Well, here we are once again reacting to another condo proposition in Roncesvalles Village. Our city councillor (Gord Perks) hosted a neighbourhood meeting the other night, the purpose of which was to provide the developers (Mattamy Homes) with feedback from the community. And they got it – bigtime.
One gentleman, who was obviously an old hand with a sense of humour, asked the councillor “Where do I find the pitchforks?” I stopped going to these meetings years ago, because I found the emotions and polarization too distasteful and destructive of community feelings. I guess I was temporarily escaping reality. But I suppose I’ve grown some since those days, because I felt pretty mellow after those two passionate hours despite the hostilities.
It was interesting yet sad to see how many people clearly feel emotionally threatened by any proposed change – even panicked. And in their panic, they shout accusations – the silliest: Councillor Perks was acting as a promoter or realtor for the developer. A ‘front man’ as it were. It seemed that no matter how many times Perks explained the purely informational purpose of the meeting, some were incapable of hearing that message through their fog of fear.
One of the old terrors raised: rented condos, with absentee landlords and tenants who don’t take care of their homes or care about the neighbourhood. As if people who rent can’t love their neighbourhood. Coming from Montreal where about three quarters of the people are tenants (compared to about half in Toronto), I find this absurd. And surely anyone following the ‘Roncesvalles rise’ would know it’s a ‘high-end’, expensive area, for the most part unaffordable to those who might ‘ruin the neighbourhood’.
To me, the far greater threat is the steady increase in un-affordable housing, through gentrification, speeding up the exodus of our ‘creative class’. Notwithstanding Richard Florida’s theories about the rise of the creative class – they simply can’t afford to live here. Only a small percentage of people in “the arts” can make a decent living at it. Along with teachers, social workers, bus drivers, and computer technologists. They and countless other average-income people have been packing up and moving to the east end, or out of the city altogether – not by choice. Many of them love and need the stimulation of this urban location as much as I do. And it’s all changing the character of the neighbourhood.
It’s strangely reminiscent of the exodus to suburbia (then a new phenomenon) in the fifties and sixties – but in reverse. People were escaping to the suburbs in droves, to the ‘new and clean’ – and predictable sameness — leaving behind the ‘dirty and old’ for those who couldn’t afford the suburbs. For a few decades, the urban core was commonly considered undesirable. A kind of ghettoization had evolved – and as always happens, the people in the suburbia ghetto developed mythologies about those stuck in the city ghetto. To many suburbanites, city dwellers were poor, lazy, uneducated, artists (unrealistic), bohemians (weird drug users), the irresponsible, the ‘freeloaders’, the misfits. Definitely ‘alternative’, though the term wasn’t used in that sense then.
The suburbs were trendy but urban is trendy now. A striking difference between then and now, however, is mobility. Many of the people forced to move to the outer suburbs, unlike the fifties, can’t afford cars or gas and we now have the environmental factor. So lack of mobility is a major issue in the life of today’s suburbanites. Much of modern life is wasted in the long trek from suburbia to the low-wage job in the city.
But I find similar mythologies are growing, along with my own quiet little nightmare of feeling trapped, wanting to escape, feeling unspoken pressure to conform. What causes that pressure? The increasing sameness. I am now surrounded by trendy clothing, high tech strollers, homes renovated to look ‘new’ again. Expensive condos instead of lower-cost apartments.
Unlike many, I am lucky and have choices. But there really is nowhere to go from here for someone like me. I’ll stay where I am, and continue working on my suit of armour as well as my causes and goals. And the inward journey continues.