Editor’s Letter (August 2013): the party pooping Parkdale restaurant moratorium
Parkdale on a hot summer night is an exceedingly fun place to be. If you’re lucky enough to snag a seat at Grand Electric, the boisterous Queen Street taqueria, you’ll have one of the city’s best fish tacos, in a room with the energy of a university house party. Nearby, there’s the sushi bar Kanji, with 14 types of sake. A few blocks west is Keriwa, the epicentre of the nouveau Canadian cuisine movement. A night out on the western fringe of Queen is a guaranteed good time, full of culinary adventure and people-watching.
Since 2008, more than 30 new restaurants have opened on Queen between Dufferin and Roncesvalles. Rents are low, and the spaces are small—ideal conditions for young entrepreneurial chefs to experiment. And diners can’t get enough, lining up for hours on the sidewalk for tables. Some come from outside the area; others live nearby—they’re the photographers, TV writers, designers and ad agency people who have been scooping up Parkdale’s attractive old houses for a decade or so. The area is creative class central, and real estate prices are rising accordingly; in 2002, the average Parkdale house cost $330,677. In 2012, it was $592,596.
A happy story, right? A sign of the city’s economic well-being and the overall health of our downtown? Not according to Gord Perks, the area’s city councillor, who says the restaurant invasion threatens to wreck the existing mix of stores and services that Parkdale residents rely upon. He is also concerned that the new wave of partying produces too much noise and traffic. Back in 2011, he asked the planning department to study the impact of restaurant proliferation. He later lobbied city council to impose a 12-month moratorium on new restaurants, until the results of the study were known. This spring, city hall planners released a detailed 30-page report that proposes something radical: the restriction of restaurants along the strip to 25 per cent of all businesses. The proposal is soon going to council for a vote. If it passes, it will be the first of its kind: targeted city hall restaurant kiboshing.
This strikes me as totally bananas. Shouldn’t the city be encouraging economic growth? As for noise, if restaurants are violating municipal bylaws, the city should fine them. We have rules that govern such things. Let’s enforce them.
But of course the dispute isn’t really about noise. It’s a culture clash: old Parkdale versus new. The preservationists versus the gentrifiers. The report, alas, comes down hard on the side of safeguarding the status quo, even though its authors can’t identify what’s worth preserving. They admit the area “has experienced vacant storefronts and undesirable activities related to drug use and crime,” and yet they fret that restaurants threaten Parkdale’s future chances for a “healthy” and “well-functioning” main street.
In reality, the strip is still a hodgepodge of dingy storefronts struggling to stay afloat: itinerant dollar stores, last-resort jewellers (“We buy gold!”) and payday loan outlets. Hooray for the restaurateurs willing to move in, fix things up, attract new business. It’s galling to think of how much time and taxpayer expense has gone into studying the so-called problem of too many restaurants in Parkdale.
Here’s the thing: cities are never static. They are either growing or shrinking. Happily, Toronto is growing. Yorkville was once a sketchy few blocks of clubs and coffee houses. Until recently, Leslieville was pretty dodgy. Parkdale is following in the footsteps of many beloved Toronto neighbourhoods, one taqueria at a time.