Changing the Face of Little Jamaica

Gentrification and Reconstruction on Eglinton West

by Mary-Kay Bachour and Shafiqullah Aziz

What happens when highrise condos are built in a traditionally working class neighbourhood? In the last decade Toronto has seen a boom in condo developments throughout the city, particularly in the downtown core. However, there have been more recent developments in other parts of the city, such as Eglinton West, often referred to as Little Jamaica.

An artist's rendition of the new Oakwood and Eglinton.

An artist’s rendition of the new Oakwood and Eglinton.

Since the beginning of 2013 this neighbourhood has seen the undertaking of massive reconstruction projects, namely the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, as well as the initial stages of development for the Empire Communities ‘HUB’ condo highrise. Many local businesses in the area are facing problems of slow business and concerns of increased rent. A long time resident who has known many of the business owners in the area, indicated that stores such as Dollar Madness and Rasta Flex have lost between 20-30% of customers over the last year. Áccents, the local African bookstore known to many in the city far beyond the neighbourhood, is one of the many local businesses in the Eglinton West area that has had to shut down or relocate this past year due to the LRT development blocking up the Eglinton West corridor.

Although Áccents served as a hub for community-building, education and artistic expression in the predominantly Afro-Caribbean neighbourhood, as their lease came to an end this year, the owners decided that it was now time to relocate. Despite the fact that many local businesses have been hit by the recent construction of the LRT,  the relocation of Áccents is just a small glimpse into the changing face of the Eglinton West community that these new developments are forcing upon it. The main issue being talked about in the neighbourhood are the impacts that Empire Communities’ HUB condo developments will have on Little Jamaica.

This local bookstore is one of the many businesses that had to shut down this past year.

This local bookstore is one of the many businesses that had to shut down this past year.

With condo prices starting at $250K, people in the neighbourhood are asking who these condos are really for.  Patricia Speck, a resident of Little Jamaica for 17 years, asked “Who would buy these condos in the first place? Is it the people that actually live here or are we going to have to change the neighbourhood to accommodate people from the outside?”

The new condo being built at Eglinton and Oakwood will certainly attract residents with incomes way beyond what many in the community get by with. New developments will cater to a crowd that is very different from the current working class and predominantly Afro-Caribbean and Latino population.  Abubacar Fosfana, one of the owners of Accents, stated that “a concern is that the rent will increase” for local businesses. Part of the reason for the increase in rent is the ‘different,’ that is, richer, customers and tenants that the development now intends to attract.

Simeon, who has been a resident of Little Jamaica for over 40 years, stated that “most people living in this community don’t want this condo here” and that the “community should stay how it is”. Simeon believes that the condo development will bring drastic changes to the community that will be negative for both the residents and the local business owners. “The majority of the people here live off minimum wage or less jobs. We can’t afford to buy these apartments. What are they gonna do to this area, push us out?”

Empire condo developers marketing 'The HUB' to residents of Queen St. West.

Empire condo developers marketing ‘The HUB’ to residents of Queen St. West.

Gentrification has been sweeping people out of their solidly working-class neighbourhoods for more than a decade, from Parkdale to Regent Park to Lawrence Heights. Without a strong sense of unity amongst the existing working class residents in these neighbourhoods, the roots of these communities will be as wiped out as they have been in Queen Street West and Liberty Village.

The Eglinton Crosstown LRT will undoubtedly bring some desperately needed developments for the transportation options in the area. But residents are wondering how this falls into the broader and more long term development plans for Eglinton West. As there are no supports in place to see residents and small businesses through these transitions, developers have been swooping in like vultures to buy up and develop property. Ultimately, these projects will serve developers more than workers and the current residents of the neighbourhood, who will get pushed further to the outskirts of the city due to an increased cost of living. As one resident put it, “This whole neighbourhood ain’t gonna be Little Jamaica anymore”.




One Comment;

  1. Pingback: Toronto Walk: Little Jamaica | Kim Bethke