Protecting the intangible along with the tangible
By Joe Cressy
Ward 20 is home to some of our city’s most vibrant neighbourhoods — communities characterized by unique and diverse groups of neighbours, businesses, physical structures, contemporary public art, and iconic cultural destinations. And, neighbourhoods that are actively working on initiatives to transform forgotten laneways and green spaces, to protect critical historical value, and to build equitable, fair, and livable communities for all our friends and neighbours.
I’m sure you’d all agree that one of our most important neighbourhoods, significant in the hearts and minds of not only Torontonians but all Canadians through its designation as a National Historic site, is Kensington Market. A jewel in the heart of our downtown community, Kensington, which has been an ever-changing market space for generations, has a unique history. Jewish history, Portuguese history, Chinese history, Afro-Caribbean history, and a legacy of social and political activism; these diverse chapters in the history of the market are not only woven into the physical structures in the community but continue to breathe life into the energy and culture of Kensington each and every day.
“However, like so many of our downtown neighbourhoods, Kensington Market is facing increased pressure that endangers the very thing that makes it what it is.”
However, like so many of our downtown neighbourhoods, Kensington Market is facing increased pressure that endangers the very thing that makes it what it is: development pressure both adjacent to and within the market, rising rents, and the loss of some of the critical components of the street-market culture, just to name a few. In this shifting landscape, we’re working hard with the Kensington community to protect the area and ensure that it will continue to grow and change in the unique, locally-driven way it always has with the Kensington Market Heritage Conservation District Study (HCD).
A critical planning tool that protects and preserves the heritage of our communities, this study, like Kensington Market, has been unique. It is the first of its kind, and we are aiming to incorporate intangible features, such as culture, as well as tangible features, such as the architectural flourishes, that make Kensington, Kensington. Our goal, however, is not to freeze the area in time, as that would in itself be contrary to the historic nature of the market. Instead, an HCD guides change in a way that protects an area’s character, and ensures that future change is complementary to the uniqueness of neighbourhoods like Kensington. This is a critical project for a critical neighbourhood.
As with many neighbourhoods across the city, Kensington’s mom-and-pop retail storefronts are key to the vibrancy of the fabric of the neighbourhood. The local butcher, green grocer, and spice emporium are what draw so many of us to Kensington on a regular basis; however, many small, long-standing business owners have expressed the concern that they are being priced out of the market.
Many business owners aren’t only facing rising rents and increased competition from e-commerce, but are also struggling to keep up with commercial property taxes. Under the current system, commercial properties are assessed at the property’s highest and best use instead of the property’s actual use, a more realistic assessment. Taken together, these economic forces are changing the face of the market, shifting Kensington from its traditional mix of independent retailers to corporate chain stores, restaurants, and bars. That’s why I led a motion, which was approved, at the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee to investigate incentives for supporting raw food grocers and vendors in the area.
Economic incentives and the HCD are just a couple of the initiatives aimed at protecting and growing Kensington that we have underway. Celebrations like Pedestrian Sundays and the winter solstice have made the market a family-friendly destination that draws thousands of visitors each year. And local art initiatives, street murals, park improvements, and public space improvements are just a few more of the many dynamic, community-led projects that truly make Kensington Market the vibrant local gem we all know and love.
As we grow as a city, we need to ensure that we are not only building neighbourhoods but supporting them. Our collective work to protect and support Kensington Market is a step forward in ensuring we do just that.
Joe Cressy is the city councillor for Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina.
READ MORE ABOUT KENSINGTON MARKET:
CHATTER: Painted streets launch in Kensington (September 2016)
ARTS: Molly Johnson launches new jazz festival (September 2016)
CHATTER: Kensington Market consultation focuses on culture (July 2016)
NEWS: Kensington Market to become heritage district (May 2016)
READ MORE BY JOE CRESSY:
FORUM: A new central park for Toronto (September 2016)
FORUM: Building a livable city (July 2016)
FORUM: Bike lanes on Bloor Street (May 2016)
FORUM: Untapped potential (February 2016)