Queen West is not so cool for everyone

Queen West named second hippest neighbourhood in world, but residents concerned about changing infrastructure

Queen Street West resident Scott Chesterson (left) and Ivy Belin picnic in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Sana Fatana//Toronto Observer

When Vogue named part of Toronto the second “hippest” neighbourhood in the world (Tokyo being the first), many Torontonians were thrilled to have received international recognition. However, some locals have a different opinion of what living in a cool neighborhood really means.

The Queen West area has undeniably attracted a lot of visitors in the past decade, due to its charming arts and design influences. But as the neighbourhood has opened up to a wider public, it has become more closed off to some devoted natives.

Ivy Berlin, considers herself “living an alternative lifestyle,” as a member of the Goth community. She enjoys picnics with her Friend Scott Chesterson in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Queen West once felt like home to Ivy, yet lately, she finds herself reminiscing about those days, as they are becoming a faint memory.

“It used to be kind of a haven for us,” Ivy said. “Now it’s just like any other street.”

The Queen West area was a Gothic retreat in the 1980s and 1990s. Now, several of its prominent nightclubs have shut down. Savage Garden closed its doors in 2008 after 15 successful years, a Shoppers Drug Mart has replaced Funhouse, The Big Bop turned into a giant furniture store, and Sanctuary is now a Starbucks. To a Gothic enthusiast, this “hip” neighbourhood is becoming a nightmare.

“It’s an outdoor mall now “ says Chesterson. “It’s gentrified; it’s nicer to visit I suppose and kind of less fun to hang out at.”

The Gothic community isn’t the only one who shares this sentiment. A store owner at Queen West and Dovercourt, who didn’t want to be named, shrugged at the idea of his neighbourhood being “the coolest,” pointing to art galleries that have closed and escalating rent costs, and reaffirming the area as gentrified.

Ironically, while Vogue listed the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art as one of the neighbourhoods “cool” factors, Dec. 31 is to mark the last day of MOCCA on Queen Street West. The museum is moving to an undecided location, to be replaced by a condo development.

Tao Drayton, who is on the board of directors of the Art and Design District on Queen West and is owner of vintage clothing store Cabaré, says he’s thrilled Queen West is finally getting the credit it deservers.

“Toronto really is this amazing experiment in how people of so many different backgrounds can live so well together and succeed together,” he said.

Ultimately, it seems that becoming more mainstream is the cost you pay for diversity. Queen West is cool, depending on your definition.

Berlin sums it up: “It’s just for a different grouping of people now. That’s what happens, you know…. Cultures change.”

About this article

By: Sana Fatani
Copy editor: Erin Sandel
Posted: Sep 11 2014 9:43 am
Filed under: Arts & Life News