Acts of domination are not always easy to identify, and in hindsight, the best intentions of post WWII rezoning and “arden city”high-rise developments have not served poor, racialized immigrants well. While the poor in the Downtown East Side of Toronto did not benefit from postwar urban renewal, the middle classes did, but only because they mustered resources in order to block zoning that would allow high rises. As a result, one area of the DTES is one of the most condensed stocks of beautifully preserved Victorian-style homes in Canada. This article interrogates the postwar rationalization of the DTES and the claim, and the resistance to it, that it is “ot the right for 3000 poor people to live downtown”.
Les actes de domination ne sont pas toujours faciles à identifier et, a posteriori, les bonnes intentions à l'issue de la Seconde Guerre mondiale de modifier le zonage et le développement des hautes tours « ville fleurie » n'ont pas servi les pauvres immigrants racialisés. Tandis que la population pauvre des quartiers Est du centre-ville de Toronto n'a pas profité du renouvellement urbain de l'après-guerre, la classe moyenne en a profité, mais seulement parce qu'elle a réuni les ressources nécessaires afin de bloquer le zonage qui permettait la construction des tours. Il en résulte dans ce secteur une concentration de maisons de style victorien parmi les mieux conservées au Canada. Cet article interroge la rationalisation de l'après-guerre et la déclaration suivante, ainsi que la résistance à celle-ci : « trois mille personnes pauvres n'ont pas le droit de vivre au centre-ville ».
Space intangible as [neighbourhood] boundaries often are and maintained as they are by complex cultural and social codes, they tend nevertheless to divide the city into distinct clusters. On the other hand, cities also bring elements together and establish relations of interchange and exchange. They function as spatial magnets for different, converging streams of human activity. This is the basis of their often unplanned “cosmopolitanism”. The points of convergence, as well as the routes and passages through and across them, are as significant as the spatially defined and socially maintained differences. Cities both divide and connect.Hall 2004
There are tensions along Parliament Street in the centre of the neighbourhood area in the Downtown East Side of Toronto (DTES), Canada (Figure 1). This short stretch of the area’s commercial district divides and connects four separate neighbourhoods that branch off it. At the southeast end is Regent Park, the southwest end is Moss Park, to the north is St. Jamestown and in the centre is Cabbagetown. Regent Park, Moss Park and St. Jamestown are defined by their high-rise new immigrant communities with high rates of poverty and crime. Cabbagetown is defined by its beautifully restored Victorian homes, inner city farm, green spaces and middle-class respectability. The divides are based on class differences, high rises vs. single family dwellings, functional vs. abandoned green spaces, orderly vs. disorderly behaviours and so on. The divides occur, all in the space of a 20-30 minute leisurely walk in part, according to which residential streets lead to home in one of the four neighbourhood enclaves that make up this DTES space. The connections also occur along Parliament Street where residents intermingle on the sidewalk. Depending on the doors residents walk through, divides also occur. Some enter doors leading to stairs to a prayer room, some to one of the many dollar stores, some to a restaurant that serves all-day breakfast, a gourmet meal, an Indian dish or French cuisine, and others to a no frills supermarket or an organic grocery store.
The Old Cabbagetown Business Improvement Area (OCBIA), in an effort to ameliorate these divides and form a more consistent and lucrative commercial district (and overcome the predominance of dollar stores and lower end businesses), is constantly developing strategies to draw more lucrative business to the area. This strategy at times aligns and other times conflicts on the one hand with middle class gentrifiers who support the “improvement” of the business district and on the other with the working poor, unemployed residents of Regent Park, Moss Park and St. Jamestown who support maintaining affordable stores and places for poor people to gather. Maintaining a balance between the interests of white middle class gentrifiers and racialized residents, many of them poor or unemployed, produces a social, economic, and racial struggle that has a long history. Attention to relationships of power is key to an analysis of this struggle, for such relationships shape who belongs in the DTES.
The sidewalks along the main business street are narrow and provide little space for stopping and socializing without blocking pedestrian traffic. In the spring of 2009, the OCBIA proposed that three street corners be provided with limited seating to enhance the ambiance and attract consumers to spend more time around the commercial district, and thus attract more business to the abundance of vacant stores. The street corners are designated squarely in the centre area of Cabbagetown, where the streets lead to the homes of gentrifiers. However, there are vigilant Cabbagetown watchdogs on the lookout for activities that they consider unacceptably noisy and disorderly, in particular in public spaces close to residents’ homes. Hence, when Cabbagetown residents got wind of a plan to formalize a social practice they had attempted to eradicate (informal gathering on street corners), there was an immediate and hostile uproar and a petition opposing the plan was swiftly circulated. Let me explain that the area has had its share of illegal activities that accrue from street corner gathering, such as drug dealing, violence and the public consumption of alcohol. However, other activities that are in fact legal, such as drinking coffee and panhandling, are often conflated with this notion of disorderly, illegal and seen as a reason for concern and removal. The suggestion of public leisure space on street corners hit a raw nerve.
Hounded by complaints, the OCBIA responded on their website by explaining that it was a pilot project that would be monitored and that if people’s worst fears were realized and the seating area did draw “undesirables,” it would be removed. Unconvinced, Cabbagetown residents aired their concerns on Canadian public radio (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CBC). During the interview, the person opposing the plan spoke from a position supposed to represent the unanimous voice of outraged Cabbagetown residents. She claimed that undesirable groups might use these facilities into the night, leaving residents vulnerable to illicit activities such as the public consumption of alcohol, drug deals, verbal abuse, harassment and violence – “just to name a few” activities that she claimed already take place on these corners. Arguing that Cabbagetown is not ready for this project she insisted that the space needs to be cleaned up of its existing problems before introducing more. The solution: install more lighting and hire private police or security guards to “flush out” the “problem people” and get them off the streets. A social practice that is, in fact, legally right, was coded by Cabbagetown residents as morally wrong.
During this interview, the OCBIA representative repeated that the proposal was a pilot project to test whether or not it would work. He noted that one of the corners in question (Winchester and Parliament) had received ample attention by police, who reported that in monitoring and conducting over 125 conversations with people on that corner, found no criminal activity. He stated “sometimes people just get threatened by the presence of other people and begin to develop fears and panic spreads or else people tell stories, we seem to be getting a lot of that feedback instead of actual complaints”. The pressure from a vocal group of white, professional middle class heritage gentrifying Cabbagetown residents proved too much for the OCBIA. At a meeting in August 2009 it made a decision to postpone the pilot project for two to five years.
In the radio interview, and indeed in all of the public discussions about the proposal for seating on the street corners, Cabbagetown is the only area named. The other three neighbourhoods are invisible and excluded from any claim to this central, public commercial zone that is shared by the whole of the DTES. Gentrifiers’ claim to public space and insistence on what can happen in that space is an indication of their class privilege. The access to the OCBIA and national radio demonstrates the cultural and social capital that Cabbagetown residents wield. It is conceivable that a broader sense of middle class anxieties was the motivator – for a radio station that targets the middle classes – for a story about street corner use in a small downtown neighbourhood. And perhaps without realizing, the OCBIA representative outlined Stanley Cohen’s (2002) notion of “moral panic” that underpinned the reaction to the proposed plan.
A moral panic, as Cohen describes, draws on the seventeenth century figure of the folk devil. This figure represents groups that threaten core values. The response to such threats is to eradicate it. The compulsion to identify and eradicate moral threats follows a moral logic that often defies the law of the land and either reaffirms a moral order or produces a new one. Once a moral panic takes hold of the public’s imagination, it matters not whether it is myth or reality. Indeed often myth is more important than reality, for our desire to police the moral boundary is not constrained by dry details of fact but rather fed by the sensational and titillating possibilities of the grotesque. In the example above, it is evident that there is an “us” and a “them” and that the “us” are the only ones represented. “They” are constructed, following the logic of moral panics, in a binary opposition to the “us” as abject and bringing the neighbourhood back to an uncivilized past. Such framings of “them” are what David Sibley (1997:14) describes as “exclusionary discourses” – those that draw on colour, animals, disease, sexuality and nature to frame the threatening group as dirty, inferior, and atavistic. Julia Kristeva and Simon Watney (quoted in Sibley 1997) argue that working classes are often associated with dirt and disease that threaten bourgeois space and blamed for the origins of pandemics such as cholera, venereal diseases, and AIDS. Sibley cannot emphasize strongly enough that “dirt,” as a signifier is key to moral panics in its ability to create feelings of anxieties and threats to its referent – the strong, healthy, heteronormative male on whom the family and nation depend (1997: 14). Sibley states that moral panics are always concerned with order, conformity and social homogeneity – all secured by strengthening the boundary external to the self and the nation. Sibley further argues that such boundaries are not literal but are also in part moral. An important aspect of any moral panic is not just to make sure that the sense of threat becomes widespread but to address what is to be done about the threat. Consequently, moral panics are accompanied by demands for more control and state intervention. Sibley has this to say about the need for moral panics in the policing of class boundaries,
“Family,” “suburb” and “society” all have the particular connotation of stability and order for the relatively affluent, and attachment to the system which depends for its continued success on the belief in core values is reinforced by the manufacture of folk devils, which are negative stereotypes of various “others.” Moral panics articulate beliefs about belonging and not belonging, about the sanctity of territory and the fear of transgression. Since panics cannot be sustained for long, however, new ones have to be invented – but they always refer to an old script.1997: 43
It was evident in the interview with the Cabbagetown representative that the threat of the lower classes on street corners generated an older script, a myth, that their presence would produce disorderly, illegal behaviour. The solution to this “problem” was to take control through the demand for state intervention, surveillance and removal of undesirables. Many of the complaints aligned their presence with dirt: mostly due to the creation of litter, unacceptable language, and imagined “dirty” activities such as drug dealing. Despite the fact that the corner has heavy use from a number of residents of all classes and races because of the family-oriented coffee and lunch shop, the few (on any given day I count between three and eight people) who gather on the corner were in line for blame for any dirt that accumulated. In this example it is clear that the action taken by middle class gentrifiers was overt, aggressive and effective. Social systems that order privilege in society that frame social factors such as race, class, sexuality, and (dis)ability provide us with ways to understand where and how we and others fit into social hierarchies. Yet such understandings which often produce exclusionary discourses do not in themselves produce an “imperative for action” (Hage 2000: 31). Ghassan Hage argues,
Racism … [like classism] on its own does not carry within it an imperative for action. One can believe that one’s race is better or different than another but there is nothing in this belief that requires one to act against members of the supposed “inferiors.” I can believe “they” are different without caring where they live, whether they sit next to me, or whether there are “too many of them.” As soon as I begin to worry about where “they” are located, or about the existence of “too many,” I am beginning to worry not just about my “race” “ethnicity” “culture” or “people” but also about what I consider a privileged relationship between my race, ethnicity and so on and a territory. … This is why I want to suggest that, from this analytical perspective, and in so far as they embody an imagined special relation between a self and a territory, such practices are better conceived as nationalist practices than as racist practices, even if racist modes of thinking are deployed within them.Hage 2000: 31
Cabbagetown residents may not like the fact that the neighbourhood’s long history of working class values is built on noisier, less orderly practices that continue to appear in spaces claimed by the middle classes. Yet, as Hage argues, this in itself does not produce class divides or classism. It is when the middle classes begin to “worry” enough to actively engage in practices to remove the lower classes from spaces that Hage suggests demonstrates a sense of entitlement to local, and by extension to national, belonging. Building on this it is useful to recall Myer Siemiatycki’s analysis about the relationship between city space and local practices of governing. Siemiatycki says that “cities give physical expression to relations of power in society,” and that “regulatory land use is one of the most important powers in the hands of local government” (1998: 9).
As urban geographers have noted, class values are rendered visible through spatial arrangements and in turn spatial arrangements shape the activities that take place in a given space. Sherene Razack states in an interview with Zoe Druick (2006), “[w]hen you declare that land can only be used [for a specific purpose] ... you shape the landscape and actively shape the social relations that will take place there.” Edward Robbins (2000) claims, in the case where a neighbourhood was redesigned in Thamesmead, England, that middle class ideologies drove a design that (middle class) urban planners created resulting in its failure for working class residents. Robbins argues that planners unwittingly integrate into their designs a distrust of working and lower class ideologies, social practices and functions. Further, Robbins argues, such distrust prevents shaping the space to include the possibility for spontaneous interactions that for working class residents create community yet for middle class ones create chaos, noise, idleness and congestion. This same notion of distrust can be detected in the ways in which Cabbagetown gentrifiers were concerned and “worried” about working class people gathering on street corners, a distrust that has at its root a decisively moral regulatory underpinning.
Inciting moral panics, deploying actions that produce divides between “us” and “them” and claiming an “imagined special relation between a self and a territory” all work in concert to articulate beliefs about belonging and not belonging. The conflicts about who has the right to shape what happens on street corners in Cabbagetown are ongoing. A small group of working poor and unemployed occupy one corner where they smoke, talk and drink coffee as they gather on the sidewalk. Though there is no disorderly behaviour in any legal sense, the presence of people on the sidewalk sitting on their scooters or on the curb with their feet resting on the street has become a great moral concern for the local middle class residents in this centre Cabbagetown area. The gentrifiers are unhappy because their intention to see this neighbourhood cleaned up and remove those who spend time on the corner has not worked. The OCBIA is unhappy because people “loitering” on street corners discourage perspective business partners. The working and unemployed poor are unhappy because they do not have seating that would make gathering together more comfortable. Street corners are important crossroads, meeting points and points of divisions. They provide choices and send us in different directions. In this example street corners become boundaries that divide belonging and not belonging. They become more than their physical presence; they are infused with social meaning. The thought of providing seating for the people who spend leisure time on them incites fear into the middle classes. The social meanings mapped onto these street corners mutate into metaphors for noise, danger, and dirt.
The example above is an introduction to how space in the centre area of the DTES is contested and how the assumed entitlement to downtown space by the middle classes resisted. The remainder of this article will examine the spatial and social configurations of the Cabbagetown centre in contrast to the Regent Park, Moss Park and St Jamestown periphery as a legacy of colonial relations of power organized spatially. What follows is how this article fits into the extant literature written about the DTES, my methodology, and a description and discussion of the four neighbourhoods. Through this examination of four DTES neighbourhoods, I explore the complex and multiple ways in which the social production of space contributes to our understandings about unequal relations in local neighbourhood spaces that both divide and connect.
Entering the Research
For a period of three years I attended a number of community events such as town meetings, street festivals, film festivals, and fundraisers as a resident and researcher. This aspect of the study is one where I have been aware of my position as both local citizen and researcher. As a way to locate my researcher self in the research, I turned to those who employ ethnomethodology and participant observation in their work (Kinsman 1996; Ng 1993; Whyte 1973). Ethnomethodology aims to rewrite history in order to include marginal voices that have been excluded. In this way, a different temporal historical character frames the world in which we now live (Kinsman 1996: 9). Indeed, my daily interactions with people in the neighbourhood, at community events, in local stores or in private homes, provide me with experiential knowledge of the space and add new voices to enhance previous narratives written and told about Cabbagetown. The literature on participant observation identifies the value of the serendipitous nature of this type of research (Whyte 1973). One example of this arises from a meeting I attended on shelter closings in the area. One man who has spent much of his life living on the streets in this area angrily commented that “gentrifiers” (his term) were taking over the area and this was one reason shelters were closing. He commented that people with money come in and put up black iron fences to keep people like him from sleeping on their front lawns. To this man, the black iron fence was a symbol of exclusion, class divides, and the affects of gentrification on poor people. This contrasts with a group, the Cabbagetown Preservation Association (CPA, www.cabbagetownpa.ca) that takes pains to educate gentrifiers about the virtues of black iron fences as a pleasing aesthetic to enhance Victorian architectural features of renovated homes. Black iron fences erect boundaries through a metaphor for gentrification. The fence becomes a sign that connects the middle classes in their shared gentrification projects and divides this group from all who threaten it. In this way the black iron fence has become an exclusionary sign of belonging.
No one to date has brought the information of these four neighborhoods together in one piece of writing. Consequently, it is difficult to get a sense of how patterns of immigration, changed zoning laws and unequal social relations combine in the production of the DTES space. To bring together entire historical accounts is not the intention of this article. I borrow from previous work in order to provide a brief overview of how the space emerged. Discussing the four neighbourhood areas in one place resists the focus on any one of the four neighbourhoods that tends to perpetuate the notion that this space of high numbers of immigrants, large transient populations, and high density living is the cause of social problems. Viewing the DTES as one neighbourhood space makes it clear that the four enclaves co-constitute each other which is an important factor for observing some of the past and recent decisions that shaped the space of contested struggle that it is today. It is tempting to divide these four neighbourhoods into neat, bounded geographic territories and insist that the working poor belong in one area, racialized immigrants in another, the homeless in another, and white middle classes in yet another. In a modernist, functionalist approach to cities this may have sway. However in this article, from a postmodern perspective analyzing neighbourhood space relies on Edward Soja’s (1996) notion of the “third space” or, socially produced space, a term he refers to as spatiality. Socially produced space requires an examination of practices that go beyond the description of zoning laws, buildings, and heritage preservation. Socially produced space also requires examination of the underpinning motives and meanings that produce unequal relationships of power.
Centre/ Margins, Core/ Periphery
Here Saskia Sassen’s (1991) notion of centre/margin and Jane M. Jacobs (1996) notion of core/ periphery offer an analysis of the how the logic of both social and geographic locations work in tandem to produce social inequality. That is, spatial centres represent the well-to-do elite, the powerful, educated, professional classes at the top of society and the powerless, poor, under and unemployed, immigrants, illegal workers, single mothers, mentally challenged – to name a few – are relegated to the margins. Cities are encouraged into new centres and margins; cores and peripheries, for example, in earlier days through settlement and later through urban renewal projects. These divides are not merely physical but also economic, political, social, cultural and geographic. David Harvey takes up this notion of uneven geographic development. In a treatise on neoliberalism and the city Harvey quotes Robert Park from the 1920s (gendered language according to the time period),
The City is man’s most consistent and, on the whole, his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in, more after his heart’s desire. The city is the world which man created; it is the world in which he is therefore condemned to live. Thus indirectly, without a clear sense of the nature of his task, in remaking the city, man has remade himself.Harvey 2007: 2
Harvey parallels this statement with a dialectic statement from Marx’s Capital, that is, we cannot change the world around us without changing ourselves and we cannot change ourselves without changing the world around us. He provides an overview of the ways in which cities develop and change and in the process how we change, without really being conscious of those changes. By participating in a process to make neighbourhoods safer, we are less focused on the creation of margins and centres. Yet in retrospect, noting the establishment of a core/periphery through a rationalization of the area, we see a clear picture of modern day colonization. Harvey (2007) argues, when we trace the concentration of power and wealth subsequent to change, in particular the neoliberalization and rationalization of cities, countries, and their economies and spaces, it is clear that the concentration of wealth demonstrates that this has been an extended deliberate move to restore class power and a very privileged elite (for instance in Britain, the top 0.01 percent have increased their income by 497 percent over the last 20 years, incomes of $250 million a year and retirement funds of $400,00 are no longer unheard of). It is not an accident of the markets or unintended consequence that the rich have been getting richer and the poor, poorer.
Metaphors and Meanings
I was struck by what I observed on the landscape, combined with the information I gathered in the literature and government reports, by the ways in which the DTES is infused with contradictory notions and symbols of pride, shame, sadness, beauty, strong community and violent slum to name just a few. These notions are often converted into symbols that take on meanings of possibilities, both local and national, or defeat both personal and social. Dirt, uncivilized spaces and the people who live in them, hope and heritage preservation of homes and the people who live in them, converge in this small neighbourhood area to produce notions of belonging. To help me make sense of various images in relation to how those images shaped a narrative about the neighbourhood space, as in street corners and black iron fences, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s work on metaphors and Brian Osborne’s work on memory and belonging are useful. Lakoff and Johnson (1980) argue that metaphors serve to aid our quotidian communication in ways that move beyond the linguistic meaning of words. They help us to communicate in nuanced and often creative ways and also connect one experience to another. Lakoff and Johnson argue that we do not experience life in little discrete packages but rather as experiences that flow into each other. Thus, we take language from one experience and map it onto another, creating metaphors. A black iron fence in the example above can communicate the experience from the perspective of a gentrifier who would draw on images of history to declare its beauty. Alternatively, the fence can communicate exclusion from the experience of the poor person looking for soft ground on which to sleep. Language of either beauty or exclusion is deployed depending on which experience is being articulated and the prevailing images produce spatial character. For instance in the case of the changing neighbourhood space of Cabbagetown, various interpretations frame what the cabbage comes to mean according to who invokes it. It can mean all that is good about Canada or conversely a place where used needles on a sidewalk catch the glint of the rising sun. By example are two quotes from on-line sources,
I’m standing in Cabbage Town, an impoverished area of [Toronto] where the setting sun glitters off syringes on the sidewalk and people wake up to the chirping of gunfire.The Egg, retrieved May 25, 2006
Standing in the heart of Cabbagetown is like standing at the centre of Canada. For within eyesight you will find a microcosm of everything that defines the country from our history to the multiplicity of sounds and sights. You feel like you’re part of a neighbourhood and not just a tourist who has wandered into a prefabbed “tourist experience”.www.toronto.ca/bia/cabbagetown.htm, retrieved September 12, 2008
The language used to describe a town of cabbages or black iron fences is not fixed in one experience but rather flows between them. Here the ramification for memory is apparent, “memory for what has been perceived incorporates some of this continuity” (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: 10). Invoking “vivid imagery from metaphorical comprehension,” encourages memory making (Lakoff and Johnson 1980: 10). In this way, metaphors are used to supplement knowledge. In the analysis I offer here, while this process of communication makes entire sense, it also hints to how images can enter language in ways that are damagingly exclusionary. The inference I take from this is that black fences are not only a sign of beauty or exclusion; they are imbued with social relations of power that can be read as racialized, homophobic and/or classist based on who owns the fence and who they keep in or out. Establishing a collective memory about a place, such as the street corners in question in Cabbagetown and circulating a dominant discourse about what seating on those corners can possibly mean, also establishes a privileged, popular memory. Brian Osborne argues that elite memory is privileged over popular memory thus promoting a “sense of sameness over time and space” that requires systems of remembering and forgetting (2001: 46). Selective memory that privileges elite frameworks over shadows marginal difference thereby promoting a favoured identity and belonging by locating the local in the abstractions of the regional, national and global. Thus, the conflicts over street corners in Cabbagetown draw on a familiar colonial script whereby the presence of uncivilized, anachronistic space is dangerous and must be removed. As Anne McClintock states, “the invention of anachronistic space [...] in the late Victorian era” constitutes the “colonized and the industrial working class [as] prehistoric, atavistic and irrational, inherently out of place in the historical time of modernity” (1995: 40). To better understand the conflicts over what happens in a space in the DTES requires attention be paid to the ways in which metaphors construct privilege and dominance and make invisible the resistance to privilege projects that aim to make the poor inherently out of place in the modern space of Cabbagetown. Jane M. Jacobs examines motivations for changing city spaces when she argues that spatial changes in urban settings
... are rarely about how space is to look and function, about competing architectural aesthetics or urban planning ideologies, although such concerns may well provide the dominant discursive form of these struggles. These place-based struggles are also arenas in which various coalitions express their sense of the self and their desires for the spaces which constitute their “home” – be it local neighbourhood or the nation home, an indigenous home or one recently adopted.1996: 2
The DTES: Four Neighbourhoods and Spatial Propinquity
The City of Toronto boasts 140 neighbourhoods and claims that strong neighbourhoods are a large part of the success of multiculturalism in this global city. Places that contain a mix of class, race, and culture and where some areas have been gentrified and others fallen into decay, become complexly varied with impoverished areas abutting highly affluent ones. Such is the case in the DTES. Thus, intense inequalities become more visible and the notion of who fits and where, becomes starkly evident and reinforced through the city’s signposts that announce the various bounded neighbourhoods of the DTES. As a researcher, I am fascinated by these social dynamics. I can walk in one area where whiteness and lesbian and gay couples seem to be the norm, others where Catholic, Muslim or Hindu religious identities are identifiable and another where South Asians, Filipinos and Blacks are the norm, all within a short walk. In order to think about how identities and belonging are related to space, place and social inequalities, I draw on the following history.
The four neighbourhoods that make up the DTES are close in the early history of white settlement they share and in spatial propinquity. Absent from the histories of white settlement are histories of its original Aboriginal inhabitants who were colonized and erased from the landscape if not always physically, certainly in settler-state imaginings. This colonial history is ongoing and not just for Aboriginal populations. The area was central to Toronto’s industrialization in the 1800s. It consequently was an area of high levels of pollution, great wealth, and extreme poverty. It drew from the colonial heartland of Britain almost entirely English speaking Anglo-Celtic immigrants of the Victorian age, and in particular Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. The DTES became a “populous residential district for urban workers, bordering a new rail and factory complex at the [east] end of the harbour” (Careless 1984) where many poor came looking for work in the local boot blackening factory and abattoirs. Uneven employment opportunities resulted in a reserve labour force, making it necessary for the state to provide the basic needs for marginally employed, homeless and transient men early in the development of the DTES (a practice that continues today). This general area came to be known as “Cabbagetown,” purportedly due to a campaigning mayor who stopped by the impoverished row houses to admire the “pretty cabbages” – growing in the front gardens to provide a staple food for poor, hungry families. His admiration was translated into the nomenclature, Cabbagetown. Whether or not this urban legend is true, Cabbagetown is more than the memory of a vegetable grown in the front gardens; it became a metaphor for an impoverished and dangerous slum. Amongst residents the neighbourhood was known as a “place of small-town family and neighbourly focuses of mutual aid and accepted bonding obligations” (Careless 1984: 16). The neighbourhood was equally known for hard work and layoffs and, most significant, is the enduring reputation as a place of “dirt, cold and disease” (Careless 1984: 16).
Much like other areas in Toronto, the area continued to be a draw for poor immigrants looking for work in an increasingly unstable deindustrializing global labour force (Teelucksingh 2002). The later years of deindustrialization that saw the closure of factories and the rise in unemployment contributed to the rapid deterioration in this area. It was not until Toronto’s postwar drive for urban renewal in the late 1940s that the state dedicated resources to revitalize it. Two approaches were taken: demolish or preserve. The first approach aimed to create a new beginning and a new sense of neighbourhood space by demolishing hundreds of acres of housing to make way for high rise building. The second approach blocked the zoning that would allow for high rise building and instead aggressively protected the right to shape the social relations based on historic preservation. Four separate neighbourhoods were created, and three, Regent Park, Moss Park and St. Jamestown, were the result of wholesale demolition and re-imagined communities of high rise building and high density living. There was little outcry as thousands of residents were displaced. A local paper commented that demolishing the housing was a “remedial step in the redevelopment of Toronto’s blighted core” (Toronto Star, November 19, 1959, quoted in Sewell 1993). Cabbages were replaced with high rises as signifiers of impoverished slum. The nomenclature, Cabbagetown, migrated to the centre of this four neighborhood space in later years and slowly has gained the signifier for heritage gentrification.
In 1953, plans for urban renewal were well under way. The City of Toronto like other metropolitan cities, was scrambling to rationalize society after the destruction wrought by World War II, including large numbers of people flocking to cities looking for employment. Many such postwar urban renewal projects drew heavily from French architect Le Corbusier, whose design for high rise, high density living divided functions into separate areas: living, recreation, commercial, and vehicular traffic were separated from each other and in the process, these self-contained, rational communities were cut off from the rest of the city. As Harvey (2007) reminds us, in retrospect we can see how rationalizing urban spaces produces unequal relationships of power. It has become more than apparent today that with the rationalization of the DTES, the peripheral spaces of Regent Park, Moss Park and St. Jamestown were created as a way to rationalize areas of poverty. The three housing projects based on Le Corbusier’s architectural philosophy failed miserably. The short-lived hope and promise for reinventing the social margins through geographic spatial organization were soon replaced with the reproduction of slum residences on the periphery. The lack of maintenance, lighting, services, etc. saw much of the DTES unable to be pulled from its original stigmatization of slum, danger and degeneracy. History proved Le Corbusier’s traditional middle class utopian ideals to be out of step with the practicalities of day-to-day living, especially for poor working classes in the DTES. As an aside, in Toronto’s history, in the 1960s, Jane Jacob’s damning critique of Le Corbusier’s work was a strong influence and used to replace his ideas with revitalization plans that called for place-based, community centred approach to urban planning and for city neighbourhoods that are mixed-use development, short blocks with dense concentrations of people working and living downtown (Jacobs 1961) – the very ideal on which the centre of the DTES, the current Cabbagetown neighbourhood, is based. I turn now to a brief introduction of each of the four neighbourhood enclaves that make up the DTES.
Academics have mostly written social histories of one of the four areas of the DTES, Regent Park (Purdy 2007, 2004; Rosa 2006; Sewell 1993; Sahak 2008; Veronis 1999). There are government reports on Regent Park community housing and plans for revitalization, numerous stories in the media (especially the Toronto Star), non-profit organizations (United Way and Pathways to Education) and local community groups as well as resident associations report widely on Regent Park matters. The above material provides a comprehensive history about how the community was built and analyzes how it became a stigmatized slum. There will be more literature to add to this history that will document the changes taking place now as it undergoes a major revitalization that began in 2007 and will continue for 12 years. The existing literature also reports about the many social problems that exist in Regent Park. Yet a local community newsletter tells a different story, one of strong community support with a number of services offered to the largely poor newcomer populations.
The postwar urban renewal based on Le Corbusier’s architectural ideology of a garden in the city required a change in zoning laws. The fact that this newly imagined neighbourhood space would displace many residents did not seem to be the main concern, for Regent Park was built in 1949 and expanded in the 1950s. It covered 69 acres and originally ended up housing over 10,000 residents all on social assistance. It is the oldest publicly funded housing community in Canada. Access to this public housing was made available to the poorest and most disadvantaged in the city and the upkeep and safety of the area seemed not to be a priority. It was isolated by the lack of through roads, dividing vehicle parking from people’s homes and cutting it off from the rest of the city. The intention was to build the community from within so that schools, community services and green spaces could be centralized in the area. The space not only took on a reputation of poverty, but the run-down, neglected area became a place where non-resident drug dealers preyed on vulnerable populations and violent slum became inextricably associated with Regent Park. The sense of mutual support and strong (predominantly newcomer) community needed in order for people to survive in this neighbourhood and in Canada has been a silenced narrative that is consistently overshadowed in the media and in common parlance. Metaphors of danger and dirt prevail to the point where youth and adults disavow their connection to it. To come from Regent Park is to be stigmatized as lazy, unemployable and destined to remain peripheral to national belonging. Sean Purdy (2007), who has written extensively on the Regent Park neighbourhood, noted that in the late 1960s residents were well versed in articulating the stigmatization aimed at those who lived there. One Regent Park mother stated,
When you go out to look for a job, I hear a lot of kids say they don’t want to put down that they live in Regent Park, not because of what it is, but because of what other people say about it. So many names have been put on the place. They can’t be proud of it.... The way they cut it up, you’re embarrassed, and there’s no need to be embarrassed, but you are.Purdy 2007: 90
Another resident had this to say: “as a teenager I made a point of not telling anyone where I lived and made sure no one found out” (Purdy 2007: 91).
Today, the numbers of European immigrants have decreased and those from Third World countries have increased and the mix in Regent Park has become more globally diverse. According to Statistics Canada (2005) report on language and ethnicity, the following ethnic groups are currently found in Regent Park (in descending order): Chinese, Canadian, Bengali, East Indian, Sri Lankan, English, Vietnamese, Scottish, Jamaican, and Aboriginal. Only 1% identify themselves as Aboriginal (City of Toronto Neighbourhood Profiles Report 2006). The median household income is $24,775 well below the low income cut-off level of $34,000 for a two-parent, two child household. Only 8% own homes and 92% rent (City of Toronto Neighbourhood Profiles Report 2001). Regent Park has a complicated and contradictory neighbourhood character and identity. It is a stigmatized, racialized space implicated in the “spatial dynamics of capitalism” (Teelucksingh 2002: 137) by housing a significant number of Toronto’s “Third World” “just in time” racialized labour force. Various reasons have been postulated for the failure of Regent Park: the fault of the poor who live there, the design of the space that isolated it from the rest of the city, poor social planning to support the new design, and low-end, poorly lit social housing run by a single, ill-equipped landlord, the TCHC, Toronto Community Housing Corporation (Purdy 2003; Sewell 2005). It remains to be seen whether the current revitalization project will be the first successful attempt to transform this slum into a healthy neighbourhood. This time the “rational” approach is to remove the isolation by opening Regent Park up to vehicular traffic in order to reintegrate it into the rest of the city. Some inner city high rises (especially in the form of condos) in the modern housing market have come to mean something other than overcrowded, stigmatized slum. The urban planners who designed the revitalized Regent Park insist that the new design will tap into this new imaginary by bringing in a mix of classes and stores that will reshape the reputation mapped onto both the space and the people who live in it. All are not convinced and in an interview on Regent Park television a spokesperson for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty commented,
The idea of a mixed neighbourhood is a big lie in the economy we live in. What people want when they move into an area is for the value of their home to go up. I am very suspicious of the reasons for transforming Regent Park into a mixed neighbourhood.Regent Park Television, October 12, 2007
East of Regent Park is Moss Park, an area that draws little interest from academics. However there is much attention from anti-poverty groups for the homeless and the city’s poorest citizens (in particular the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee). The majority of information about Moss Park focuses on the social problems of the large transient populations, the poor conditions of shelters provided by the state and more recently shelter closures. The media has been a source of information about Moss Park, for instance in 2008 the National Post stated,
[Moss Park is] a sad pocket of downtown where drug pushers and prostitutes peddle to a largely transient community that is crawling with addicts. Deals are made on the corners, drugs are consumed in the open and needles and condoms are found in the public sandbox where children play.network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/toronto/archive/2008/04. Retrieved, May 21, 2009
The above quote is not an unusual sentiment for Moss Park. It is a place of abject poverty where the effects of eroding social assistance programs for the poor, unemployed, mentally ill and drug addicted are more than obvious on any given day. The metaphors in the quote evoke a sense of sadness, not for loss, but rather for “lost causes.” The notion of “crawling” hints at the regression to an uncivilized, animal state, one that is unsafe for the next generation. It is a space that invites erasure and reinvention in the local and national imaginary.
Much of the area was originally an estate owned by William Allen that was subdivided upon his death in 1853 and replaced by mid-nineteenth century homes. Many of the homes were converted to rooming houses and multifamily dwellings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Moss Park has long served as a refuge for transient populations, providing shelter, food and services for single unemployed men and more recently women, unemployed populations with disabilities, and some of the city’s poorest individuals and families. With the shift from elite estate to low-cost housing, the attention paid to the maintenance of the buildings changed and it was not long before this area had deteriorated and also developed a stigmatized reputation as a slum. In another effort at slum clearance, the urban renewal rezoning that made it possible for Regent Park’s development also facilitated the demolition of most of the Victorian homes to make way for the Moss Park apartments. In 1962, 24 acres were cleared and 900 units of social housing in three-sixteen-story wing-shaped towers were built (one more was added in the 1970s).
According to a 2005 report of the Toronto City Summit Alliance on the 140 neighbourhoods in Toronto, Moss Park has the lowest median household income ($15,357), the second highest rate of unemployment and the second highest teen birth rate. Statistics Canada’s 2006 social profile on language and ethnicity reports the following ethnic groups that populate Moss Park, in descending order: English, Scottish, Irish, Canadian, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Jamaican and East Indian. The high number of (dilapidated) low-cost housing and shelter services creates the conditions of possibility for a concentration of vulnerable populations to live in Moss Park. For example, Toronto regions are divided into 42 wards for the purposes of elections and census tracking and Moss Park is in wards 27 and 28. Ward 27 has 970 shelters and ward 28 has 785 (combined total: 1755) which is high compared to the other wards in Toronto (for example, the next highest number of shelters, north of the downtown core, are ward 20 with 559 beds, followed by ward 19 with 299, while 20 of the wards have no shelter beds (City of Toronto, Status of Affordable Housing and Shelter Initiatives, June 2006). The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), an activist group that advocates on behalf of the poor, calculates that the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) proposes to sell 326 apartment units and 45 single-family homes to private developers, reasoning that their condition is past the point of repair. Martine August (2008) contends that the TCHC controls a sizable downtown portion of housing and is able to sell off some of its holdings to fund new developments, rent out space to commercial tenants and transfer some of its properties to homeownership-based units. With over 700 families on the waiting list for social housing in 2009, this move is unconscionable. The closure of shelter beds has placed stress on this neighbourhood and a quick walk in the area attests to the increased numbers of people on the streets. One project highly celebrated by city officials is “Streets to Homes” (City of Toronto, Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, www.toronto.ca/housing). The purpose of this program is to assist people to move from the streets to permanent housing. This is potentially a groundbreaking approach. One of the criticisms of this program made by anti-poverty activists and street nurse workers is the decision to relocate people away from this downtown area to the outskirts of the city where access to much needed social services are unavailable (OCAP: http://www.ocap.ca and Cathy Crowe’s Newsletter, http://www.tdrc.net). With little public attention paid to their message, anti-poverty activists strongly advocate that the poor have a right to live downtown, close to their communities of support and the attendant social services on which they rely, and not be displaced to the outer reaches of the city.
Because of the high numbers of transient populations, shelter beds and social services in Moss Park, it remains a space that has limited appeal for gentrifiers, although some move into this area with its eclectic mix of different populations and illicit activities in order to take advantage of the affordable Victorian housing stock that was not demolished and the newer buildings that have replaced some of the more recent demolitions. Because of the number of shelters in the area, the middle classes accessing affordable middle class private housing in Moss Park are known locally as taking advantage of the “shelter discount” (Ashton 2005). A local resident who opposes the presence of so many poor people located in her newly selected neighbourhood of choice expresses her distrust of the people who have lived there well before she arrived. The resident complained to a journalist about the numbers of services and shelters in her Moss Park neighbourhood and brashly claimed, “It’s not the right of 3,000 homeless people to live downtown” (Ashton 2005). Despite multiple efforts to remove poor people from the downtown area, there is resistance that pushes back. One example is the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty that organizes political actions to make the presence of the poor visible and stake claims to the DTES. One of its leaders said,
This neighbourhood is being subjected to gentrification; they want to turn it into what I might call a yuppy colony. [Places] where poor people gather and socialize … they want to close it down. … They recognize if you’re gonna break a community you have to take away places where people have a sense of belonging, where people congregate together and that is what is happening.Clarke 2007
This comment is easily applied to the whole of the DTES area and underlies the class conflicts, often racialized given the newcomer populations, that occurred over the proposal for seating on street corners discussed earlier.
North of Regent Park and Moss Park is St. Jamestown. The academic interest in St. Jamestown tends to come from an urban planning perspective (Whitzman 2001), non-profit organizations (United Way), government reports, local community groups, and resident association newsletters. The information from these sources mostly describes the social problems of high density living combined with poor immigrant populations. Searching for a suitable quote to describe St. Jamestown I found it in an unlikely source; an outline for a 2009 Masters of Arts Architecture Program at the University of Toronto by instructor Wes Jones describes St. Jamestown as a design failure resembling a “field of empty plazas and meandering paths…. These towers are seldom more than bottle racks of apartments, designed to maximize efficiency and minimize costs” (www.daniels.utoronto.ca/files/ARC3016Y-JONES%20WINTER%20course%20outline%20- %20FINALv2.pdf. Accessed June 25, 2009).
In the late 1940s, the plan for St. Jamestown was to build a high-rise development for single, young professionals with no children (Urban Development Services, Toronto, 1997). Aware of the displaced working classes, of the visual and social effect of the Regent Park and Moss Park high rises, Margaret Campbell, the ward alderman for the area, worked alongside local residents, such as social activist John Sewell, to block high rise private development but was ultimately unsuccessful. Between 1959 and 1976, 32.1 acres of houses were demolished and in their place eighteen high rise towers were built. In the years between 1965 and 1968, hundreds of small family homes, row houses, and semi-detached homes were destroyed to make way for the development. Thousands of evictions took place that were defended on the basis that the squalid living conditions were unfit for occupation (Campsie 1994).
This cluster of towers rose to between 16 and 33 stories with 7,000 units and can legally house 12,000 residents (Whitzman 2001). Unlike Regent Park, some of the towers (fourteen) are owned by private developers (Meridian) and others (four) are state-run by the municipal’s Toronto Community Housing Corporation. St. Jamestown came to be known as a “city within a city,” blocked off as it was from the street and the rest of the city, and the “white towers,” because of their colour that served as a race and class marker signaling for whom the space was intended: single, white young professionals with no children. The model of a garden city was once again imposed and once again centralized the activities in the middle space of the high rises. The result was another community whose design was imagined to create interaction and strong neighbourly ties, but instead ended up creating an isolated environment with ambivalent spaces that people avoided. The combination of few amenities, poorly maintained buildings, and the surrounding environment of rundown rooming houses and flop houses meant that the original plan for this to be a trendy place for professional single couples was short-lived. A rapid (white) flight of the middle classes caused rents to plummet and, not surprisingly, within a short period it became affordable housing for the working poor, this time with a very different racial mix reflecting the trends in immigration. Similarly to Regent Park’s history, the area became a draw to drug dealers who prey on vulnerable populations. The media focus has been on the problems of the neighbourhood and both the space and the people who live there are stigmatized by the invocation of identifying as a St. Jamestown resident.
St. Jamestown is now home to 15,358 residents and is referred to as a “world within a block,” a reflection of the global representation of the newcomers who live there. The top ethnic groups according to the Statistics Canada’s 2006 social profile on language and ethnicity in descending order are: Filipino, Canadian, Chinese, English, East Indian, Irish, Scottish, Sri Lankan, French and Ethiopian. St. Jamestown residents have a median income that is 46% below the low income cut-off level at $28, 396 (Statistics Canada, Income and Poverty 2006; Household and Income 2001). St. Jamestown is the highest density living in Canada. It also has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous places to live. The community has worked hard to create supportive networks with each other and to change relations with a police force that has been an agent of racial profiling (a series of articles began on racial profiling October 19, 2002 in the Toronto Star). The towers are in desperate need of repair and both the private and public owners have been slow to respond.
Destroy and Rebuild
The three neighbourhoods of Regent Park, Moss Park and St. Jamestown were created in post war period of urban renewal. The changed zoning laws that allowed for high-rise high density living was the first step in reshaping the landscape but not the entire reason that the space become synonymous with stigmatized slum living. As noted, vulnerable populations, lack of maintenance on the buildings and surroundings combined with the creation of communal areas that were unappealing and cut off from the rest of the city produced three of the least desirable areas to live in Toronto. Regent Park, Moss Park and St. Jamestown are recognizable from a distance by the high-rise towers that loom against the horizon to announce some of the highest density living in Canada. These high-rise towers announce to the passerby: poverty, violence, unemployment, racialized immigration and some of the city’s most transient poor. In the middle of these high-rise neighbourhoods is a very different neighbourhood enclave known as Cabbagetown. As a neighbourhood space where differences were spread throughout the DTES, the need to develop space to serve the needs of diverse races and classes was apparent. Once the areas deteriorated, there was a perceived need to separate the space and the social interactions that took place in them. This is even more evident when compared to the centre space, Cabbagetown.
Preserve: the 45 foot Rule in Cabbagetown
Just south east of St. Jamestown is the centre of the DTES, Cabbagetown. It is the focus of novels, photography books, social history, and architecture (Coopersmith 1998; Garner 1978; Kelly 1984; McAree 1953; Rose 1958; Rust-D’Eye 1984). The accounts that specifically target the neighbourhood are found predominantly on travel websites, on tourism on-line sites and in the media (mostly real estate sections). Prior to the construction of Regent Park, the precise location of Cabbagetown was different depending on to whom one spoke, and even today some Regent Park residents still claim a Cabbagetown identity. In 1984 George Rust-D’Eye writes,
Cabbagetown is where you find it. It has never been a legally-defined place name, nor was it ever surveyed. In fact the question of where Cabbagetown is — or was — is the subject of considerable controversy, even among the people who lived in it during the same period of time.1984: 9
As previously stated, one approach to postwar urban renewal was to destroy and rebuild. The other approach was to preserve a sense of history, capture a colonial nostalgia for the nineteenth century Victorian past and restore the buildings. It was under this “preservation” model that the fourth neighbourhood, Cabbagetown, developed. There is speculation about why the name migrated north of Regent Park; some say it was appropriated by real estate agents who needed to identify the concentrated stock of remaining Victorian homes in order to market them to prospective gentrifiers. Today’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood was once known as Don Vale and vestiges of that identity still exist, such as store names and one resident association. The changed zoning laws that made it possible for Regent Park, Moss Park and St. Jamestown to be built as high density “gardens in the city,” also alerted residents living in Cabbagetown to the social effects of the rezoning. After the rezoning was approved for St. Jamestown almost a decade earlier, Aldermen John Sewell and Karl Jaffary mobilized Cabbagetown residents. In the late 1960s, they successfully blocked further high-rise development and preserved housing for the working classes (Campsie 1994; Sewell 1993). Consequently, development in Cabbagetown commercial areas is limited by what is now known locally as the “45 foot by-law” (no higher than four stories).
In residential areas, height restrictions are limited to the existing sight line from the street (no higher than three stories). By blocking both the demolition of a concentrated stock of Victorian-style housing and the wholesale redesign and rebuild of the neighbourhood space, Cabbagetown became a prime location for gentrification in the 1970s like other areas in North America such as Boston, San Francisco and New York. Deborah Brock (2009) notes that working-class residents in Cabbagetown (then Don Vale) participated in displacing “undesirable” residents, such as prostitutes, the unemployed, and drug dealers. This, according to Brock, placed them in the “unenviable position … of unwittingly participating in their own dislocation as their neighbourhoods are gentrified” (Brock 2009: 93) (see Caulfield 1994 for a detailed account of gentrifiers in Cabbagetown). While the rundown homes might have been affordable and attractive to the middle classes, these were homes that needed a great deal of work and money to transform them from dilapidated housing into the valued properties they are today. As homes underwent renovations, house prices rose sharply. Gay men and some lesbians made up one of the early groups of gentrifiers and are a significant population in Cabbagetown today, credited initially to a successful gay real estate agent, Darrell Kent. It is not, however, a “gay village” but more accurately defined as a “queer-friendly neighbourhood” (Gorman-Murray 2009). It is an obvious location for lesbians and gay residents to call home, since it is close to Toronto’s gay village, and a logical location for professional lesbian, gay residents to make this their home since, it is near the core commercial district of Toronto as well as universities and colleges, hospitals and has access to buses, subways and streetcars that transport one in any direction in the city. It is also close to two expressways that provide quick routes in and out of the city centre. For these reasons, Cabbagetown is also attractive to straight, middle-class professional homebuyers who are seeking the creativity and “difference” that more homogeneous straight neighbourhoods lack. The statistical data is difficult to calculate since Cabbagetown is part of a larger statistical catchment area that includes high rises and affordable housing. As a participant observer I can attest without hesitation that the majority of the population that lives in the Cabbagetown enclave is white, middle class and of Western European descent.
This centrally located neighbourhood sought to redefine the nomenclature, Cabbagetown, some say as a marketing ploy for real estate agents to attract prospective single dwelling homeowners to the Victorian homes waiting to be gentrified. The few remaining multiple-dwelling homes and boarding houses that serve working class residents are now scarce and diminishing rapidly. There has been little outcry as residents are displaced and pushed to the periphery of the DTES. There are a small number of market value and rent-geared-to-income apartment buildings and cooperatives, all built within the 45 foot rule. Most of the accommodation has been converted to single family homes. The quaint, preserved Victorian houses mark it as a “small community in the heart of the city,” surrounded as they are by parks, a city farm, a river and a green valley. It even has its own flag that is peppered along the business and residential streetscapes, making it recognizable as a place of belonging by attachment to the flag. As Hage (2000) suggested, acts of racism, sexism, or classism are not activated by concern, but rather by “worrying” to the extent that one feels compelled to take action to claim a distinction between “us” and “them.” Pushing the poor out of the DTES by destroying their gathering places or removing affordable housing actively removes “them” from the downtown core and delivers the space to “us.” In the case of the Cabbagetown flag, even though it is a place that supposedly resides only in people’s imagination, since it has never been surveyed, flying it is an act that marks the space for “us” middle class gentrifiers.
Just as national identity is claimed by association with a national flag, so too is neighbourhood identity claimed in Cabbagetown. In this way, “my nation” or “my neighbourhood” is where I belong and it is separate from you and where you belong. The meaning of the metaphor “cabbage” that was once synonymous with slum, dirt and degeneracy has been reassigned. Cabbagetown is now a metaphor for white, middle class, respectable, heritage gentrifiers and the only cabbages now are found on the flag and in people’s self-consciously landscaped gardens. Yet, the new hybrid garden variety is a fashionable ornamental plant no one eats. The flag creates a boundary between Cabbagetown and the rest of the DTES. The following quote from a tourism site describes Cabbagetown as it is known today: a desirable, modern place, that has no relation to the stigmatized areas, or the people who live there, located within a couple of short walking blocks of it.
The atmosphere is small-town, the people are friendly and proud of their neighbourhood. Even the dozens of dogs – along with their owners of course – seem to radiate a charm and homey feeling…. Be sure to venture off the business-district streets and take in block after block of small-scale Victorian and Edwardian architecture and talk to the Cabbagetown residents who are taking their town into the 21st century with a new outlook.Jolie Williamson, “Tribune Review,” Travel News, May 13, 2001
The above accounts of the four neighbourhood spaces demonstrate that separating the social and economic underpinnings of each creates a sense of disconnection. Yet the past histories and the main commercial street unavoidably connect all four enclaves. The spaces in the DTES have been rationalized and separated. Residents, who once intermingled, now are limited to where they belong. If we continue to imagine these four spaces and the people who live in them as being different and separate, it makes sense to provide different services and different spaces. Yet, when we examine how these differences translate into daily acts of exclusions and we observe social inequality that is directly related to the spatial and social configurations of these neighbourhoods, then we must also ask how we are implicated in (re)producing social inequality.
To Conclude: Four Neighbourhoods, One DTES
Urban planners, architects and local community residents respond to the need for urban change within a utopian tradition of urban development and renewal. That is, we all want the world around us to reflect human progress and demonstrate that we have become better people. Especially in cosmopolitan centres, we want to feel that we are more multicultural, more multiracial, and less homophobic. Industrialization and deindustrialization, both precursors to the neoliberalization of the city, underpin early settlement and subsequent post World War II urban renewal in the DTES. The current social divides are not an accident of urban planning, and in retrospect, they have been shown to be deliberate attempts to deliver working class spaces to the middle classes. While it might be tempting to identify the passing or blocking of zoning laws to allow, or not, high rise, high density living as the cause for creating one centre and three periphery neighbourhoods, we have seen here that it goes deeper than that. And the story is even more complex when many pieces that have been left out here are added, such as the role that immigration, cuts to social supports, and heritage gentrification have all played in the increasing successes to push out the poor and deliver the space to the middle classes. It cannot, however, be forgotten that the dream Le Corbusier had, was a middle class dream and those who borrowed his dream actively shaped the space and the (im)possibilities for the unemployed and working poor. I have argued that if we examine the DTES not as four separate neighbourhoods, but rather as one whole DTES neighbourhood area, it is possible to interrupt colonizing practices that erase from the landscape narratives of struggle and replace them with narratives of privilege. In such a decolonizing move, the positioning of Cabbagetown as the preserved centre area that contains all that is desirable and good in Canada, in juxtaposition to its binary opposite, the peripheral degenerate neighbourhoods of Regent Park, Moss Park and St. Jamestown, can be exposed as exclusionary discourses that frame myths and urban legends that sustain the social divides. As Jane M. Jacobs (1996: 2) argues, redesigning space means more than creating new buildings, it also reflects how “various coalitions express their sense of the self” in their places of home and belonging. Decolonizing the DTES depends on the collective remembering of histories that include the entire area, not selective memory that can divide the area spatially, socially, racially and economically.
The DTES has a rich history of immigrant and working class populations as well as strong communities that care for less advantaged populations. Any efforts to truly preserve the DTES would have to preserve this tradition. Instead, shelters are closing at an alarming rate, community policing increasingly pushes people out of this area where the services on which they depend are located, and it will not be long before we see those services discontinued for lack of “need.” The middle classes that aim to separate from the histories and spaces of the other three neighbourhoods and claim space in the centre area of the DTES are not just any middle class, but the heritage gentrifying middle classes. For if residents do not adhere to heritage regulations, there are stark consequences such as the threat of million dollar law suits. These heritage gentrifiers are on the watch for activities that disrupt their plans to reimage the space as one that has its historical roots in and continues to be for British, white, middle class folk.
I have mentioned but a few of the broad array of gentrifying practices that have taken place in the DTES, each one effectively separating Cabbagetown from Regent Park, Moss Park and St. Jamestown, and all four neighbourhoods from each other. The gentrifying centre space is directly correlated to the deterioration of the margins. As told here, the technologies of dominance are blatant. Yet as lived, incidents come and go – a changed zoning law here, a block of social housing demolished there. The effects of domination are not immediately visible, yet in retrospect they become more visible as each incident builds on the former. As David Harvey (2007) suggests, when we take a retrospective glance at the cumulative ways in which we have rationalized our cities, patterns emerge. It is not an accident that in our noble efforts to eradicate slums and improve living conditions for the poor that the desirable spatial centre has been delivered to the middles classes while disadvantaged populations are relegated to the margins. Further, as Harvey cautioned, without a clear sense of the nature of the dialectic relationship between how we redesign cities and how we are remade through this process, “we remake ourselves in a world in which we are therefore condemned to live” (2007: 2).
I walked by the corner during a recent municipal garbage strike and interacted with a group of people who frequent this corner of Winchester and Parliament. They were wary of me when I greeted them, and made a point of distinguishing me as a “resident,” or someone who lived in the Cabbagetown neighbourhood, an example of how we “read” class on the bodies of others. In a brief conversation, they noted their presence kept the area clean (which unlike other corners, was spotless) and commented that if the BIA would just put a park bench on the corner, they wouldn’t have to sit on the curb and hang their feet over onto the street, addressing a common complaint that they loitered in the area and sat with their feet hanging over the curb. This demonstrates their efforts to claim entitlement to the space and their knowledge of being pushed out of it.
Veronis’ (1999) MA work discusses Regent Park and Cabbagetown as co-constitutive of each other.
The history of Toronto is first and foremost a colonial history of genocide and appropriation of lands from Aboriginal and First Nations people. The name Toronto is Mohawk for “where there are trees standing in water”.
A common strategy for selling off public housing is to allow properties to deteriorate until they are condemned as unlivable.
Toronto Life magazine reports that private homes range from $600,000 for a renovated 2-story 2000+ sq. ft. semi-detached to $900,000 for well-renovated three-story homes (Toronto Life on-line version, accessed May 11, 2009 www.torontolife.com/guide/real-estate/central/cabbagetown-south-st-jamestown).
There is no official census data available, as a participant observer I notice a significant presence of same-sex couples freely expressing their relationships, hand-holding, etc. There are a few subtle markers of lesbian and gay tolerance by way of small rainbow flags in the windows of some stores and residences.
Doreen Fumia is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Ryerson University (Toronto). She teaches in the areas of critical sexualities and theories of migration and identities. She has been doing research in the DTES of Toronto for a number of years. Her recent works published by Oxford University Press and Singer Press have addressed identities and informal learning. She is co-editor of a special journal issue of Resources for Feminist Research entitled “ecolonizing Spaces”.
Doreen Fumia est professeure agrégée au département de sociologie à l'Université de Ryerson (Toronto). Elle enseigne dans le domaine des études critiques sur la sexualité et les théories de migration et d'identité. Elle a entamé des recherches sur le quartier East Side de Toronto depuis de nombreuses années. Ses travaux récents publiés par Oxford University Press et Singer Press traitent de la question des identités et de l'apprentissage informel. Elle est co-rédactrice d'un numéro spécial de la revue Resources for Feminist Research intitulé « Décoloniser les espaces ».
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- City of Toronto Status of Affordable Housing and Shelter Initiatives 2006 : www.toronto.ca/housing/pdf/statusbookletwweb06-1.pdf
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- General information about Cabbagetown : http://en.allexperts.com/e/c/ca/cabbagetown,_toronto.htm and http://juliekinnear.com/toronto-neighbourhoods/cabbagetown-real-estate (promo video)
- Interview Sherene Razack with Zoe Druick : http://www.btlbooks.com/Links/razack__interview.htm.
- Old Cabbagetown Business Improvement Association : http://www.oldcabbagetown.com/.
- Regent Park Community Housing : http://www.torontohousing.ca/investing_buildings/regent_park.