Queen West gets all the press. The Danforth gets all the transit. Eglinton gets all the money. But Lawrence East -- Lawrence East gets no respect.
Now, with the help of a new quarterly magazine, it's going to get some branding.
54 East, which launched in December, celebrates some of Toronto's overlooked neighbourhoods -- the ones you can see out the windows of the 54 Lawrence East bus, which trundles from Yonge Street to Pickering, much of it through oft-maligned Scarborough.
Editor Mike Tamburro says the magazine falls "halfway between a community publication and an art book." But as much as anything, it's an ode to his end of the city, in all its gritty details.
The inaugural issue, for instance, revolves around the strip malls of Scarborough. A photo essay evokes the late 1950s, when the strip mall was such a groundbreaking innovation that Scarborough's first example was opened by the Queen.
Now, with their glory days behind them -- and that first mall since demolished for a supermarket -- the strip malls have found new life as affordable havens for locally owned businesses, fending off the encroaching big-box franchises.
You can see it in the Wexford neighbourhood, which runs along Lawrence East between Victoria Park and Birchmount. Once a white-bread suburb, Wexford has become a hub of Middle Eastern culture: a remarkable array of brightly signed markets and importers, falafel joints, halal pizzerias and shisha-smoking juice bars, tucked into low-rise buildings and wrapped around parking lots.
The area's vitality inspired the Taste of Lawrence festival -- going into its third year in July -- and spurred both Mr. Tamburro and Rafael Gomez, a fellow Wexford resident, to decide independently that the community deserved its own publication.
Mr. Gomez, a professor of economics who teaches at Glendon College, was interested in a magazine that would help "brand" Lawrence as one of Toronto's great world-encompassing avenues. Mr. Tamburro, who is also the publisher of the semi-satirical Parkdale rag The Toronto Special, wanted to put out a community publication that was by and for Lawrence locals.
They were brought together by Councillor Michael Thompson. After a pamphlet-sized trial issue, the two recruited colleagues and acquaintances towork on the first full issue, which is available for $2 at businesses along Lawrence East.
Mr. Gomez, who acts as the magazine's publisher, says Toronto's inner suburbs have been "undervalued and underappreciated." Indeed, urbanism is hot stuff in Toronto these days. But most of the discussion focuses on the city's walkable core, occasionally pausing to scorn outer suburbs like Richmond Hill. Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke, which are neither downtown nor suburb, often seem forgotten.
A pedestrian-unfriendly road like Lawrence certainly has drawbacks: It's windswept and difficult to cross, and the bus can take its sweet time arriving in the dead of winter -- but Mr. Gomez says the power of suggestion can go a long way.
"It's hard to change your environment physically," he says. "But you can change your perception of a neighbourhood."
The push to paint a brighter picture of the area sits well with Anthony Kiriakou, a long-time restaurateur, strip mall landlord and Taste of Lawrence president who is profiled in the first issue.
"We've had a bad reputation in the past year. They keep saying, 'Murder in Scarborough,' " Mr. Kiriakou says. But he argues that's an unfair perception of the neighbourhood.
Mr. Kiriakou has run the Wexford Diner since 1958; he was in the crowd when the Queen graced that first neighbourhood strip mall.
"If I've been here 48 years, it's got to be good."