I live in Leslieville* – a Queen East neighbourhood in TO which you may well read about in Toronto Life or the New York Times or anywhere else concerned with finding the latest Swell Location For Young Urban Professionals who can’t afford to live where they really want to live.
The neighbourhood hosts a large number of overpriced nick-nack shops and antique stores, with a sprinkling of Dog Pampering spots, organic butchers and snooty restaurants. In between these shops are dive-bars (of the non-hipster, actual-drunks-within variety), hooker corners, gas stations, and stores that must be fronts for something else (like a [removed]).
When I moved here – about 8 years ago – it was sort of a non-descript “not the beaches” neighbourhood. It was said to be Up and Coming, and I was hopeful that that meant it might gain a bookstore, or a small grocer. Maybe a falafel joint? But my hopes have been dashed: this bit of Queen turns out to be a magnet for the useless and precious. Proof? Last month, right on the edge of a massive recession, a store called [removed] moved in. They sell party favours.
Anyway, if you’ve heard of this neighbourhood, you’ve probably heard of the No Big Box In Leslieville campaign. I won’t restate the issues – just look here and here. I just want to add my two cents to the debate, and to make it clear that not all of the newcomers to this neighbourhood are self-righteous control freaks. Whatever the problems are with the big box stores – and there are plenty – I think this knee-jerk Upper-Left “not in my Leslieville” campaign is utter horseshit.
First, the spots the big boxes will land in are not parks or housing or even nice – they’re giant empty industrial (film-industrial) lots. They’re already ugly.
Secondly, I have no doubt that the wankers who oppose them also shop at Big Box Stores, in someone else’s neighbourhood. I don’t believe that the relentlessly renovating young professionals get their lumber or their tiling or their stainless steel appliances at independent mom and pop shops. Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt it.
Thirdly, these new Giant Stores are not in competition with any of the merchants who sport the No Big Box in Leslieville signs in their windows. Neither WalMart nor Home Depot sell hilarious postmodern baby clothes, or bags made of old records, or special cheeses. The new shops will be in competition with Gerrard Square and the Canadian Tire. So … what are they on about?
Fourth, these stores will employ SO many more people than any of the boutiques – even if they’re “icky” jobs that apparently belong in the suburbs (shame on you, Paula Fletcher).
Fifth, this is not some quiet little village that will be overwhelmed by the new traffic. Eastern is a huge, fast, dangerous road. Traffic might slow down the racers. And Lakeshore? Lakeshore might as well be a highway. It takes two lights for a pedestrian to cross the road. Nobody’s daily walk takes them strolling through this land: it’s dead. Paula Fletcher wants office buildings there – as if those are warm neighbourhood hangouts.
To be clear, I don’t like WalMart. I regularly oppose their shoddy practices – by not shopping there. If this movement is about WalMart, it should address whether WalMart exists at all – not just try and keep it out of one precious neighbourhood. If it’s about Smart Centre and Big Boxes, then I challenge the protestors to stop shopping at them.
But I think this is really about class. I think it’s about sculpting a little oasis of yuppiedom right downtown. I think it’s about a certain type of jerk who votes NDP because they really like the environment but give not a shit about actual people. So I’m throwing in my vote by saying, Come On In, big offensive store!
(To again be clear: there are no doubt some legitimate urban activists with solid ideals and good intentions involved in opposing these stores. I mean them no harm or offense. I support the right of any 20 year old communist to groove on those ideas. But I hope they know that their allies do not like or agree with them on anything but this one issue, and for different reasons.)
Here: let me fill out my rant by describing the sort of weasel I think is really behind this shit. On my street, some of the other newcomers suggested that we have a street party – to get to know each other. That’s a sweet idea – very nice. But when it came down to it, this fun Street Party had sponsorship from the Sierra Club, to pay for the insurance they got for the event. The street was shut off to cars unilaterally (meaning they wanted even the cars of people who always park on the street moved out of the way). And while a fair number of neighbours came out, the numbers quickly dwindled due to widespread unfriendliness and stilted conversations. In the end, the party was pretty much for its organizers and their children, who had a rollicking time. I tried to like it. I volunteered to help, did my job, and even tried to “get to know each other”; I quickly felt like the loser who thinks because he’s painted a sign for the prom that he can talk to the mean girls in charge. It really felt awful.
I realized afterwards that the people on our street who want to be friendly neighbours already know each other – there’s a lot of Hello’s on this street. Few of these actually friendly folks attended the street party – because the people who needed a special event to connect with their neighbours were exactly the unfriendliest people on the street. The street needed to be closed off to cars because that’s the only way they’d allow their children to play outdoors (they don’t use the very nice, crowded playground everybody else uses).
The second year of this event was attended only by the people who organized it. Next year I hope it’s gone altogether. I’m certainly not moving my car for them. They oughta go play in the park.
I think that’s all indicative of the whole Leslieville problem. People who choose to live downtown (as opposed to those who grow up there, already say Hi to their neighbours, and play in the park) should join their neighbourhood, not try to sculpt it in their own image. The Leslieville Elite are over-empowered, self-important and irritating. No wonder at all that some want to chase them out.
*South Riverdale, until some clever real estate people decided to give it a brand new name
I have to cop to feeling badly about some of this rant, a couple weeks after posting it. In my best moments I remember that people deserve respect all around, even people that piss me off or make me feel uncomfortable. In my other moments, it’s great fun to slag people off. I do dislike the fact that some people in this neighbourhood are trying to make-over the place they live, rather than fit into it. And I definitely have a knee-jerk hate-on for the snotty and pretentious. But I am aware, in my better moments, that all parties in the debate are decent people trying to make their way in the world as best they can.
And no, nobody wrote and complained. I’ve had a lingering discomfort over aspects of this post, and realized this morning that I was betraying an idea that I try to keep in mind, usually: that aggression begets aggression, and insults prohibit the sharing of ideas. My use of words like “wankers” and “freaks” was lame, and I shouldn’t have linked to the store I dislike – they’ve got a right to try out their idea. This is why I’ve removed the words/link in the article. I stand by the rest of it, but I apologize for those bits.