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Arrivals & Departures | Rowe Farms at 468 Bloor Street West: meat for the elite

In Arrivals & Departures, Eating & Drinking on January 28, 2011 at 11:59 PM

Rowe Farms retail store opened at 468 Bloor Street West on January 28, 2011

By West Annex News | After waiting almost a month for their hydro hookup, the Rowe Farms retail store at 468 Bloor Street West finally opened its doors in the West Annex today. Rowe Farms takes over the space vacated by Organics on Bloor in the first half of 2010.

Many in the neighbourhood will be familiar with Rowe Farms meat products from Fiesta Farms and from the Rowe Farms outlet in the north building of St. Lawerence Market. Many do not know however that founder John Rowe sold his operation a few years back. The new ownership is expanding the brand with a string of retail outlets in various family-friendly, upper middle-class neighbourhoods in Toronto, including the Beach, Roncesvalles, Leslieville, and Bloor West Village.

The frozen and refrigerated packaged meat cases, with butcher counter at the rear

While waiting for the opening of the store on the West Annex Bloor strip, we visited the Roncesvalles store, which has a similar floor plan to that of the West Annex shop. It’s an attractive, well-organized space, offering the full selection of Rowe Farms meat, poultry, and prepared meat products like sausages and meat balls.

The outside sign is green, the walls inside are green, and even the shades on the light fixtures are green. Yes, the theme is local and sustainable with an emphasis on animal welfare. Rowe Farms’ slogan is “Quality with a Conscience” and the website recites a farming philosophy of “locally-grown, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, conscientiously-farmed, nitrite-cured (100% nitrate-free)”. Note: while the meat may be all that, the butcher at the Roncesvalles shop acknowledged to us that Rowe Farms products are not organic.

The store also offers a selection of products from other local producers including Organic Meadow dairy products, Anton Kozlick’s Mustards, and eggs, salad greens, and other prepared foods.

The store offers a wide range of Organic Meadow dairy products, like Organics on Bloor before it

In addition to offering frozen and refrigerated packaged meat products in the large coolers that line the sides of the shop, there’s a butcher’s counter at the back, staffed by a real live butcher.

The butcher counter

The West Annex Bloor strip has been without a butcher shop since a rent increase caused the owner of Elizabeth Deli and Meat Market to lock the doors and walked away from her thriving store at 410 Bloor Street West in December of 2005. Some will welcome Rowe Farms as the return of a basic neighbourhood amenity to Bloor Street.

But is Rowe Farms a basic amenity?

Elizabeth’s was a full service butcher and European-style delicatessen. It contained its own smokehouse on the second floor where staff prepared sausages, hams and other meats. Elizabeth’s offered a wide variety of products at an equally wide range of prices.  It attracted a socio-economically diverse clientele.

Rowe Farms’ retail model is decidedly different. During the week starting December 31, 2010, we compared the price of selected Rowe Farms products at Fiesta Farms against the equivalent product in other local supermarkets. We found that the Rowe Farms’ prices per kilogram were consistently the most expensive, often double or more the lowest price amongst the competition.  Some examples:

  • Pork loin centre chop boneless:  Rowe Farms $26.99; Loblaws “Free From” $15.41; Metro “Traditionally Raised” $12.76; Metro regular $12.99; Price Chopper $12.10;  No Frills: $11.40; Fiesta Farms $11.00;
  • Boneless, skinless chicken thighs:  Rowe Farms: $19.82; Loblaws “Free From” and Price Chopper $15.41; Metro (Prime) $14.64; No Frills $13.44; Fiesta Farms (Prime) $12.99
  • Extra lean ground beef:  Rowe Farms: $16.99; Fiesta Farms (ground Angus) $15.41; Loblaws President’s Choice Blue Menu (Angus Sirloin) $13.21; No Frills $9.44; Metro: $8.80; Price Chopper $8.45.

Rowe Farms boneless skinless chicken thighs $19.82 per kg

There are legitimate reasons why “traditionally raised” meats cost more. As Rachel Hahn pointed out in her article Like Sex in the City, but with meat: Toronto’s Gourmet Butcher Scene, “farmers who don’t use a factory farm model . . . spend more money per animal. If animals are free-range, there’s more space to pay for and if they’re free of hormones and antibiotics, they take longer to become ready for slaughter.”

Torontonians are in the grip of a so-called ethical and healthy meat craze. Nose to tail eating and charcuterie plates reign in Toronto’s trendiest restaurants, and indie butchers are eclipsing indie coffee shops as the hottest trend in retail.

Centre cut boneless pork chop $26.99 per kg

Hahn quotes Toronto celebrity butcher Peter Sanagan of Kensington Market’s Sanagan’s Meat Locker in explaining the trend: “In Ontario we are not as lucky as, say, California or Vancouver where they have a more temperate growing zone where vegetables have a longer season. But meat is something we can do well, and it’s all year round.” But Sanagan is honest enough to acknowledge that the movement towards local produce is a “privilege trend” because of the cost.

The proliferation of high-end butcher shops–variously described as green, healthy, ethical, organic, local, and conscientious–is more evidence that Toronto is becoming a city of stark socio-economic extremes, the work of The Stop and Food Share in promoting local and healthy foods for low-income Torontonians notwithstanding.

Organics on Bloor shuttered its doors in early 2010

And are these meats really all that green and ethical?

After energy production, livestock is the second highest contributor to atmosphere-altering gases.  Nearly one fifth of all greenhouse gas is generated by livestock production, more than all modes of transportation combined.

And four hundred scientists in 34 countries recently compiled a report for the British Government about the overstressed global food system, and the need for it to expand to feed a projected 9.5 billion people in 2050. Professor Charles Godfray, one of the report’s lead authors told Jessica Leeder of the Globe and Mail that “consumer demand for unsustainable goods will have to be harnessed. This includes meats, the production of which creates a huge drag on the environment.  It would just be impossible for the global population to consume meat at the rate we do in North America and Europe.”

In “Attention Whole Food Shoppers” in Foreign Policy Magazine, Robert Paarlberg observes how local, organic and slow food has become an elite preoccupation in the West. “The hope that we can help others by changing our shopping and eating habits is being wildly oversold to Western consumers. If we are going to get serious about solving global hunger, we need to de-romanticize our view of preindustrial food and farming. Factory farming is essential to feed the hunger-plagued rest of the world.”

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For more on the myth of green and ethical meat, see Mark Bittman’s What’s wrong with what we eat:


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Note: interior photographs are of the Roncesvalles store.

In Arrivals & Departures, we watch the changes in the commercial/retail strips of the West Annex on Bloor, Bathurst, and Dupont Streets, and think about these changes in the context of Jane Jacobs’ analysis that popularity on retail strips can lead to commercial monocultures and store vacancies and Max Fawcett’s thesis that the Annex is un-gentrifying.

For related articles, visit the Arrivals & Departures archive.


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The weekly wrap for January 28, 2011

In Coming events, Eating & Drinking, Heritage & History, This week in the neighbourhood on January 28, 2011 at 12:01 AM

“One of the best pizzas in the Annex”. Renée Suen praises Bar Mercurio’s excellent pie. [Toronto Life]

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The inner city is a safer place to raise children than the suburbs. Tamsin McMahon looks at the not so surprising data on the safety of downtown. [National Post]

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With pluck and grit, a Globe food critic roughs it on the Bloor-West Annex strip. Joanne Kates bravely endures the lack of a coat check to enjoy bargain-priced omakase at Sushi Couture. [Globe and Mail]

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A History of Toronto in 8 Millimetres, screening Sunday, January 30 at 7:00PM at the Bloor. Jason Anderson recommends this compendium of amateur Super 8 films that provide glimpses of life in Toronto between the ’30s and the ’70s.[thestar.com]

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Robert Baldwin is the greatest Torontonian ever. Derek Smith tells Steve Paikin how Baldwin–the scion of the family who owned the lands immediately east of the West Annex–brought responsible government to Canada. [TVO]

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Every Friday, the Weekly Wrap collects articles from around the web about or of interest to residents of the West Annex.

For previous weeks’ columns, visit the Weekly Wrap archive.

The Weekly Wrap for January 21, 2011

In This week in the neighbourhood on January 21, 2011 at 12:01 AM

“There [sic] still ‘Left Wing Pinkos’ to me”. Don Cherry writes a thank-you note to Spacing Magazine for the donation of button proceeds. [spacingtoronto]

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Why does the right support the separated bike lane network, and the left oppose it? Herb explains the perplexing politics of building cycling infrastructure in Toronto. [I Bike T.O.]

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Lumpy gravy. Marcus Gee asks why only the downtown elites have to shovel their own snow. [The Globe and Mail]

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Before the Dufferin Mall, there was a racetrack. Photoblair investigates the interesting history of the place where the Dufferin Mall now stands. [Photoblair]

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Did you know the heritage view of the Legislature in Queen’s Park is not of significant importance? Karen Howlett reports on Superior Court of Justice Justice Harvison Young’s surprising decision to allow highrise condos behind Queen’s Park. [Globe and Mail]

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“Is Toronto hero-poor?” Derek Flack reviews the short list of local heroes, and speculates why there aren’t more. [blogTO]

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He wrote Billy Bishop Goes to War living in an unheated apartment over a barber shop just down from Honest Ed’s. Shelly Youngblut interviews John Gray. [CalgaryHerald]

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The “Livability Movement”: Lydia DePillis traces the development of the environmental movement’s successor. [Washington City Paper]

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Every Friday, the Weekly Wrap collects articles from around the web about or of interest to residents of the West Annex.

For columns from previous weeks, visit the Weekly Wrap archive.

Royal St. George’s construction imminent, Councillor Vaughan to host community meeting February 16, 2011

In Coming events, Royal St. George's construction on January 19, 2011 at 10:49 PM

Historic See House at 112 Howland Avenue is to be partially demolished and a large addition built on the back. Built in 1887, it was the home of all Anglican Archbishops of Toronto until 1937.

By Louise Morin | According to Andrew Whiteley, Assistant Headmaster at Royal St. George’s College, initial work on Phase II of RSGC’s OMB-approved construction plans–the underground garage and the addition to the back of the See House–is scheduled to begin in March 2011.

The March work will involve two weeks of shoring the perimeter of the future underground garage. So long as RSGC gets its final approvals from City Hall or the OMB, the work will take place during RSGC’s spring break from Monday March 14 t0 Friday March 25 (weekends excepted, or at least so Whiteley has promised; RSGC’s track record for observing bylaws and guidelines about days and hours of construction is not impressive).

Shoring involves excavation, driving steel support beams into the ground, and pouring concrete. Whiteley described this work as “noisy and disruptive” and “lots of work, lots of traffic and cement trucks”.

In mid-June of 2011, the balance of the work on the new underground garage and the large addition to the back of the historic See House on Howland Avenue begins. Whiteley said this too will be noisy and disruptive work. How disruptive? Whiteley suggested at least some neighbours should plan to spend the summer of 2011 at their cottages. RSGC hopes to complete the exterior work in September or October of 2011, and the interior work by the fall of 2012.

While the construction is ongoing, RSGC needs to route more than 500 construction vehicles, including about 200 tandem dump trucks through narrow West Annex streets. RSGC proposed three route options City Transportation Services in December 2010:

  • Option 1: Enter from Dupont, then south on Howland to RSGC; exit RSGC south on Albany, then west on Barton to Bathurst Street;
  • Option 2: Enter from Bathurst, then east on Barton, then north on Albany to RSGC; exit RSGC south on Albany, then west on Barton to Bathurst Street;
  • Option 3: Enter from Bathurst, then east on Wells, then south on Albany to RSGC; exit RSGC south on Albany, then west on Barton to Bathurst Street.

Thanks to the intervention of Neighbours of St. Alban’s Park Inc.–the de facto residents’ association of the West Annex–Councillor Vaughan will consult the neighbourhood about these options in a community meeting he’ll host, probably the evening of Wednesday February 16, 2011.

Also on the agenda:

  • protocol for RSGC to interrupt essential services (hydro, water, gas, telephones, Internet). RSGC wants to be able to interrupt services for up to six hours at a time, at various times over the summer. Neighbours of St. Alban’s Park has pressed RSGC to provide a schedule of the interruptions in advance. Neighbours of St. Alban’s Park has also requested answers to other questions about service interruptions, including details of RSGC’s plan to pay compensation to those financially inconvenienced.
  • RSGC’s breaches of bylaws and construction management guidelines in 2007 and again in 2010, particularly those concerning hours of construction, weekend construction, and dust, mud, and noise control. Also to be addressed is RSGC’s failure to establish the OMB-mandated community consultation committee where neighbours can take problems and complaints as they arise during the construction;
  • the removal or relocation of the portables. In 1996, RSGC promised to remove the two portable from their property in return for a variance to permit them to build an addition.  The addition was built but the portables stayed. In December 2010, without the necessary permission, RSGC moved the two portables and pushed them up near the back fences of adjoining residential properties on the east side of Albany and the west side of Howland. RSGC must move at least one of the portables. The city will not allow it to stay. Neighbours of St. Alban’s Park have asked that the portable–which is used only as a judo studio–be removed entirely from the site now. RSGC is considering the request, but may ask to move the portable to the tarmac facing Albany Avenue until construction is completed. Then both portables must be removed entirely, which Whiteley promises RSGC will do–this time.

Further information about the community meeting will be posted here as it becomes available, and watch for a flyer from Royal St. George’s College.

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For further articles about Royal St. George’s College construction, visit the RSGC Construction home page and RSGC Construction Archive.

The Weekly Wrap for January 14, 2011

In This week in the neighbourhood on January 14, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Koreatown is getting less Korean. Cathy Conway looks at how cheap rents are attracting new business that are changing the face of the Bloor strip west of Bathurst. [Open File Toronto]

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Honest Edwardianisms. The Dominion Modern Gallery puts on a show devoted to the art of Honest Ed’s hand painted signs and sign painters. [Dominion Modern]

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Look around in an urban Whole Foods, and you will see people who came from the suburbs and will head back eventually to live.” Alex Bozidovic likes Witold Rybczynski’s latest book Makeshift Metropolis. [The Globe and Mail]

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“Enough wicked humour and touching moments to make for a worthwhile evening.” Jon Kaplan reviews Tarragon’s current Mainstage show The Misanthrope. [NOW]

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Ford balances his 2011 budget by deploying the entire Miller surplus of $346 million in a single year. Daniel Dale on the new mayor’s unconservative approach to the budget. [thestar.com]

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Every Friday, the Weekly Wrap collects articles from around the web about or of interest to residents of the West Annex.

For columns from previous weeks, visit the Weekly Wrap archive.

Arrivals & Departures: Lettieri Espresso Bar and Hero Certified Burgers at 581 Bloor Street West

In Arrivals & Departures, Eating & Drinking on January 9, 2011 at 2:23 AM

Lettieri Espresso Bar closed its doors for good on December 30, 2010

Another one bites the dust . . .

By West Annex News | Coffee Corner, Java Junction, or Corporate Coffee Headquarter; whatever you call the aggregation of coffee shops around Bloor Street West and Albany Avenue, the group suffered its first fatality at the end of 2010 when Lettieri Expresso Bar on the south-west corner of Bathurst and Bloor quietly closed its doors on December 30.  A note posted on the front door reads: “After eight years of making fresh espresso, Lettieri Espresso Bar will be closed on December 30, 2010.  We have loved being a part of this community.  It has been an absolute joy serving you. Wish you all have a very happy new year.”

Good-bye note from Lettieri franchise owner Joe Lee | click to enlarge

Signs already hang in the windows announcing that a Hero Certified Burgers will be moving in to the 581 Bloor Street West space.  The Lettieri website says cryptically that Lettieri is “co-branding with Hero Certified Burgers”.  Lettieri directs readers to the Hero website for further information, but we found no mention there of Lettieri or of co-branding. John Lettieri is the founder of both the Lettieri Espresso Bar and Hero Certified Burgers franchises.

Honest Ed's signage overwhelmed that of Lettieri

It’s hard to say what lead to the demise of Lettieri. Once inside the shop, it was an attractive, soothing, light-filled space with large east-facing windows looking out on Bathurst Street.  And Lettieri made arguably the best-tasting espresso-based drinks of all the chains located on the West Annex Bloor strip. But tucked in the north-east corner of Honest Ed’s, the garish extravagance of  Ed’s signage overwhelmed that of Lettieri’s; it was easy to forget the coffee shop was even there.

And Bathurst Street still forms a considerable psychological barrier for Annex shoppers. Although the number of non-Korean-themed shops establishing themselves west of Bathurst on the Bloor West strip is increasing, many shoppers still hold on to the notion that Bloor west of Bathurst is a Korean ethnic enclave with little to offer shoppers who do not share that ethnicity.   As we noted in a previous post, the stiff competition with four major coffee chain outlets killed a local tea shop in 2010. With that competition located on the more desirable West Annex side of Bathurst, the few extra steps to cross the street into Koreatown apparently proved a few steps too far for Lettieri’s survival.

Lettieri Espresso Bar was located at the south west corner of Bathurst and Bloor, in Honest Ed’s

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In Arrivals & Departures, we watch the changes in the commercial/retail strips of the West Annex on Bloor, Bathurst, and Dupont Streets, and think about these changes in the context of Jane Jacobs’ analysis that popularity on retail strips can lead to commercial monocultures and store vacancies and Max Fawcett’s thesis that the Annex is un-gentrifying.

Visit the Arrivals & Departures archive.

St. Alban’s Square, 7:43AM January 12, 2011

In uncategorized on January 8, 2011 at 8:29 AM

Cross country skiing in St. Alban's Square

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Visit the Images archive.

The Weekly Wrap for January 7, 2011

In This week in the neighbourhood on January 7, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Homage to Honest Ed's: one of the windows that earned Sonic Boom the title 'Best window displays in Toronto'

Elaborate and often hilarious“.  Derek Flack praises the work of window dresser Tim Oakley in rating Sonic Boom’s windows at 512 Bloor Street West among the Best Window Displays in Toronto. [blogTO]

“Twenty acres of downtown Toronto—more than a hundred buildings—were on fire.” Adam Bunch draws together photographs and online resources about the Great Toronto Fire of 1904 including, incredibly, film footage. [The Toronto Dreams Project]

“When will reality bite Ford?” John Lorinc wonders if a Walkerton-type disaster will bring the Ford honeymoon to an end.  [spacingtoronto]

Vermont Square says no to basketball nets. Lisa Aldredge reports on developments in the Vermont Square renewal.  [NOW, brought to our attention by the excellent  Ring Around the City]

Mover and shaker. Dana Lacey follows the move of Torontoist editor David Topping to OpenFile Toronto. [The Canadian Journalism Project]

“Ron Thom wrote that Robarts Library represents everything in architecture that’s arrogant and wrong.” Christopher Hume examines the $42 million refurb of Fort Book.  [thestar.com]

A prelimary study of how Robarts could look | Image courtesy of Diamond and Schmitt Architects

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Every Friday, the Weekly Wrap collects articles from around the web about or of interest to residents of the West Annex.

Visit the Weekly Wrap archive.


Communities and schools

In The Maven on January 4, 2011 at 8:32 PM

Photo by freeparking

By The Maven | What does community have to do with schools?  Well, quite a lot. Communities are usually built around families.  And families have kids.  And kids go to school.  And since most adults are parents and since many parent interactions are about their kids, much adult intercourse happens as a result of their offspring.

And kid-to-kid interaction — the progenitor of adult interaction and the basis of community life — is developed and nurtured through the school system.

When your kids are teenagers and you wonder what they are doing late at night and who they are with, doesn’t it help that you know who their friends are?  That happens organically if their friends live in the same neighbourhood. Not only do you know their friends personally but you know their parents and have a sense of connection with them.

That is community.

Now that it is so popular to exercise consumer choice (ach, that ugly expression) we find parents researching programs and facilities at schools all across the GTA to find the right ones for their offspring.  Part of consumerist society is to buy into the concept that we express individuality through our purchases.  In the same vein, we express our individuality through our children or, rather, our children’s choices.  So parents are looking for that one program that appears tailored to express the apparent uniqueness of their child.  As if a regular old public school education, that served them quite well, just would not be good enough for their kid.  A short disclaimer here: some kids really are better served by specialty programs, but far fewer than are enrolled in them.

And don’t get me started on private schools.  How may progressive parents send their kids to private school?  They pretend either that the deterioration of the public school system that makes this choice a necessity, or that their child is somehow so unique that the public system can’t meet their child’s needs, despite much evidence to the contrary from international contests to standardized testing.

No, this is not about educational standards and I believe that deep down these parents know it.  It is about connections and the ruling class.  The world has become more competitive.  Even so-called progressive parents are feeling the competitive pressure and, in the final recognition that the 60s were really all about ‘me’ and not ‘us’, they are trying to give their kids a one-up on others.  Private school is about mingling with the ruling class so your kids will make the right connections and feel comfortable in the heady atmosphere of the power elites.  It sure is not about educational standards or the needs of little Johnny.

For those who cannot afford private school, or still cling to a semblance of ideological purity, designer school and programs in the Toronto District School Board often fulfill the same role.

What has this all got to do with communities?  Well, as I implied before, when your kids go to the local public school (yep, that generic everyone-can-come school) then they remain part of the local community. You know their parents, their friends.  When they are schlepping all over the GTA for programs, classes, after school events, not only are they wasting their life with needless commuting (I guess we are preparing them for the commutes to come when they begin working) but they are no longer part of a local community. They are parcelled out all over the place always seeking the best.  You don’t know who they are hanging out with and they aren’t building anything permanent in our communities.

So when you and your children are making decisions about where they will to go to school next year, stop and consider what effect your choice will ultimately have on their communities — the same ones we all say we wish to protect — and what their goals in education are.  Are we really looking at every opportunity for our kids to get a leg up on our neighbours, or is our sense of community and civic society just as important goals for the education of our young ones?

After all, the public education system, for all its faults, is still the most egalitarian and enlightened aspect of our society.

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Visit The Maven archive.

Visit freeparking’s photostream on Flickr.

Jane Jacobs on the hazard of popularity

In Arrivals & Departures on January 1, 2011 at 8:55 PM

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In 2004, Jane Jacobs warned of the hazard of popularity on retail strips that form community hearts:

“Some community hearts and their associated street anatomies attract many outsiders and are widely enjoyed.  This is not a bad thing; on the contrary.  The hazard is this: as leases for commercial or institutional spaces expire, tenants are apt to be faced with shockingly increased rents.  Property taxes on the popular premises can soar too, instigating even further increases.  If zoning prevents commercial overflow, so much the worse.  The upshot is that many facilities are priced out of the mix.  The hardware store goes, the bookstore closes, the place that repairs small appliances moves away, the butcher shops and bakeries disappear.

As diversity diminishes, into its place comes a kind of monoculture: incredible repetitions of whatever happens to be most profitable on that street at that time.  Of course these optimists don’t all succeed.  Six of the seventeen new restaurants, say, die off rather rapidly, and five of the seven gift shops don’t make it through the next Christmas.  Into their places come other optimists who hope something will be left in the till after the debt costs on renovations and the incredible rents are paid.  But starting gradually while times are good, and rapidly when they aren’t, the street becomes dotted with vacancies. The old conveniences don’t return to fill them. They can’t afford to. All this is not owing to competition from malls or big boxes–but because success has priced out diversity.

A popular main pedestrian street running through my own neighbourhood is now afflicted by this dynamic.”

 –  Jacobs, J. 2004 Time and Change as Neighbourhood Allies. Ideas that Matter, Volume 3, (Number 2): pp. 6-7.

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3 Jan ’11 | Correction:  There are 11 sushi restaurants on Bloor Street West between Spadina and Bathurst. Incorrect information appeared in the slide show caption.  Our thanks to Fred Freedman for pointing out the omission of Mariko at 551 Bloor Street West.

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