The Trouble with “Urban Development” & Thoughts on Celebrating Blackness

The Trouble with “Urban development” & Thoughts on Celebrating Blackness

Introduction

In the past few weeks there are have been several conversations among businesses and stakeholders on the long term impact of construction and the Eglinton LRT on our nieghbourhood.

While the anticipated outcome is largely positive, there is some concern among the people with respect to the impact development will have on cost of commercial rental and to what extent businesses struggling to survive construction will be able to sustain future changes to property values.

One story that emerges within the context of urban development in Toronto and other North American cities is the economic displacement of people as a result of the increasing market value of real estate.

Displacement of the working classes and those on the margins of economic sustainability as a result of ‘development’ is a common theme throughout history. So is the correlation between class and colour.

Emilie Jabouin, a new resident to the York Eglinton neighbourhood, reflects on the vibrancy of Blackness in Toronto and laments the adverse impacts of development on two Toronto neighbourhoods that have had a history of black culture and economic activity.

Emilie Jabouin is a guest blogger.  The York Eglinton BIA is opening its blog to guest writers from the community. Please email info@yorkbia.com. If you would like to contribute.

The Trouble with “Urban Development” & Thoughts on Celebrating Blackness

By Emilie Jabouin

I didn’t know the Eglinton West area, nor “Little Jamaica” until I moved here from outside of Toronto. Similarly to “Blackhurst”, this area seems to be forgotten in regard to its long and strong history of black presence, black businesses and the vibrancy of “Blackness”.

Having spent some time in Washington, D.C., some comparisons come to mind. In the same way that Black people are pushed to the outskirts, with an attempt to confine them to Baltimore, Black people in Toronto neighbourhoods like Bathurst/Bloor/Mirvish Village and Eglinton West/Oakwood are slowly being erased from the history of Toronto. Its populations are being pushed towards Brampton and other areas disconnected from the urban center, disconnected from the top economic areas of opportunity of the Great Lakes region.

Re-financialization

On that point of removing Black people from spaces historically occupied by them, removing signs of blackness has been a historical, political, social and cultural agenda of many societies including ours.

The “re-financialization” (rather than gentrification) – Dr. Rinaldo Walcott, a professor at the University of Toronto calls it – affects communities of colour and Black people. The raising of rent for businesses, the multiple re-development of areas, the perceived and pursued “hyping up” of a neighbourhood with construction and revamping of a landscape to “look” more “polished” is killing Black businesses. Yes – shops are open for business, but does construction interfere with the general, quick, one stop or random business these stores profit from? Of course.

Eglinton West/Oakwood is a business and busy area, but it is also a quick stop area, an area where you don’t worry too much about where to go, where to put yourself. Recent developments impact parking, causes
confusion and unnecessary car traffic!

Furthermore, the yearly street festival is something I was really looking forward to. It is cancelled this year. I don’t know for sure, but the sense that I get is that construction will affect the running of the festival for the next while. It was meant to take place on the part of the street, that is very lively, that is now heavily under construction. The city clearly did not take into account the everyday implications on local businesses of their development/construction plans. It overlooked the necessity to keep the businesses thriving as part of the heritage of the area.

Developing Communities

In my eyes, urban development should be collaborative, consensual (locals should be consulted), fruitful/lucrative on a social, financial, cultural levels for local, government, community partners. Developing an area should be about developing community, rather than about feeding into luxurious wants in the place of the needs of those living there.

Traffic is never enjoyable – four year long construction that will interrupt the flow of people, activities, money, celebration is simply an aggravating thought and proves poor consideration and holistic planning from the city.

The period of 2015-2024 is marked as the international decade for people of African descent by the United Nations. In light of this, it is important to think of the meaning of the historical preservation of black presence in the GTA, whether it be in the Jane-Finch area; the downtown core where thrived the Black Press in the 19th century; “Blackhurst” that housed Caribbean students and communities from various backgrounds, home to the “Contrast” newspaper in the 1960s, and from which A Different BookList currently still thrives; and “Little Jamaica”. They are areas of heritage for all of us that should be preserved and remembered in celebration of blackness.

Celebrating Blackness

For Canada’s 100th year anniversary in 1967, Caribana was offered as a gift to Canada from its Caribbean populations, according to Dr. Rinaldo Walcott in his book, Black Like Who?: Writing Black Canada, first published in 1997. For Canada’s 150 years anniversary, Caribana or the Caribbean festival will be celebrating Caribbean-ness and Blackness for the last fifty years in Toronto. I would have hoped that we would also take the time to celebrate Blackness in all of its shapes and forms throughout the GTA. This includes the Eglinton West area without forgetting “Little Jamaica” and making sure current senior Black businesses, and newer businesses of Portuguese, Philippino, Latino ownership stay supported regardless of changes to the area.

 

About the Author

Although her roots are from further away, Emilie Jabouin has made the Eglinton-Oakwood area home. As an artist and educator at heart, Emilie believes in strengthening community ties through art and creative projects that speak to the needs of the people. She is invested in black History and in documenting black women’s histories that are too often forgotten and ignored in Canada. She envisions dance as a means to communicate and share these lost stories. Emilie does teaching and outreach, grant writing, editing and consulting for a living.

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