Kensington Market and Springdale: The Battle of Progress

Kensington vs Walmart

Springdale v Punjabi


Zoning Changes…

Big Box Stores…

All those words drum up every emotion from fear to anger to joy, and often times it exposes the Ugly beast I call NIMBY, but the reason they evoke such a variety of emotions is because they all mean the same thing; Change.

People generally are resistant to change, primarily because we are creatures of habit, we like life in its little niche even though we will complain about the niche just as often as we do about someone trying to change it. But in the urban planning environment resistance to change is amplified because so often you find so many likeminded people, that you don’t feel alone in your fight against Change. This resistance to change is never more evident than in the furor sounding RioCan’s attempt to bring a Wal-Mart Superstore within walking distance of Kensington Market and Metrus’s planned townhouse community in the Springdale Community of Brampton

In case you’ve been living under a rock…

These 2 projects have been the talk of the region over the last few months (other than Transit) because of the visceral responses from the affected areas. Newspapers have had many stories on these projects, Talk radio has devoted as much time to these projects as they have to transit funding and as one might expect the court of public opinion is rather split. Politicians have latched on to these cases like a baby on their pacifier (which is never good) and the OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) have seen and will see the combatants in their offices for quite some time.

And while all the attention is focused on the opponents to the projects and why they don’t want them to proceed, let’s get to the truth of what is really going on!!!

What’s being proposed?

In downtown Toronto, RioCan has purchased the location of the old Kromer Radio (formerly an old school big box store) and have submitted plans to change the zoning on the land to build a 3 level mall at the corner of Nassau & Bathurst with a 2 level Walmart Superstore anchoring the development. This location is across from Toronto Western hospital, southeast of Little Italy and West of Kensington Market.


In Brampton, Metrus is looking to build a primarily residential townhouse community with mixed in retail facilities, land for various community service uses (library, community centre and daycare) as well as green spaces for parks and a water playground. This development is in the heart of Springdale community at Sandalwood Pkwy & Bramalea Rd. and would be one of the densest builds in an area dominated by large detached homes.

Metrus Development

…Cry Me A River

Down in Kensington, the complaint is that the complex, especially with a store like Wal-Mart will “kill” the local businesses of Kensington Market, the “mom and pop shops” that have been there for years and will forever change Kensington Market as we know it.

The paranoia over Wal-Mart in this environment is very similar to that of a Casino, that somehow like the Borg, Wal-Mart will come to town, assimilate the locals and suck the soul out of the city. Councillor Adam Vaughan made that quite clear at a raucous public meeting recently…

If Kensington Market is hurt, if it bleeds one drop of blood, it’s on your good name. This is one of the most precious, prestigious, wonderful neighbourhoods on the continent. To damage it is to damage the soul of Toronto.

Well be still my beating heart Adam, I never knew that Toronto depended solely on Kensington Market for its soul, but going beyond the hyperbole the question is simple:

Will Wal-Mart damage Kensington Market?

That’s the Million dollar question, Will this hurt Kensington? To truly know that, you need to know what Kensington Market is and isn’t. Kensington Market is a collection of small fruit, fish and meat markets, with a variety clothing retailers and dispensaries, mixed in with several restaurants and cafes. Kensington has a style all its own, it’s not your posh Bayview avenue or even Distillery District, it’s a small, bazaar type market, where the most commercial thing in the area is a Municipal Green P parking lot and a TD bank at the edges of the Market. Tom’s Place, a generational owned clothing store which is considered the heart of Kensington Market has been anchoring the Market for over 40 years as its largest store with 2 levels of the best suits in all of Canada. There are parades and artist year around (yes even in the winter) and in the summer for 2 months they shut down the streets to cars on Sunday’s and invite pedestrians to shop, eat and stroll the streets soaking up the unique vibe of the Kensington.

…and that’s just it Kensington Market is UNIQUE

As someone who has lived in Suburbia and in the city, places such as Kensington Market & St. Lawrence Market are unique attractions in this city. They provide an experience that is hard to duplicate and is often lost in a big city, unlike a Chinatown or a Little Italy where it seems like almost every major city has one. Markets like Kensington are a cultural phenomenon, they defy the trends of society, like Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle or The Grand Bazaar in Turkey. People that shop on a regular basis in Kensington Market or Pike Place Fish Market, do so not because they are necessarily cheaper but because of the unique experience and offerings available. They want fresh items from a local butcher like Sanagan’s Meat Locker instead of prepackaged meat wrapped in plastic, they want unique cheeses like they get from Cheese Magic instead of Black Diamond cheese, and when they want a great suit they go to Tom’s Place because there are few like it.

Walmart’s on the other hand are dotted all over this region and all over the western hemisphere. There low prices are in Markham, Scarborough and Etobicoke and in almost every community that you can find. They give you the same product (generally) and the same experience no matter if you are in a Big City or a small town. Frankly there is little about Walmart that is truly unique. Yet people from all over the world drive past them to spend money in a place like Kensington Market. People visit & shop in these destinations from all over the city and from around the world because they are Unique and despite the changes from small mom and pop shops to big box retail that dominates the suburbs these markets have thrived and succeeded.

Little Kensington Market’s Unique Culture will survive no matter what of mall they build or if Wal-Mart is next door because it is a Unique destination, a City icon…

On the other hand in Brampton, the battle is not to protect the little guys, it’s a battle to keep the little guys out.

According to reports when Metrus purchased the property at the Sandalwood and Bramalea location, it had initially planned on building several single detached homes in the Springdale community. But when Metrus eventually came forward with their official plan regarding the property, they submitted a request to build a community with 446 townhomes and no large scale homes. The proposal did not sit well with local councillor Vicky Dhillion who alerted his residents of the plan. When council called a public meeting regarding the development, a very raucous crowd (notice the trend) prompted council to decline the initial proposal citing concerns over the scale of the project and lack of green and community space. Rightfully, Metrus reapplied with a reduced amount of units (333 townhouse units), but also proposing commercial space (which was allowed as part of the original zoning), green space for a park with a water splash pad and land for a library, seniors facility and a community centre with day care spaces. When the issue came up for Vote at council again, the crowd was even more incensed, becoming so aggressive in their opposition that councillors felt intimidated and left the meeting and eventually deferred the vote till a later date. (The vote passed recently 9-1)

So what was anger in regards to the development? Why were the residents of the surrounding area so opposed to a small density development that increased green spaces, Seniors facilities, Libraries, Day Care slots and Most Importantly Jobs?

A Local resident put it very direct:

“Townhomes is not our concept of buying property,” says Paramjit Singh Birdi, who lives a block from the site at Sandalwood Pkwy. and Bramalea Rd.

“Every house here has two or three families. The Punjabi community lives in joint families and no joint family can fit in a townhouse.”

Not transit concerns… Not green spaces… Not More Play areas for their Children… It’s about having multifamily homes because that’s what the Punjabi Community likes!!!

Oh what a proud day for our multicultural communities

This type of argument in opposition to a part of regular everyday life in Canada, gives a perfect example for all those knuckleheads who live in this country but dislike our multicultural society mantra here in Canada and especially in the GTA. In my opinion this level of cultural bias is on par with the silly banning of turbans in soccer by A Quebec soccer association. How can you scream for acceptance and diversity but say “This community belongs to our people, homes must suit our way of life” “Don’t you dare bring those homes in our cultural enclave”

And that’s just it, they have the opinion that somehow that their enclave must be protected and in a way that Springdale and to an extent Brampton belongs to them.

That’s not the definition of diversity!!!

Problem with their argument is that it is fundamentally flawed from not only a diversity side but a planning side as well. What councillor Dhillion needs to realize that developers in this country don’t build homes based on specific cultural preference, companies build what maximizes their profit and government is there to regulate, control and protect the size of the overall community and its impact on the environment. Government does not zone base on cultural preference and builders cannot restrict who purchases their properties based on culture. Those are obvious, but what also needs to be addressed is that government approval of this type of development does not stop the Punjabi community from purchasing the style of home they want. If Metrus builds what they intend to build, that development will not stop other builders from building the type of home that suits the cultural norm. That developer may or may not build it in Brampton and if it suits your family you buy there. Those residents need to realize they don’t have a monopoly on Brampton and developers are not trying to change your culture or the type of home you live in and how many families you live with, they are building homes and trying to make money. If those homes don’t suit you, then don’t buy them! Certainly someone else will.

The Rub

RioCan and friends of Kensington; Metrus and the Punjabi’s of Springdale, 2 developments mired in misguided opposition and hysteria (social media has been buzzing about these cases). One is protecting its diversity and the other protecting a cultural monopoly, both blinded by half-truths and prejudice. Both afraid of change and both bound to lose.


Posted on June 11, 2013, in Business, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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