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Why queers have a stake in Jarvis redevelopment plans

Pressure from all sides

If Jarvis St is not quite part of the Village, it is at least a close relative, the gaybourhood’s rebellious younger brother. Or, to switch metaphors entirely, Jarvis is a release valve — a neighbouring hood with a large queer population, but slightly lower rent.

The strip is rougher around the edges than the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood, but the Jarvis Street Streetscape Improvement, which earned environmental approval early this year, seems bent on changing that.

So far, debate over that plan has focused — relentlessly — on traffic. It’s true that the plan calls for bike lanes, but with only two minutes of added driving time expected during rush hour, it’s not exactly a pedestrian takeover.

Rather, mock-ups imagine Jarvis as a Richard Florida–style “cultural corridor,” anchored by the National Ballet School and Rogers’ headquarters and lined with granite curbs, bronze sidewalk inlays, trees, planters and sidewalk light fixtures.

Local business owners are usually the first to complain about rising rent. But Peter Bochove, whose Spa Excess sits between Church and Jarvis — and, luckily, is locked into a long lease — likes the plan.

“I’m hugely in favour of bicycle paths,” he says. “I also live in the neighbourhood, and I do think having the neighbourhood a bit more cared for is a good thing.”

He doesn’t oppose gentrification in general, but he does worry about the shortage of affordable housing downtown.

“The worrisome thing for me is, where do my customers live, if the rent becomes ridiculous?” he says. “Unless that situation is directly tackled, poverty and homelessness, then all that you’re going to have left downtown is people that have lots and lots of money. And that is frightening. But I don’t think that’s the intent of the plan.”

The environmental assessment calls 19th-century Jarvis St Toronto’s Champs-Elysées: “a tree-lined boulevard of striking mansions belonging to the wealthy and business elite of Toronto.”

Today’s Jarvis is more an expressway than a boulevard, home to a clutter of rental high rises and condos, student housing and what even the Star calls Hooker Harvey’s. Old Arthur McMaster’s place peddles steak to the unimaginative, and Jarvis Collegiate, once Upper Canada College’s main rival, is now a pretty typical public high school.

But as much as Allan Gardens may have seen better days, feudal mansions are a strange model for modern-day Toronto.

Catherine Nash, a professor of geography at Brock University, wrote her thesis on the Village. Now she studies Queer West, but she is still interested in the stories we tell each other about cities. At “former glory,” her ears prick up.

“In returning [something] to its former glory, former has to have a time period,” she says. “It’s always saturated with class and race, ideas about what that glory looks like.”

Kevin Stolarick, research director at Richard Florida’s Martin Prosperity Institute, admits that further gentrification is the usual result of streetscape renovation, and not just on Jarvis.

“Part of the pressure on Church is because of what’s happening on Yonge. If you do the same thing on Jarvis, it’s going to come from the other side too,” he says.

Stolarick has a more palpable parallel for the Jarvis revitalization, though: the nearly built Spadina Expressway, which, urban fable has it, almost destroyed Chinatown, Kensington Market and the Annex. 

“Jarvis always struck me as odd, in that it wasn’t very much of an urban street; it was an interstate sort of plunked down in the middle there,” he says. “When people fought the Spadina Expressway for so long and so hard, it was because it wasn’t going to do a damn thing for the neighbourhood. It was going to help people in the north of the city.”