Councillor wants Toronto to make café a permanent fixture — amid gentrification debate

Toronto city council is poised to make CaféTO, the pop-up café built out of a dilapidated vacant building near the busy Don Valley Parkway, a permanent fixture. The café is a central part of…

Councillor wants Toronto to make café a permanent fixture — amid gentrification debate

Toronto city council is poised to make CaféTO, the pop-up café built out of a dilapidated vacant building near the busy Don Valley Parkway, a permanent fixture.

The café is a central part of an intensifying debate about gentrification that led to the review of the Don Valley Parkway planning code in 2018, and has prompted city council to hold open debates about the city’s role in its swift gentrification. CaféTO was pitched in 2017 as a way for the city to spur economic activity and encourage people to keep the Don Valley preserved, which led to the controversy and debate.

But it has since become clear that cafés are a crucial part of the community, said Councillor Joe Cressy, who has championed the project.

Cressy is leading the initiative to make CaféTO a permanent fixture in the city, which must still be passed by council in Toronto’s next session, starting Wednesday.

Coffee tasters stand in front of a large restaurant sign on the ground floor of CaféTO’s new building in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2018. (Bill Clark/CNS)

“CaféTO has become a permanent part of this community — and a defining part of the Don Valley community. They’ve become a recognizable feature of the neighbourhood. It’s become a part of the fabric of the community,” Cressy said in an interview this week.

He said the project, “has become a place to come and a place to meet … There’s a lot of community co-operation — that’s the strength.”

And Cressy said the city is pleased to be supporting the café, which provides jobs, “while people want to feel the city cares and supports them.

“When we were looking at the Don Valley plan, making sure this was a part of the Don Valley plan, and the Don Valley Plan [which governs the Don Valley Parkway’s future] it became clear this was a necessary ingredient. This is working for everyone,” he said.

Culture often runs in large circles, and some say the baristas at CaféTO are part of the fabric of Toronto. Anne Templeton is one of them.

“This is my life. I did my undergrad at the York campus, but all of my adult life has been here. I feel I’m living a lot of my life here. And I guess that’s the way it should be,” she said.

But the way it should be isn’t always the way it is, said Lisa Mercurio, who directs the University of Toronto community space initiative.

“The ‘social context’ doesn’t always make it all the way through. This is a case study for that,” she said. “How do we make art happen in a way that is productive? We tend to ask what makes the arts happen? What makes the arts useful? But we don’t ask what makes it possible?”

And the culture does run in large circles.

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