In October, PNLT hosted “What’s in it for Parkdale?”, a public information night to address the growing concern of gentrification in our neighbourhood. This session included speakers on the types of gentrification, local community group representatives sharing their experiences with city planning, and key takeaways for how communities can mobilize around the various issues area gentrification presents.
A month later, the trust participated in and supported another three public lectures on:
- The history of gentrification
- Examples of social property development by Indwell, a Christian charity based in Hamilton
- How PNLT is working within Parkdale.
All three lectures were well attended by local residents, community leaders and Torontonians looking to exchange ideas and concerns about the effects of gentrification in our neighbourhood(s). Each lecture left time for Q&A and there was great discussion and questions from attendees. Some of the key points raised were questions around how communities can take action to keep a ‘lid’ on gentrification, how to keep community groups and their boards invested and representative of the communities they are in and, how to effectively raise funds to acquire land and/or property for communities.
The November public lecture series was run concurrently with a course through Trinity College entitled Radical Hospitality: Interdisciplinary Perspectives and Practices, taught by Jason McKinney. The series was made possible with support from Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, Trinity College, Toronto, Faculty of Divinity, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Jeremiah Community, and Epiphany and St. Mark, Parkdale.
“What’s in It For Parkdale?” brought together activists from Active 18, the Ossington Community Association, and Friends of Kensington Market to discuss Toronto’s public consultation process. Here is a summary of what was discussed.
Question: “What happens prior to an application for development?”
Charlie Campbell, member of Active 18 and litigator with many resident groups across city:
- When invited to a development meeting for a building proposal, counselor will often say, “there’s nothing we can do, the plan is in place. We’ll fiddle with it a little bit, it will go to the planning department, and they’ll do a report, which will go to city council. These are usually approved.” But there is much that lies outside that framework.
- At the end of it going to city council, that may not be the end of process: if the developer isn’t happy, or community groups aren’t happy, the proposal may move onto OMB, and there can be a hearing there about whether plan is appropriate.
- Taking a case to the OMB can sometimes be helpful, often it’s difficult. But the point is, the larger planning process is far bigger/more long-term than OMB fights suggest.
- The fact is, there are many ways to influence development far earlier in planning process.
- If community groups get involved much earlier in the process, they can have far more influence.
- There are two rough areas where Toronto’s official plan (OP) can be influenced:
- “What does the OP say about affordable housing in your area?” What provisions are in OP that limit, for example, what a development can be, and how many affordable units have to be in a particular development. In some situations, affordable housing gets shoehorned into OP – but this won’t happen at the moment when the developer comes to the city with an actual plan for construction. If plan doesn’t require it, developers are entitled to proceed with what they’re entitled to. So a longer-term strategy is required to ensure that affordable housing is included within OP, and put pressure on city to enforce that.(affordability is defined by the city, and this can mean little beyond “80% of market rent.” But in cases where city itself is developing land, affordability can be defined more reasonably.)
- Officially, OP needs to be revised every 5 years, but OP can always be amended. Sometimes developers need to actually appeal to have OP amended to permit their development — in these cases, they are more vulnerable to public pressure/demands.
“Look at Queen Street”
- As an officially recognized “main street,” preserving the culture of Queen street can be made a viable goal of the OP.
- Currently, there’s a study of entire Queen street, involving several different wards. This is an opportunity to go after city to zone/designate the street to preserve low-cost businesses, etc.
- Big problem: when developers apply to build, they are entitled to whatever is specified in official plan. So activists are neglectful if they don’t engage earlier in try to shift that OP.
Ossington Community Association (OCA) (Benj Helle/Jessica Wilson)
- OCA took a development fight all the way to OMB, felt unsatisfied with lacklustre response from counselor (“It’s not the height, it’s the impact.”), started flyering, putting up posters.
- Creating a brand of opposition was very important.
- Ideally, many community associations will work together to jointly put pressure on the powers that be.
- Gradually, counselor started to shift and become more sympathetic.
- OCA managed to get study in place to amend official plan.
- Zoning will not do much good – well known that zoning is outdated in Toronto and is basically a gift to developer to “shoot for stars”
- if you’re interested in keeping a lid on development that culture-mines communities and gets rid of affordable housing, you must pressure elected officials/planning staff to get OP amendment study going for your area
- on West Queen W.,Parkdale has one that’s ongoing: an area/heritage study was pushed for by Gord Perks.publicly elected officials are only people who care whether you’re unhappy or not.
- Crucial passage in OP: when proposed development brings “significant intensification” council shall, at the earliest opportunity, assess whether an area study should be instigated
- Knowing that language, you can put pressure on officials to make studies happen ASAP.
- It’s worth trying to dig around in city archives to try and find out what planners secretly think of your area
- Ossington had a bad reputation: shootings, mental health issues, etc. By 2010, that attittude had been dampened, people started to think of it as “glamorous”
- A massive new development is proposed; the OCA decides to attend an Active 18 meeting, advised to attend public meeting and make anger known
- 500-600 angry people at a planning meeting can be extraordinarily effective – councillor Mike Layton immediately said, “you’ve made your point” and the entire process changed
- developers are often pros at playing the city’s bureaucracy: need to constantly monitor process to make sure you don’t get pushed aside
- example: OCA organized petition of 2,000 signatures to keep Ossington low-rise – someone convinced the city that they were collecting these from drunks on Queen; the city was prepared to throw out a petition that had taken months to compile based on hearsay
- area amendment can restrict heights to 4 stories, and puts limits on retail-sized spaces
- an area amendment is secured after planning department draws up the amendment and was influenced by OCA, then council was able to approve it pretty easily
Active 18 (Michelle Gay)
- ”What’s your community and what’s your vision?” Very important to articulate this. Gives the community an identity, and gives the city a trusted organization to work with. Also gives developers a trusted group to work with.
- Active 18: formed in 2005 in reaction to development at bottom of Queen W. triangle; no vision except from developers, who weren’t coordinating their vision amongst themselves. City didn’t have big plan.
- Kicked off with big public charette in January 2006: to engage and “educate” citizens around various issues and ideas, tell stories, think about what’s going on in neighbourhood, learn what we needed to about the area.
- At charette, non-planners became active in the group: architects, landscape architects, cultural stakeholders, artists, designers, lawyers, business owners, residents—”non-experts” in the field.
- Established a set of 18 mandates based on community visions that were coming out of these charettes and community meetings.
- always published the results of meetings in digital and print form to let people know what happened
- AGM: always public, invite counselors, developers, always features a speaker that can tell something new about development in neighbourhood
- always present a mandate for discussion and voting
- mandate: used as a working strategy in all discussions with counsellors, developers, city staff,etc.
- working with city: A18 presents what community wants to counselors and planning staff
- tip: this is a forum where you can ask for more community benefits
- have gone to hundreds of meetings with such officials and report back to community via social media, website, etc.
- meeting with developers: push for more community benefits! (“Go high, get less!”)
- over the years, A18 often acts like an early sounding board: can save a lot of time before community presentations defining what is and is not viable development
- A18’s vision: maintain some of the cultural infrastructure for artists living and working in neighbourhood
- always pushing for “good design”, but that phrase can mean many things—allowed for a public dialogue about what that means
- pushed for public space: too many buildings, way too little public space
- section 37: benefits that go a community when a developer is getting more than they’re allowed to build
- so if a developer gets to build 10-stories over the limit what does community get?
- rationale: additional density places more strain on a neighbourhood – thus requiring further provisions for community infrastructure to meet new demand
- if developers building within their right, no conversation of section 37 money
- also, S37 benefits have to be immediate to the building that’s exceeding its density—never going to public transit; rather, daycare, local arts facitilities, public housing
- in addition to section 37, developers have to contribute to paying for parks, development charges to pay for additional sewers, etc. S37 thus comes “on top” of other charges
- city planning: supposed to keep in mind how development will impact transit/other services, but in reality there is gross negligence in this area: queen and king streetcars are completely overloaded, but staff ignore it
Pitfalls: “no net loss”: don’t allow developers to demand that affordable housing gains must be compensated for elsewhere.
Friends of Kensington (Dominique Russell)
“A Story of a Big Box Store”
- Riocan, big developer, wanted to build large, suburban-size, car-centric shopping mall on Kensington’s western edge.
- small group of residents, who knew a lot about planning, started a fight against it
- planning department said this development was “okay”
- FOKM has taken a more aggressive stance
- Riocan gave FOKM “a gift” by telling them that Walmart was a prospective client.
- Suddenly, the narrative was crystal-clear: No Wal-mart!
- FOKM didn’t hold press conferences, but got tons and tons of press.
- biggest issue facing the KM is gentrification, and people losing their homes
- narrative of box store vs. market also functioned as “David vs. Goliath” story, where David is everybody: “if walmart can happen here, it can happen anywhere.”
- problem with how narrative ends: Wal-mart was stopped but Riocan is still building a (slightly-smaller, more pedestrian friendly) shopping mall on KM’s western border.
- an intangible asset in this uphill battle: the links that were made in community-building were invaluable
- planners don’t appreciate what is already built in an area, only what can be built in the future: important to sometimes resist language of development
- Toronto as a city is getting so many accolades and so much press as a tourist destination, because of our unique neighbourhoods; irony is that gentrification/speculation on property erases what tourism finds interesting
- maybe that’s a way to gain traction with city: “you love your tourism $$, resist gentrification”
- how active are BIAs involved in KM’s fight against boxstores? BIAs are “a creature of the city”: supportive in the background, but as soon as city approves of something, BIA has to uphold their ruling.
- BIAs are apolitical, due to the regulations and rules that condition them
- Right now, Parkdale is in the advantageous position of participating in area study of West Queen West, as well as a heritage study – “the hardest things have been done”
- heritage designation: the “gold standard” protection against unwanted development; won’t have to worry about influencing big development
- ”if you play your cards right and score the designation, there will be no big development on queen”
- official plan specifies “centres” and “corridors” as places where there should be growth; the rest of the city is, generally, meant to remain stable
- developers play off ambiguity of borders and definitions: Ossington group tried to argue that their street wasn’t a commercial avenue, but an area whose heritage should in fact be protected (OMB did not agree.)
- avenues like queen are slated for mid-rise development supposedly tied to width of streets
- how to fund initiatives by community groups:
- to take a fight to the OMB, you need a planner, which costs approx $15-15,000 and a lawyer which costs $20-40,000
- an alternative: councillors can sometimes pressure the city to fight a development; but politics of getting city’s legal department to fight hard are intricate
- much depends on how good your councillor is.
Report-back by Nicole Fowler and Andrew Winchur.