Kensington Market Weighs the Benefits of Shunning Cars
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Kensington Market Weighs the Benefits of Shunning Cars

Community members gathered last night to express mixed feelings about the ongoing pedestrianization of Kensington Market.

The crowd on a recent Market Sunday. Photo by Yvonne Bambrick.

Kensington Market’s new Market Sundays are the neighbourhood’s fledgling attempt at closing its streets to auto traffic every Sunday throughout August and September, but organizers and attendees alike are still getting used to the change. At a Kensington community centre Monday night, business owners, residents, and members of the Market’s Business Improvement Area met to discuss the new initiative, now entering its third week.

The jury is still out on whether or not the more-frequent street closures are a good thing, as Kensington Market BIA coordinator Yvonne Bambrick readily admits.

“If there are things we should be doing differently we want to apply those that can be applied moving forward for the rest of the events,” she says.

There continues to be some confusion, even among Market locals, about how Market Sundays differ from the larger Pedestrian Sundays, which in past years saw Kensington’s streets closed to auto traffic on the last Sunday of each month from May to October. This year, there will only be three Pedestrian Sundays. Two have happened already.

Bambrick describes Market Sundays as being more frequent than Pedestrian Sundays, but also more low-key. The idea is for them to be like regular Sundays in the Market, but without any motor vehicles that don’t absolutely need to be there. (Cars that are already parked within the market can stay and exit as needed.) Pedestrian Sundays, meanwhile, are totally car-free. Another major difference is that Market Sundays have no scheduled bands or large-scale entertainment. Pedestrian Sundays are characterized by amplified musical performances.

The aim of Market Sundays is to help bring people to the area by giving them more room to spill off the sidewalks, while avoiding the Pedestrian-Sunday-style noise and overcrowding that have been a perennial source of complaints from area residents and businesspeople.

While business owners and residents generally agree that there is a benefit to Market Sundays, attendees at the meeting wondered what the change will ultimately mean for Kensington Market as a whole.

Some of the questions that arose were fundamental: Is Kensington Market an entertainment district, a shopping district, or a residential neighbourhood? Should events then take the tone of a party, a celebration, a way to make money, or, as a few residents suggested, should they be scraped entirely?

Anne Creaser, a resident of Nassau Street, says that while Market Sundays have been quieter than past festivals, she fears that this may have been due only to rain. Her main concern is that these kinds of events may lead to the neighbourhood shifting its focus from food to entertainment. Creaser, who loves living in the market because she can get groceries easily, fears that the green grocers and fishmongers will eventually be ousted from the neighbourhood.

Business owners present seemed less concerned.

“Are we making more money? No,” says Martin Zimmerman, owner of Zimmerman’s Freshmart. But he feels it’s too early to tell if Market Sundays are a “success.” August, he says, is traditionally the slowest month of the year.

Though Zimmerman continues to do brisk business on these Sundays, he says he tends to sell smaller items, like drinks. Mike Shepherd, owner of Big Fat Burrito, has had a different experience.

“A good majority of the businesses are happy,” says Shepherd about Market Sundays, though he does caution that there are exceptions. His own business has benefited from street closures in the Market, doing 30 per cent more in sales during street closures than on an average Sunday. He echos the sentiment that it is too early to gauge the success of these events, given that the first two have had to compete with the August long weekend and Taste of the Danforth.

The discussion at the meeting got heated from time to time. While some familiar complaints came up (noise, problems with vehicle access, blocked driveways, litter, and destruction of property), most seem to agree that a wait-and-see approach will be best when it comes to Market Sundays. For now, Bambrick and the BIA are eager for feedback.

“We are listening, we do care, and we are trying to find solutions,” Bambrick says.

Market Sundays will be held August 19, 26 and September 2, 9, 16, 23 from noon until 6 p.m. The next and final Pedestrian Sunday will be held September 30 from noon to 7 p.m.