Gentrification Tales (Part 1): Flight + Fight

How are artists and cultural workers fairing in Ontario?

I am delighted to have been invited to be a guest host here on the Knowledge Centre’s #ThrivingInCulture series to help explore this question within the urgent context of rapidly densifying and gentrifying artist enclaves across the province.

Over the coming weeks, I will be sharing an array of personal tales and confessions, community stories, tips, resources, values, case studies, practices, insights, unanswered questions and conundrums, emerging and future research and more that have served as a critical impetus for Phase 1 of, a collective impact effort facilitated by ArtsPond with a mandate to uproot the adverse ripple effects of gentrification on the arts in Ontario.

Thank you to Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Collective Impact Fund and Canada Council for the Arts’ Sector Innovation and Development Program for their generous support of this challenging but gratifying work first initiated in 2018 and continuing throughout the winter, spring and summer of 2019.

To help situate myself, I would like to start this series with a personal “gentrification confession” motivated by my own “groundstory” living and working in Toronto’s West Queen West.


In a rapidly gentrifying world:

  • The scope and pace of change in my neighbourhood frightens + inspires me.
  • The stories and responses to socioeconomic and spatial precarity in the arts in Toronto and across Ontario overwhelms + emboldens me.
  • The complex and perplexing forces that appear to drive inequitable city-building the world over frustrates + fascinates me.

In these heartfelt, qualitative measures, my flight + fight responses are both alive and kicking. How about you? #flightfight

For example:


On the “flight” side, it is nigh impossible to not question what a single individual can possibly do to intervene against deepening spatial densification and gentrification without feeling discouraged, frightened, and overwhelmed by the sure size and scope of the problem. Does your “flight” response kick in (mine does) when you consider the tales of creators and producers of all kinds displaced from or struggling to thrive in traditional artist enclaves across downtown Toronto, including, to name only a few:


On the “fight” side, thankfully there are a growing number of successes and milestones from the arts community in my own neighbourhood to rally around; they inspire me and can hopefully encourage others to experiment and discover possibilities for new collective actions that capitalize on the strengths of our communities. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but only a few to chomp your teeth on:

In Part 2 later this month, I share my personal “gentrification confessions” related to Precarity + Privilege and extend our view outward to encompass other parts of Toronto, Hamilton, Peterborough, and beyond.

In the meantime, I look forward to hearing any gentrification confessions and tales you might also be willing to share from your own neighbourhoods.


We’re really excited to have you guest hosting Jessa! And what a fascinating first post that weaves your personal experience with the great research you are doing as part of the Groundstory collective impact initiative.

As you point out, the issue of gentrification seems so large, it’s hard to know where to begin to intervene to ensure that all citizens (artists included) can continue to live and work in the places they call home. On a personal note, I’ve lived in the neighbourhood around the site of the new MOCA in Toronto’s Junction Triangle for 14 years now and I am both in awe of, and terrified by, the pace of gentrification and how this is impacting a whole broad swath of residents, artists included. As a homeowner I will eventually benefit from rising prices if I sell my home and have the safety of a fixed mortgage. But many of my friends and neighbours who are renters have been priced out. There is some coop housing in my neighbourhood, as well as public housing, but the waiting lists are years long so people are forced to look elsewhere. In some cases my neighbours have moved outside of the city to Barrie and Hamilton. As with much of what we are hearing anecdotally, the artists/arts workers have moved to Hamilton!

The list of successful responses to gentrification from Toronto’s arts community you’ve outlined on the fight side are indeed inspiring. I’m curious to hear from folks in other parts of the province. Is gentrification causing “flight” in your communities? How are artists responding?


Thanks for sharing a bit of your own story, Liz. As a homeowner myself since 2010, the privilege of buying and maintaining a home over the precarity of renting has been a big part of my later adult life; a benefit I do not share along with so many others in our community. This will be an important focus in Part 2, where millenials especially appear to be getting the short stick in Canada’s growing over-dependence on housing speculation as a part of our national economy.

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Great article. I am based in Mississauga and I face the same two options. Some of the challenges are different in my particular case but I must confess I have nights and days when I am just asking myself why do I keep fighting?