographers and city planners to add the term un-gentrification to their lexicon, because that’s precisely what’s happening in the Annex, one of their city’s oldest and most famous neighbourhoods. Unlike other neighbourhoods in the city that are being bought out and up by neo-yuppies, who spark the transformation of old carpet stores and empty storefronts being into painfully hip clothing stores, espresso bars, and of-the-moment restaurants, the Annex is sliding in the other direction. Where the neighbourhood was once a bohemian haven defined by a decidedly middle-class ethic it now is rapidly becoming nothing more than an upscale student ghetto defined by fast-food restaurants, ten dollar martinis, a dwindling clutch of futon stores, and a startling increase in the number of vacant storefronts and the homeless people that populate them.
Fawcett seems to be speaking specifically about the commercial strip of Bloor between Spadina and Bathurst. I agree that it’s always seemed a confounding stretch — never as annoyingly cool as Little Italy but never as annoyingly boho as Queen West either. It always just seemed rather bland and utilitarian. If anything, since we moved away and the changes seem more stark on each occasional visit, it’s gotten more bland, and I think that’s Fawcett’s point. When the night life of the neighbourhood (provided there’s no one good playing at Lee’s Palace) is the awful Brunswick House, that’s not a good sign. And he’s right: for every bakery or BMV that goes in, there’s another place selling schwarma or wings or cheap Korean barbecue.
Really, what’s happened to that piece of Bloor is studentification (admittedly, that’s not a word, but it’s as valid as “un-gentrification”) which had been fairly constrained to the Madison in years past. Like it or not, U of T is getting a retail ghetto, and Bloor Street from the JCC to Honest Ed’s is it. I don’t have a particular problem with this — neighbourhoods change all the time, and every time the people lived there before turn up their noses at the interlopers — except that blandness should never be something for a neighbourhood to aspire to.
[tags]dooney’s, max fawcett, bloor street, annex neighbourhood, university of toronto[/tags]