Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The battle for Little Ethiopia;Is there room for a Little Ethiopia on the Danforth?

We’ve got the Gerrard India Bazaar, Korea Town, Greektown, Portugal Village and even Malta Village — and now one community leader wants to add Little Ethiopia to that list.

Only the local Business Improvement Area isn’t biting.

Ethiopian-Canadian Samuel Getachew, co-founder of Friends of Ethiopia and a city council candidate in multi-ethnic Scarborough E. ward 43, says there were earlier attempts to establish a Little Ethiopia around Ossington and Bloor, but that the recent influx of Ethiopian businesses in the east end has inspired him to give it a shot there instead.

Over the past decade a satellite community has coalesced around the Danforth and Monarch Park area where a number of Ethiopian restaurants call the strip home, including Rendez-Vous, Wazema, Blue Nile, and Lalibela. (The latter has feet in both camps with another location at Roxton and Bloor).

But the BIA representing the area sees things differently. “Our strength is that we are a mini-United Nations,” explains Danforth Mosaic BIA chair Patricia Silver.

Recognizing a specific ethnic group, she says, “is not something we want to do as a BIA because we feel it’s not very reflective of who we are. We are very clear about our brand. Our brand is mosaic. Our brand is to honour the 20 or 30 different cultural groups that thrive within our catchment area.”

Danforth Mosaic is sandwiched between the Greektown BIA to the west and the Danforth Village BIA to the east. Until three years ago there was no BIA to represent the “orphan” strip in between. Now it is the longest BIA in Toronto and stretches approximately from Jones Avenue to Main Street.

Getachew says he isn’t asking for much. “We just want a street sign. We don’t even want a flag like the Italians,” he says. The designated Little Ethiopia area would run no more than a few blocks between Greenwood and Monarch Park.

"It isn’t about ghettoizing anything,” he says, “it has everything to do with empowering immigrants."

Getachew first went to area councillors with the idea, but they deferred him to the BIA: "The city listens to the BIA because they assume it speaks for the area.”

In a sense it does. The bodies are legally empowered by the city to make decisions at a community level, which are then brought to city council to be stamped for approval.

"It isn’t so simple to say ‘give somebody a street sign,’” says Silver. “It’s all done in a very democratic way. The general membership would have to vote on this and they only meet once a year.”

Still, some neighbourhoods managed to develop identities before the advent of BIAs, before it was the responsibility of one body to brand communities like consumer products, and before street signs said anything except for the name of the street.

Jul 20, 2010 at 12:17 AM


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