When I was a little kid, I lived not far from where I do now. While there weren’t many limitations on where I was allowed to go, one point was made very clear (particularly after Nicole Morin’s disappearance) – I was not to travel further East than the library on Rosemount Avenue, which was about five (longish to a 7-year-old’s legs) blocks away from my house. The land beyond that was unsafe and scary. It was never explained to like this, but my Little Kid Logic had me believing that I would be stabbed if I ventured beyond that. The professional drunks at the Elmdale Tavern, for example, would definitely have stabbed me if I came within ten feet of the place. It was a terrifying place. Stab stab.
My younger brother spent a year at the elementary school near there, a year during which many a recess was spent in a crowd, by the chainlink fence, watching one of the many nearby crackhouses getting raided until the police made everyone go back inside. Prostitution and the resultant safety problems associated with it were huge concerns in the area until even four or five years ago. The street was dotted with pawn shops and empty shells of stores. It was pretty depressing.
Now? The area is (mostly) thriving, with a number of the best restaurants in the city, all of which have opened up in the last couple of years, and a number of fair trade coffee shops. The Elmdale Tavern is now a trendy place to be, even though its exterior is still the same, and its interior largely unspruced. There’s a gym, an artisanal donut shop, a hipster taco stand, and a raw foods take-out place. There is street art that is slightly baffling, but who have inspired a hilarious Twitter feed. My only real complaint is that now there are so many cars along the street that I live in constant fear of being doored while biking home at night.
The transformation has been baffling and amazing. Its revitalisation, in part due to some construction work that improved the areas walkability, but also owing to beautiful older houses that were previously a bargain for such a central location, has made me slightly (only slightly, though) less concerned about how construction will affect the area I work in, which will be under construction for much of the next two years.
That having been said, the lower income residents in Hintonburg, many of whom who have been there for years and years, are being priced out by this rapid gentrification and are not exactly the target market for a sprouted quinoa salad or an Italian racing bike. The income disparity in the area is quite striking and there is definitely a lack of affordable housing in the environs. And, even though Canada’s not in a recession (the Cabinet missed that memo and introduced an austerity budget anyway, which affects thousands of jobs in this government town), plenty of folks aren’t getting by. And not like my ‘Oh, I shouldn’t have bought that blu-ray box set until payday’ way.
Luckily, the sense of community in this neighbourhood is strong, and right now, there are several projects in the works to improve things for everyone. One is The Hub, which is a giant and complicated project to bring a community health clinic to the area (we don’t even have a walk-in clinic nearby anymore), as well as social and housing services. It’s a good thing. You can read more here.
Additionally, the Parkdale Food Centre, a tiny operation serving 600 people, helps provide support to the local community, and several local businesses are now drop-off points for donations, including Marshalls Gym, Burnt Butter, Absinthe, and several other shops and restaurants. Which is also a good thing.
Do I have a conclusion here? Not really. I have faith that the neighbourhood, which I technically don’t live in, according to the Community Association’s boundary map, but feel a part of anyway, is moving in the right direction. It’s a great place to be, despite the perils of biking on the main drag. But there are lots of complications soon to come, like intensive housing developments near Bayview station, and other residential projects which bring even more people to an already busy/crowded area, but there are some good heads working to ensure that the transitions run smoothly. And fingers crossed that I don’t get priced out of the place.