Ownership of place

Looking at the titles of the articles I found myself immediately drawn to the article on gentrification. This article examines the effects of gentrification in an area of Toronto known as “Little Portugal”. However, the author is not looking at the general effects of the phenomenon, but rather at the way gentrification impacts ethnic neighborhoods. The authors are quick to point out that they are focusing on the reactions and opinions of ethnic people living in the neighborhood (in this case Portuguese). Initially the article went over some census data to show the differences between the gentrifiers and existing residents, such as income, education, housing type, etc… But I found the reading became much more interesting when it moved on to the reactions of the Portuguese residents (and former residents) of the area, and what they thought about various aspects of gentrification. Apparent in these testimonies were the contradictions that seem inherent to the act of gentrification. Many working professionals move to neighborhoods such as Little Portugal for its historic neighborhood charm, sense of community, and local amenities. However, by coming into these neighborhoods, gentrifiers are changing the very nature of the place. They often proceed to change the qualities of the neighborhood to fit their own lifestyles. For example, higher income professionals will demand different types of goods and services once they move into an area, thereby forcing other types of businesses that have been there for decades to move out. Another example is the addition of “one-hour parking” signs on the streets. Urban professionals lobbied to have them put in to control the noise and traffic, but they deter Portuguese from visiting their families during festivals and holidays. A good number of testimonies commented on the resentment and conflict between the original residents and the gentrifiers. However, when the Portuguese are able to sell their houses for huge profit, they are not complaining. Gentrification appears to be a coin with two sides, and further reading on this subject could yield interesting findings.

The second article I read was the paper concerning the “occupy” movements and the reclamation of space by the people. While reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of how the language used related to something the formation of slums. In a slum, people are also claiming space that they don’t “own”. These self-built homeowners, like the occupy protesters, are reclaiming space that should belong to the public. Both issues raise the question of what is public space, and in what spaces do people have a vested right to certain freedoms. Both are often the result of feeling helplessness against big the government or corporations, and both are a form of “radical democracy” where people collectively influence a space. One interesting conclusion the article makes is that people and governments must “resolve how public spaces will be used to further participatory democracy.” This resonates with me as a planner, and raises the question of what is the purpose of public space, and precisely to whom does public space belong to? And also, how can we create space that expands people’s freedoms rather than restricting them?

While these articles had different topics on the surface, I found that both of these articles explored the idea of contested space, ownership of place, and how different groups of people can change the nature of a place by coming into it.

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