Economic drivers in local communities relate to the diversity of talent that exists. Diversity of talent ranges from entrepreneurs to those in arts and culture, particularly from Canada’s immigrant population’s contribution, as a positive influence on city-regions (Gertler, 2009, 120). What makes Canadian cities like Toronto flourish is its “distinctive cultural capital” that is felt in key sectors such as food, arts and culture (Gertler, 121). While Richard Florida distinctly refers to the Creative Class (2003) in that diversity and creativity, including artists, are basic drivers of innovation (Florida, 2003, 8). However, with that assessment of the creative class, the theory becomes problematic in that Florida realized a “new urban crisis” was on the horizon. There was a decline of middle-class neighbourhoods, gentrification and economic segregation (Florida, 2017) in major cities. There is no better example of this than one currently happening in Toronto along the Eglinton West Corridor in the City of Toronto, particularly in the Little Jamaica area. The City of Toronto’s Anti-Black Racism Unit addressed the current effects on Black businesses and initiatives. The purpose is to uplift areas such as Little Jamaica to reverse the trend and bring back economic prosperity.
With this article, I will highlight the significance of the Little Jamaica area and its prominence of the diversity of Toronto and its decline because of past policies that neglected such areas. From there, I will use Gertler’s explanatory power when it comes to the immigrant contributions on cities. I will then explain how Florida’s creative class and new urban crisis harbours on a social dilemma regarding race and class.
Diversity is its Strength
Economic success rests on an increasingly global and connected world that bring out the social qualities of cities and city-regions (Wolfe and Gertler, 2016, 7). The success is based on the quality of place and community characteristics that promote strong cohesion (Wolfe and Gertler, 7). Securing talent is influenced by local levels of liberality to diversity and is brought by inclusivity and belongingness towards immigration.
Diversity rests in the openness towards immigration. Immigration changed both mature inner suburbs’ social character, such as Eglinton West and Rexdale and suburbs like the ethnic enclaves found in Brampton and Markham. Immigration has a strong positive economic influence in two ways. First, skilled workers and entrepreneurs are a significant source of new human capital or talent. Second, immigration flows enrich cultural economies through creativity and dynamism located in various sectors, including food production and the arts (Gertler, 2001, 120).
Placemaking is based on the premise that cities make investments into the public realm to become more inclusive, welcoming and dynamic cities where people want to live, work and play. Creating those equitable and inclusive spaces though becomes a challenging endeavour. For cities to compete based on quality of place, quality of life, and innovation, social polarization and spatial segregation must be prevented by accommodating diversity and cultural pluralism (Wolfe and Gertler, 7).
Where there is diversity within cities, there are a flow of ideas through innovation and culture. While Wolfe and Gertler refer to innovation through collaboration and the relationships with post-secondary institutions and research centres (Wolfe and Gertler, 123), there is subject of cultural dynamism that I referred to earlier. The success of entrepreneurs of cultural products rests on a common attribute of their “originality, distinctiveness, creativity and imagination” (Wolfe and Gertler, 124).
The observations from Gertler and Wolfe on the role immigrants have played on Canadian cities continues today. Urban theorists such as Richard Florida have similar viewpoints, especially on the creativity factor of immigrants on the economic success of cities. In the next section, I will discuss Richard Florida’s theory of the creative class and how he believes they shape cities.
The Creative Class
Richard Florida’s thesis on the creative class (2003) asserted cities that were prosperous were doing so because of the success of those in the creative economy. These are the talented and educated professionals who worked in knowledge-based industries like business and finance, technology, healthcare and medicine, law, and education. In a 2005 paper, Florida stated what makes “an enduring difference in a city’s quality of life are small low cost, community-initiated, and bottom-up improvements like parks, bike paths, neighbourhood improvements, and so on” (Florida, 2005, 202). Consequently, they would find themselves more substantial and more prosperous than other municipalities because the impact would trickle down to all sectors of the urban economy.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stated, to which Florida quoted, “the most creative individuals want to live in places that protect personal freedoms, prize diversity, and offer a bunch of cultural opportunities” (Florida, 202). Consistent within Florida’s work is that while his definition of cultural diversity refers to the Gay and Bohemian indices (Florida, 12-13), there was no mention of the role ethnic diversity plays in his creative class theory. Florida’s theory then becomes problematic in the context of Toronto’s immigrant population, including Afro-Caribbeans, to which even Wolfe and Gertler (2016) were in disagreement. I will speak about this later in the paper.
The Rise and Displacement of the Little Jamaica Cultural District
Africans have made a significant contribution to Toronto’s economy contributing their talents its cultural mosaic. Yet the Toronto CMA has the highest proportion of immigrants of any major centre in North America. Immigration is a strong positive economic influence on city-regions. They have played prominent roles in skilled labour and as entrepreneurs, as seen in Little Jamaica. While cultural diversity is meant to drive economic opportunity among immigrants and the creative class, the benefits have not trickled down to Toronto’s Black population. Blacks comprise of 9% of Toronto’s population according to the 2016 Census, yet have an unemployment rate of 13% (Vincent, 2018). In addition, Black residents are often concentrated in precarious part-time work that is inadequate to meet their basic needs and fails to leverage their talents (City of Toronto, 2017, 29).
Currently, the heart of the Black business has been centred around Little Jamaica. Little Jamaica is a commercial business district located in the former City of York on Eglinton Avenue West and between Marlee and Oakwood Avenues. While this strip is the heart of Little Jamaica, Black business extends south on Oakwood Avenue and further west on Eglinton to Keele Street. The neighbourhood has been the distinct cultural hub for Afro-Caribbeans for nearly 50 years. Immigration policies had favoured White immigrants up until the 1960s. There was a rise of new immigrants from Caribbean countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica. Early enclaves gathered around Bathurst and Bloor. With opportunities rising in Toronto’s inner suburbs, the Black community dispersed throughout the City like in Lawrence Heights, Jane and Finch and Rexdale, and Eglinton West (Black Urbanism TO et al, 11-12 2020).
At the height of Little Jamaica’s prominence in the 1970s, it became a destination for a variety of activities related to food, arts, culture. This is where patrons and residents from outside the neighbourhood would purchase specific products and clothes when traditional stores would not cater to Caribbean culture’s diverse needs. The barbershop and salons are well-known spots for the Black community where residents from all over Toronto gather. Besides, there are celebrations such as the Junior Caribana parade, otherwise known as Kiddie Carnival, and the celebrations of Trinidad and Jamaica’s participation in FIFA World Cups in 1998 and 2006, respectively.
The community has been faced with business displacement and rapid gentrification. With the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail construction, scheduled to open in 2022, and political inaction by way of a lack of government support, many small businesses along the corridor have been forced to shut down (BUTO, 15). This displacement has been caused by lax city planning policies that “cater to the interests and tastes that align with a larger neo-liberal plan…that has been a culmination of a deliberate set of actions and inactions” (BUTO, 27).
Systemic racism and Anti-Black bias are prevalent in housing, transportation, health and economic development which “trickle down” to the community level which marginalizes Torontonians of African descent. This has resulted in a lack of economic opportunities, poor health, precarious employment, and service delivery discrepancies. To take steps to reverse these discrepancies and provide a level playing field for Black Torontonians, the Action Plan for Confronting Anti-Black Racism is a leadership initiative to operationalize equity. The next section will outline specific initiatives in the Action Plan related to economic development.
Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism
In 2017, the City of Toronto introduced the Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black racism. A 5-year plan focused on corrective action to address historically embedded municipal services, programs, and policies. The Action Plan includes recommendations in 22 recommendations and 80 actions. There are 5 key areas focused on operationalizing racial equity, including child and youth development; health and community services; job opportunities and income supports; policing and the justice system; and community engagement and Black leadership. For the purpose of this paper, I will focus on the recommendations in supporting Black-owned businesses (Recommendation 15) and investing in Black arts and culture (Recommendation 21).
Several actions within The Plan were proposed. These actions involved targeting Black-owned business and social enterprises, supporting startups and incubations and business supports for women, Francophones and those who were previously incarcerated (Toronto, 32). Furthermore, concerning community engagement and investing Black culture, the actions recommended included reporting on the economic impacts from community festivals, engaging the community in increasing the sustainability of festivals, and outreach to African descent regarding City grant processes (Toronto, 38).
The City has been willing to listen to Blacks across Toronto. Through the Mayor’s Roundtable, facilitated by the City’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit and the Economic Development Division, some action has been taken. For example, the Unit’s priorities for 2021 include:
• Enhancing supports to the Black arts and culture through increased investments in festivals that preserve and promote Black Heritage; and,
• Supporting Black-owned Businesses to better recover from COVID-19 to compete and thrive as part of City Programs such as Digital Main Street (City of Toronto, 2020a).
In the summer of 2020, the City of Toronto announced a commitment to over $1 million in investing in the arts and the business sector to address the systemic economic, social, and cultural exclusion facing Black communities (City of Toronto, 2020b). Some of the announcement included:
• Supporting Black heritage organizations
• Re-opening the Toronto History Museums with a focus on philosophy of anti-oppressive practice, advocacy and storytelling to connect the public to art, creativity and innovation to work with Black communities and creatives in reshaping culture and build room for self-reflection and accountability.
• Ensuring that City funding for arts, heritage and cultural organizations is prioritized for organizations that reflect the diversity of this city in their leadership and operations, supports smaller and often newer organizations to increase their reach and impact, and addresses social and economic exclusion.
• Developing a five-year community economic development plan for Black communities while continuing to support established initiatives such as those in Weston Mount Dennis, Golden Mile, Little Jamaica and East Downtown (2020b).
Bringing it All Together
Wolfe and Gertler, and Florida have similar thoughts regarding the importance of knowledge and creativity and where human capital shapes economic activity geography (Wolfe and Gertler, 16; Florida, 6). Economics is tied to human capital, where immigration is a crucial source. Immigrant talent is a key source for creativity. Florida concurs that immigration is a significant factor to regional growth. However, he asserts that the effects of openness on immigration are mixed. There is a strong association with high tech sectors, but not with innovation (Florida, 12). He believes that gays and bohemians are key indices when it relates to the creative class.
Where Florida and Gertler (and Wolfe) differ is on the assessment of the creative class. The creative class theory is elitist in nature. Some of have questioned the “claim that particular qualities of place such as coolness, openness and social diversity exert a causal influence on the flows of talent on city-regions” (Wolfe and Gertler, 17). There also has been growing criticism to his theory in that it is based on a “greater bifurcation in the distribution of jobs within the occupational structure of urban centres and the income flows that flows from that bifurcation (ibid, 17). As a result, there has been growing income inequality and economic segregation in cities.
Florida recognized that his theory was problematic and addressed those flaws in his book “The New Urban Crisis”. He recognizes an increasing inequality and segregation in the formerly stable middle-income neighbourhoods, (Florida, 2017, 9), similar to what has occurred in Black suburban neighbourhoods like Little Jamaica. Wealth has only dominated in individual pockets of Toronto. They have the resources to gain access to the more desirable neighbourhoods leaving those middle-class neighbourhoods behind. In the end, businesses like Rap’s, the beauty shop or music store either struggles to survive or is gone.
Wolfe and Gertler mention the dynamism and growth of the creative industries and production of cultural products are vital to the Toronto economy. Black immigrants’ contribution from the establishment of the Little Jamaica neighbourhood, and by extension several kilometres along Eglinton West corridor, has been vital.
Systemic discrimination and anti-Black bias exacerbated through planning policies such as gentrification and the Eglinton Connects study which neglected to mention the historical importance of the Little Jamaica neighbourhood. Multi-level government inaction such as economic assistance to help Black businesses thrive during the Eglinton Crosstown LRT construction. Also, while Florida recognized that there were flaws in the creative class theory in the New Urban Crisis, the effects of income inequality and economic segregation reverberate throughout the community. Yet, Florida still ascribes to and refuses to detract from his theory. Immigrants play a minor role in contributing to the city’s economic vitality. His generalization of immigrants and lax policies from an economist standpoint is considered as an anti-Black bias.
Black Urbanism TO’s hard work and efforts TO, with the support of Toronto’s Anti-Black Racism Unit and several councillors, shone the light on the hurtful discriminatory policies that have besmirched the Black community for decades. With the recent announcements of grant funding from the Federal and municipal governments, it ensures that there is corrective action is made and that Black entrepreneurs and the Black arts and culture are uplifted to allow for the Eglinton West corridor and for Little Jamaica to thrive and preserve its history for years to come.
In conclusion, Wolfe and Gertler’s theory was inclusive. They solely recognized the contributions immigrants made on the Canadian economy – Black immigrants included. Richard Florida’s creative class theory is problematic. It does not recognize the contributions of Blacks on the economy of the city-region. Black leaders’ efforts should be recognized and incorporated by public administrators and academia alike as a template on how an inclusive economy is vital for society.
Black Urbanism TO, Soca and Open Architecture Collaborative Canada. (2020). Report: A Black Business Conversation on Planning and the Future of Black Business and Residents on Eglinton Avenue West. https://joshmatlow.ca/uncategorized/my-motion-supporting-black-owned-and-operated-businesses-preserving-the-cultural-heritage-of-eglinton-avenue-wests-little-jamaica/. Retrieved on February 20, 2021.
City of Toronto Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit (2021). 2021 Work Plan Priorities – Year Three (January to December 2021). https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/get-involved/community/confronting-anti-black-racism/. Retrieved on February 21, 2021.
City of Toronto (July 24, 2020). City of Toronto commits more than $1.2 million in cultural and economic investments to confront anti-Black racism. https://www.toronto.ca/news/city-of-toronto-commits-more-than-1-2-million-in-cultural-and-economic-investments-to-confront-anti-black-racism/. Retrieved on February 20, 2021.
City of Toronto (2017). Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black Racism. https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2017/ex/bgrd/backgroundfile-109127.pdf. Retrieved on November 15, 2020.
Florida, Richard (2017). Canada’s New Urban Crisis. Martin Prosperity Institute. http://www-2.rotman.utoronto.ca/mpi/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Canadas-New-Urban-Crisis_FINAL.pdf. Retrieved on February 22, 2021.
Florida, Richard (2003). Cities and the Creative Class. City and Community 2(1) 3-9.
Gertler, Meric (2001). Flows of People, Capital and Ideas. Isuma. Autumn 2001. 119-130.
Vincent, Donovan (November 8, 2018). Census map shows Black people live in ‘segregated’ Toronto, professor says. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/11/08/census-map-shows-black-people-live-in-segregated-toronto-professor-says.html. Retrieved on February 21, 2021.
Gertler, M. S., Wolfe, D. A., & Tremblay, D. (2016). Growing Urban Economies: Innovation, creativity, and governance in Canadian city-regions. In Growing urban economies: Innovation, creativity, and governance in Canadian city-regions. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.