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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.

  • Caroleanne

    Hi there, I just wanted to say that the Google Streetview images of Hintonburg are from most likely from 2008, maybe early 2009 at the latest. I’m sure of this because I’m captured in front of my old residence and that’s when I lived there. Cheers

  • 2009 makes a lot of sense Caroleanne. The reason I referenced 2010 is because that’s when we left the neighbourhood, and the images here are a carbon copy of the way things were then. But that was January, and Google obviously doesn’t do this when there’s snow on the ground.

  • Jeff Leiper

    Great reflections. I think when a lot of longer-time residents look back, it’s hard to divorce the 20-year battle with drugs and prostitution that preceded the “overnight” transformation. Google’s Street View captures a really unique period: crack houses were shut down, but the restaurants hadn’t yet proliferated. Certainly, the applications for 32-storeys hadn’t yet been filed! One of the considerations that at least City Hall seem to consistently take into account in the current intensification/gentrification discussions is the sensitivity around the transformation in the community. We’ve had almost no time at all to come to grips with a new role for Hintonburg contemplated by planners. When the Mayor recently answered the HCA’s concerns over the planning process, he noted something along the lines of “The community has done a wonderful job improving the neighbourhood. Now lots of people want to live there.” I’m sure he’s not attuned to the way that’s been heard in the community. He may as well have said, “thanks for all your hard work – now developers can be given free rein to profit off it.” The Google Street snapshot you’ve reflected on here was a short-lived period when the community could finally rest around drug and prostitution issues. It was almost gone, and people felt comfortable. We’d finally built the kind of community people wanted to live in. Diverse, safe, kid-friendly, walkable. Intensification and gentrification are going to happen, but for a lot of us, it’s bittersweet. Gentrification and intensification are quickly changing our neighbourhood, and I’m not sure, had you asked the activists who worked so long to help make Hintonburg a safer place to live, if making the neighbourhood attractive to condos, and putting prices through the roof, was what we had in mind. Things will change, but so far the City has been tone-deaf in the way it treats the community. It’s a great warning to neighbourhoods like Carlington and Vanier where residents are engaged in the same efforts to make their communities more livable. Gentrification and intensification happen literally overnight. Be prepared.

  • Meaghan

    Interesting reflections. We moved to Hintonburg in fall 2010 – probably 6 months before most of the changes you describe took place. In the past 2 years, we’ve marveled at the speed of the development, but really we’re probably part of what some community activists would consider the “gentrification problem” – we’re young professionals who bought a condo and now spend all our money on gourmet doughnuts.

    But, so, the gentrification issue is an interesting one because I’ve never really understood the issue properly. I mean, I understand that driving out community members and Phnom Penh Noodles is bad (man I miss that place), but also, I strongly support gourmet doughnuts and owner-run small businesses and cute shops selling organic baby clothes. And if gentrification is bad, and those doughnut shops should go somewhere else, where exactly should they go? And if we don’t intensify, then we’re just contributing to urban sprawl.

    Basically, how does a community drive out the crack houses and head shops but keep the noodles, and add just the right amount of condos, so as to end up with a delicious, safe, walkable neighbourhood?

    I hope I’m conveying the right tone in type (it’s hard), but I’m not asking these questions sarcastically – I really do wonder how communities can get the best of both worlds. Is it just to have very strict planning requirements, and have the city defer to the community development plan instead of approving everything? And if so, how does the community determine how dense it should be, how many restaurants are good, what kind of coffee shops they want? Wouldn’t those with the loudest voices (and the most time on their hands) end up prevailing in those discussions?

  • SLD

    Perhaps I’m a bit naïve, but at the bottom of it says “Date Image: April 2009”. This looks like it did in 2009 for sure.

    As for me, I love the improvements to the neighbourhood, it seems safer and more lively. There are a lot of places I’d like to see fixed up and full of interesting, unique shops. And I will miss 168 Market, but I support a 20 story condo at 1040 and 1050 Somerset, as well as The Eddy at 1000 Wellington. We’re a great neighbourhood, and should be willing to welcome new people to it, as long as they’re willing to be apart of the community and contribute appropriately. We shouldn’t be exclusive, and I wouldn’t mind us being self-sufficient and vibrant like the Glebe.