Diagonally across town from each other, two communities endeavour to resist the condo onslaught. But, oh, what a difference a few kilometres and a lot of dollars make. Start in Parkdale, where the Sorauren Avenue Candy Factory lofts are being developed. The people who've inhabited the building for years now have first crack at buying new $140,400 lofts - which few will be able to do. Developer Brad Lamb has the temerity to argue that the economic expulsion of the building's tenants is justified because their small-l lofts do not conform to residential building codes.
He says that the new capital-L Lofts will be "better from a safety standpoint and will improve the streetscape and the value of the neighbourhood." Thanks, Brad, for kicking long-time renters out of their neighbourhood to improve its value for the new homeowners.
For some reason, rich people always seem to assume they are the ones improving the once shabby neighbourhoods they deign to take over. What about punk bands sharing lofts with visual artists and other low-budget adventurous types who were willing to trip over winos and dodge every variety of street hustler to inadvertently pave the way for yuppies? The thanks these people get is to be chased out of their homes as soon as the condo market heats up.
The Massey Building, once touted as a possible library and community centre, has been turned into more condos, like the rest of the southwest end, welcoming masses of professionals who mistake themselves for urban pioneers because they bought a 900-square-foot "loft" for $200,000, including parking for their SUVs.
How long before the last few cheap buildings, like the one where I am currently typing, are either knocked down or gutted and repackaged as funky luxury digs? How many renters' opinions are worth one homeowner's?
Now switch scenes to another set of residents alienated by developers. This group wants the city to recognize their plight as a special neighbourhood under siege by greedy outsiders, and they hope to stop a planned 18-storey condo on the site of the original Mt. Sinai hospital. Who is this community now claiming affinity with other displaced city dwellers? Here's a hint: it's highly unlikely that any of them will lose their homes - unless they choose to sell.
These are Yorkville residents and their famous allies, like urban guru Jane Jacobs, Margaret Atwood and pro-business National Post columnist Diane Francis. They're taking aim at some of the city's most popular politicians, including Kyle Rae and David Miller, who back the project because it's consistent with their support for high-density development as a counter to suburban sprawl.
It's understandable that residents of this wealthy enclave are opposed to a development that will slightly reduce the exclusivity of a Yorkville address. On the other hand, we might have hoped to be spared the attempt to convince us there's any connection between the Yorkville of the heady hippie days and the neighbourhood as it has been for the last few decades.
According to popular lore and the Save Yorkville Web site, in the 50s European immigrants lured by cheap rent opened coffee shops in the area. Soon the artists followed, and then the hippies. More galleries and clubs started up, including the fondly remembered Riverboat, and before long the strip became a veritable freak show.
Soon the art galleries moving in became increasingly upscale, and the whole area became an chi-chi shopping strip surrounded by pricey highrise hotels and condos and parking lots that cover a huge share of the land, including the lot around the empty Mt. Sinai building.
Development opponents made no mention of the police crackdown that succeeded in clearing the freaks and flower children out of the area. Luckily, at the time, all they had to do was walk a few blocks down Bloor and shack up at Rochdale College, but that's another story. The Save Yorkville crowd also want to preserve the Riverboat's old location as a national historical site. So what if they've slept on this idea for more than a quarter-century.
If this strip is an oasis, "a village at the heart and soul of Toronto," it isn't clear what it has over Bloor west of Spadina or the College strip, the Queen strip or any number of the city's many pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods. The traffic is at least as bad in Yorkville, where one gigantic sports utility vehicle after another drives around and around waiting for one of the elusive street-level parking lot spaces.
One would think the people fighting the development were struggling tenants about to lose their homes instead of irate property owners pretending they have something in common with people economically displaced by gentrification. Resident Francis appeared at a gathering of Yorkville minds to pontificate about how much the rest of the city should care about this cause. She was quoted at this meeting as having lamented, "I don't think we're talking about bad developers. I think we're talking about bad City Hall."
These are unusual comments from this normally devout supporter of whatever big business wants. Condos are great, just not in her backyard. Government should keep a low profile unless she happens to need it to keep her particular neighbourhood free from new development. Should the effort to block the tower succeed, leaving the Mt. Sinai building intact, the city should reward Yorkville's community spirit and its residents' newfound concern for preserving old buildings by turning the site into a detox centre, or perhaps a halfway house.
When the celebrity panelists present at this recent love-in had the nerve to tout Yorkville as Toronto's "jewel" and a national treasure, they sounded like they haven't ventured out of their enclave in a long time. Didn't they notice Yorkville's additions over the years have been aesthetically abysmal and strip-mallish? Then there is the continued neglect of the suddenly treasured Mt. Sinai building. The historic contempt this district has had for architectural tradition is evident. Any high-end low-rise was fine; they fit in with all the parking lots.
To an outsider visiting Yorkville, there's nothing to suggest any connection to or even a passing interest in the neighbourhood's past without the help of a tour guide. The whole place is run by and for rich people, who only recently have attempted to associate themselves publicly with the long-forgotten exiled hippies.
Of course, the latter crowd have more in common with those currently getting pushed out of neighbourhoods from Queen East to Parkdale than with Yorkville's beautiful people. The Save Yorkville group's contention that high-rises are "incompatible" around Yonge and Bloor simply reeks of hypocrisy. The only other explanation would be that none of these concerned residents have spotted the mass of high-rises surrounding their streets, the kind associated with big cities. Substitute the term "exclusivity" for "unique character" and we have a clearer picture of what this fight is really about.