Latest Blog Posts
Wildwood Fire ReviewBy Ezekiel McAdams   &n

Get Connected

August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Riversdale At A Crossroads

Nathan Raine
Published Thursday April 30, 06:46 pm
Revitalization may be great, but it clearly comes with a cost

Photo Credit: Myron Campbell

When The Walrus magazine published an article on Riversdale this last October — Allan Casey’s ambling account of breakfast and Giant Tiger-ing in the area — it brought the neighbourhood into a national focus. The article was at times extremely insightful, constructing a portrait of Riversdale and its people, the revitalization and subsequent gentrification, and perhaps most notably, the anger from the long-time residents who feel their neighbourhood is being taken from them.

Casey’s article, in part, is responsible for inspiring Riversdale Love, a series of events aimed at connecting Riversdale’s diverse community in conversation about the area’s future. Their inaugural event will take place on April 30th at the Roxy Theatre, where 12 speakers, who have various stakes in area, will talk about their future vision for the neighbourhood. Riversdale Love hopes to do nothing short of uniting the neighbourhood through increased dialogue and understanding, marrying long-time residents with newcomers.

With so much change in the balance, a look at the area’s past, present and future is important in illustrating an accurate portrait of the area.

PAST

Riversdale is home to one of Saskatoon’s biggest aboriginal communities — making up over 40 per cent of its population. That’s no surprise: Riversdale has long been one of the cheapest places to live in Saskatoon, and considering the treatment of First Nations people in this city (and province, and country…) over the past, say, hundreds of years, it’s no shock that they’d be congregating in a lower-income area when they move here.

It’s easy to look at property values over the years (or crime, poverty and homelessness reports) and form an opinion of what Riversdale was. It’s no secret that for a long time many middle-to upper-class types (read: hello, all of us Caucasians!) considered it one of those “areas you want to stay away from.”

But looking at the area from the inside gives a very different — and actually informed — informed perspective.

Lynn Thompson, who works at Essential Voices and as an HIV/AIDS consultant in Riversdale, has lived and breathed the neighbourhood for much of her life. She’s been working in the area for 16 years, and does so unpaid for the simple reason, as she says, of filling a need. And although she recognizes some of the adverse qualities of Riversdale’s history, she also remembers its special uniqueness.

“We had a vibrant community. Yes, we did have people who lived on the streets, but we all knew who each other were,” says Thompson. “We found ways to survive day to day.”

Thompson speaks affectionately of the relationships Riversdale had, long before its revitalization, where the community was more connected and able to develop its own system.

“Before all these storeowners came in, we had a huge, diverse community. Not just native people, but Asian, Jamaican, Ukrainian shops. This used to be considered Chinatown,” Thompson says. “And we worked together.  People [in these shops] would barter with each other; we would offer what we could.  But that’s gone and forgotten. Now the priority is to make money,” she says.

Indeed, Riversdale has largely been left on its own throughout its history. In the 1960s, when growing numbers of aboriginal people from northern communities began immigrating to Saskatoon, they located where accommodations were most affordable. This concentrated a disproportionately large population of aboriginal people in Riversdale. Sadly, due to both racism and capitalist economics, the area became known for significant financial disinvestment — and efforts by the City of Saskatoon to develop new business and address social needs were less than valiant as well.

“I think this area was neglected significantly for many, many years from the City of Saskatoon,” says Yvonne Hanson, executive director at CHEP and Station 20 West, two organizations responsible for many community support programs in Riversdale.

“There wasn’t much investment in the infrastructure of Riversdale, or in the parks, or beautifying of the area. It was like, ‘Oh, that’s just the west side.’  But now that there’s money here, you see interest from the City of Saskatoon, which has come long after the interests of the people in this area have been neglected,” she says. “If suddenly people who have a whole different worldview came in to your neighbourhood and wanted to make all these changes, I think it would rub you the wrong way.”

PRESENT

On first glance, few could argue that today Riversdale looks better than ever: it’s a vibrant hub of new shops, upscale restaurants, offices, yoga studios, art galleries and more, a stunning transition from what it was just a few years ago. But the revitalization of the area has also caused concern, because of the displacement of its low-income residents. In just three years, the average home  price in Riversdale jumped from $159,000 to $225,000. The revival has also caused a very apparent divide between the trendy newcomers and the established residents, further increasing concern for the latter that their neighbourhood is being quickly taken away.

“The revitalization looks good on the outside. But on the inside it’s not accommodating at all,” says Thompson. “Yes, 20th Street looks much better now, but I don’t think all of these storeowners did research into how diverse Riversdale is.”

Thompson says that 20th isn’t what it used to be. The facelift has tightened everything up, but that sense of community that was so strong is starting to fade.

“We have all of these new, awesome places, but none of us can even afford them. I mean, a lot of us won’t even step foot in them. I went in one the other day, a juice place — they wanted $10 for a shake. There’s no way we can afford that. That’s almost a week’s worth of food,” she says.

“We’ve been moved up the hill [to Pleasant Hill]. It’s like we’ve been pushed out of our own community, a community that was so vital to us. So now, what’s left for us?”

Indeed, there seems to be an glaring economic disparity between the starry-eyed newcomers and the long-time residents. Hanson, who works to provide affordable food for Riversdale residents, says that the number of impoverished individuals living here is in conflict with the growing number of higher-priced restaurants.

“Yeah, I think it’s a dichotomy to have the far east side of 20th Street with restaurants that are high-end. What we have to ensure is that there is still dialogue between different sides of the street, that people who have lived in this area for a long period of time and have deep roots here are not feeling alienated,” says Hanson. “This is their home. We don’t want to see change because there’s newbies on the block.”

The Station 20 West grocery store helps to ensure access to good food is available for all people in the community. But fostering relationships between the two very different groups of consumers is still clearly a work in progress.

“It’s a sense of powerlessness — and the onus is really on the new people, who have the power, to build relationships,” says Hanson. “It’s not the other way around, because you’re dealing with a different power dynamic. You can’t expect people who have been scarred from residential schools, or lived in poverty for years, to knock on someone’s door at the Two Twenty and say, ‘Hey, can I have a talk with you about this community?’ That’s really unrealistic.”

Someone very aware of this divide is Ryan Meili, who has been working in Riversdale for many years, both as a physician at the Westside Clinic and as founder of Upstream, a movement to create a more healthy society.

“This has been a lower-income neighbourhood and a segregated neighbourhood. People have not wanted to spend time here, in the past, for fear of what has potentially been going on. As a result, that has helped the neighbourhood become a poorer neighbourhood than it should’ve been. And that segregation and exclusion will take a long time to overcome,” says Meili.

By definition, gentrification will displace lower-income groups from an area. Meili says that with the direction the community has gone, this is becoming a real concern.

“The people who have always lived here could get priced out of living here. That’s what will happen if we have a ‘wild-west’ approach of everyone grabbing what they can. Prices will continue to rise, and instead of having the people in the neighbourhood be less poor, we’ll just have less poor people in the neighbourhood,” he says.

“So that’s why intentionality needs to be there. It doesn’t mean that someone can’t sell a $6 cup of coffee — it means that we are open to conversations, that we are making sure everyone has access to affordable food and housing rather than being displaced.”

FUTURE

And so, going forward, a lot of change is obviously imminent — and thankfully, events like Riversdale Love promise more commitment to creating an inclusive neighbourhood. Carrie Catherine, chair of Riversdale Love, hopes that this new initiative will provide a space for some of these long-overdue conversations.

“I think our whole objective is to kind of facilitate some learning. To discuss the issues here, to find out what are the tensions, the obstacles, the different histories and stories in the neighbourhood — so that we can move forward more consciously,” she says. “When you have a diverse community there’s a lot of different interests. How do we make sure moving forward the interests of all people there are represented?”

Catherine says that through a free event in a non-threatening location, the hope is that all people of the community will be represented. The event is to be the first of many of its kind to close that divide.

“This is about creating a safe and respectful place where people can listen to each other, ask questions, and engage with each other. This isn’t about creating confrontation. It’s about healing,” she says.

Although no definitive plans have been made yet to solve the many issues in Riversdale’s evolving community, bringing together a myriad of voices is a big first step in creating change.

“It’s great that it’s in the Roxy. Hopefully that space will not be a barrier, where people maybe wouldn’t otherwise feel comfortable having their voices heard,” says Meili. “It’s important to have all members of the community represented — because if we just assume that if everyone starts at the same level of willingness and comfort expressing themselves, then only the strong voices will be heard.”

Back to TopShare/Bookmark