A 2014 view of the Junction gentrification by Leslie Kern

All text Leslie Kern Department of Geography and Environment, Mount Allison University

Selected parts of the text.

The Junction: environmental gentrification in progress In the Junction, the particular pathway from derelict to hip is both familiar and unique, and not quite as simple as ‘industry—pollution—disinvestment—cleanup—reinvestment— gentrification—displacement’.

It is important to start the story before the industrial stage. Located at the intersection of traditional First Nations trails (including the major Carrying Place Trail along the Humber River), the Village of West Toronto Junction, founded in 1884, and its railroad-based industry were made possible by the original dislocation and dispossession of the Six Nations of the Grand River, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, and the Five Nations Iroquois (Nagam, 2009). The railroad enabled the growth of Toronto’s stockyards in the area (begetting the city’s nickname—Hogtown) and served major factories such as the Heintzman Piano Company and the Canadian Cycle and Motor Company.

The meat industry in particular attracted first-generation and second-generation immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Malta, and Poland. The town eventually amalgamated with Toronto in 1909. Interestingly, in 1904 the Junction banned alcohol sales in order to contain the unruly behaviour of the local workers, staying ‘dry’ until 1998 (WTJHS, no date). Because the neighbourhood relied heavily on industrial employers, the Junction was vulnerable during economic downturns. The process of deindustrialization in the late 1960s and 1970s, the relocation of the Canadian Pacific Railways shops and main freight train marshalling sites in 1964, and, finally, the relocation of the stockyards in 1993 cemented a long period of decline.

This can be characterized as a period of disinvestment as key industries with unionized jobs moved away with no large employers coming in to replace them, and of little municipal attention to ageing infrastructure, few successful new businesses, no new residential development, and no adaptive reuse of abandoned industrial structures.

This degree of social and economic disinvestment is typically an impediment to gentrification (Ley and Dobson, 2008), although artists were attracted to the area in the 1980s and 1990s because of the cheap rent and gritty feel (Bain, 2006).

They may have been the leading edge of a transition that saw the arrival of galleries, salvage and reclamation-based home design stores, and local artisan craft shops. These certainly drew on the renewed appeal of industrial and handmade aesthetics, a feature that is still integral to the Junction brand.

The more recent explosion of boutique shops, bars, and restaurants signals the Junction’s change into a desirable consumption landscape. In the last ten years or so the real estate market has picked up, and houses sold for an average price of $465 191 in 2012 (Toronto Life Real Estate Guide, 2013), up more than 21% from 2005 (City of Toronto Neighbourhood Profiles, 2008). Average rents rose by almost 20% in this time period, and the average household income rose by close to 22% compared with an 8% income rise across the city as a whole (Statistics Canada, 2013).(1) 32.3% of residents are immigrants (the number is 49% for Toronto as a whole), but only 0.03% of residents are recent immigrants (that is, arrived in the last ten years).

The largest group of immigrants is European in origin (Statistics Canada, 2013). Only 17.9% of the population identifies as a visible minority (the term used on the survey), compared with 49% of Toronto’s population (Statistics Canada, 2013; City of Toronto, 2013).

The gentrifiers would seem to include rising numbers of married and common-law couples without children (26.7% and 50% increases in these categories from 2001–11, respectively), and rising numbers of working age adults (20% increase from 2001–11) (City of Toronto Neighbourhood Profiles, 2014). As of 2011, 89% of the labour force worked in service sector occupations, rather than manufacturing, trade, and primary industries, and 61.8% of women were employed outside the home, as were 73.7% of men (Statistics Canada, 2013).

Leslie Kern Department of Geography and Environment, Mount Allison University, 144 Main Street, Sackville, NB, Canada E4L1A7; e-mail: lkern@mta.ca Received 23 October 2013; in revised form 15 August 2014;

Abstract. This paper takes up the challenge of extending and enhancing the literature on environmental gentrification by considering bodies and embodied practices as significant dimensions of this process. In considering the question of how a polluted past can be mobilized as an asset for neighbourhood rebranding and gentrification, this research suggests that the conflation of both pollution and ‘health’ with different kinds of urban bodies and practices is an important strategy for solidifying a clean and green neighbourhood future. I argue that some bodies are constituted as ‘dirty’ by the symbolic and substantive displacement of environmental pollution onto those bodies, in ways that allow the neighbourhood to redefine itself as clean (whether it is environmentally clean or not) once those bodies are displaced, contained, or made invisible. This perspective requires us to consider the radically coconstitutive character of representations and materiality, bodies and cities, nature and social relations. Based on a case study of Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood, this paper maintains that bringing bodies to the foreground attends to the power of embodiment in producing and reproducing urban change and, critically, urban inequalities.

Keywords: environmental gentrification, embodiment, Toronto, industry, pollution, intra-action


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