The Beach seems to have something of a xenophobia problem. More and more it seems people are setting their default reaction to any sort of change or difference of ideals to outrage. Some would like to blame social media, though I think that just offers a convenient soapbox for critics of anything and everything.
It brings to mind the proverbial old man yelling at those pesky kids to get off his lawn. Or, if you prefer more poetic terms, it’s all sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Here’s the thing: a city is a living entity. It shifts; it moves; it changes, not always predictably. If it doesn’t change, it dies, because the people complaining the most about change are not the people who get out and make a concerted effort to support and sustain healthy neighbourhoods.
If any casual observational evidence is required, take a long walk along Danforth. From Monarch Park all the way to the beautifully-named intersection of Danforth and Danforth, change is evident. This area may not be the most charming in the city, but it’s come a very long way in a very short few years.
Helping the process along has been the Danforth East Community Association. DECA members have been shameless neighbourhood boosters since the group’s start, first organizing work bees for volunteers to help make over businesses for free – simply because improved businesses were good for the neighbourhood. Next came the pop-up shops, a successful bid to fill empty storefronts temporarily with businesses that didn’t have the cash to set up shop permanently. A handful of them have even discovered enough success that setting up shop permanently is exactly what they’ve ended up doing.
Over the past couple years, a significant number of new businesses have opened along Danforth, spreading outward from the epicentre of East Lynn Park – not coincidentally the site of the DECA-initiated farmer’s market, summer movie nights, Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, and many other regular events.
Also not coincidentally, a wave of condo development has followed – to mixed reviews, no doubt, but generally most of them either are or soon will be considered positive additions to the neighbourhood. After all, it’s people who make vibrant neighbourhoods successful, and adding new homes for more people who want to get in on the ‘hood-loving action should be a no-brainer.
Fighting all change of any sort isn’t the kind of default reaction to change that helps build great neighbourhoods. Which brings us to Queen Street East.
As readers of this newspaper well know, there have been ongoing discussions, from these pages to the offices of the city councillor, about the state of Queen, empty storefronts, and, of course, condos.
Of course there are buildings worth preserving, and there is, no doubt, a neighbourhood character that should be protected. The mistake is in thinking that character comes first from the buildings. The defining character of an area comes from the people who live there, not from how much setback there is on a fifth-floor balcony, or from buildings being limited to four storeys, or being forced to build from the same colour and size of brick as every other building for blocks in every direction.
Sure, it would have been nice if, to use just one example, Bellefair United Church could have remained as a church.
But the people lamenting its loss most loudly were not the dwindling few in the pews on Sunday mornings, tithing their share to keep the church a viable and vital neighbourhood institution. And some of the people moving into these new condos are your neighbours. One Willow Avenue resident recently mentioned to her neighbours that she’d bought in a Kingston Road condo now under construction. She proceeded to discover that two of her nearby neighbours would also be her neighbours at the new condo.
The reason condos keep going up all over town is that Toronto, despite its growing pains, is a great, healthy city, and people want to live here. Prosperity and success are good problems for a city to have.
The reason developers keep building condos in the Beach – despite the area’s growing reputation as a bunch of whiners (yes, that’s what I keep hearing when I talk to people in other areas of the city, like it or not) – is that people want to live here. People who might actually support our local shops and restaurants, instead of driving up to Walmart on the Golden Mile and shaking their heads in disgust at an ‘outrageous’ six-storey development on their way back home. People who will be champions of the Beach, a place that is still unique and special and amazing, despite the fact it could be even more so, and probably has been more so in the past.
So here’s my plea: stop reacting. Act instead. Embrace change – it’s happening whether you want it to or not. Before automatically responding to every proposal for change with a default reaction of indignant outrage, hit pause. Walk out the front door, head to the beach. Take a walk on the boardwalk – odds are, like the day I wrote this, it’s a nice day. Breathe deeply. Look around and remember why it is you live in this corner of Toronto in the first place.
Then, and only then, consider whatever it is that had you worked up in the first place. And if it’s still something you simply can’t live with, figure out a way to make a positive change. All action and change, signifying everything.