The announcement last week that Target Canada was closing all of its stores – including the Stockyards location, which opened less than a year ago on the site of a former fat-rendering plant across the street from my home in Toronto’s Junction – was yet another jarring experience as a citizen-planner living in this virtual planning laboratory of a neighbourhood. I was, and still am, shocked. Sad even.
Unlike some self-described urbanists, I was excited and optimistic about the opening of my “neighbourhood Target” last Spring. At the time it was the first purpose-built Target store in the Canadian retail frontier – anchoring the large urban-styled big-box Stockyards Centre that I consider a “mall without a lid.” While not utopian urban planning or urban design, it was nonetheless a vast improvement over what was there before. And, most importantly, it finally gave our neighbourhood some amenity – more than any “complete street” or combination of planning-toolbox solutions for “vibrant communities” could conjure.
It brought people out. I saw and actually talked to my neighbours outside the confines of our laneway-facing driveways. Within a short walk, I could afford to buy basic goods – soap, bread, deodorant – that were not of the artisanal, hipster-made variety now ubiquitous in this and other gentrifying neighbourhoods.
Some may be feeling a bit smug – having an I-told-you-so moment – about the impending departure of this big-box retailer from the “urban landscape”. But beautiful streets and buildings, by themselves, don’t make a neighbourhood vibrant. They may make a place look nice, but a place they don’t make. That’s up to the people and the land uses that draw them out from their otherwise isolated and closed-in dens. And I haven’t even begun to mention the impending crisis that the job-losses will surely have on my neighbours.
I am already missing my Target. Already missing the equity in opportunity for affordable shopping and accessible people-meeting that it brought to our neighbourhood, otherwise unavailable to residents in this city with less than a million-dollars to spend on housing.