Catching up with our City Builder Camp communities

As many of you know, on 17 September 2011, 120 people met at City Builder Camp to hear about existing challenges in St James Town, Mount Dennis, and Yonge & Bloor. Community representatives presented about their neighbourhoods and heard advice and feedback from urban planners, community organizers, architects, and developers who had volunteered their time for the day. CCE has been meeting with these communities again, to hear how City Builder Camp has affected their work and to see their neighbourhoods in person.

St James Town

Community Matters and U for Change, two local community groups, recently led CCE on a walking tour in St James Town. At the start of our tour, Chris Coshan of Community Matters showed us the original model of St James Town, now located in Rose Avenue Jr. Public School:

They found the City Builder Camp helped to focus their subsequent community conversations. As the community worked on their presentation to the Camp, they were able to combine the voices that represent both those who focus on social justice issues with those most concerned with development pressures.

Since City Builder Camp, they have developed greater clarity around their priorities, which they have been able to map. With this map of priorities for improvements they have already made some headway. The input provided by practitioners and the exercise of thinking about their community at the Camp has enhanced their capacity to focus their consultations with developers in the neighbourhood.

As we walked around St James Town, we were very impressed with the infrastructure that already exists, and the changes that are being made due to community efforts. The community has successfully added:

Yonge & Bloor

In December, we met with the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association, which is facing many development pressures. They told us that their main take-away from City Builder Camp was the focus on “how to get from NIMBY to YIMBY” and that this has affected their approach since September. They also deeply appreciated the opportunity to have such a positive and productive conversation with architects, planners, and developers as they shared their insights with CWNA at City Builder Camp. Thank you to our panel members for making this possible!

CWNA at City Builder Camp

Since the Camp, CWNA has held a community planning exercise which was attended by 80 community members and covered topics including development, safety, place-making, and heritage. As a community, they have now developed a shared vision for their neighbourhood. To increase their ability to realize that vision, they are strengthening their approach by developing and adopting both a strategic plan for the neighbourhood and for their association. Creative approaches are being taken to hosting events that will enable developers, planners, and community members to work together towards a public vision for how Yonge Street could become a Great Street.

Mount Dennis

We met with Rick Ciccarelli and Marabelle McTavish of the Mount Dennis Community Association this past week for a tour around their neighbourhood. Here you can see Rick telling Gillian and Marabelle about the last remaining building on the Kodak lands:

As we drove around the neighbourhood, we realised that our maps at City Builder Camp had masked two things about Mount Dennis:

  1. It’s really big! Unlike those in St James Town and Yonge Street, this tour required a car due to the scale and shape of the neighbourhood.
  2. It is riddled with barriers, both natural and human-created. It is crisscrossed by two ravines, parallel railway tracks, wide arterial roads, a cut flood relief channel, and lots of steep hills. Within the sections created by these crisscrossing barriers, residents have access to services and shops, but each section is seriously disconnected from the others, at least for pedestrians!

This photo illustrates one of the challenges this community is facing:

“The wall”, which we heard about at City Builder Camp, is along the southern edge of the 57 acre vacant Kodak lands. It forms the northern retaining wall for Eglinton Ave which as you can see tunnels underneath the railway (we took this photo from the railway bridge). In the plans, of course, is the proposed Eglinton–Scarborough Crosstown Line. Add this to the above challenges and you can quickly imagine the complexity of the discussion about whether to opt for a subway or an LRT and where it should go. More fascinating work ahead for the community and CCE.

If you would like to assist any of these communities or learn more about them, please contact us at info@cityecology.net and we will connect you with them.