A neighbourhood divided

By in News

News Editor

I am standing in a back alley on 20th Street smoking pot with three total strangers, aspiring rappers getting ready for a Saturday afternoon recording session at Paved Arts, the audio/video art cooperative based in Riversdale.

One introduces himself in a quick mumble that I can’t make out. Another, the guy with the weed and pipe, I can.

“I’m Jay Roby,” he says. “I go by Strategy.”

He tells me that he’s been going to Paved Arts for a few years, after seeing a bulletin somewhere.

“They really support the native hip-hop movement,” he says. “But they do everything here, they’re not art biased.”

It is not he who will be recording today but the mumbler, who suddenly breaks into rhyme.

“I’m gonna do some G-shit,” he says. “Deposits in the box, the motherfuckers get shot, like a fox. I don’t give a shit about the fuckin’ bitches that want cocks. I don’t give a shit cause I got it locked up like Fort Knox.”

Not the best rhymes I will hear today, but not terrible for a freestyle either.

We later file inside and they begin the tedious, start-stop process of recording.

A changing neighbourhood

    Riversdale, one of Saskatoon’s most troubled neighbourhoods in terms of poverty and substance abuse, is in a state of rapid change. With the development of River Landing and the farmers’ market leading the way, an area once plagued by crime is beginning to see a shift in its local business, and the ubiquitous pawn shops are beginning to close and in their place rise art galleries and yoga studios.

    “A lot of places where artists go do become gentrified,” said Laura Margita, executive director of the Paved Arts gallery. She says Paved Arts found its current location because the previous spot, a brown stone building near the bus station, was converted to condos.

    “If you’re renting you can just get kicked out. There’s no recourse for renters,” she said. That’s why Paved Arts opted to buy their current property — for stability.

    The influx of art galleries, the hot yoga studio and the farmers’ market would typically be signs of gentrification but Pat Lorje, Saskatoon city councillor for Ward 2, which encompasses Riversdale, disagrees.

    “I don’t think Riversdale is being gentrified, as in moving people out and having it become a middle class enclave. It should be home to a broad range of people and not just a small slice of people,” she said. 

    “I think what’s happening is some of the trouble spots in the neighbourhood are being cleaned. The Barry Hotel was clearly a trouble spot. In 2006 there were 616 calls for police service in and around the hotel. The next worst trouble spot in the city received 150 calls, so the Barry was clearly in a league of its own. Just the fact of the Barry Hotel closing has certainly dispersed some of the problems that were there.”

    But even with the growth of businesses in the neighbourhood, its primary business corridor, 20th Street, is home to more than a few social and cultural service organizations, missions and soup kitchens.

“Clearly people would like to see Riversdale be a more vibrant commercial district, with more businesses rather than social agencies in the commercial area,” said Lorje.

    Randy Pshebylo, executive director of the Riversdale BID, said that ideally, some of the services would be moved off 20th Street and onto the avenues around it, because of the people such organizations bring in.

    He thinks the proliferation of social service groups on 20th is a poor use of prime retail space.

    “The Friendship Inn is well run” because they only serve people who are clean and sober, he said.

    “Where we have issues is where people say, ”˜Well, it’s OK that you’re drunk, come on in. You can sit by my kids even though you’re drunk and slobbering.’ It’s OK to say no. There’s an understanding of a number of the locals that get the message. They understand the rules and they play by the rules, but where there are no rules it broods,” he said. 

    Pshebylo says the people that loiter out on the street are scaring away potential shoppers. 

    “For someone to get out of a vehicle in front of a (grocery store). Why would I come here and have an issue, when I could go to a big box store at, say, Preston Crossing and not have one?”

    Ideally, social services should be spread around the city instead of clustered in Saskatoon’s poorest neighbourhood, says Pshebylo.

    “If you need social services you go to Riversdale because it’s a poor neighbourhood. We think every neighbourhood should have balance,” he said.

    But given that many of the social services and cultural organizations located own their own property, like SWITCH, which runs out of the West Side Clinic, White Buffalo and Station 20 West, the encroachment of developers isn’t necessarily going to affect them. This means that the Riversdale BID may just have to learn to work with the community organizations to solve the neighbourhood’s problems.

    “I think what’s happened is, all of these social services and cultural organizations have figured out that they can’t rent anymore,” said Margita of Paved Arts. She doesn’t foresee Riversdale becoming a haven for business any time soon.

    Whatever will come of the rapidly changing neighbourhood, a balance will need to be struck between social and business needs.

    “It’s a neighbourhood in transition,” said Lorje. “It’s always going to have to be a balance, but I do know that Riversdale has the potential to be as vibrant of a commercial neighbourhood as Broadway.”

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photo: Robby Davis

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Clarification: The original wording of the article “A neighbourhood divided” from the April 8 issue of the Sheaf implied the Riversdale Business Improvement District and Pat Lorje, who sits on the BID board, would like to see White Buffalo, Friendship Inn and the West Side Clinic moved to avenues off of 20th Street.

In fact, Lorje said people would like to see “more businesses than social agencies in the commercial area” and Randy Pshebylo, executive director of the Riversdale BID, said, “If the BID owned the district, we would shuffle the services so that they would be located along the avenues.”

Neither Lorje or Pshebylo said they would like to see any specific social and cultural services moved. The wording of the article has been changed to better reflect what Lorje and Pshebylo meant.