It starts with simply picking up a brick. I swoop down to the broken bed of College Street, select my keepsake piece and am on my way at 2 in the morning. Three women pass by. The middle one is drunk. She looks directly at me. "I want to know why you're walking down the middle of the road," she says. Standing there on what are soon to be new TTC tracks, I hold up my piece of pavement and say, without missing a beat, "College Street is broken."
And suddenly I feel a little profound.
As I run my fingers over the dusty, sharp brick in my hand, touching its razor edge, I think of its history and its link to Little Italy. Is this the end of the street I know so well? How long before it's finished - not just the track replacement but the cultural narrative starring anxious new generations of Jews, Italians and Portuguese?
College Street has been reduced to rubble. And as the city rips apart the cracked road and warped tracks, I know things are no longer the way they were. Like Yorkville, which went from hippy-dippy days to million-dollar one-bedroom lofts, College seems poised to share a similar fate. The working class of old has given way to a new business class. It's all about the money, and not at all about reciprocity and local ritual.
The Italian and other local seniors are getting too old to maintain their lifelong homesteads. Or they're dying, leaving $350,000 or $500,000 real estate plums to be sold by their loving families who have already established themselves elsewhere in the GTA. These prime downtown houses are being sold to folks who proclaim a love for the ethnic texture that they're now ushering out.
Out go small-business owners unable to pay the ridiculously high rents - from $3,500 to $5,000 for small storefronts, many now swallowed up by investment groups. Like chameleons, the shops blend into the background as if they've always been there, a part of your life - like Porco Brothers, the great Portuguese butchers now replaced by the eatery Vecchio Frak. And within this crowded little strip of eateries and wine bars, landlords reap the benefits as one restaurant after another opens and closes, bringing new leases and higher rents.
You can't blame those small-business and building owners who have been on College for years and are now trying to compete with the new arrivals. Of course they jump when developers offer them outrageous amounts of money for their property so condos can be built or yet another café or restaurant slotted in.
Change is inevitable: Wenches and Rogues, a fixture on the strip, has given way to a Western Union, and the funky Lava Lounge will be no more by the end of the summer, replaced by a huge condo complex. How often have we looked back fondly on things that no longer exist, places our parents and their parents loved, a connection to the physical and the timeless? Too often we forget to appreciate something before it's long gone. It lies there, run over, stepped on, used and forgotten, like the tired tracks of College Street.