Revitalization or gentrification?

Living in a fast paced and demanding workplace, I manage my stress by working out. I’m fortunate since my workplace has a gym complete with fitness instructors and wide range of aerobic classes. One day this week, I attended a yoga class and as part of the class the instructor said in your mind, picture yourself in a place where you feel happy. For some reason, it made me think of attending free yoga classes run through Lululemon in Victoria Park last summer. The sun, warm breeze and smell of grass were a wonderful change from working in a large corporate environment. Why am I telling you this? Because Victoria Park is located downtown and used by many diverse individuals who may be skate boarding, playing guitars or cards, students getting together to do group work, homeless nap any time, there’s a sense that drugs are there for those looking. Then it’s also used by groups in the city for festivals, outdoor concerts, celebrations, and remembrance services.

Victoria Park is an example of why London, ON may be listed as one of the top four cities to live in Canada as ranked by MoneySense. What contributes to making London a top place to live? What this article stated was the average household income of $78,873, average home value of $247, 818, days above 0 degrees Celcius of 217.3 and an unemployment rate of 6.09 %. London has struggled with keeping downtown London safe and meeting the needs of many diverse people. For instance, London has focussed and conducted numerous studies on how to bring people back downtown. There are three major investments that have made a huge impact on London – rebuilding an old market into a modern day market where many of the old vendors could no longer afford the change in rent, building a new public central library and building of a high end entertainment complex called Budweiser Gardens where ISU World Figure Skating Championships was just hosted. These buildings have added culture, night life and entertainment and helped draw residents back to what was once a rundown core. Are these examples of revitalization or gentrification?

Gentrification is the process of renewal and rebuilding which can bring an influx of middle-class or affluent people into what were once deteriorating areas and this often displaces poorer residents. Two new two new apartment towers on Dundas St., west of Colborne St., and two more at King and Ridout streets have recently been completed in the downtown core.
In an editorial in the London Free Press printed on Friday October 12, 2012, provided these statistics, “Between 2006 and 2011 the core’s population grew an average of about 4.5% each year. In 1996, there were about 2,500 residents. Today, that’s grown to about 4,300.”

Not everyone is happy about the changes in London as many people have been uprooted as rents increase and middle-class people move downtown. Saskia Sassen, in an article called, The Shifting Meaning of Urban Condition, states, “… the impact of high-income residential and commercial gentrification, which generates a displacement that can feed the making of a political subjectivity centered in contestation rather than a sense of civic on either side of the conflict.” (2006, p. 21)

I find it interesting to note that Sassen points out the reality of these massive structures and semi-abandoned places and makes me wonder: does this show the tension between what was and what can be? Sassen also goes on to say that this physical displacement is a symbol of a power relationship – control of one side expressed by evictions through rising real estate prices over the other (2006, p. 21).

Many marginalized, disadvantaged, people feel like outsiders, and can gain a sense of community through being together to cope with this challenge of a power relationship. Sassen points out that “it’s more than whether power is had or not, but there’s a new hybrid base from which to act.” Everyone needs a public sphere to gather, a place to build a voice, for demonstration, fighting for the rights of: immigrants, homeless, gays, lesbians and the politics of culture and identity (2006, p. 22).

I’ve never considered how this intercity gathering of people in this open space enables them to socialize and build community. This has been made complicated with the entry of the Internet, as the access to technology separates individuals from becoming part of the global network of activism. The location of London’s downtown public library provides access to computers and the Internet allowing for another public sphere for these displaced people to build community. The discussion on how to urbanize open space is interesting to me. Some cities do it well, such as in Toronto where you see people playing chess on permanent structures in a park downtown and the same is true in New York City in Central Park. As already mentioned, London, Ontario’s Victoria Park is an example of an urbanized open space which is used both for planned events and for impromptu gatherings of people.

Sassen suggests the idea of involving architects in the creation of public space – to include and welcome the diversity and use their imagination where they may not see any shape, and to find space in unlikely places for all. After all, having a vibrant city means acknowledging the balance between investments, growth, value of diversity by multiculturalism and renewed rebirth or revitalization of city centres. It’s a challenging balance but essential in building a vital community.

References
Editorial in London Free Press printed on Friday October 12, 2012 retrieved on March 24 from http://www.lfpress.com/2012/10/12/no-time-to-be-complacent-about-core-revitalization

MoneySense retrieved on March 22 from http://www.moneysense.ca/2013/03/20/canadas-best-places-to-live-2013

Sassen, S. (2006). Public Interventions: The Shifting Meaning of the Urban Condition. Open 11: Hybrid Space – How Wireless Media Mobilize Public Space, (pp. 18-26) Retrieved from Skor Foundation: http://www.skor.nl/_files/Files/Open11_P18-26.pdf

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About Sandra

I am a public relations professional who works in marketing communications full-time and teaches part-time. Now I'm also a in graduate studies program working toward my Master of Public Relations.
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