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Check this space: Jamal Burger looked east to afford downtown Toronto living in this trendy loft

Check this space: Jamal Burger looked east to afford downtown Toronto living in this trendy loft
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Liberty Village was Jamal Burger’s home for about a year. But the Toronto-based photographer, who goes by Jayscale online, hated living so far west. He soon realized that for what he was paying, he could live much closer to the heart of the city.

Toronto-based photographer Jamal Burger loves to come home to his trendy east-end apartment after trips abroad for work.

That’s when, in November 2016, Burger decided it was time to move back to the east end of downtown, where he grew up and where his mom and two sisters still live. He and his roommate, who moved out a year ago, were paying about the same in rent, about $2,000 a month, for a split-level one-bedroom plus den on the top floor of a midrise apartment near Queen St. E.

“I think it’s because this area has a bad rep,” Burger, 25, says. “But all those people that you think are dangerous, I grew up with them.”

Photos he took of his 6-year-old sister are framed around his 1,400-square-foot home. It has a crisp warehouse-style design featuring grey floors, white walls and a giant white staircase in the living area leading up to the bedroom and up another level to a spacious rooftop patio. A kitchen — a pretty good size by modern condo standards — is off from a small entrance hallway, and a den, where Burger keeps his flat screen TV and gaming gear, is further down. Like his photography , much of the space is grey, white and black.

Burger was in university and starting to feel like it wasn’t for him when he started taking pictures.

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“I sold some of my sneakers to buy a camera,” says Burger, who used to be an avid sneaker collector.

It all snowballed from there, as he grew a significant online following, with 185,000 Instagram followers.

“I’ve seen a significant change in how I see the world and my place in it, the lessons I share, the experiences I bring back to my family through photography.”

Having experienced that shift in perspective, he was motivated to give back , launching the Kickback four years ago, “an initiative that gears towards using sneakers as a conversation starter to enable youth and help them actualize their potential,” by offering opportunities for creative programming, youth outreach and mentorship. Recently, the Kickback partnered with Puma to hold a basketball tournament in Regent Park to “promote peace on earth,” and each child took home a pair of new sneakers.

What do you like best about this apartment?

That I live five minutes away from my mom and my family. I’m able to walk my sisters to school every morning, I’m able to see them whenever I need to. It’s great being able to see my friends who I grew up with again. It’s also nice to have an open concept where it allows you to breathe and think freely.

What’s the most challenging aspect of this space?

Trying to make the middle part feel like a home. I’m not sure how to find comfort there. And trying to find somewhere to make a space for dinner or eating. I don’t ever feel like I can invite people and they have a spot to sit and eat.

What advice would you give to millennials about this area?

If you know that you spend a lot of time in the city it’s definitely something you can make work. Costs are offset by walking or biking and not spending money on an Uber or paying for the train. My bike saves me at least $300 a month in transportation costs. I also believe in the idea that time is money so just being close to everything, save yourself time.

What’s your favourite thing about this neighbourhood?

One, I grew up here. Two, my family lives close. Overall I see it developing, I see it changing. I’ve always said this, this area in my opinion will be the best area to live in Toronto within the next five years. To me, it already is. It’s just so close to everything. You can go to Queen East or Queen West in the same amount of time. The mall is there, the GO station is there. Anything you need is really close by.

How do you get around to and from this area?

I bike everywhere, saving about $3-400 a month. In other situations, I’ll take the streetcar or Uber. Biking in the city for the most part is really safe, you just gotta have a defensive mindset just in case anything could happen. Ninety-five per cent of the time nothing has ever happened to me. Biking in the city is safe, it’s fun and it’s the fastest way to get around.

What’s your favourite place to hang around?

I love to take my sisters to the park when it’s warm. I love going to the St. Lawrence Market and having lunch with my friends. I go to Buster’s Sea Cove and grab a sandwich and fries. When I do that I also grab my groceries.

I notice you have a lot of family photos you took up on the walls.

I try to travel as much as possible. And in doing that, I don’t get to see my family all the time. It’s probably the biggest challenge that plays into my life right now. I think I’m gone for about 100 to 130 days a year. So the photos are a constant reminder to me when I wake up every day of what’s important to me.

How long do you see yourself living in this apartment?

For the foreseeable future, about two to three years. My best friends and I operate a startup, Tier Zero , nearby, making video projects and such together. That’s a long-term commitment and very close to here. With that in mind and my sisters going to school, I don’t see that changing.

If you didn’t live here, where would you live?

Leslieville would be nice. Or maybe closer to St. Lawrence Market. Or maybe Cabbagetown. I’m no fan of being in the west and I’m not trying to go too far east.

What makes a home?

In my travels, I’ve been in various types of homes. It could be a small hut in Kenya, or it could be somewhere in India and the common thread in all of them is that it’s very welcoming. Whether you have a lot or you have a little, you walk in and you feel comfortable, you feel like you’re welcome and you’re not intruding on that space.
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