By: Shawn Micallef Living Columnist, Published on Fri Sep 26 2014
Unexpectedly panoramic York South-Weston ward is changing around construction of the Eglinton LRT, bringing change and concerns about diversity.
“The thing that bothers me is the transience,” says Lekan Olawoye of the empty and half-occupied storefronts found along Eglinton Ave. W. as it slopes downhill toward Keele St. “I don’t know what it is, the people here work hard, but nearby residents don’t shop here.”
Olawoye is running for the Ward 12 York-South Weston council seat. This part of Eglinton is known as “Eglinton Hill,” one of the Ward’s main commercial strips and is, in fact, quite a hill: the view west to Etobicoke and beyond is unexpectedly panoramic.
The two-storey shops along Eglinton line the street like a giant staircase going down. The adjacent neighbourhood in what was the preamalgamation City of York is Toronto’s secret San Francisco, with steep streets, staircases, and unusual views of houses built in what must be the hilliest part of the city.
Bounded at the north by Highway 401, Ward 12 is somewhat wedge shaped, with Jane St. and the Georgetown/Kitchener GO train line on the west, the CNR rail line on the east and ending around Rogers Rd. to the south. Olawoye says the ward is roughly 40 per cent buildings and 60 per cent single family homes, with those houses ranging from an eclectic assortment of working class homes to million dollar ones in some neighbourhoods.
As we walk along Eglinton, Olawoye points out places that are busy — a Jamaican Bakery, a Portuguese BBQ restaurant — that draw people from other neighbourhoods. We walk by the Eglinton LRT construction, too; a sign that change is coming.
“I know some business owners have already had visits from developers asking to buy them out,” says Olawoye. “How do we keep diversity on the street and maintain the York-South vibe?”
He’d like to see the local Business Improvement Area strengthened. He was also active in trying to keep the TD Bank branch at Eglinton and Keele from closing. It eventually moved north to Lawrence, but he says the bank compromised by leaving ATMs in the area so seniors wouldn’t have to travel to another neighbourhood to get their banking done.
Full services neighbourhoods are something we don’t notice and take for granted when we have them.
Keeping the neighbourhood a place all people can afford to live now and after the LRT is finished is a continuing challenge illustrated when I follow Olawoye into the Syme Woolner Neighbourhood Family Centre on Eglinton with its crowded drop-in centre.“We have an affordable food shortage here,” says Olawoye. “This ward has one of the highest child impoverishment rates in the city.”
Olawoye registered to run on Jan. 2, and has been campaigning since then, currently on leave from his role as an executive at a youth-focused non-profit. He’s running against Frank Di Giorgio, a 30 year incumbent, and former MP John Nunziata, who made a surprise move by joining the race at the last possible minute on Sept. 12. Olawoye smiles, saying “there are no surprises in politics.”
Apart from the hills, Ward 12 is laced with ravine greenbelts, some that are buried tributaries of nearby Black Creek. A hidden gem is North Park found east of Keele and north of Lawrence Ave. Mostly surrounded by homes, North Park’s ravine is deep and its forest unusually thick; a fairy tale landscape surrounded by cul-de-sacs.
“When I go door to door, people complain about neglect,” says Olawoye, pointing out potholed streets and some derelict houses that haven’t been dealt with. There has also been a basement flooding problem in recent years. “We work hard, just pay attention to us, they tell me,” he says.
It’s a sentiment that can be heard across many of Toronto’s outer wards.
Shawn Micallef writes every Friday about where and how we live in the GTA. Wander the streets with him on Twitter @shawnmicallef