Run for your lives, the yuppies are coming

September 2, 2009
By

Guelph Mercury, 09/02/09yuppies

Just a short jog from the heart of downtown, in an overgrown, vacant lot near the Speed River, a tiny little battle is brewing.

OK, it’s hardly a battle at all, more like a scuffle, but it’s just the kind of thing you’d expect in a city where some people don’t think twice about vandalizing private property in the name of a cause they don’t seem to understand.

Charleston Homes, a Rockwood-based developer that has built houses across the region, is planning to build 39 townhomes on Cardigan Street across from the Guelph Youth Music Centre. They’re the same people who restored the old Robert Stewart Lumber Co. building next door and created the Stewart Mill lofts.

Seems somebody took exception to this re-use of abandoned industrial space. Either that, or a hardware store had a sale on fair-trade spray paint and somebody just finished a workshop on self-expression. Whatever it was, protesters took it upon themselves to adjust the message on the big billboard that advertises the townhomes.

Now, that billboard screams “Gentrification is WAR,” with an anarchy symbol cleverly replacing the ‘A’ in war. Then they added, “Go home yuppie scum.” And everybody knows what that means.

Uh, wait a minute. No, we don’t. What the heck are they talking about?

The townhomes these protesters are railing against are selling for prices between $239,000 to “the high $300,000s,” according to the billboard. This is not gentrification. Sure, that may be a lot for a townhouse, but those prices aren’t any higher—in fact, in many cases they’re lower—than the average price for a house in that neighbourhood.

So if these townhomes aren’t overpriced for the area, just who exactly is being pushed out by the project? Is it the squirrels, then? Or the field mice?

Because gentrification, as the rest of the world understands it, is when affluent people move into poor or working-class neighbourhoods en masse and begin to push up property values. That doesn’t appear to be happening here.

What’s really short-sighted about that spray-painted message, which is not far from another bit of graffiti that proclaims “Hang Developers,” is that this is a vacant lot. The property these protesters want to defend is an unused industrial site that collects garbage and serves as a catch basin for debris. This is not an ecologically precious piece of land, either. It’s a former lumber yard, devoid of any trees and overrun with weeds.

What Charleston Homes wants to do here—fill it with high-density housing that won’t stand in gaudy contrast to the neighbourhood—is exactly the kind of development people should support. Considering the abundance of so-called brownfield sites that dot this city, we should want to see more of this kind of thing.

Hoping that people won’t begin to live in the empty spaces within this city is a bit like hoping the Toronto Blue Jays are going to make the playoffs this year. It’s time to get real. Guelph is going to continue to grow—by tens of thousands in coming decades, according to government projections. Projects that fill in the abandoned spaces within the city—rather than expanding ever outward into new land—are the kind we ought to be behind.

Most of us understand this. Shame that some of us don’t.

Besides, everyone knows that the real gentrification of Guelph began this week with the installation of those new downtown “pissoirs.” These aren’t your working-stiff’s outdoor urinals. These are state of the art pissoirs for the more refined connoisseur.

We used to pee in alleyways and against buildings, but now, ooh la la, we pee in fancy units with French names. Who’s to blame? Must be all those dang yuppies.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based freelance writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

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