UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Altared places : the reuse of urban churches as loft living in the post-secular and post-industrial city Lynch, Nicholas Andrew


In recent years, numerous mainline Christian denominations throughout Canada have sold their places of worship in the real estate market in response to changes in religious membership and participation. At the same time a growing demand for creative residential spaces by a group of the new middle class encourages the redevelopment of churches into upscale lofts, a practice connected to but divergent from the post-industrial loft living made popular in cities like New York. In this thesis I explore how the reuse of churches as lofts represents a unique but conflict-laden terrain of private urban redevelopment. With an empirical focus on Toronto, I draw on the literatures of religious change, heritage policy, and gentrification theory to illustrate how ‘redundant’ worship spaces are appropriated and transformed into private domestic spaces of commodified religion and heritage. Rebuilt as ‘cool’ but exclusive places to live, I argue that church lofts are part of a secular embourgeoisement of the central city, a process that increasingly remakes the city as a place of capital reinvestment, middle class colonization and social upgrading. My central method involves semi-structured interviews with individuals from both the supply and demand side of the church loft market. On the supply side, interviews are drawn from faith groups, heritage policy makers, and urban developers. This data provides insight into why and how religious groups divest in their properties; the impacts of heritage policy on the reuse of inner city landscapes; and the practices of developers in producing and selling new terrains of loft living. On the demand side, I interview loft owners to give testimony to their real estate and lifestyle desires and explore how their decisions in the loft market help produce terrains of exclusivity and gentrification. Drawing on comparisons to Montreal and London (UK), my findings show that church reuse in Toronto need not solely focus on private loft development alone. Rather, I conclude that varying systems of ownership supported by multiple stakeholders can create a public future for redundant worship spaces, a practice that could provide much needed community and public space in the inner city.

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