Little Jamaica, the famous Toronto neighbourhood for over 100 years has been home to many diverse residents from the African diaspora. Jamaican residency in the neighbourhood really picked up in 1950s due to immigration reform. Since then, the impact of Jamaican culture has long shaped this neighbourhood through, business, food, events, and more. As early as 1987, you can find a Toronto Star article that refers to the area as the "Little Jamaica" section of the City.
Cheryll Case, Urban Planner, CP Planning
We interviewed Cheryll who is working with local Little Jamaican Community organization Oakwood Vaughan Community Organization (OVCO) on a plan for the future of the community that has been dramatically impacted by the transit improvements that have been taking place since 2015 along Eglinton Avenue.
Tell me a little about the Little Jamaica Heritage District, what does it mean?
This district's study is a response to the calls made by community leaders and activists. These leaders and activists seek to protect and enhance the cultural relationship Black residents have with the neighbourhood. Specifically, they've noted the need for policies and programs to support Black-owned business, slow and lower rising commercial and residential rents.
How do you and your client feel about the designation?
The City notes that this study is a legacy project of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent. The community has defined what their cultural interests are, the protection of Black business and the support of housing affordable to Black residents. The City's process should centre this in their work.
What will it do for the remaining businesses in the community that have managed to hang on?
That is to be seen. There are a variety of policies and programs that can be implemented through the various departments that are involved in the City's study.
What do we all lose when a cultural community like Little Jamaica is lost. Can you elaborate on what it meant to the Jamaican, Caribbean, the Black community. What did Little Jamaica mean to all Torontonians?
To lose a community that once was a hub spot for Black people across the region, such a hot spot that even Bob Marley himself visited, is a terrible loss for all Torontonians. It is important to note that this loss is due to gentrification. To all Torontonians, is the continuation of colonization of lands near and dear to Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour.
Can you tell me a little about the work you are doing with community to confront gentrification along Eglinton?
My participation in confronting gentrification along Eglinton began in 2019 with the Black Futures on Eglinton study- a study conducted in partnership with Black Urbanism TO (a local grassroots community organization). This was a community arts-based engagement program, designed to understand the Black community's cultural relationship with Eglinton, through the lens of past, present, and future. One of the directions emerging from this study was that protecting and encouraging affordable housing is key to protecting Black cultural relationships with land. The displacement of lower income residents has been and continues to be a major concern of residents. From this direction, myself and the Oakwood Vaughan Community Organization(OVCO) co-designed and successfully secured funding for the Tenant Solidarity Program. Through this program, we are organizing tenants and implementing a community-led planning process to achieve a vision of an Eglinton and Oakwood-Vaughan area that is affordable to people of all incomes, races, and ages. OVCO is also a local grassroots community organization. I strongly believe that partnering with and providing resources to local community groups is key to successfully confronting and reshaping systems of gentrification.
What do the revelations of 2020 and what it says about systemic racism mean when you think of gentrification now?
Community members have always known that new transit infrastructure requires dedicated planning processes to prevent gentrification. This is as we knew of systemic racism. My views have not changed; it's disappointing.
We seem to take for granted that gentrification is a natural part of the process of neighborhood improvements, what's wrong with that belief?
This is false, this is not a 'natural process'. Gentrification is part of the process as it's being designed and implemented today. City governments undervalue the importance of including marginalized residents and social service agencies in the planning process and they under-estimate their ability to pivot towards implementing processes designed to establish inclusive economies.
While I know there's no going back in time, there are many Toronto communities under threat of "gentrification". What advice would you give them?
Connect with fellow residents, centre local communities in the process, create working groups around topics specific to gentrification such as: displacement, affordable housing, local business survival. Make posters, flyers, develop a vision. Let City officials know what you're doing, invite them to work with you.
Can you tell us a little about what's happening this summer and into the fall? How can people who want to help be involved?
The Tenant Solidarity Program, a project between CP Planning and the Oakwood Vaughan Community Organization, will be hosting a community workshop in the Fall to refine the community's vision for retaining and producing affordable housing as part of the redevelopment of the Eglinton and Oakwood Vaughan neighbourhoods. To keep in touch with this work, engage in the shaping of this workshop, or to keep tabs on when it's taking place, please follow us on Instagram, at @Community_in_Public, and sign up to the mailing list here.
Why is it so important that community members organize and engage in planning their neighbourhood?
Because it leads to shifts and massive successes. See the outcomes from TCBN, the Golden Mile Impact Network, and Parkdale for just some examples.