This is Parkdale

Editor's Note: Parkdale is a historic working class neighborhood in west-end Toronto and has been a first home in Canada to many successive groups of immigrants to the city. Since the late 90's Parkdale has undergone gentrification, though not to the same extent as other downtown neighbourhoods. Along with Toronto's Downtown East, Parkdale is one of the most difficult downtown neighbourhoods to fully gentrify. This is largely due to its high concentration of rental housing, including many apartment buildings in deteriorating condition.

By a member of Common Cause Toronto

To the east, developers have swallowed up every viable square foot of available land and packed them with condos at a break-neck pace. Up and down the north-south streets, rental houses, duplexes, and triplexes are being “updated”,“flipped”, and renovated into “homes”. The last of the rooming houses are giving way to real estate agents and their contractors. The past year has seen the systematic removal of almost all Roma residents through deportation, eviction, and rent increases. Renovations on mid and high rise apartment blocks are quickly followed by harassment or eviction of current tenants - with huge rent increases for their replacements. When called, police show up by the truck-load. When left to their own devices they troll the streets like ne'er do well teens – but with guns and bats. Two consecutive years of staff reductions at the three local schools. Staff, hours, and program cuts at neighbourhood community services and library. It's all been said before, and more.

What should we, as anarchists in Parkdale, do? Talk class war from the bar stool? Two day squat? Scare yuppies off with righteous graffiti? Appeal to and/or shame local councilors and parliamentarians? Infoshop? Front group? Something that more accurately amounts to nothing?

Probably not. How about this: instead of deciding 'what is to be done' right off the bat, we decide where to look for potential answers. So, where in Parkdale did we look? The buildings - Thousands of working class tenants, hundreds of families, units in disrepair, harassment by management, jacked up rents, pest problems, and the very real and present threat of losing their homes. We looked, and were impressed.

Recently, a major international real estate and investment firm bought up four apartment building properties in Parkdale. The firm's business model is apparent: purchase property, renovate common areas, push out current tenants, move in new tenants at absurdly higher rent, and voila. Hey, you don't get to be a multi-billion dollar international firm by being less than despicable.

Faced with this, tenants in one building chose to forgo agency-based leadership, reciprocal politician pandering, or simply going it alone. Flyers calling for a meeting in the lobby were distributed door to door. Tenants discussed not only the new landlord's intimidation tactics but also pre-existing concerns such as disrepair of their units and lack of maintenance staff. Each neighbour added to the chorus of grievances and each neighbour shared experiences of their grievances going totally ignored when they tried to deal with management solo. They were looking for backup and they were looking to each other. A building committee, an organization made up of each of their neighbours so no one of them would be left unprotected, they decided, was in order.

More than that - they wanted more tenants and more buildings involved. Firstly, the other three buildings recently acquired by their new landlord. And thereafter? Well, there's plenty more buildings with shitty landlords and angry tenants. Why not link up.

Tenants' issues aren't enough though, right? Exactly right. We can't focus on the problems of tenants in local buildings to the exclusion of all the other issues in our neighbourhood. There’s the schools, police brutality, deportations, and service cuts (not to mention “austerity” and “food-sovereignty”). Where would we suppose the kids from those schools, the people being brutalized by cops, those threatened with deportation, the people that access the programs at the library and community centres live? The re-purposed artist's lofts and $800k Victorians? They live in the buildings (and austerely shop at the No Frills). For now.

An organization comprised of, and lead by tenants to directly contend with the issues we face within our buildings is a well-situated organization to then take on the issues we face in our neighbourhood, generally. All the more so when connected to other tenants' organizations engaged in similar struggles. Organizations that can contribute to and be an example for the further reaching struggles of the workplace and those of the homeless.

That's what we found when we looked. We got direction from our neighbours, with a purpose – our neighbourhood. Not a struggle we, as anarchists instigated, not something we'll lead, and not something that can be easily hijacked. Rather a struggle we can participate in, something we can contribute to, something we can learn from, and something that may actually work.

It's early days yet. Days of outreach, door knocking, flyers, posters, lobby meetings, public events, and actions – all very familiar. Days to follow will no doubt have more than their share of the same. This time, though, it feels viable. We'll keep you posted.

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