In the last few years, gentrification has been causing problems in downtown areas around North America, and now Kitchener (in Ontario, Canada) is no exception. While developments downtown can be good for intensification and improving urban design, current developments are beginning to marginalize long-term residents.
In the last three decades, many North American cities have been following a pattern of unsustainable sub-urban growth. This pattern of suburbanization has been not only environmentally unsound, but has also has also worsened problems around social isolation. Planning took a turn in the 1990s after which the "downtown revitalization" mantra promoted a future that would look somewhat like the recent past; a time before automobiles made suburban lifestyles where one could live and work in separate neighborhoods possible.
Now an interesting social experiment is afoot in inner-cities where privileged suburban kids are moving back to a downtown life their grandparents once left. With young money moving back, the social divide in Kitchener Downtown has become clearer. Long-term residents are feeling increasingly invisible as privileged residents begin to take over the street-space.
As insular as these new wealthier residents can be, urban policies can be more so. New developments in Downtown Kitchener are now pitting ultra-rich condos against very modest old neighborhoods. As they do, landlords increase rents and long-term residents have no choice but to leave supportive neighborhoods. So far there are no policies in Kitchener or Waterloo Region to protect these communities.
In the downtown core, more businesses are saying “no” to poor people. This is usually displayed by $10.00 minimum price-tag on most meals or in some cases actual removal of anyone visibly in poverty or homeless. However, municipal governments in Waterloo Region have been implicitly saying the same thing for a lot longer.
The truth is, many municipalities in Waterloo Region have a pattern of ignoring poverty. Some cities are worse than others. For example, one reason why neighboring Waterloo seems to not have homelessness is because it does not build community support systems. The overflow thus goes to downtown Kitchener, which is an anomaly for an inner-city as it has seen a proliferation of community initiatives stepping up to assist with homelessness and urban poverty.
Kitchener has so much grass-roots activity that people from much larger cities come to access these supports. However, these initiatives have been overburdened and some established programs such as Out of the Cold shut down as recently as last month. The Regional Municipality has now stepped up to compensate. However, why have municipalities been downloading public expenses to community groups in the first place?
The gentrification of Kitchener bodes ill for poverty in Waterloo Region as a whole. Luckily, awareness is building. From the Tent City protest this summer to The Forum on Gentrification and Nachos, both the gentrified and some of the gentrifiers are trying to find ways to understand the problem and build solidarity.
Gentrification and revitalization introduce problems as much as they bring in solutions. What kind of conversations around the issue are happening in your city?
Credits: Images by Richard Garvey. Data linked to sources.