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Community Confronts Condo Developers in Centretown, Ottawa

by Andy Crosby

Community Confronts Condo Developers in Centretown, Ottawa
Community Confronts Condo Developers in Centretown, Ottawa
Community Confronts Condo Developers in Centretown, Ottawa
Community Confronts Condo Developers in Centretown, Ottawa
Community Confronts Condo Developers in Centretown, Ottawa
Community Confronts Condo Developers in Centretown, Ottawa
Community Confronts Condo Developers in Centretown, Ottawa

Dozens of Centretown residents rallied to disrupt a launch party hosted by condominium developers at James Street Pub on Bank Street Tuesday evening, July 10.

Residents and some local business owners are angry over attempts by Urban Capital, a Toronto-based group of developers, to unilaterally rebrand the neighbourhood “South Central” following a recent and rapid increase in condo construction.

Ottawa police were out in great numbers to ensure the private party proceeded unimpeded, but amidst the noisy crowd, a few community members were able to access the bar.

Around 7pm, a fire alarm was pulled, head developer David Wex was glitter-bombed, and the South Central promotional materials were liberated. One person was tackled, handcuffed, and detained by police, but later released.

The protest was organized by anti-poverty group Under Pressure claiming that, “Luxury condos mean apartment rents skyrocket, low income tenants are forced out of the area, stores and services that don’t cater to the rich close down, and our neighborhood becomes just another boring, homogenized wasteland.”

According to the Ottawa Citizen, business owners along Bank Street in Centretown received a notice from Urban Capital in mid-May stating, “We want to make you aware of the re-branding of our neighbourhood as ‘South Central’. We are working together, with the BIA to create advertising opportunities for local business, as well as raising awareness about our hood.”

Aside from this notice, residents have not been consulted, and despite the developer's claims, not all local businesses support them. Some local business owners showed up to voice their concerns about the top-down rebranding efforts, which were apparently met with concessions from a sparkling Wex.

The rebranding efforts have gained the attention of the media and the resentment of the community, with Wex’s proclamation that Urban Capital are “pioneers”, “agents of change” purportedly breathing life into a “dead zone”, a “location [that] was really a nowhere between the city and the Glebe.”

Wex is referring to the area of Bank Street around Gladstone Avenue where a series of  bland mid-level condos (named Central I and II) have been under construction over the past couple of years with corporate sprawl experts Starbucks and Shoppers’ Drug Mart opening up yet another series of shops on the main level.

Toronto-based Lamb Development Corporation, are also attempting to rename a similar portion of Centretown as “South Bank” after their 23-storey condo tower slated for completion in 2015. The company referred to the existing neighbourhood as “barren”.

Yet residents are fighting back against the efforts of developers and business improvement associations (BIAs) to rebrand historically working class and lower income neighbourhoods as condo construction results in higher property taxes, leading to rising rents, and decreased availability in rental housing.

Under Pressure’s fact sheet acknowledges the high rate of homelessness in the city, the large decade-long waiting list for affordable housing, the rising rates of child poverty, and the complicity of City Council in the luxury condo boom.

According to the City of Ottawa’s 2009 Neighbourhood Study, the percentage of people in Centretown living below the Low Income Cut-Off was 26% compared to the Ottawa average of 14.1%, including 35% of children (Ottawa average 11.1%), and 10% of seniors (Ottawa average 2.8%). As a result, Centretown was unaffordable to 33% of its residents at that time, a number that will surely increase amidst the condo boom.

There is also a growing concern about an increase in poverty policing. The Ottawa Police Service’s recently formed Street Crime Unit has been active in the Market and Vanier neighbourhoods undertaking routine surveillance, regular street sweep operations and nuisance blitzes, and displacing those arrested for petty criminal offences.

Under Pressure notes that increased policing and harassment of the poor occurs near new condo sites.

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