As we approach the end of the covid-19 crisis we will, no doubt, see a number of additional vacancies on the Drive as businesses that failed to survive the shutdown shut down for good. I strongly suspect that this will tempt some building owners and developers to run roughshod over the commercial heart of our neighbourhood. Therefore, I thought it worthwhile to remind them of why the Drive is so successful and how it got to be that way.
From its founding in the early years of the 1900s through to the Second World War, the Drive was a rather staid and boring street, dominated by a population that was 85%+ Anglo. By the mid-1950s, the Drive was collapsing as an economic unit and Grandview was undergoing what the City called “slumification.” However, the area was saved by two circumstances: Italians who had previously lived in Strathcona decided to move East; and Federal immigration laws were relaxed, allowing many more southern and eastern Europeans to settle in Grandview.
Perhaps surprisingly — but certainly an important marker for the future — the Anglo elite welcomed these newcomers because they added a vitality and prosperity to the Drive that had not been there for a generation.
Since that time – for some 60 years – the Drive has been the scene of continuous change. We have had a constant change of people on the Drive – starting with the Italians and the Portuguese and some East Europeans, followed by Central Americans, Jamaicans, those from the Middle and Far East, and a variety of Africans. Not only different cultures and nationalities and languages, but also different sexualities and those of various economic circumstances were welcomed to the neighbourhood.
Each of these groups have left their mark on the patina that is the glory of the Drive today. They have changed building styles, grocery options, street art, food availability, everything; and they have done this over and over again.
And all of these continuous changes have been welcomed, indeed encouraged, by most Drive residents. And that is because these changes have been subtle, incremental, and evolutionary within the general envelope of what the Drive is – which is a place of low-rise buildings, 25′ store fronts, and, importantly, local business ownership.
That is how we got to today, and it this same velocity and style of change that will maintain the Drive that we all love. I believe that neighbourhood change can and should be managed in an incremental and Drive-appropriate manner. Introducing rapid and intrusive change can only damage what is a highly successful and well-loved neighbourhood.
I hope that developers eyeing the Drive as their next big opportunity take this to heart. If they don’t they’ll have a heck of a fight on their hands.