Bloor Street, Toronto
This is a stretch of storefronts along Bloor street near Christie Pits. Take a look at the signs on the storefronts. None of these stores are restaurants.
This is something that was brought to my attention by Pierre Filion at an event I was invited to speak at back in June. Pierre, who travels often in his work, describes bookstores and record shops as some of the best places to pass the time and learn about new cities. All over North America, these shops are being replaced by bars, cafes and restaurants. In fact, large districts of cities are being sorted into syncopated placements of bars, cafes and restaurants.
All that being said, this picture shouldn't really be at all surprising to you. But the laundromat, small salon, drugstore and record shop are all uses that are being displaced from many gentrifying city neighourhoods. The geography, displacement and succession of retail uses in city districts is an interesting topic that describes underlying economic forces at work in neighbourhoods.
If you were to walk along Bloor from Bay westward, you would see a progression of retail uses from very high yield retail boutiques to bars and restaurants eventually into more diverse retail and mixed residential uses. If you were to do this year on year, even from only as far back as 2005, you would notice that distribution stretching ever more westward.
This process is something that has been long understood. Back in the 1960s, Jane Jacobs wrote about the self-destructing tendencies of successful, diverse neighbourhoods. Others have written about the ways that new retail capital influence neighbourhood change. This is something that has happened along Queen street in Toronto. In an almost continuous stretch for the nearly three kilometres from University Ave to Dufferin St, you find boutique shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.
To the west of Dufferin is contested space, currently undergoing a transition. In 2012, local councillors concerned about the gentrifying monotony, and associated nuisance of this concentrating type of neighbourhood change tired to restrict the number of “nightspots” to twenty-five percent of businesses to the west of Dufferin. (This was also tried on Ossington Ave. in 2009 arguably with only limited success).
This process is a long recognised part of neighbourhood change but it is notable for the scale on which it now occurs. Many retails uses that were once supportive of downtown neighbourhoods have been priced out of downtowns altogether, leaving vast swaths of entertainment districts in their place.
While such injections of new capital are signs of positive economic development we should always be mindful of the associated consequences. Displaced retail uses are often relied upon by long-term, low income residents. Middle income residents often move into these transitioning neighbourhoods because of their popularity but face continually diminishing local retail diversity, traveling farther afield for once localy available products and services. Also, the monotony brought by this process of succession in some districts can lead to loss of popularity and their ultimate failure. This is a process detailed in Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
As one blogger writes of Ossington nightlife in 2009,
"Buzz ’hoods pop up and then inflate like giant, shiny balloons until the pricks roll in and pop them. Sadly, I think it would be hard to fit any more hot air into this strip. It’s time to move along. I’ve got my eyes on Dundas West this year."
So look for laundromats, small salons, drugstores and record shops and look at the neighbourhood surrounding them. It might prove an interesting exercise in gauging neighbourhood change.
You can read more about the incredibly interesting neighbourhood of South Parkdale (Queen, west of Dufferin) in Tom Slater's work. You can read more about the influences of new retail capital in neighbourhood change in New York from the perspective of working class residents in Zukin et al. (2009).
Also, you can read about Jane Jacobs' description of the self-destruction of diversity in Chapter 13 of The Death and Life of Great American Cities. This is a book that always benefits from a closer re-read (as I'm doing now). Many chapters caution of oversimplification of her writing and after reading the book a second or third time, you can begin to see this. Cities are complex social creations and that's why studying them can be so rewarding.