1.3.2: Contextualizing Colonial Roots in Transit-Oriented Development and “Urban Renewal.” Perspectives from Little Jamaica’s Black Residents (Toronto)
Colonization should be primarily understood as an ongoing process, and its use of “development” as a tool to advance the interests of the colonial project. Depicted as a process that is in the national, regional, and/or provincial interest, governments across the Americas have justified the displacement of neighbourhood residents, often working class and racialized, as an emblem of urban renewal. This process is known as gentrification.
This is ongoing in Toronto, Canada. Residents of the Little Jamaica neighbourhood, a Black community that remains a repository of Toronto history, are at risk of removal as those at all levels of government renegotiate space within their settlements with the effect of pushing these working class residents out of their community.
As we speak, this community is feeling the squeeze of the looming Eglinton Crosstown LRT project that is effectively shutting down its streets, with over 160 Black-owned businesses closed (or on the verge of closing) and its majority rental-residents to be priced out, evicted, and forced to relocate. This has been detrimental to the ongoing cultural preservation of Toronto’s Black identity.
Reclaim/Rebuild Eglinton West, a coalition of young activists from the neighbourhood, have worked on collecting testimonies to describe the “meaning” of Little Jamaica to both remaining residents and those with historical ties to the neighbourhood. This collection of anecdotal testimonies to retell the colonial history that facilitated the development of the neighbourhood, and the development project that has contributed to its decline. Our testimonials seek to present a story of how transit-oriented development is perceived and exacted inconsistently according to class, race, place, and space, informed by the existing body of both Little Jamaica specific and Toronto-wide research that has challenged the egalitarian narrative surrounding transit-oriented development in the city of Toronto.
Presentations of the Symposium
Testimonials from Little Jamaica residents on LJ’s past, present and futures current and historical residents: Presented by Jem Baptiste
Jem Baptiste is a young person working to maintain the cultural mosaic that is the Little Jamaica neighbourhood. They are a student currently enrolled at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in the fine arts program exploring how art preserves the memory and experiences of Black people.
Being a Little Jamaica Resident who has experienced firsthand the effects of gentrification on the neighbourhood and its relationship to Metrolinx’s Eglinton Crosstown LRT led them to developing Reclaim/Rebuild Eglinton West, a youth led advocacy organization fighting to preserve the cultural relevance of the neighbourhood. A large portion of the neighbourhood's dwellers are racialized immigrants, and often have both legal (precarious status, weak labour protections) and social (overpolicing, language and education barriers) constraints that prevent them from challenging the gentrification of their neighbourhood. This leaves the community, and communities like it across the world, defenceless and vulnerable to the consequences of ‘urban renewal’. Jem Baptiste will be presenting a series of testimonials from current residents as well as those who have deep ties to the neighbourhood but have either been displaced or moved away, and analyze the key takeaways from the testimonial collection to understand how gentrification, transit development, and cultural space is understood from a Black perspective in the colonial city of Toronto. This will be accompanied by personal testimonials surrounding both lived experience as residents of the neighbourhood as well as activists fighting for its preservation, and thoughts on an explicitly black control over the future of Eglinton West while addressing Canada’s histories of Colonialism, Capitalism, and White Supremacy
How Transit And Transit Expansion Facilitate Gentrification: Presented by Sebastián Mendoza-Price
Sebastián Mendoza-Price is an undergraduate student in Urban Studies and Religion at the University of Toronto and community organizer who's work both in academia and in organizing spaces has focused on cultural conflict between racialized communities and governments in urban spaces. They have been organizing actively with the St James Town Tenants Network, Reclaim/Rebuild Eglinton West, and the Shut Down Canada movement, working to build dual power amongst the city and country’s racialized residents.
Sebastián will be covering in this section a series of reports on existing work that has focused on both Little Jamaica and the city of Toronto as a whole.
- "Black Future’s on Eglinton: An arts based community cultural mapping study with youth on Black culture, in confront of anti-Black racism” by CP Planning in Partnership with Black Urbanism TO
- "Report: A Black Business Conversation On Planning For The Future Of Black Businesses And Residents On Eglinton Ave W.” by Black Urbanism TO
- "The Three Cities within Toronto” by David Hulchanski
These reports will help to contextualize the ongoing struggle for Black Torontonians to assert their space in the face of transit-oriented “development” projects by analyzing Hulchanski's work that has mapped the gentrification of neighbourhoods near transit lines creating income based stratification based on proximity to transit infrastructure. The reports by Black Urbanism TO and Cheryll Case (CP Planning) will be analyzed through this lens to understand how Toronto approaches gentrification through Infrastructure building, in line with Canada's southern cities' histories as colonial trading and transit outposts.
Regenerative Solutions to Gentrification: presented by Omi Ra, candidate for Bsc in Health Studies at the University of Waterloo
Omi Ra is an undergraduate student that has been involved in several organizing spaces between the Waterloo Region and the City of Toronto aimed at improving the both the physical and political environment for Black people. In their undergraduate career at the Unviersity of Waterloo, they founded RAISE, a student run service that addresses racism and xenophobia campus-wide as well as Equity4Who, a student-run organization that challenges the state of equity on campus. They are also a founding member of Reclaim, Rebuild EgWest.
Transit-oriented development is an issue affecting several communities following so-called Canada’s quest for capital expansion. While Little Jamaica’s staunch opposition to its gentrification exists in the Toronto zeitgeist, we’d like to further emphasize alternatives to urban renewal that work with communities and not against them. This portion of the presentation will cover these expansive and imaginative solutions that promote holistic community development and well-being. For example, this panel will include examples of grassroots advocacy strategies that include all members of all levels of the community -- ensuring that its cultural fabric remains intact while undergoing revival/reinvestment of resources. Engaging with the audience at this presentation will be critical to building bridges on personal experiences to understand common themes with regards to lived experiences as victims of the state’s gentrification movement.