The Invisible Gate: The Problem with Bloor West Village
It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon on Bloor West and the sidewalks are packed. A gaggle of young mothers roll by in their LuLuLemons, sipping coffee and pushing strollers so technologically advanced and costly that one might think their babies were heading to space rather than the park. Dads, clad in their alumni sweatshirts and Saturday jeans, crowd into the Fresh and Wild organic market to buy wild halibut for $34.99 per pound. Across the street, a line is forming at Max’s Gourmet Deli to get, among other specialties, artisanal mustard imported from France and gluten-free baguettes. The scene more closely resembles a wealthy Connecticut suburb than Toronto, a city that prides itself on diversity.
Like many of Toronto’s other most affluent and desirable neighbourhoods, however, rising real estate prices and the disappearance of affordable housing have turned Bloor West Village into a bastion for the white, wealthy and educated. Instead of walls or security cameras, money determines who gets in and who is shut out.
“Money is the gatekeeper, “says Dianne Bradley, past president of the Bloor West Village Residents association. “It is going to be a barrier for a diverse group living here.”
According to City of Toronto statistics, visible minorities make-up less than 19 per cent of the ward in which Bloor West Village is located while the city average is around 49 per cent.
David Hulchanski, a professor of urban and community studies at the University of Toronto says Bloor West lacks diversity because it is just too expensive for most people.
“The area has gone from being middle income to being high income and that has changed what kind of people live there.”
Hulchanski’s research on income inequality concludes that during the last 30 years Toronto has been segregated into three distinct cities based on income. The first city, which includes Bloor West Village, is made up of high-income residents located in the city centre and along subway lines. The second encompasses the shrinking group of middle-income residents and the third consists of low-income residents located in the northeastern and northwestern suburbs.
Hulchanski’s study, entitled The Three Cities Within Toronto, also shows that along with being divided socioeconomically, the city is becoming increasingly racially polarized. He reports that 82 per cent of City #1 is white, while 66 per cent of City #3 is visible minorities.
“There are no other black kids in my daughter’s class,” says Ashley Addison, a local resident whose daughter attends Annette Street Public School. “There is one other kid in the school who’s mixed so I guess together they make one black kid?”
"I am sure more diverse people would want to live there if they could, but most can't afford it."
Addison is correct; most people can’t afford to live in Bloor West Village. According to the Toronto Real Estate Board the average price for a single-family detached home is more than $872,000 and the average cost of a condo unit in the area is $566,500
It is not just racialized minorities who are priced out of the nieghoburhood. “Most Ukrainians cannot afford to live here now. I wanted to buy a house here but could not afford it,” says Halyna Dvulit, a recent immigrant who works at Buduchnist Credit Union, a Ukrainian Bank in BWV. Historically Bloor West Village was a haven for Ukrainian immigrants. Now, Dvulit says “they will come here to shop but not to live.”
Pamela Robinson, the graduate program director of Ryerson University’s urban and regional planning department, vehemently disagrees with suggesting Bloor West is a gated community.
“It’s not even close to that. It may not be the most ethno-culturally diverse neighborhood but I think a gated community implies that there are people who have bought into a lifestyle that comes at the expense of other people.”
Hulchanski, however, says “money buys choice and with less and less options in the heart of Toronto, there is just not a lot of room for those who need affordable housing.”