Non-profiting for “a more inclusive creative city”: Tracking the gentrification frontier from Toronto’ downtown to the disinvested inner-suburbs

Sophia Ilyniak, 2017
Vol. 23 No. 5 ISSN 1702-3548 (online)

By tracking the shift to “more inclusive creative city” planning from Toronto’s economically prioritized downtown to its disinvested inner-suburbs, this Major Paper argues that the nonprofit sector is increasingly playing an instrumental, although often overlooked, role in the production of gentrification. As entities that coincide with urban economic restructuring from managerialism to entrepreneurialism, non-profit organizations are emerging as necessary players in public-private partnership redevelopment projects because of their special abilities to maintain cost-cutting agendas, re-direct public funds, legitimize private capital flows, and build consensus through program delivery. The paper examines the non-profit organization, Artscape, as it spearheads the new trajectory in Toronto’s creative competitiveness agenda with an initiative called Creative Spaces Outside of the Core (CSOC). The context is set for this case study through an overview of how Toronto’s socio-spatial polarization has been exacerbated by specific “place-based” municipal programs, while highlighting the instrumental role of the non-profit sector in extending the creative city’s geographic reach. For thirty years, Artscape has played a catalytic role in the transformation of now gentrifying/gentrified downtown Toronto neighbourhoods through the development of artist housing and “community cultural hubs,” while maintaining a contradictory anti-gentrification mandate. Setting a philanthropic gaze on Toronto’s inner-suburbs as its next frontier, the organization has re-packaged the creative city script as a therapeutic solution to so-called innersuburban “blight.” Artscape’s first CSOC development in the racialized, low-income area of Weston is expected to serve as a model for other inner-suburban neighbourhoods. The Artscape Weston Hub is embedded in a broader privatization and densification scheme and is positioned as the centrepiece of a “revitalization” strategy that aims to brand Weston as a destination for private investors, visitors and upscale residents. An investigation into the local critical discourse leading up to the construction of the non-profit-led, “inclusionary” project reveals correlating displacement pressures now faced by Weston’s marginalized residents. Drawing from the case study, this Major Paper concludes with considerations to some possible routes of anti-gentrification resistance in the face of political threats posed by the non-profit sector.