Thursday, January 29, 2009

A common source of friction in a neighbourhood is the process of gentrification, loosly defined as the moving of affluent individuals into a lower-class area. The process can transform a neighbourhood in just a few short years, but normally the process takes about a decade or more to really have an impact.

I experienced it first hand when living in the artist lofts of Toronto's West End. In the late 1980's and early 1990's there were dozens and dozens of these buildings, normally old factories, usually within walking distance to the ultra-hip Queen St. West. Most of them were not zoned as residential, so living in them had its own benefits and drawbacks. Much depended on the landlord, and some were better then others. Heat was often a luxury. You had to be ready to fool building inspectors (beds that were hidden and keeping lots of paint and canvas scattered around your "studio" were two common tricks) with short notice.

I lived in one where the worst thing that could happen would be for the landlord to realize you had done significant improvements to the space. There were more then a few examples in that building of folks who had recently refinished a hardwood floor or renovated a bathroom to suddently find themselves evicted and the space available at an increased rent.

When my wife and I (fresh out of University) moved into our first loft on Sorauren Ave we were in among a complex of 4 buildings next to a large empty lot near the railway tracks. Prostitutes and drug addicts were a common occurance at night. The nearest main street, Roncesvalles, was known as "Little Poland" and contained a few greasy spoon restaurants and several delis and that was about it.

When we left nearly a decade later 3 of the 4 loft buildings had been converted to luxury condos and the artists chased out. The empty lot was a beautiful city park. Roncesvalles still had the same nickname but the street now sported a Starbucks, a jazz club, several nice restaurants, a groovy used record store, and some high end home furnishing/design stores. Houses in the area that went for $250,000 when we first moved there were going for $500,000-$750,000.

Where it used to be all bohemians and pensioners you now had young families pushing prams. Actually most of the young families were probably the same folks who were bohemians earlier on. It is almost inevitable that you have conflicts between the old guard and the new residents, and these battles are based on the common lines of race, class, and age.

My wife and I couldn't afford the neighbourhood when it came time to buy our first home, so we moved to the Corso Italia neighbourhood in Toronto (St. Clair and Dufferin area). The same thing is happening there now. We bought our house there for under $200,000 in 2000 and sold it for $240,000 only 2 years later. Today it would sell for almost twice that.

Which brings me to a story today I stumbled upon. Seems that gentrification has taken a new twist in Germany. The population there is aging you see, and these folks are cranky. An old neighbourhood, in the process of gentrification, has seen many young families move in. Young families need daycare in this 21st century world where you need both parents working to make ends meet. Daycares make noise. Most folks tolerate the noise, after all, everybody loves kids and daycares only make noise during the day (no loud keg parties on a Friday night). Well apparently not everybody loves kids, because some folks in Germany decided to sue their local daycare over the noise. The case is now before the highest court in the land.

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