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Jonathan Ashbridge Park

Surfaces: sand, concrete.

Equipment by Bel-Air (defunct)

The traditional way to measure whether a neighbourhood is gentrifying is the arrival of a Starbucks.

But in a city so thoroughly gentrified as Toronto, a Starbucks signifies only the first step in a multi-level neighbourhood hierarchy that rivals Freemasonry in its complexity. Toronto’s gentrification scale is a highly-guarded secret, and I’m not at liberty to publish them all (I’m putting myself at risk even discussing it here) but here are some of the steps in this hallowed process:

I should point out that I’m a big fan of Starbucks, Sarah Polley, and farmers’ markets. In fact, it was a trip to the Leslieville farmers’ market that allowed us to try out the playground at Jonathan Ashbridge Park.

Every Sunday, this modest park on the south side of Queen Street is buzzing with live music, sweet corn, and impeccably-dressed hipster children. It was a wonderful atmosphere, if maybe a little crowded. My kids sat for a while in front of a friendly accordionist, who serenaded them with French-Canadian folk songs.

The playground: well, like some others in the area (Greenwood Park, Leslie Grove) it seems like the equipment at Jonathan Ashbridge Park remains untouched by the forces of gentrification. It’s not dangerous or anything, but after 25 years of consistent use, it has certainly got its bumps and bruises. There were virtually no shared toys, despite being a huge sand pit, which meant that my kids had to argue over which one got to use my wife’s old coffee cup as a shovel.

A concrete cone wading pool is to the north of the playground, along with a couple of tennis courts and public washrooms. There is also a McDonald’s right across the street, and it made me strangely uncomfortable to see it there, within spitting distance of the farmers’ market. It was like standing in a schoolyard and seeing a strip club directly opposite.

Without the buzz and activity of the market, I can’t see this being a place with much pull.

Unless Sarah Polley uses the McDonald’s as the backdrop for her next critically-acclaimed examination of post-modern family life.

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