Saving Our St. Clair
Ever since the infamous St. Clair West streetcar right-of way project starting taking shape, the residents of St. Clair have had good reason to try and unite for a common cause. It's a long street, to put it simply, and with all the different communities that make up this vibrant stretch, it's also a challenge to bring everyone together. This week I encountered a real live example of how one group is overcoming the challenge.
The St. Clair Revitalization Committee (SWRC), is a community organizing group made up of volunteers who live, work, own business, etc within the area that stretches from Glenholme to the CNR tracks(Keele) along St. Clair and from Rogers Rd to the CNR Tracks(Dupont).
The aim for SWRC is to improve St. Clair for residents, businesses, newcomers, drivers, pedestrians, shoppers and the city at large. They, like most in the community, know the potential and are trying to find ways to realize it. The group first started out in 2001, and though I've stumbled upon a couple of their meetings (as well as Save Our St. Clair meetings), I'd never seen a turnout like this last one (April 12 at the J.J.P. Community Ctr) where not only were there some important guests, but a new organizing committee was being chosen by registered election. I was impressed.
Walking into J.J.Piccinini Community Ctr, you can't help but feel enveloped by a sense of community. This has always been a main hub for community gatherings, and even uprisings, for anyone who lives west of Oakwood Ave. This evening the lobby and entire main floor were crowded with people.
Within minutes, I run into quite a few familiar faces (apologize for not being around more, as usual) and before I know it I'm swept away by Rocco, a 60+ year resident of the community, who wants to take me, his little 'giornalista'(?) to see Tony Ruprecht (the area MP in from Ottawa), Cesar Palacio (City Councillor for the ward) and other notable people who've come for the meeting.
One such guest, whose talk was a definite highlight of the night, was Christopher Hume, TorStar columnist on urban issues. He too was surprised at the turnout, admitting that he thought he was pretty much "giving a talk in a church basement" and was feeling more pressure now that hundreds of eyes were staring back at him.
Happy to do it though, Hume shared his thoughts on everything from St. Clair as one of Toronto's "great streets" to his own 2 cents on the TTC streetcar right-of-way debacle. He echoed sentiments of many of the attendees when he pointed out that spending millions of dollars for a 5 min faster streetcar (a literal fact) is completely irrelevant to the community. We don't mind an extra 5 on the streetcar if we can enjoy what we see out the window for those minutes.
Community members have been arguing this point all along, pointing out that cutting sidewalks and compromising community space along the street just to make it a more convenient transit corridor is an insult to citizens of the area and a waste of TTC money. Watching from the sidelines I could see Hume start veering from anything he might have had planned as the energy of the event got him speaking more honestly and passionately about the city. By the end he'd promised to write about the issue -- soon. (insert applause here)
Until that point, if you want to know more about the community -- or even get involved -- you can check out any of the area links scattered in the text above, or stop in for the next meeting on Tuesday, May 10, 2005 at 7PM(J. J. Piccininni Community Ctr - 1369 St Clair Ave W)... or, hop on the St. Clair West streetcar and see where it leads you.