A survey of five gentrification-proof zones.
It’s a peculiar but prevalent urban phenomenon: Even in areas of high gentrification, there inevitably remains a single block that stubbornly resists rejuvenation. Despite the onward march of time and the aggressive creep of condos, these forlorn stretches linger as commercial death zones filled with funereal variety stores, tragic donut shops, dubious barbers, and dead storefronts aching for some TLC. Is transformation inevitable or are certain strips doomed to eternal ugliness? Let’s polish the crystal ball and have a look at five wanting parcels.
Location: Dundas West between Roncesvalles Ave. and Howard Park Ave. (#RON)
Neighbourhood Claim to Fame: Nearby Roncesvalles Ave. has been reborn as cool-cat central with a plethora of hot eateries, refurbished streets with bike lanes, and all manner of snazzy independent shops.
…But on This Block, You’ll Find: A sad, weather-worn collection of independent retail shops and vacant spaces sporting a startling abundance of closed vertical blinds.
Starkest Point of Contrast: The Dundas West Animal Hospital, complete with fancy windows, planters, internet kiosks in the waiting room (!), and a clean, bright façade.
Barriers to Gentrification: The grease-jockey frat row of service stations and body shops (and the heap of conspicuous junkers they invariably house). A lack of trees and streetscaping further erodes its pedestrian appeal.
Signs of Life: A Starbucks on the corner, a handful of Car2Go Smart Cars parked in the rear, the low-key but handsome Feather Factory Lofts in the heart of the strip, and a few others nearby.
Verdict: An overhaul is iffy not least because the Lambert Gas at Dundas and Ritchie is a heating-oil filling station. And body shops never go out of business, right? On the other hand, the development along Roncesvalles will eventually have to spread out somewhere.
Location: Queen West between Jameson and Fuller (#PRK)
Neighbourhood Claim to Fame: It’s hipster foodie heaven with Keriwa Café, Parts & Labour, Cowbell, Easy Restaurant, Glory Hole Doughnuts, and The Sister dotting the real estate (and breaking up the row of pricey antique shops) to the west.
…But on This Block, You’ll Find: Old-school beauty parlors (e.g., Camille Unisex Beauty Lounge), furniture and mattress depots, battered eateries.
Starkest Point of Contrast: General Hardware Contemporary art gallery with its beautifully preserved sign and façade.
Barriers to Gentrification: This block is thwarted by two legacies: Previous planners agreed to a sidewalk-unfriendly mini-mall (current tenants include: laundromat, dodgy coffee shop, thrift shop) and a 1920s-era Toronto Hydro substation. The latter is not an eyesore, but both seem utterly immoveable.
Signs of Life: The flourishing Tibetan community and the handful of restaurants it supports; a Shoppers Drug Mart; the lovely Quinn West salon a smidge west of Fuller and the aforementioned art gallery.
Verdict: Like police response time, gentrification happens slowly in Parkdale but happen it does; witness the hip strip of Queen West just east of here between Dunn and Dufferin with its snappy cafes, shops, and bars. Plus the condos, they are a-coming. Maybe not this decade, but a revamp is unavoidable.
Location: Bathurst Street between Bloor and Barton (#ANX)
Neighbourhood Claim to Fame: Apart from World Wide Cosmetic Centre, which has been in business since Jesus wore short pants, probably its prime Annex location.
…But on This Block, You’ll Find: Dental/medical clinics, barber shops, a chartered accountant, and high-end kitchen-supply-and-cooking school Nella Cucina.
Starkest Point of Contrast: A tie between One Love Vegetarian and Barton Snacks.
Barriers to Gentrification: This one is a head-scratcher. The area is braced by blocks of tony housing (and the incoming B Streets Condos just south) plus nearby Bloor Street is, you know, kind of happening. And Bathurst subway station is right there.
Signs of Life: A stone’s throw north of Barton is Bateman’s Bicycle Company, Santaguida Fine Foods, and the Grapefruit Moon eatery.*
Verdict: A complete overhaul is only a matter of time.
Location: Dundas West between Manning and Euclid (#DNW)
Neighbourhood Claim to Fame: A small but impressive pile of hotspots within staggering distance, including The Black Hoof and Raw Bar, Ezra’s Pound, Saving Grace, and Café 668. Plus, the latest addition to the Susur Lee restaurant dynasty, Bent, just hung out its shingle a bit east towards Bathurst.
…But on This Block, You’ll Find: ML Lumber and Building Supplies, the usual assortment of salons (e.g., Helia’s Beauty) and dead convenience stores, and absolutely no streetscaping.
Starkest Point of Contrast: Gorgeous, minimalist high-end furniture and design store MADE, with its innovative retrofit of the former On Fat Herb Co. sign.
Barriers to Gentrification: The area can’t decide whether it wants to be hipster ground zero, old-school Portuguese or Chinese. Unlike nearby Kensington, this stretch is not culturally big enough for the three to co-exist.
Signs of Life: The advent of area condos and townhouses (in the wake of the 2010 fire that claimed popular brunch spot Musa), plus the Dundas Euclid Animal Hospital—where dogs live, strollers and cafes follow. Plus, the inexorable march east of the ever-expanding Trinity-Bellwoods area.
Verdict: This ‘hood could be a grower similar to College west of Bathurst back in the 1990s… or it could remain anchored (and therefore defined) by the lumber-and-building-supply warehouse. Really anyone’s guess at this point.
Location: Gerrard East from Marjory Ave. to Jones Ave. (#RIV)
Neighbourhood Claim to Fame: On the very fringe of swish Riverdale to the west and Leslieville to the south.
…But on This Block, You’ll Find: Coin laundry, Wind Mobile, several deserted storefronts, shabby restaurants, and barber shops.
Starkest Point of Contrast: A tie between tidy, white-painted Grinder Coffee and the newly revamped Projection Booth Cinema (which serves Grinder Coffee and is also tidy and painted white).
Barriers to Gentrification: Nearby Gerrard Square which, ironically, also represents a Sign of Life. Anchor tenants like Winners, Walmart, and Home Depot have pumped lifeblood into the once-moribund plaza. But it’s still a big, honking plaza and not especially friendly to pedestrians or residential development (though the small strip mall to its east on the north side is easily envisaged as a low-rise condo or loft development).
Signs of Life: Starbucks at the corner of Jones plus McGugans Scottish pub, Great Burger Kitchen, and the above-mentioned Projection Booth Cinema.
Verdict: Big box stores do draw traffic but can indie merchants capitalize on that flow?
CORRECTION, NOVEMBER 26, 2012:This section originally listed Trane Studio, which is actually closed.