Spotlight: Building up Little Jamaica

Liam McCurry

In 2018 when Romain Baker and Dane Gardner-Williams saw the gentrification and erasure of black culture happening in Little Jamaica, they founded Black Urbanism TO.

Although Little Jamaica wasn’t the official name of the stretch of Eglinton Ave. from Allen Rd. to Keele St. until April 2021, it was unofficially acknowledged by the community for decades, says Gardener-Williams. “It needed to be branded as Little Jamacia,” he adds “But there is a want for more intentional work to be done beyond designation.”

Black Urbanism TO works to preserve and protect the community, “making sure these communities and their interests are spoken to,” he says, ensuring the culture and community of Little Jamacia continues to live up to the name.

“Pathways to Community Ownership,” the organization’s plan for the future of black businesses in little Jamaica, proposes strategies to, “reduce the barriers for black-owned businesses and increase access to property ownership for the residents of Little Jamaica through various wealth building models.”

The big question for Gardner Williams and Black Urbanism TO is, “how do we keep the soul, and how do we give these people the opportunity to actually participate in this economic growth of the area.”

“We understand condo and transit development will happen,” Gardner Williams says, “developers, city planners, people with no real connection to the area or community they’re not going to think about how we can allow these residents to maintain (their) living here.”

“Protecting and preserving black business as the city redevelops and develops staying rooted in the foundations of those businesses and communities allowing them to… have a place where Black economy in the City of Toronto can thrive.” Is the mission of Black Urbanism TO.

These communities have made Toronto attractive based on heritage and culture, and “business is the front face of cultural identification,” he says.

After all, concludes Gardener-Williams, “Without those communities, the City of Toronto is a pretty bland and regular place,”

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