We Were Here

by Helio Eudoro

A feeling of nostalgia and sadness struck me when I attended an event in Toronto’s gay village after being away from the neighbourhood for several years. Instead of picturesque Victorian houses, the area is now populated mostly by giant glass and concrete buildings rising up to the sky and covering the stars. Cranes, mud, rubble, dust and noise also occupy the streets, signs that many more developments are on the way. It was sad seeing many of my memories erased; the houses full of life, lights and music, people laughing and having fun, parties, bars, and activist groups, all reduced to a cold, pasteurized scene covered with human storage boxes. The gentrification is here, in our face, in our street, in our soul. 

Even where I live in Alexandra Park a major revitalization project is going on and it’s changing the landscape there as well. It’s also happening in Kensington Market, Chinatown, Queen and King Street West, and Parkdale. In fact, Toronto currently has more cranes in the sky than anywhere else on the continent according the latest edition of its bi-annual North American “Crane Index,” which counts the number of construction cranes active across Canada and the U.S. (O’Neil, BlogTo)

But is gentrification that bad? The process of cities modernizing is inevitable, but it ends up affecting the most susceptible populations. The increasingly contested concept of gentrification-induced displacement is matching the argument that the most vulnerable benefit from social mixing to produce an argument for ‘positive gentrification’. The notion that new middle-class residents not only attract more investment but also bring opportunities for “upward social mobility” to low-income people who can stay in gentrifying areas has become a political rhetoric. While there are good intentions and interesting projects in pursuit of these benefits, the disadvantages of the social mix imposed on vulnerable communities even where they are not physically displaced remain uncertain. (Shaw and Hagemans 323-341)

We Were Here, consists of a series of videos, photographs, media files and materials such as soil, rubble and pavement taken from construction site debris. This multimedia installation reflects my view of gentrification. As a daily eyewitness to the changing streets of Toronto, I follow and document the demolition and construction as well as the people who occupy these new spaces. Most of the videos and photos are of the same sites, taken from different angles and times during the construction process to create a haunting and evocative layering of imagery that speaks to the transformation of the city and the passage of time. The photos, from my archive, show the deconstruction and reconstruction of the city in the last ten years. Various media files from CityNews, CBC, and Global about the effect of gentrification, and a video seminar of Toronto’s future housing strategies are also included.

The diaspora of gentrification excludes the unwanted, and those not part of the chain of the new urban scene. Erasing memories, hiding human waste and replacing it with a generation that doesn’t care. Although the nostalgia of urban architecture makes us want to preserve heritage and memory, it may just be a desire for permanence, a way to feel comfortable looking at everything the same way all the time. Deep down we have a desire not to change, just to be eternal. My work may help to preserve memory, to warn that we should not erase the past, but to build a future that also carries all our imperfections and desires. Why not?


Mixed-media installation 

Dimensions variable 

Helio Eudoro (b.1965)

Using Format