Grunge, grit, and Chinese food. Take a walk around Toronto’s Grange neighbourhood and it seems untouched by the city’s real estate boom. While cranes obstruct the view of the CN Tower in other downtown neighbourhoods that are benefiting from the city’s condo surge, the landmark’s needle dominates over the rows of single brick homes in Grange.
After living in Manhattan for a year, I felt like a stranger when I moved back to Toronto. New subway cars, new restaurants, new buildings. It’s only when you’ve been away for a long time that you realize how quickly Toronto’s landscape is changing.
But nothing seemed different in Grange.
Nestled mainly in Toronto’s Chinatown, Grange borders the city’s hipster fashion district on Queen Street West to the south, the University of Toronto to the north, the “don’t give a fuck” anti-culture scene in Kensington Market to west, and the Art Gallery of Ontario to the east.
Away from the noisy Spadina crowds who seek bargains at Chinese supermarkets and Queen West’s 905-er pedestrian traffic, the neighborhood’s residential area has long been home to college students, young adults seeking cheap rent, and those in Chinese community.
The neighbourhood almost feels like the anti-thesis to Toronto’s suburbs, which is confirmed by every wailing siren from an ambulance racing to University Avenue’s stretch of hospitals nearby or the screeches from the streetcars. Noise pollution is highly frowned upon in suburbia. (Sadly, I should know, I grew up in a suburb northeast of Toronto.)
So what happens when a suburban real estate developer flips a house on Sullivan Street with an edgy modern design – picture large glass windows and studded stucco walls – that stands out among the neighbourhood’s Victorian houses not unlike the ROM’s Crystal addition?
The next door neighbour responds by commissioning a 10×14 foot graffiti piece on the side of his house that’s impossible to miss when you walk up the stairs of the flipped house.
The flipped house’s jarring insertion of modern aesthetics, once a mechanism to user in universal housing opportunities circa the 1920s, has become a symbol of forced displacement in older, low income neighbourhoods. Fearful that a wave of gentrification has finally reached Grange, George, the next door neighbour, voiced his objection designing a graffiti piece that shows the before and after of a neighbourhood affected by rising property values. Local graffiti artist, Skam, worked on the political statement for nearly eight hours last week. The bold message caught the attention of several people walking by, many who supported the cause.
The brightly painted graffiti is either a sight for sore eyes for prospective buyers who may think that it attracts the wrong kind of attention or it’s a welcomed gesture for residents who fear that the flipped house is a sign that they’ll soon be priced out of their neighbourhood.
Even though George doesn’t shy away from letting people know how he feels, the outspoken Grange resident wants locals to make up their own opinions about the costs and benefits of gentrification.
I wonder what Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford, would say.
(Edited on September 24 2012)