Connecting art, culture, commerce and place beyond status quo

Urban centres, especially that of Toronto, race to higher and higher values and spawn a game of Monopoly reserved to the highest bidder. In times of big development it is the renters and the creative industry that bear the brunt of the wrath. As commercial leases rise, the result the world-over is the gradual fringe-ification of the art and cultural destinations. Higher rents produce chain stores and corporate giants in neighbourhoods unaccustomed. When the pace moves so swiftly and it takes 14 galleries and art institutions from an area known globally for its ‘cool’ happenings, it is important to consider how we evolve and accommodate hundreds of new condo-dwellers without losing our identity.

Our sense of place and belonging impacts how we engage with our surroundings. If we don’t feel connected or permanent, we are then apathetic to the changes shaping our neighbourhoods and our Toronto.

To combat is to enable a stronger connection to this place we call home, push for the positive changes that will help Toronto continue on its path to becoming a true urban world centre. The creative economy has the power to play a major role in Toronto’s global competitiveness. We have produced world-leading entertainment icons, a famed film festival and examples like Artscape’s creative placemaking projects prove layering creative innovation creates ‘place’ and economic stimulus.

The real estate industry’s trajectory is in direct opposition to the incubation and growth of our creative and cultural exports.

It is in this time of exponential growth that we must forge connections between like-minded entities toward mutually beneficial outcomes. Spaces for culture will require to be more carefully constructed and sustainably resourced to survive in market climates reserved for box stores. For the people who reside in these areas of growth and skyrocketing rents, a demand for authenticity and community value could do with some inspiration. We can combine objectives of destination, attraction and commerce for an area with a brands’ need for visibility, reputation and relevance to create new value for a public and all involved. We need more in our urban landscape. Upset the current repeat of: dry cleaners, dentists, chain pharmacy, chain grocer, chain bank; the face of many new condo areas. Reserve space to grow into neighbourhood icons, places to connect people to each other and the place they live.

To merge these forces, the key lies in opening dialogue and expertise to discern when a true alignment of ideology can produce an outcome all parties feel good about. These outcomes can be development planning, temporary happening, amenity access, public festival, community garden, publication, event program or cultural hub.

The urban experience is more than consumerism. Art and culture and its economic potential deserves a concentrated creative approach to safeguard the dynamism and uniqueness that made these neighbourhoods desirable in the first place.