Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Little India: Ready for your transformation?

For well over a hundred years or so, we all know that large North American cities, whether it's New York, Toronto, Montreal or Miami have been built on immigration.  The result: Culturally distinct "ethnic enclaves" that have grown from a common immigrant base. You could probably find a Little Italy or Chinatown in almost every large city on the continent. Even the gay villages of many urban centres can be considered an ethnic enclave of sorts. They add their own character to a given neighbourhood and contribute to the appeal and cultural diversity of a city as a whole. 

The funny thing is that this kind of city neighourhood is changing, and has been changing for awhile. There are a lot more non-Italians in Toronto's Little Italy than Italians, and a lot more Italians outside of the city in Woodbridge.  New immigrants are not necessarily heading to the city any more, and as a result, the population of a given ethnic enclave is becoming a lot more complicated. 

Take Little India in Toronto, some times called Gerrard India Bazaar. South Asian business still dominate here down Gerrard street, but a change is under way. In the 70s, it became a destination for new arrivals from South Asia, and a distinct part of Toronto was born. Businesses down Gerrard Street between Coxwell and Greenwood were almost all South Asian owned. Many Indian-Canadians (and other Canadians) would travel to this destination, a distinct part of the city to indulge in South Asian culture.  But today South Asian newcomers are heading out of the city in much larger numbers to Brampton, Mississauga and Vaughan. And as a result, Gerrard India Bazaar is  having trouble competing with their much larger and fresher suburban counter-parts. 

So, what does this mean for this location? It means that places like Little India are going to change. The neighbourhood will not be able to support  a commercial strip that has exclusive South Asian businesses.  I imagine it will keep some of the cultural flare of South Asia- a destination for great food, and products from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan, but there will be other businesses that reflect the  newer population buying homes in this neighbourhood, mostly made up on non South Asians. As prices become too high in Leslieville and the Beach, there will be more pressure for more buyers to buy in this less expensive area and alter the local South Asian population. I imagine this commercial strip will begin to an have an influx on new businesses that will mix with the stronger South Asian businesses that survive.  Already I've seen the obligatory independent coffee shop emerge right on Gerrard Street, just west of Coxwell - a good sign of a more multi-faceted neighbourhood to come. Still, there's no guarantees, and there could even be a period of decline where some of the businesses close down and the Business Improvement Association in the neighbourhood  must encourage other businesses to come in. I, however, think this strip could become some thing very interesting. 

 How long this will take is any ones guess but the potential is here for Little India to become like Greektown on the Danforth where Greek businesses mix with organic super markets, excellent bakeries and sushi joints run by Koreans. 

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