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Professor Rafael Gomez Sings Scarborough’s Praises

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"Honk if you love Scarborough." That message, with an accompanying graphic of the Lawrence 54 East bus – the TTC's longest route, running from the Eglinton subway station to the Rouge River – is emblazoned on a T-shirt and available for purchase at the recently opened 54 East Studio in the Wexford Heights strip mall at Warden and Lawrence avenues, along with designs featuring other stops along the route, such as Don Mills and Leaside, wrote The Globe and Mail June 1. Also on offer is a CD of songs inspired by intersections along the Wexford portion of the route and back issues of 54 East, "the magazine that moves."

None of these, it's worth noting, are endorsed by the Toronto Transit Commission, said the Globe. Instead, they're the brainchild of 34-year-old York University economics professor Rafael Gomez, who grew up in the area, and his handpicked team of twenty- and thirtysomething artists, historians and journalists who make up Think Tank Toronto. "[The 54 East bus] is symbolic of our city because it traverses many neighbourhoods," he begins, "and what we're trying to do with that bus route is use it as a vehicle - pun, I guess, intended - to identify these neighbourhoods more clearly, find out what's happening inside them and also delve into their pasts."

For Gomez, the 54 East Studio also performs as a great and wonderful marketing experiment for his students at York's Glendon campus. A marketer's biggest challenge, he says, is to "take one reputation and try and transform it into another." While older Scarborough residents remember it as the place to be in the postwar period – it had the "golden mile of industry," excellent housing, amazing parks and was worthy of a visit by the Queen in 1959 – by the 1980s, the self-billed "city of the future" was more often referred to as "Scarberia," and bouts of gang violence led to an image problem that lingers. "We wanted to think of something positive that could be done quickly to maybe change that reputation," he offers. "We don't have millions of dollars, but what we have are lots of creative people and ideas – you can't rebuild a neighbourhood, so what you do is rethink it."

This article appeared in the June 4, 2007 issue of YFile.


Published on June 4, 2007