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Packaging ethnic neighbourhoods may inflate real estate values

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November 17, 2005

Source: University of Toronto:

Packaging ethnic neighbourhoods may inflate real estate values

Ethnic marketing, street signs and festivals contribute to local gentrification
Nov 17/05
by Jenny Hall (about) (email)

Little Italy, Greektown on the Danforth, and other commercial strips in Toronto are increasingly being marketed as ethnic neighbourhoods despite the fact that they are no longer home to significant numbers of people from those ethnic groups, say University of Toronto researchers.

Professor Jason Hackworth and PhD student Josephine Rekers of the Department of Geography argue in a study published in the November issue of Urban Affairs Review that "ethnic packaging" by business improvement associations is driving up surrounding real estate values.

Hackworth and Rekers studied four Toronto neighbourhoods whose business improvement associations refer explicitly to ethnicity in their names: Little Italy, Corso Italia, Greektown on the Danforth and the Gerrard India Bazzar. They charted real estate values in each area relative to the greater metropolitan area and compared marketing techniques to actual residential demographics in each neighbourhood.

Little Italy, for example, is no longer home to a significant Italian population or to a retail landscape that is meaningfully Italian. The local association, however, has "reproduced Italian culture subtly in the form of streetscape improvements to maintain a café culture." Street signs and festivals also contribute to the neighbourhood’s "carefully manicured identity" – and to its rising real estate values. "It doesn’t necessarily imply a conspiracy," cautions Hackworth, "but increasingly there are various cultural amenities that are functioning as ways of valorizing real estate."

Previous research on gentrification – the process by which urban professionals "discover" central neighbourhoods – has focused on the "artsy" appeal of gentrifying neighbourhoods and the inflation of housing values that often follows. Ethnic identity, it seems, even in the absence of a real ethnic presence, may be a new driver of gentrification, producing niches within a city whose real estate values are already consistently high.

"There’s a certain panache attached to these areas," Hackworth says. "It probably has the greatest implication in terms of real estate values for condo developers who do their own marketing, who develop a theme when they sell a building," he says, pointing to the Europa development in Little Italy, which aggressively markets the Italian lifestyle.

Intended or not, argue the researchers, these marketing techniques are creating niches of rising real estate values even as the ethnic identities of their respective neighbourhoods decline.


Professor Jason Hackworth, Department of Geography; e-mail:, 416-946-8764



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