Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tuesdays without Mitso: Same Same but Different

Last Tuesday, my dear comrade, Mitso, came into work with a kink in his neck. He went home early and got someone else to close for him. Coincidentally, I was not hungover the next day.

Nonetheless, his vigour has usually been my inspiration to passionately publish posts about the corruption of the state and its formalization processes for workers. Since I have not worked with him in a while, I felt politically deflated.

Yet, some things happen for a reason. If I was hungover, I would not have had the energy to check the news and be reminded of the development occurring at Toronto's Regent Park.

This region of the city is being developed through a PPP, a public-private partnership. The two contributors are Toronto Community Housing, a public sector, and The Daniels Corporation, a private developer of condominiums. This is an interesting partnership because the goal of developing this state-of-the-art-high-rise condominium is to create a multiple-income community. The city and the developers believe that this will give the area an appropriate facelift which would encourage varying socio-economic interactions. Apparently, by doing this the residents of Regent Park will not feel alienated and marginalized.

My question that I would like to pose is: who's standard of facelift is this?

A facelift is gentrification which is a symptom of the globalized, proto-capitalist system that we are enveloped by today. What we believe to be an upgrade is merely a polished facade of what is really going on in a community.

Let's take the example of people. Although each person's body is his or her own, a surgical facelift provides a temporary solution to someone's lack of self-esteem. No matter how much you pull that skin tight, it will never be tight enough unless you really address the issue of aging.

Same thing with a community. Developers see Regent Park as prime real-estate because it is so close to downtown business. People are willing to pay to stay in these 'undesirable' neighbourhoods. Therefore, the private company capitalizes on the demand by creating a false supply of condominiums. This is done all in the name of philanthropy as the developer also supplies the current residents of Regent Park with brand new condos. The problem with this development is not the improved housing, but the way in which it is bureaucratically set into action.

Although the current residents of Regent Park have been asked their thoughts and opinions about the development, there have been no movements on educating them on the potential consequences of living in high rises. Urban developers across the world have tried to promote high rises as a win-win situation: the poor get housing and the commercial developers get to do what they do best.

An example that reminds me of this dilemma is of this can be found in Giridharadas' article on Dharavi, the world's biggest slum that is found in Mumbai, India. The author describes how a community's system for survival is destroyed by moving people into high rises. Placing people on top of one another is not conducive to sustaining a community where informal economies and social networks thrive.

[photo by Giridharadas]

So, what will happen to the community's weekend markets that generate a small income for some of the families?

That is a question that I cannot answer nor provide an adequate solution to. All I have learned from seeing and reading about these circumstances is that the solution is never from the top-down. For this exact reason, I do not think I can provide an adequate solution. I do not live in Regent Park and do not know what would be best for the community. I think that people have to get off their high-theoretical horses and start doing things within the community. Ideas can come from above, but the work must be done on the ground.

Let's bring it back to the roots!

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