A price has been put on west-end authenticity, and apparently it’s $20. As of today, the Save OSsington T-shirt is available for purchase, the badge of a newly launched local campaign to provoke critical discussion on issues of gentrification and neighbourhood transformation.
The organizers intend to “spark dialogue among business owners, residents, and general advocates for positive development of neighbourhoods.” There is no doubt that the stretch of Ossington Avenue between Queen and Dundas is currently behaving like a highly localized case study in urban conversion, but what’s almost more interesting than the dialogue they hope to promote is the irony of the group behind the campaign.
Conceived by a PR company (Best PR Boutique), launched at one of the vanguards of the gentrification, (The Ministry of the Interior), and offering the shirts at some of the darlings of the new guard (such as Reposado and Delux), this is a campaign championed by the very icons of this transformation.
They are completely aware of this paradox and seem to be launching this campaign with a good deal of humour and good will. Jason MacIsaac, the owner of the niche décor store Ministry of the Interior, notes that “it’s more art project than anti-development protest.”
Their admittedly tongue-in-cheek campaign to save Ossington does raise some interesting points. The Queen West gentrification around the corner continues to spread ever west-ward, but even that transformation can’t compete with the density and the pace of the changes happening on Ossington. Currently, there are no less than thirteen storefronts under construction along this relatively short strip, most likely bringing more galleries, high-end restaurants, and boutique clubs to the neighbourhood.
All arguably good things, but does too much of a good thing eventually become simply too much? What makes neighbourhoods like Ossington work is that they were slightly off the beaten path; hidden gems. People treasure the almost-secret local joints tucked away in a long-established blue collar neighbourhood. When an area becomes overly saturated with the latest “hot spots,” the charm is lost.
However, one of the key differentiators of the Ossington transformation from other gentrifications seems to be a lack of focused passion on what is truly being lost. There is no clear martyr for this street like the Abell artist studios were for Queen West. Can you go downhill if you can’t clearly define where you started? Many residents and business owners who have been in the area for a long time are wondering what exactly Ossington is being saved from. If this is the end of Ossington as many knew it, does anyone truly object?
In the end, you can decide if the Save OSsington campaign is about encouraging a proper dialogue about what will make Ossington thrive for the whole community, or if it is more focused on selling ironic T-shirts to everyone who wants to feign nostalgia about how great Ossington used to be.
So buy a shirt; I chose the grey one.
Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.