After the community faced near-extinction, the City of Toronto has responded to a recent call to save Little Jamaica.
“These businesses can’t survive another year, ” Toronto-St. Paul’s councillor Josh Matlow said.
The commercial hub, on Eglinton Avenue West between Keele Street and Marlee Avenue, has struggled for years throughout the Eglinton Crosstown LRT construction and most recently from the COVID-19 public health restrictions.
On March 4, Matlow is hosting a public conversation to “meaningfully support the future of Eglinton’s Black-owned and operated businesses, and celebrate the character and identity of Little Jamaica,” he said.
“I began spending time listening to the community, to the business owners, to really understand what the challenges were there,” he said in an interview. “What became very clear to me, very quickly, was that both the Black community and the Black business owners have been asking for support for a very long time.”
The councillor said Little Jamaica merits the same attention given to other neighbourhoods in the city.
Well after Metrolinx’s construction is complete, the area could remain a construction zone as redevelopers’ interest in the Eglinton West area continues to grow because of the rapid transit line.
“There is a concern that’s valid, which is if those buildings are redeveloped, will it just become gentrified and just a bunch of little coffee shops and furniture stores?” Matlow said. “And also will the businesses and the residences become less and less affordable?”
Matlow brought a motion to city council last year to protect all aspects of Little Jamaica, covering economic development, transportation, planning, and heritage preservation, as well as combating anti-Black racism.
Reverse the trend
The March 4 conversation is part of a consultation process to make sure the community’s voice is heard. Through the consultation process, business owners and residents can advise on what they want to see in their community’s future.
“I want to make sure that there are chairs at the table for them and they know how to get to that chair,” Matlow said.
He noted historically Black communities throughout North America have been displaced by both expressway developments and gentrification.
“This might be one of the first times that we reverse that trend and we actually invest in, support, celebrate and foster the success of this community and this business area.”