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Can performance artists save Kensington Market?

Posted by Guest Contributor / April 2, 2013

Kensington Coffee ShopActivism and artistry came together this past Saturday when a group of artists assembled to protest recent threats to Kensington Market.

MARKIT, orchestrated by Kensington-based artists Jennifer H. Capraru and Coman Poon in collaboration with Videofag, was the first in a series of "micro performance interventions" directed towards raising awareness of the issues facing Kensington Market - most notably, the possible entry of a Loblaws nearby.

But it's not just the possibility of a major food retailer setting up shop that urged these artists into action. Rents are being hiked and family owned businesses are being forced to close after decades of operation.

"At Baldwin and Augusta there's a coffee shop, and they've been here for like 50 years," said Coman Poon referring to Casa Acoreana Cafe (also know as Louis Coffee Shop). "They're being driven out because their rent has been hiked to 10 thousand a month."

Poon said rent hikes like this are due to the greed of the landlords. He also suspects a particular retailer that previously tried to bring a Starbucks in to Kensington might have some part in it.

"Changes are community driven, bottom up and organic over a long period of time," said Poon, of the nature of Kensington Market. "Now the new changes that are happening are top down, corporate and profit driven."

Jennifer H. Capraru hopes that by creating awareness of these potential changes they will be able to preserve the market as it is. Capraru, the artistic director for Theatre Asylum, has lived in Kensington for over 20 years and wants the market to continue to develop in the organic fashion it has historically.

"It's a place where newcomers traditionally come," said Capraru. "It's a wave of people that they can always come here - these immigrant communities - and find a start here."
"We're worried that it might become sort of a, zombie condo land."

Videofag co-founders Jordan Tannahill and Will Ellis have noticed the slow trend of gentrification encroaching on the market and think independent artist spaces like Videofag act as a stop gap to the trend.

"It's about using the resources you have at your disposal to affect change," said Tannahill. "I think we as Canadians shouldn't take our politics passively and I think it starts at a grassroots level, it starts with your neighbourhood."

MARKIT is connected to the group Friends of Kensington. They plan to stage more interventions throughout the upcoming months.

Writing by Victoria Quiroz



Spring / April 2, 2013 at 08:32 am
Kensington Market doesn't need "saving". The area is and has always been a "market" and as such its future direction will be determined by the economic forces of supply and demand as has always been the case. The shops creating demand will flourish. Sadly, the others will disappear. No government agency or individual will subsidize unsustainable businesses to maintain Kensington's character. The marketplace will determine its future. If there exists a demand for space at higher rents, the supply is now there and rents will go up. If there is no demand, the spaces at higher rents will sit vacant and landlords will be forced to lower the advertised rents ensuring current shop owners will be able to stay. It's doubtful those spaces will sit empty.

That's life and if there is one thing Kensington Market has in abundance, it's life. Nothing will ever change that. History, character, narrow streets, cafés, etc., it's all here. Only those who appreciate it will invest here, The spirit of Kensington Market will endure no matter who inhabits any particular shop. It's hard to watch older businesses fail and if anyone wants to prevent such, to "save" Kensington Market, all you have to do is vote with your wallet and spend your money in those shops. Help them afford the higher rents and the Market will stay pretty much as it is. Otherwise, it will continue to evolve as it has for over a hundred years.
What / April 2, 2013 at 09:10 am
So, everywhere else in the city, landlords are allowed to charge market rates for their properties, but in Kensington, they're not? They have to charge less so that Poon and his pals can enjoy the shuttered streets every night after 6 pm? But corrugated metal door after corrugated metal door looks awesome on Instagram, so never mind.

Is Kensington some beautiful butterfly sunshine oasis from capitalism?

Why does Poon get to dictate who a landlord rents his property to?

Why is Freshmart okay but not a Starbucks?

Not sure how a bunch of fire jugglers are going to "save the market" with their heads so far up their asses.
alan / April 2, 2013 at 09:32 am
$10,000 a month ?? is that for real ?
E. Toby Coe / April 2, 2013 at 09:34 am
I feel like I have just read a satire piece in the Onion.

Please, performance artists, save us! You know so much better than anyone else what the world should be like!

Emily / April 2, 2013 at 09:35 am
I don't understand. What if I bought land in Kensington, an investment which I expected to rise in value, and then I hoped to reap the benefits of that exchange in the form of rent that's higher market value? Am I supposed to stop doing that because more people are unable to afford it? Am I allowed to get a tax deduction for this charity? Or do I change the status of my land to charity status do that it's not taxed on at all? do these gentleman offer any solutions
Pedro / April 2, 2013 at 09:40 am
When cafe it came big price, now bigger price big cafe in my ass it fuks!
Dan replying to a comment from Pedro / April 2, 2013 at 09:52 am
Hear! Hear!
Knucklejerk / April 2, 2013 at 09:52 am
Can any of you think beyond the most basic of economic equations? Instead of pointing out the obvious, maybe consider whether you actually approve of the outcome on its own merits rather than its economic inevitability.

"Hurp durp I'm a realistic capitalist. LOL stupid hippies."

Burn, Mother Fer, Burn / April 2, 2013 at 10:00 am
Its prime real estate that needs to be over hauled and given to way to real development.

Stop clinging to some archaic ideals.

Capitalism, Fuk Ya!
Mark / April 2, 2013 at 10:00 am
The market is not static. 25 yrs ago, the market was much smaller. It's spread out in all directions, lots of cash has poured in, and stores have opened and closed. And honestly, guys, who goes to Kensington to buy groceries? Be honest.
Ron replying to a comment from Mark / April 2, 2013 at 10:08 am
[shaking my head] I do. And so do a lot of people.
ROB / April 2, 2013 at 10:08 am
LOL @Pedro!
ROB replying to a comment from Knucklejerk / April 2, 2013 at 10:14 am
So say we don't approve? Duh, really.. do you actually believe we want to live in a land of American retailers? Of city wide gentrification? Of being dictated to by fire jugglers,low rent clowns,and overage goths? It doesn't change the economic inevitability does it?
E. Toby Coe replying to a comment from Knucklejerk / April 2, 2013 at 10:14 am
"Simpletons." Nice. Is that what you say to everyone who doesn't agree with you?

Don't you realize that artists are just yuppies in the larval stage? When artists move in, Starbucks and the rest are following right behind. Artists are the harbinger of gentrification. T'was ever thus.

You can't stop what's coming. Not without interrupting the organic growth.

Kensington / April 2, 2013 at 10:21 am
I live right in Kensington Market and WISH there was a Starbucks and Loblaws within walking distance. *sigh*
Jess replying to a comment from Pedro / April 2, 2013 at 10:41 am
Im with Pedro on this one-I think he said it best with Big cafe in my ass it fuks.
nardl blarn / April 2, 2013 at 10:46 am
Short answer: no
Jason / April 2, 2013 at 10:49 am
I can't help but think that cafe looks like the roof is going to fall in.

I do wonder where the $10,000 increase came from. How many years is that over? Is it real?

Regardless, if these places are so irreplaceable could they not just increase prices and be fine?

If the rent increases are predatory in nature, then certainly something should be done. If however, the landlord can show that the increases are in line with what one could reasonably expect from the location then the business must come up with the difference.
Kat / April 2, 2013 at 10:52 am
Also, pretty sure it's no where near $10,000.
loper replying to a comment from Mark / April 2, 2013 at 10:52 am
I go out of my way to go grocery shopping in the market and so does a whole bunch of people in the city otherwise it wouldn't have the meat, produce, cheese and bakeries that it has for over 50 years. Such a stupid statement Mark.
Chicken Little / April 2, 2013 at 11:12 am
Coman Poon: "They're being driven out because their rent has been hiked to 10 thousand a month."

Actual rent being asked: $6350

This clown wants to be taken seriously but he doesn't even bother to do 5 seconds of research about what the actual rent is going to be. Begone, lazy fool.
Arnold replying to a comment from Knucklejerk / April 2, 2013 at 11:21 am
First, it's not about economic inevitability or capitalism. It's about property rights and the audacity of someone who is not party to an agreement to tell me what I can do with my land. If I want to lease it to Starbucks, I should be able to. If I want to charge market value, I should be able to. I certainly should not be forced to rent out to someone that can't pay market value - I'm not the government, I don't have these kinds of obligations. If Videofag (nice name) wants to appeal their councillor for a rezoning or limitations with reparations to the owner, that's fine. Doesn't seem like that's their message though. What are they going to exercise control over next? My body?

Second, gentrification sucks but it's not all bad. I hail from the Junction - and yeah, I can't afford half the design stores there. But you know what? There's a million cafes I can enjoy now versus the body shops and appliance stores that exist before it. And yes, people have been forced out somewhat - obviously, within the limits of the RTA - but now I have downstairs neighbours that aren't throwing trash in my backyard or trying to steal/pawn my stuff. Yay! And you know what? Even 15 years ago, the old neighbours wouldn't have been able to afford Kensington.

Kensington is special, no doubt. But the way to keep it special isn't to villianize the people that own places in Kensington - you know, the ones that are actually paying property taxes and technically, own Kensington... - and it's not to fossilize it either. They're absolutely right, you have to get involved with the politics of your neighbourhood. So why didn't they mention meeting with their councillor? Or going to town hall meetings?
G replying to a comment from Chicken Little / April 2, 2013 at 01:08 pm
$6350 is for 206 Baldwin Street. Poon was talking about the property at 235 Augusta Avenue. Perhaps you should heed your own advice.
Phil / April 2, 2013 at 01:14 pm
I think there's a bit too much complacency about Kensington among the "let the market decide" crowd. I think it's great that people see something worth defending in Kensington. Ultimately there is only so much that can be done, legally, but I say let's explore the options.

I think it's sad to see what's become of the stretch of Queen West from Spadina to University - what happened to all the patios and bookstores? Do we really need another H&M just a short walk from the Eaton Centre? That is illustration, if any is needed, of how the a neighborhood can be destroyed by its own success.

The Napa Valley, to name an example I know of, has some rules about what kinds of businesses can operate - no chains - that seem to have served them well.
Etym Prete replying to a comment from Spring / April 2, 2013 at 01:43 pm
The question of supply and demand here

is not about what COSTUMERS are demanding, but the RETAILER demand for the popular space. There is a high demand for the space (perhaps even artificially inflated to drive out competition) and that demand drives the price up to fees that only mega conglomerates

This is what is meant by "top down" economics, that are of no way related to consumers or their interests.

This is a clear case in which the concern is not idealism or romance.

If a market survey demonstrates a strong preference for the current coffee shop to Starbucks, but Starbucks can afford to offer a greater sum for rent, why does it not follow that the current shop should remain?

This is the problem with large, economically powerful chains from a consumer point of view.

This is before considerations such as urban planning - it is doubtful that supply and demand would create a pleasant overall environment since individual choices do not consider the overall environment.

In this case, people enjoy having a vibrant downtown market but may not consider that when faced with time, money, and emotional constraints in the "grocery compartment".

They would rather have the market overall, but on any given day may pick the Loblaws, like a teenager having risky sex or a five year old unable to turn down the high fructose candy.

That short term demands will reflect long term interests is obviously false to any adult, even if no adult consistently reflects their long term interests with their short term choices.

This is also before any long term global use of resource consideration. Resistance to the current sway is also a part of a political supply and demand ...
Etym Prete replying to a comment from Arnold / April 2, 2013 at 01:53 pm
Arnold, I like some of your comments.

I would ask you to consider that being a property owner could come with some obligations, as I believe that by definition you are a part of the government as a property owner. You probably do not believe that. You believe that your personal and individual economic purchase is what entitles you to that property and that it is PERSONALLY yours. But it is the government that makes that property yours. You are then the government of that property. You have obligations.

It is fair that you site the laws as detailing those obligations.

But I also think it is fair for anyone to pressure you to go beyond your legal obligations to the rest of us.

The part where you suggest that your own body and your property are equally yours shows the problem well. If you've forgotten the difference, I suggest you exert your body for a while until it comes back to you.
Ed / April 2, 2013 at 07:06 pm
The issue with Kensington and other "booming" areas of Toronto is that they are now exactly that, a hot spot. What does a corporation love more than a booming region with no direct competitors? Nothing.

The downfall or gentrification of Kensington is actually brought on by the people who want to save it and love it.

If you truly want to save Kensington, move away.
Millicent replying to a comment from Mark / April 2, 2013 at 07:24 pm
I'd rather buy pretty much the same stuff two blocks down for half the price from Chinatown. I'm guessing all these people hating on you are white.
YtBryt / April 2, 2013 at 08:00 pm
Always polarized. Always black & white. Save it's decaying corpse or scrape it away and discard. why?
3rd option. There are a lot of urban solutions for maintaining artists and their work, even improvements that create interest - witness Wychwood barns at Christie/St.Clair and Harbourfront (near power plant). As i understand it, temporary subsidized modern accommodations and studio spaces in return for drawing crowds, displaying work, teaching, interest, consumers, browsers, tourists, other artists, events, inspiration, and such. We just need to embrace positive neighborhood creation, not senseless gentrification in the pursuit of business, nor lethargic urban decay (quaintness), in the name of the arts. We can all win if we figure it out. Designers even used here at all?
smetro / April 2, 2013 at 08:08 pm
When i hear the bellow of the displaced artist, i only hear the last desperate lonesome cry of the wildebeest, oh why must i be prey? why is the world so unfair? Victims only complain so. Use the weapons of the day, business and community council lobbying, legal tactics, and planning objections. Otherwise you are culled and eaten like the ugly, unloved, endangered species that you are. It is jungle rules only in the big city.
MR.M / April 2, 2013 at 10:04 pm
I wouldn't rely on performance artists to save anything. I mean they do great work, are great artists, and I love to watch them BUT how are they gonna save a neighborhood in downtown Toronto all by themselves?
Kensington Resident / April 3, 2013 at 10:29 am
The $10K rent for 235 Augusta Ave isn't just for the coffee shop. It's for a 2000 sq ft main floor with a partial basement on a corner with an enormous amount of foot traffic, plus a 1200 sq ft 2nd floor, 6 bathrooms in all. 1000 sq ft studio units in the Market Lofts go for $2,300+, if you can find one... Seems about right.

If Kensington needs saving from something, it's the rampant homelessness and drug abuse which seriously needs to be addressed - and I'm not saying by just shipping people elsewhere. But that can be saved for another BlogTO article.

The possibility of a Loblaws a neighbourhood over causes a huge stir, but living in a place where people are ODing on the sidewalk every week and many residents feel unsafe walking alone past 9:30pm isn't worth of a few yellow fliers and some performance art?
opensource1111 / April 3, 2013 at 01:10 pm
I'm with Arnold. There are a lot of comments here that are based on nothing but a "feeling" and "should be's". A property owner "should have obligations,' "should not charge too high a rent," etc. Irrelevant. Property owners are not government, as a previous commenter inanely tried to imply. The rights and obligations of property owners are dictated by law, both common law and statute. The owner is entitled to do whatever he pleases, within the scope of the applicable law. Period. The first thing people need to do is educate themselves as to what the law actually says about things such as commercial rent, zoning, landlord/tenant and contract law. Then, if they find the law displeasing, them lobby their government representatives to make changes. Grassroots action is only useful insofar as it is designed to lead to more organized efforts at the legislative level. Otherwise, it is just a lazy, stupid exercise by those who really aren't committed or intellectually equipped to champion the cause in the first place.
Spring replying to a comment from Kensington Resident / April 3, 2013 at 04:43 pm
@Kensington Resident. As a fellow Market resident of many years I can assure you no one in my family has ever had a problem walking in the neighbourhood after 9:30 pm (and much later). As I'm sure you're aware, homelessness and drug abuse are inner-city problems and in no way unique to this area.
Handy / June 3, 2013 at 10:46 pm
I love hipsters, they are so cute because they try not to do the real work to save Kensington, why don't you take your ironic beards and useless media degrees and knock on your mp's office door and present them with your case?
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