If the financial district is the brain of Toronto, Kensington Market must be the heart.
The market is an artistic centre of culture that holds a variety of unique retail boutiques, beautiful art, an eclectic combination of hippies and punks, and several fun restaurants and bars. In the middle of inner-city Toronto, this fragile ecosystem is threatened by rising prices, condo development and gentrification. But, there are people in power who want to keep Kensington local and sustainable, and protect it from being overtaken by large buildings and corporations. A property tax adjustment pilot project targeting small retail businesses could save the area.
Nigel Murray, owner of Dancing Days, a vintage retail shop in the area, feels the pain of the property tax hikes. “Last year, my property taxes were $7,000 and it went up with the property assessment to $15,000,” Murray says. “How much business can you possibly do when the rent is so high?”
The motion to support small retail businesses in Kensington Market is being supported by Councillor Joe Cressy and Councillor Michael Thompson. The project would incentivize high-risk retail businesses that are in expensive areas to stay open by providing lower property taxes. By providing financial relief in the form of tax adjustments, retail businesses can stay afloat and Kensington Market maintains its artistic and cultural roots.
Small retail businesses provide more than just artsy items for consumers, they offer sustainable growth and cultural integrity to a neighbourhood. The people of Kensington value creating community and in keeping money local. Kensington Market is a prime example of how a community can be dense, but doesn’t need to sacrifice its identity in order to grow sustainably. Density is often equated with development, but it can also be created by building cultural value into neighbourhoods and using existing space to foster independent market places instead of large-scale shopping centres.
Kensington Market’s popularity also drives up prices. Everyone wants to take part in the cultural phenomenon of the cool and artistic marketplace in downtown Toronto, and wealthier investors are taking an interest in the area. “Kensington Market is coming up,”Walter Munos, owner of One Heart Design, says. “Where there are the artistic people, the rich people come. These owners know there is a change because the rent gets higher every year.”
Since controlling the popularity of the area is nearly impossible, the solution must be to protect the cultural integrity of Kensington Market at a city level. the motion to protect small retail businesses in Kensington Market was approved at City Council on Tuesday to be reviewed by the executive committee in October. If the project is a success, it can also be repeated in other areas and local and sustainable community development can continue to prosper in Toronto.