“There are so many studies that say that once you get a Starbucks in a neighbourhood, you’re A Neighbourhood—with a capital A,” says long-time Danforth resident Jack Howard as we discuss the transformation of the once-sleepy locality into a vibrant and culturally diverse pocket of Toronto.
Howard and his wife chose the Danforth area for their future family home back in 2006 because, at the time, it was one of the more affordable areas of Toronto. Since then, the once-tired, inner-city east side quarter has changed dramatically—for the better.
“I can share with you that our excitement of getting a new shop [in our neighbourhood] ten years ago was very different to our excitement of getting a new shop today,” he tells me. “There used to be an old movie theatre in our area that had been shut down for years, and the neighbourhood got so excited when we heard we were getting an Esso gas station and a Tim Hortons in its place.”
While the Esso appeared a big win for the quaint neighbourhood back in 2006, these days, it is more of an eyesore, albeit a convenient one. Especially now that the neighbourhood has picked up its groove.
“If you fast forward to 2018, you’ve got butchers, great restaurants, cool little watering holes, interesting clothing stores, and even a fish store in our neighbourhood. You’ve got everything you would want. And you’ve got a Starbucks. Most of the neighbourhood realized that our part of the Danforth was being put on the map when we got a Starbucks,” he chuckles.
And the Danforth certainly is on the map. According to Toronto realtor Paul Johnston, the gentrifying Danforth is an increasingly popular habitat for young professionals and families. He also tells me that since about 2016, average home prices around the Danforth have been trending upward more quickly than in the west of the city.
Comparing the Danforth to High Park, an area with similar access to highways, transit, and amenities, Johnston says that despite many interesting parallels—both areas are also very accommodating to families from all backgrounds who seek more affordable urban housing—the Danforth remains the more budget-friendly of the two, something that looks likely to change in the near future.
“The east side has really cometh over the last ten years with the evolution of the Danforth becoming quite prominent and extending farther east, and the rise of Leslieville and Riverdale has really made the east side come onto the map. It’s really changed,” Howard tells me. “It was once almost a little embarrassing to own a house in the Danforth, but now we’re actually proud to own a house here.”
Howard describes the sense of community he and his young family experience: the joy of street hockey with neighbours, and the wonderful outdoor spaces for families. Most of the people that have moved into the area are professionals in their thirties and forties, so the area has witnessed rapid gentrification.
“You can really tell a difference from 2006 where I was the only guy getting on the subway with a suit on, compared to now. I was once kind of the lone wolf out there coming downtown to work.”
Howard confesses that despite possessing a parking pass in one of the most expensive buildings in the city, he rides the subway to work, because it takes less time to commute downtown by TTC than to drive the seven kilometres to the financial district.
I can’t help thinking that the Danforth may well be one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
“I know there are zoning restrictions on the Danforth, but if I was the mayor, or a city planner, I would love to put up twenty- or thirty-floor condos,” Howard tells me when I ask if there is anything he would like to change about the neigbourhood. “The view from the Danforth down into the core of the city is truly off the charts, and to look at Toronto from that side of the city is truly unique. Why aren’t we helping with the urban sprawl and getting people downtown to feed the core?” Howard asks.
Perhaps urban planning is the shortcoming of the Danforth, or perhaps it’s the reason why the area manages to be both a thriving inner-city hub and a family-oriented pocket. In any case, as realtor Paul Johnston tells me, “the east side is catching up.”
Published in On the Danforth, Summer 2019