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Gentrification changes attitudes of Saskatoon’s west side

By in Opinions

Attitudes towards Saskatoon’s 20th Street and its surrounding neighbourhoods may be changing for the better, but gentrification is at the heart of these supposedly positive changes.

The word gentrification has rightly been thrown around quite heavily with the revitalization of 20th Street and the Riversdale neighbourhood. After all, if something is gentrified it usually means that property values are going up, representing a general shift in the urban community to a wealthier demographic rather than those who previously inhabited the area — and that’s the problem.

Where will all of Saskatoon’s lower income residents go if neighbourhoods like Riversdale continue to increase in popularity because of its evident renovations, convenient distance to the river, closeness to the farmer’s market and downtown amenities?

Admittedly, I’m an east sider who grew up in a neighbourhood that’s still quite suburban. My block was full of families who let their kids play on the street because it was deemed safe. When it really comes down to it, residents of any city often associate safety with the value of a given area.

From growing up in suburbia, I was always scared of our city’s infamous west side. As far as I was concerned, Saskatoon’s core neighborhoods were somewhere you lived if you didn’t have a lot of money or privilege.

My dad, a now-retired firefighter, greatly influenced the way in which I viewed neighbourhoods like Riversdale or King George because he frequently went to calls in those areas for work. Lots of what he saw was unfortunate — whether it was vandalism, drug use or a domestic dispute, there seemed to be little good news coming from such areas.

These attitudes infiltrated my way of thinking about this part of our city and greatly shaped how safe — or unsafe — I felt going to “the hood,” as I wrongly called it. I’ve since changed my attitude.

I’ve benefitted somewhat from the apparent gentrification of 20th Street. It’s because of the farmer’s market, new businesses springing up and the city’s general effort to improve Riversdale that I actually feel as though I want to spend time on 20th Street and the surrounding neighbourhoods.

Unfortunately, it took this shift for me to view this part of our city as vibrant and as an area that should be celebrated and visited.

And really, living in a neighbourhood like Riversdale or King George is ideal for anyone who works downtown. Being able to walk into the city centre at night or to the farmer’s market is a convenience that suburbia will never offer.

Walking through showhomes in new areas like Rosewood or Stonebridge feels like living in a different city altogether. These neighbourhoods are designed so that residents won’t ever have to leave the general area except to maybe go to work in a different part of the city.

Having grocery stores, banks and coffee shops in little clusters in suburbia is certainly a kind of convenience, but it’s nowhere near the same convenience as living in the heart of Saskatoon.

I’m not trying to push us all to move into Riversdale, or even to City Park for that matter. I merely want citizens of our fine city to readdress the value that many place on certain neighbourhoods over others.

Why does living in Evergreen carry more value and prestige than living in one of Saskatoon’s core neighborhoods?

While I’ll always value my suburban roots, I’ve been able to see the intrinsic value in many west side areas as well — but it’s the gentrified part of 20th Street that lured me in.

Although I know that many still carry fears and uphold negative stereotypes of what the west side is, I think that if skeptics took some time to get to know the beauty within these areas and to move beyond the farmer’s market and the first few blocks of 20th Street, our city might become more united rather than fragmented — which seems to be the imminent result of our urban sprawl.

Even though changes on 20th Street and the surrounding areas are generally positive for the city, they don’t come without consequences for those who currently live in such centres as a result of gentrification. Those who have been or will be pushed out of the area because of a demographic shift still need somewhere to call home.

Hopefully the City of Saskatoon continues to develop and redevelop areas of the city that need attention — but making buildings and areas look pretty doesn’t always deal with the true issues at hand.

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