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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.

  • Westside U of S student

    As someone who has lived on the Westside his entire life, I just want to throw it out there that, from my experience, a huge majority of Saskatoon people living on the Eastside are incredibly ignorant when it comes to Westside safety. Outside of a few areas around 20th street, the rest of the Westside (which goes for a fair distance) is perfectly safe and I don’t feel worried walking around at night at all. I know this article is about more than this but I am just so tired of constantly meeting Eastside people who are honestly afraid to even go to the Westside. It is nothing short of complete ignorance and stupidity to the realities of that part of the City.

    • LuckyDollar

      Your stereotyping of easy side people’s views is just the same as those who stereotype the west side . I grew up on the east side 2 blocks from lol burn hall. When I was young this was not the trendy area it is now. We knew not all of the west side was dangerous. Nor was or is the entire east side safe and full of ignorant suburb brats.

    • Westside U of S student

      No I am not stereotyping. I never said all Eastside people feel this way, just that from my personal experience a ton of them do and from my personal experience I have met a ton of Eastside people that think they would be in serious danger if they came to any part of the Westside. Obviously this is anecdotal evidence so I cannot and am not claiming that all Eastside people feel this way but on a very regular basis I experience this mentality among people who live on the Eastside and it gets really old constantly having to deal with people who have no clue what they are talking about.

    • JP

      I’ve lived on the East side my entire life, and am merely curious: What are the more dangerous parts of the Westside? Like, could one walk all the way down 20th street at midnight for a week without trouble, or would that be pushing ones luck?

    • angry foodie

      There are plenty of people who had those attitudes about the westside. I knew a lady a few years ago who had only traveled there to buy pot and thought it was some crime-ridden cesspool. I explained to her she didn’t know what she was talking about. She wound up buying a home there.

      Areas like Caswell and Westmount have a ton of character. Unfortunately, the housing prices for many homes have become somewhat unaffordable.

  • Anonymous

    Glad for such a high-quality opinion article from the Sheaf as opposed to the typical artical expounding political correctness to the nth degree. It’s nice when an opinion is not just the same as everyone else. Thanks so much!

  • angry foodie

    Easily your best article Travis. Well done.

    Of course, gentrification is far from perfect and far from complete. One of the issues I have seen in that housing market is not the higher prices on homes, but the higher prices on moldy dumps that are worth not much more than the lot minus the costs of ripping the place down.

    Same issue in older east side areas like Eastview. Saw houses in that area which are almost unsuitable for habitation. Major vapor-barrier problems, massive mold issues. Some of them were likely destroyed due to being used as grow-ops and now parasitic landlords expect high rents on top of dilapidated homes that would probably sell for $350K (fully $300K more than they are worth once the $200K in renovations/rebuilding is complete).

    The east side is still worse in this regard.

    And I totally disagree with you about being anti-urban sprawl. There is no excuse in the world for lots costing $100K in this city. Land is abundant and servicing is much cheaper when done in bundles. If the city would actually get lots down to a reasonable price, then maybe we might see some downward pressure on housing prices. Of course, the city might well be right that D&S, North Ridge, Jastek, etc. might just pocket that money. However, there seems to me to be a fundamental imbalance with the price of housing today. Land prices are wildly overvalued; the cliche that they are not making anymore land is well and good, but the reality in Saskatchewan is that we have plenty of land. No excuse for our housing prices at all.

  • That Dude

    I’m not focused on this article alone but rather many articles/opinions on the subject of gentrification in Saskatoon when I write the following. It seems to me that while the term gentrification is broadly and generally defined our Saskatoon version of gentrification holds little similarity with the examples in the most populous cities of the U.S. that have really come to practically and historically define the term.

    The “Webster” version of gentrification leaves little room to differentiate between someone purchasing a home from someone who is poor and increasing its value versus deliberately displacing a poor population through unbecoming means (i.e. government seizures, lack of services/access to education, etc.). Every time someone talks about gentrification in Saskatoon they fail to provide any meaningful statistics on the subject. For example, what have been the property tax increases for these neighborhoods and in particular, the properties that have been sold in these neighborhoods over the past 10 years? I would like to see some causation between high property taxes and home sales in that neighborhood rather than correlation between subsequent increases in property value and original home sales that had nothing to do with surrounding developments apparent effect on the affordability of living for the home that was sold.

    To make that more clear: disproportionate increases in property taxes as a DIRECT result of local development causing the sale of a home by an impoverished owner = attribute of gentrification; elevated property taxes following an increase in value of a home from a development or renovation that is isolated to the property that was developed = NOT GENTRIFICATION (at least if you don’t apply the hi-jacked definition of gentrification that is a complete aside from historical and meaningful examples).

    If you really want to get into it, every single development in the city can be implicated in the broadly defined and – in my view – often misappropriated term of gentrification. The general trend in Canadian society is for infrastructure costs and related taxes to increase at rates beyond minimum wage or welfare with time and population increases (especially in cities as sparse as Saskatoon). Poverty isn’t affordable in any circumstance (duh) and increasingly so in cities where the general cost of infrastructure, services, and general living is going up.

    Economic growth holds a direct relationship with infrastructure and services – and by appropriate extension, the cost of living. So my question to the next person who wants to spitball about gentrification is: how can we flip the bill for a growing population and developing economy while isolating and stabilizing the cost of living for the impoverished populations of a city? That’s the real challenge, and stopping development in select neighborhoods is really only a stopgap.

    Again, my comment wasn’t a direct reply to this article.

  • msysing

    Gentrification-historically what has happened to neighbourhoods that have been gentrified and are we able to change the “status quo” and allow for financially diverse neighbourhoods? Ie: Have a high end coffee shop to a soup kitchen. Check out the discussion by Spike Lee and the gentrification that happened in New York City.

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