Kensington Market's Garden Car Needs a New Home, Because La Palette is Moving Out
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Kensington Market’s Garden Car Needs a New Home, Because La Palette is Moving Out

The Garden Car in its natural habitat. Photo by hylaride, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

La Palette, Shamez Amlani’s popular Augusta Avenue restaurant, is leaving Kensington Market. There are two major practical considerations that arise from this: one, anyone who wants to eat Amlani’s food will have to walk fifteen minutes south, to La Palette’s new Queen Street West location (up and running since summer); and two, the “Community Vehicular Reclamation Project,” a.k.a. “The Garden Car,” that occupies an on-street parking space outside the Augusta La Palette needs a new caretaker—because Queen West barely has enough room for cars that can move, let alone ones that are filled with soil and sod.

La Palette’s Augusta location was one of the first of Kensington Market’s current crop of trendy restaurants. It opened a decade ago. Amlani isn’t closing it by choice.
“I was sincerely hoping that by having the second location we’d have some leverage on which to better negotiate the terms of our future lease there,” he said, “but the landlord’s unwavering in his unreasonable demands, so we had to walk away from the negotiating table, because there was nothing to negotiate there.” A rent hike was at issue, along with some lease language that might have stuck Amlani with thousands of dollars worth of structural repairs. The Kensington La Palette’s last day of business will be November 21, a few days after its tenth anniversary. The Garden Car needs a new home at some point before then.
The car was initially acquired from a scrapyard, and assumed its current form in 2006, when it was saved from a violent fate. Someone approached Streets Are For People, the anti-car advocacy group Amlani helps run, with the idea of offering Pedestrian Sunday attendees the chance to use a sledgehammer to bash the car into bits. After some thought, Amlani and his collaborators decided a more peaceful display would send a more constructive message. “The idea came to turn it into a planter, and it just sort of snowballed from there,” Amlani said.
At first, supporters of the project simply fed the parking meter to pay for the The Garden Car’s presence on the street. It was at one point towed away, and then returned. Later in 2006, the Toronto and East York Community Council voted to permit the car to stay, and since then they’ve consistently voted to extend that permission each year, provided the car only remains in place from May until the end of October, so it doesn’t interfere with snow clearing. (The car spends its winters in various privately-held parking spots donated by Amlani’s acquaintances.) A report by City staff estimates the annual worth of the parking spot at a little over $7500, but Amlani says the City has always waived the fee. They required him to take out insurance on the Garden Car, but he sidestepped the problem by putting it on La Palette’s existing policy, where it was classified as a promotional tool for the restaurant.
Now that La Palette is leaving the area, that policy will no longer apply, and Amlani will no longer be able to give the car the periodic attention it needs in order to flourish. This is why the car needs a new location, and a new caretaker.
“When it’s dry for many days in a row, you know, it needs to be watered. It needs some lovin’,” Amlani said.
He’s hoping to find a new place for the Garden Car that will be somewhat comparable to its current one, at least in terms of public exposure.
“I’d be hoping to find a home for it where it’s well cared for and where it would still get to be seen and still be the rebellious little object it is,” he said.
Email him if you think you can supply a spot.
Amlani will continue to live in Kensington Market, and says he’ll remain involved in neighbourhood life, even if he can no longer be a part of the area’s business community.
“It’s sad,” he said. “But all things must come to pass. A secret to a long life is knowing when to go.”