A neighbourhood by any other name

No one in my neighbourhood agrees where we live. We laugh about our multiple names, but if attachment to a place begins with what we call it, we don’t know where we live.

The situation is aggravated by the bisection of the community into two different political ridings a few elections back. Confusingly, parents call a school trustee for whom they cannot vote, yet from whom they require help.

Even, a recent incarnation of a residents’ association debated the topic of a neighbourhood name at a few of its meetings, considering an on-line poll after no consensus was found. The website is still entitled ?? Residents’ Association.

When the Toronto Star tried to map out Toronto neighbhourhoods, they ended up leaving our 16 square blocks blank – nameless – hanging there between Riverdale and the Beach. Debate renewed on the Star’s website over it, many suggesting their version.

So, as a neighbour and I called this year’s Jane’s Walk, we are Greenwood-Coxwell: A neighbourhood of many names.

The naming of neighbourhoods is important, if you look at the energy that goes into it.

Spacing Montreal recently profiled a few Montreal quartiers struggling with their boundaries and their names.

Residents in a few of the Toronto Priority Neighbourhood Areas have also demanded changes to the original, City-imposed names. Crescent Town is looking at a version of Taylor-Massey Creek, and Jane-Finch is variously called Black Creek, University Heights or Elia. Residents in Eglinton East-Kennedy Park, Westminster-Branson have also reportedly rejected the City-imposed appellations.

As part of its newly introduced Historic Neighbourhood Strategy, the city of Barrie, Ontario is trying to involve local residents in just such an exercise. When residents identify with and are attached to their neighbourhood, engagement grows.

Identification with the geographic area in which you live is one of the key markers of belonging. Community developers often work with local residents to help them define, and if necessary, name their neighbourhood.

So how did we become a neighbourhood of many names? Through the complex evolution and structures that make up any neighbourhood.

Historically, we are:

  • Ashbridge Estates, as sometimes suggested by residents who live close to the original Ashbridge home.  Harkening to this semi-regal historical connection, but similar to an attempt to carve out a separate identity, as documented in some New York city neighbourhoods.
  • Ashdale Village, a now-defunct effort by some local residents who, through the efforts of a few residents, tried to re-create a cohesive identity. Yet, strangely, they focused on only a small section of the neighbourhood and faded away when one key member moved away. Such grassroots efforts are not always doomed to failure. AshdaleVillage.com has re-emerged with a new suffix.  The Pocket, just to the west of here has successfully established their heretofore unnamed identity, through the creation of a residents’ newsletter and regular events.
  • Leslieville, as sometimes used by those closer to Queen Street, or by real estate agents intent on capturing us with the re-branded neighbourhood to the southwest. (Jane Farrow, at the Centre for City Ecology, taught me that locals also call it colloquially Lesbieville because of the settlement of gays and lesbians into the neighbourhood. See the Star’s map of the week.)

Economically, we are:

  • the Gerrard India Bazaar as the local BIA’s version of our neighbourhood. Gerrard Street is the commercial centre of the community, but tensions arose with this name because it excludes others South Asian communities who live in and visit the neighbourhood. The (re-)branding of a neighbourhood is almost common, now. One neighbourhood in Seattle was tarted up by local businesses with a new name, banners hung, without most its residents even knowing about it.

Socially, we are:

  • Little India. This is probably the most popular among local residents. It is the name I was taught when I moved here, the commercial strip well-established, and what I often say, by habit, although it’s also a name which carries unfortunate colonial overtones.

Geographically:

The neighbourhood is proximate to a few others, so we are sometimes attached to:

  • Riverdale (for those who orient west)

and Administratively, we are:

  • the Greenwood-Coxwell Corridor (Greenwell? Although some in the neighbourhood prefer the perverted spoonerism Coxwood). During the development of the City of Toronto’s new 140 neighbourhoods, planners grouped demographically similar census tracts into larger “neighbourhoods.” Our name was chosen for two of the main streets which as boundaries to the community, and we were lumped with folks on the other side of the tracks – a long walk.

Now, mainly, when people ask where I live, I’ve learned to just give the nearest major intersection.

Comment from a neighbour:

  

Laura at 5:23pm June 30:
Diane , long ago I went to a sewage treatment plant public meeting . Someone there said Woodfield Rd was originally named Morley, and the area was referred to as Morley and was considered smelly. After the “new” plant was built the street names were changed to Redwood, Greenwood, and such woodsy names to rehabilitate the reputation of the neighbourhood.
They also said there was a tobacco house on site . Tobacco was burned to cover up the other stench.
____
Diane Dyson at 6:45pm June 30
Why was it so smelly? Was it the local marshes? or something man-made, I wonder.
____
Laura at 7:59 June 30
Ummm, man-made. sewage. before the treatment plant. I guess they held onto it a bit before dumping it into the lake. I think the tanneries were in S. Riverdale as well so the winds would have wafted them this way. I remember Darlings as well, a “renderer”, I wonder how long that was there. And the fabric softener smell of Colgate, maybe that was lye back then. Phew.
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