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Google Streetview’s Hintonburg time capsule

By Chris Cline on September 30, 2012

Checking out Hintonburg on Google Streetview is like taking a time machine back to 2010. It seems like Google hasn’t updated their images of the hood in a few years, so the service erases the massive changes made by the neighborhood’s rapid gentrification project.

Much like Hintonburg’s lightning-fast transition, the Streetview images are quite jarring to look at if you’re familiar with the neighbourhood. Streetview provides a look at the area before Taco Lot, Tennessy Willems, Burnt Butter, Suzy Q’s and countless other restaurants and food vendors moved it. The status-bestowing Bridgehead on the corner of Wellington and Fairmont is nowhere to be seen. Still present in Streetview are a plethora of head shops, money changers and pawn shops that once defined the place. Trendy urban infill projects are almost entirely absent from the surrounding residential areas.

In early 2010, which seems to be the approximate time these images were compiled, the neighbourhood was just starting to feel the buzz of change. The retail outlets on Wellington Street closest to Parkdale were starting to see an influx of chic new businesses, while their counterparts closest to the O-Train tracks were still, for the most part, languishing. As a resident of the neighbourhood at the time, it felt like everyone knew that more changes were in the works. I don’t think anyone knew just how quickly those changes would happen.

Fast-forward to 2012, and the neighbourhood feels like an entirely new place. Nearly every vacant retail outlet (another signature of 2010-era Hintonburg) has been replaced with something trendy. Architecturally distinctive urban infill projects are becoming more prevalent. Permanent art fixtures have been installed along the main strip. Several new businesses have sprung up and outgrown the former car dealership at the end of Irving Avenue. Even the Parkdale Market, located on the more affluent side of the area, seems to have been revitalized.

Exploring the old neighbourhood via Streetview, I’m curious about what happened to the businesses and residents of the old hood as gentrification marched forward. While it seems like some businesses were able to come along for the ride, even more have disappeared. Where is the woman who ran the dollar store across from Viña Del Mar? How about the shirt maker? Burnt Butter is now a local favourite, but before that it was Phnom Penh Noodle House, a Cambodian restaurant that had been something of a fixture. Habesha, an Ethiopian restaurant formerly located across from the KFC, still survives in the east end of the city.

If businesses have been displaced, are there also a sizeable number of residents who have been displaced? In 2012, it’s pretty widely accepted that Hintonburg is a great place to live. It was also a great place to live in pre-2010, just for different reasons. My wife and I came to the neighbourhood in 2005 as starving students. It was affordable, close to urban transit and close to downtown. We left somewhat reluctantly in 2010 when, in the market for our first house, we found that prices were too high for us. Anecdotally, I can also say that rent prices seemed to be going up as well. So if others were displaced by housing costs as we were, where did these people go?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but I wanted to bring them up because I think they’re worth asking. While I’m not suggesting that all of these businesses and residents were forcibly shoved out to make way for new things, it’s hard to ignore the visual evidence that a lot of long-standing residents of the neighbourhood are no longer there.

There’s no doubt that this revitalization has been positive for many people. While I love the ‘Burg in its current form, I think it’s important to think about the effects of gentrification from all sides. Questions like these could be important when it comes to the potential revitalization of other urban neighbourhoods in Ottawa.

No matter how you feel about this subject, you should really check out Google Streetview before Google updates the images and Hintonburg circa 2010 is (potentially) lost forever.