Alternative Geographies

Mapping Parkdale

VISC 4005

Urban Life: Art, Design, City

Carly Cantlon

The industrialization of Toronto’s suburban landscape as it transitions to a high-rise culture of living positions a new era for women and minority groups as independent and empowered property owners. Yet the transition, while empowering in appearance, is a process of Eurocentric male-dominated urban development schemes of gentrification. 

Toronto’s urban growth started in 1787, with the surrender by the Mississaugas of Port Credit First Nations of 1000 square kilometres of land to the British Crown. The postwar boom brought forth a rapid period of large-scale suburbanization, yet as immigration to Canada increased and Toronto began its growth into a metropolis for economic and career growth, condos and rentals became more ideal as a representation of capitalist growth. Local governments, in tandem with real estate developers, share goals of social progress, privatization of public land, and gentrification. According to the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), new home sales in November 1,330 units, with almost 80% of those being sales of new condominium apartments, at 1,053 units sold. Urban development are a solution to both social and economic issues such as gender disparities, racial inequality, and unequal distribution of wealth as it relates to access to affordable housing. 

Housing, long viewed as an economic commodity, has undergone an urban transformation into a mode of control and planning. I became interested in the modalities used by urban planning and restructuring as a way to influence how women live in and interact with the city. I wanted to create a conceptual mapping exploration that would examine the process of development over time. My research led me first to the rise of condos in the city; a process that I was already aware of as someone living downtown, watching new buildings go up at lightning speed around me. Themes arising from this trend of development led me to seek for more material examples to supplement and illuminate my process. 

Parkdale is a neighbourhood I rarely visit. It still has echoes of the past as an “unsafe” neighbourhood without much calling me to visit, save for a few vegan/health food shops. Yet I’ve become aware of an increase in developments in the area. Knowing that often times, development is bookmarked by government and developers, I decided to do more research into the history of Parkdale and how it reflects a woman’s experience. 

Creating 3 maps, I explored 3 themes across them: women in the city, site-specific research (Parkdale), and development overall. It was difficult to segment progress across time frames or movements as the history of Toronto as a whole is so expansive and nuanced. Considering different themes allowed me to capture pockets of time across different frames and modalities: the growth of Parkdale as one of many areas where immigration to the city was dispersed within, the development of the suburb as a morally and physically separate sphere as commuting lines increased and single women began to move to the city alone, and the rise of condos in more recent years. 

Using methods of mapping and thematic explorations we learned and discussed in class, I applied thematic overlays to the same map, but given my wide range and depth of research and complexity of the topics, I decided annotations were necessary to convey my message. 

Throughout my exploration, I came to a better understanding of the social and physical landscape of Toronto, specifically Parkdale and downtown core condos as vehicles for “social progress” in the name of gentrification, erasure of minority groups, and backwards consideration for the safety and mobility of women. Parkdale, beginning as both a summer refuge for the city’s wealthy, and a place for working women and immigrants to migrate to the periphery of the city, had a landscape advantage in being on the cusp of the downtown core; close enough to keep the less desirable away. 

Now, after undergoing immense transformation into what governments and media call a “slum,” Parkdale has emerged through to the other side, the side that attracts financially motivated developers in creating a “resurgence” of Parkdale as a socially vibrant place to live and work. The increase in condo buildings across Toronto and into Parkdale positions the city as a place for women, yet structural elements restrict avenues of movement and strength of opportunities. 

Through my series of maps, I hope to demonstrate the cyclical nature of development in Toronto as a method to erase and restrict groups of people through the built environment. Parkdale is an example of a neighbourhood that has resisted, refused, and pushed back against development, yet I believe we will see in the coming years a reflection of condoism that has transformed the greater city.




Carly Cantlon

Carly Cantlon is a 2023 graduate of OCAD University’s Advertising Program. She currently works as a Junior Designer in Toronto where she collaborates primarily with female-founders and entrepreneurs. She believes that good design is rooted in community-based practices, which is why research and strategy is a touchpoint in her process, guiding her design work.

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