Ontario Trillium Foundation

With a full commitment to transparency and collective learning, it is our pleasure to share texts from a pending proposal for Groundstory to the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Collective Impact Fund. Submitted by Groundstory Founder, ArtsPond / Étang d’Arts, results of this application are anticipated in early 2018.

Project title

Groundstory / Histoire de terrain

Description of the ‘complex’ issue

What is the complex, systemic issue that you are trying to address?

The mandate of Groundstory is to uncover and address the drivers and adverse ripple effects of gentrification in the arts, including growing income inequality, increasing geographic segmentation/polarization by income, lack/loss of affordable housing/community spaces, and involuntary socio-spatial displacement of lower income families and small businesses from Ontario communities.

For decades, artists have been implicated as the leading edge in traditional debates around the facilitation of gentrification and displacement. However, recent research indicates the “standard arts-led gentrification narrative is too generalized or simply no longer applicable to contemporary arts-gentrification processes.” (Grodach-Foster-Murdoch, 2016).

Groundstory will detail, and pressure-test solutions to, these evolving narratives.

Please identify the primary OTF Priority Outcome that your issue relates to:

Better quality programming and infrastructure to experience culture, heritage and the arts

Please explain how your initiative aligns with this Priority Outcome.

Groundstory connects with the priority outcome of arts, culture, and heritage have appropriate spaces.

By mapping and responding to factors that drive changes in the long-term affordability and accessibility of shelter and cultural spaces in gentrifying neighbourhoods, Groundstory will help municipalities implement sustainable infrastructure plans that are responsive to the socioeconomic needs and potential of the arts to build vital communities.

Thus, arts and culture workers will have improved access to the types of spaces necessary to produce and maintain compelling services and programming that connects more people to arts and culture in diverse Ontario communities.

If needed, please identify a secondary OTF Priority Outcome that your issue relates to:

Increased economic opportunity

Please explain how your initiative aligns with this Priority Outcome.

Groundstory connects with priority outcomes of increased economic stability and opportunities for people that are economically vulnerable.

To stem the tides of growing income inequality and socio-spatial displacement of low-income households and artists in gentrifying neighbourhoods, Groundstory will identify (and pressure-test into later stages) interventions that limit or help families absorb the rising costs of shelter. Our priorities are to identify interventions that help artists and other low-income households from diverse neighbourhoods resist the impacts of income inequality and involuntary displacement, including improving access to community services that enhance their financial stability; achieving greater financial independence; becoming/staying employed; and becoming entrepreneurs.

Please provide evidence (articles, studies, anecdotal evidence) that demonstrates that the issue is systemic, complex, and unresolved.

Systemic: Bruce London/John Palen identify five systemic roots of gentrification: demographic-ecological, sociocultural, political-economical, community networks, and social movements. Geographers Neil Smith/David Ley posit production/consumption-side theories highlighting economic/social changes as systemic factors. Urbanist John Friedman highlights increased immigration due to globalization, while Conference Board of Canada suggests workforce automation as systemic factors.

Complex: Experts disagree if gentrification is a positive/negative force, and whether/how to amplify/mitigate its effects. Montreal Economic Institute believes gentrification is a beneficial force for all, including the poor. Geographer Alan Walks argues gentrification is a social justice issue that only amplifies socioeconomic inequalities. Richard Florida concedes the roles/impacts of the creative class in leading urban revitalization (positive gentrification) are more complex than first thought. Recently, Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis used machine learning to identify correlations between 40+ factors and 10 policy areas impacting the affordability of shelter in the GTA. This issue is complex as every city/neighbourhood has its own factors, and relevant data is lacking.

Unresolved: Coined by Ruth Glass in the 1960s, gentrification is increasingly a global phenomenon captured in headlines like The Guardian’s exposé on cities. Historians also track gentrification to ancient Rome/Britain. Canadian geographer David Ley called gentrification one of the most serious policy concerns in 1986. In Toronto, Neighbourhood Change, St. Michael’s Hospital, Jay Pitter, and Laura Johnson have documented unresolved impacts of gentrification/income inequality, including adverse consequences of revitalization on Regent Park’s low-income residents. Alan Walks/Toronto Star recently illustrated nearly one-quarter of Toronto neighbourhoods show signs of gentrification, while Padmapper notes Hamilton has had the highest rent increases in Canada. Rising property costs, taxation challenges at 401 Richmond, closures of countless music clubs, storefront theatres, and small businesses on Queen Street in Toronto tell a continuing story. The World Economic Forum also notes Canada’s Gini Coefficient is rising steadily.

Please describe the population affected by this issue. (Demographics, statistics)

Almost all Ontarians are affected, but especially low-income households. Vulnerable to rising property costs, 43% of Canada’s artists live in Ontario, earning 30% less than the average Ontario worker. From 2004 to 2013, Statistics Canada reports a thousand households earning less than $60,000 left one east Toronto neighbourhood, 700 left one area of East York, and thousands more left the city’s old west end due to rising costs of housing. In 2015, there were 171,360 households waiting for affordable housing province-wide, a 36% increase over 2003. 37% were single adults and couples, 32% seniors, and 31% families.

Please explain how the population affected will be involved in this initiative.

Per their personal interest and capacity, populations affected will be invited to join various governing, working, and evaluation committees for the initiative to ensure the evolution of common agendas, measurement systems, stated mandate and outcomes, and design and delivery of public interventions are always deeply rooted and “grounded in the truth” of the real lives most impacted by gentrification. They will be consulted (and financially compensated for their contributions) throughout all stages of the initiative to ensure it remains responsive to their needs. In stage one, this includes invitations to open roundtables, focused case studies, and public information sessions.

What are the various sectors you are planning to bring together to address this issue, and why have you picked these ones?

Groundstory will bring together thought leaders, policy advocates, activists, researchers, entrepreneurs, and community members from a diverse cross-section of sectors. The complexity of both illustrating root causes and implementing systemic changes drives the need for such a multifaceted collaboration, including:

  • Government (federal, provincial, municipal departments from housing and urban affairs to families, economic development, arts and cultural heritage)
  • Business (real estate developers, municipal and cultural planners, business improvement areas, creative industries hubs, information technologists and data scientists)
  • Not-for-profit (community associations, tenant’s unions, social innovation hubs)
  • Arts and culture (presenters, producing companies and venues, individual artists and producers, arts service organizations)
  • Low-income individuals and families with lived experience (prioritized in arts and culture, but inclusive of other communities including Indigenous, Youth, and New Canadians).

What are some approaches that have previously been attempted to address this complex issue? Why weren’t they successful?

No collective impact efforts have tackled arts-focused gentrification and displacement. Alternatives include:

Mapping: Neighbourhood Change is a 7-year examination of socio-spatial polarization trends within neighbourhoods in Canadian cities. Research includes causes of neighbourhood restructuring, consequences of income inequality/polarization, and effectiveness (or lack) of policies and programs. Recently, Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association retired its annual reporting of affordable housing waitlists after recognizing they no longer captured the complexity of the landscape.

Networking: The World Cities Culture Forum is a network of 32 global cities sharing research and intelligence on the vital role of cultural placemaking, including an annual summit, policy briefings, workshops, collaborative case studies and reports.

Protesting/Advocating: Since 2003, L’Opération de populaire d’aménagement and Collectif 7àNous have brought together citizens to protest gentrification and share an alternative vision for CNR’s abandoned railway grounds in Montréal’s Pointe-Saint-Charles. Self-identifying as a ‘third-sector’ collaboration (‘in between’ public/private sectors), 7àNous envisioned Bâtiment 7 as a community and cultural space with $1 million for renovations. After 15 years of delays and red tape, the residents are closer together. In Toronto, Active 18 has shared alternative, citizen-led visions for Ward 18. In the USA, Right to the City Alliance manages the national Homes for All Campaign with an alliance of racial, economic and environmental justice organizations.

Building: Since 1986, Toronto Artscape has made subsidized spaces available for artists in partnership with developers and government. Other arts developers, such as Toronto Music City, have also begun to emerge. Additionally, Lanescape is increasing “gentle density” in existing neighbourhoods through laneway suites in Vancouver, Ottawa, Regina, and Toronto.

Replicating: In 2017, Ontario adopted several of BC’s tax regimes (including non-resident property speculation taxes) to cool housing markets. Changes haven’t solidified yet as pure replication isn’t always responsive to market forces.

What new approaches, other than yours, are currently being advanced to address this issue? What have they achieved to date?

Mapping: Carl Grodach’s statistical study of neighbourhood-level arts industry activity within 30 USA metropolitan areas untangles complex relationships between the arts, gentrification, and displacement. Findings demonstrate multiple, conflicting relationships to gentrification and displacement that depend on context and type of art, thus impacting future research and public policy.

Through case studies in nine neighbourhoods, UCLA/UC-Berkley’s Urban Displacement Project is also analyzing relationships between transit investment and neighbourhood change affecting low-income communities of colour. In Buffalo/Detroit/Milwaukee/Phoenix/Twin Cities, Turning the Corner Project is mapping neighbourhood change to drive informed government action, prevent displacement, and support inclusive revitalization.

Predicting: As summarized by Chapple/Zuk, multiple digital services are in development by businesses/governments as potential “early warning systems” for gentrification and displacement in the USA, including the use of algorithms and open/big data machine learning platforms. Analysis is based on historical census data, evictions, construction permits, tourist/commuter mobile geotagging, video cameras, and other sources. While it is unknown the extent to which they have caused policy shifts, these tools have influenced debates over housing and neighbourhood change in Chicago, Houston, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles.

Protesting: The Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement is a Los Angeles-based coalition of low-income tenants, immigrants, families, working-class homeowners, youth, artists, tenant’s unions, and activists that have successfully fought against the proliferation of new art galleries in Boyle Heights.

Building: ArtBuilt is a New York-based charity that helps artists build assets and increase economic stability in New York, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia. They provide access to homeownership, mobile studios, foreclosure prevention, financial literacy, small business start-up, and savings and loan opportunities. Its success triggered replication efforts in Minnesota and Cleveland.

Governing: In 2017, Canada launched its first National Housing Strategy, and Ontario a 16-point Fair Housing Plan. They are too new to report impacts.

What will be different in 10 years, 20 years, a generation, if this work is successful?

Neighbourhoods change. Groundstory will not (and should not) stop this from happening. However, if this work is successful, within a generation no low-income individuals, families, artists, small to medium-sized businesses, or arts entities will be displaced involuntarily from their neighbourhoods of choice. Families and businesses of all backgrounds will have access to stable housing and appropriate spaces for shared community engagement, including the arts. The pressures of income inequality and polarization will be reduced so that neighbourhoods can be sustained as vital, affordable, accessible, and safe places for all residents to live, work, and play – regardless of age, culture, employment, or income. The purpose of this proposal is to help identify the intervening steps to get (and keep) us there.

What activities will you undertake as part of this grant?

  1. Convene cross-sectoral stakeholders
      • Build trusting relationships that will be sustained long-term
      • Define an effective governance and communications structure
      • Define roles of the Backbone and Leadership Committee
      • Further define the issue and develop agreement on a Common Agenda
      • Identify a Theory of Change and Strategic Learning Approach, including shared data collection and analysis
      • Determine sustainable plan of action and geographic scope for Mutually-Reinforcing/High Leverage Activities in subsequent stages (local, regional, and/or province-wide)
      • Identify and recruit other cross-sector stakeholders
      • Establish free cloud collaboration tools (Office365/Google for Nonprofits)
      • Deepen internal understanding/community awareness of Collective Impact framework and motivate leaders to embrace its potential for mutual benefit
      • At least one convening scheduled in Hamilton, remainder in Toronto
      • Meetings video-recorded for archival purposes, French translation upon request


  2. Map the system/landscape
      • Regional, national, international literature review
      • Focus group interviews and public roundtables with displaced citizens and small businesses in Toronto and Hamilton


  3. Outreach and community engagement
      • Public information webinars in English/French to share knowledge province-wide


  4. Evaluation and reporting
      • Produce and maintain bilingual project website, blog, and shared resource/research library at groundstory.ca
      • Prepare and disseminate bilingual final report in print and online formats
      • Write and submit proposals to prospective funders for stage two.


What are the key deliverables you will achieve as part of this grant? How will these deliverables position you to further advance your initiative?

    1. Establish structured Leadership Committee with minimum eight (8) convening sessions featuring stakeholders representative of the fabric of Ontario, including emerging and established leaders from the arts, government, business, and non-profit sectors, as well as displaced/low-income citizens from diverse communities in Toronto and Hamilton.


    1. Facilitate two (2) focus group interviews and roundtables with displaced regional arts groups/artists in Toronto and Hamilton, complete an international literature review, and engage a data scientist to develop a solid evidence base for future support; identify what data (and gaps in data) exists; and identify methods to effectively manage and share collected data long-term.


    1. Host two (2) public information sessions/webinars to engage and attract greater awareness and participation by the broader public.


  1. Publish a bilingual website and final report to clearly articulate the issue; evaluate identified values and summarize findings; disseminate recommendations for interventions to take place in phase two; and attract additional funding support.

Whether future resources allow Groundstory to extend into multiple cities across Ontario, or the collective decides it is prudent to focus attention on a small number of priority neighbourhoods in Hamilton/Toronto, these deliverables will ensure a strong, sustainable foundation is in place for subsequent phases.

What do you hope to learn through this phase of your Collective Impact initiative?

What governing structures and financial/human resources are necessary to sustain vital collaboration? What data tools/technologies are critical to supporting shared evaluation? What evidence is available to direct a positive impact? What gaps need to be filled before intervening? What scope is appropriate and attainable? Who else needs to be included? What do Ontario communities need to support displaced citizens and small businesses from gentrifying neighbourhoods province-wide? How to identify (and possibly predict) where the displaced are moving to? How can urban planning strategies be inclusive of diverse economic and cultural communities? What lessons can be learned from global efforts?