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Phase one of Regent Park revitalization nears completion

Posted by Matthew Harris / March 20, 2010

Regent Park RevitalizationRegent Park is Canada's oldest and largest social housing project. The former slum of Cabbagetown was razed in the 1950s to create what its creators hoped would be a more modern and livable neighbourhood for low-income families. However, as with much much modernist social housing built during the period -- like the Cabrini-Green project in Chicago -- such housing projects have witnessed escalating crime and vandalism ever since.

Many urbanists feel that some of these problems were due to the poor design of the projects. For instance, many of Regent Park's interior streets were removed when the project was first built, and there are almost no retail buildings on the project's 69-acre site. When it became necessary to replace the 50-year-old buildings, city council and the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) saw a revitalization of Regent Park as a way to fix some past mistakes.

Regent Park constructionAfter some community consultation, the Regent Park Revitalization Plan was launched in 2005. The entire project will cost upwards of $1 billion, will last fifteen years, and will comprise of six phases. Phase one is nearing completion, while phase two was launched in April 2009. The result of these phases will be the reintroduction of cross-streets in the area and the replacement of the monolithic social housing with a mix of social housing, market-priced housing and retail.

Regent Park RevitalizationCity council and the TCHC are also trying to improve the design of the neighbourhood. The Dundas/Sackville rental apartments, for instance, were designed by Peter Clewes for architectsAlliance.

Regent Park churchThe hope is that with a mix of housing types and with a more visually appealing neighbourhood, residents will feel less socially stigmatized. It is also hoped that the introduction of through traffic and mixed uses will reduce crime. There are already some indications the plan is working. The first market-priced condominium in the project, 1 Cole, has already sold out. And this month saw a bank added to Regent Park.

Regent Park revitalizationAnother part of the revitalization is to spread social housing out across the city, with the hope that it will integrate and mix low-income with middle and high-income. The recently completed 60 Richmond Street East is a part of this, as is 501 Adelaide Street East.

There have been controversies. After all, no one knows if this revitalization will have any measurable effect, or if it will make the same mistakes the original project made. Can a sustainable, vibrant community be planned? Some poverty activists, such as the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) fear that mixed use projects are simply a way for low-income communities to become gentrified, forcing poor people out. Others are skeptical that middle-class families will enroll their children in the local schools and integrate with lower-income people.

Whatever the outcome, the revitalization is in full swing. Several videos have been made about, and there is a Flickr pool that follows life in Regent Park through its changes. Other communities in Canada are watching the revitalization closely to see if they should apply its lessons to their social housing.

Discussion

20 Comments

hendrix / March 20, 2010 at 10:30 am
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is the problem of gangs/violence/crime broken up by the spreading out of low income people? is that the argument? that kids don't turn to crime because their neighbours are middle class and there are eyes on the street?

cuz my first reaction would be "why would i want to buy a market rate condo when there's gonna be perhaps 50 gang bangers in the building on social assistance"?
Cedric / March 20, 2010 at 11:07 am
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No worries about gang bangers in your market rate condo, Hendrix. Could be some affluent criminals, though.
The low income people were evicted when the old housing project came down, and they can't afford the new buildings. The official city line about "spreading social housing across the city" and "integrating" low-, middle- and high-income people is a good idea for the reasons you mentioned. But unfortunately it's complete BS. All of the new low-income housing seems to be going into the Bay-Dundas-University area. So far only vandalism and graffiti have increased. Call me intolerant, but I hope to have moved to 905-land by the time the 200+ unit YWCA housing project on Elm St. is finished and occupied ...
jameson / March 20, 2010 at 11:17 am
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"All of the new low-income housing seems to be going into the Bay-Dundas-University area."

Please back this up with some sort of citation, because it sounds like you're talking out of your ass. And yes, you are intolerant. Please don't move to the 905, move to New Jersey (I think you would like Jersey Shore). The Regent Park redevelopment and the Mayor's Tower Renewal project attempt to bridge the gap of exclusion, the "natural" market can't take care of affordable housing. It's been a long time coming and if they don't start now we're never going to stop seeing gun violence and suburban living that is far, far away from sustainable urban life.
Darcy McGee / March 20, 2010 at 11:42 am
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Wow. That certainly looks nothing like the Regent Park that I used to live a block away from in my first ever apartment. (Good times. My favourite part was the bullet hole in the office below.)

Of course Angelina Jolie doesn't look much like a crack-whore, but looks can be deceiving...
z replying to a comment from jameson / March 20, 2010 at 12:43 pm
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completely agree.

"Others are skeptical that middle-class families will enroll their children in the local schools and integrate with lower-income people." ... who are these skeptical people?
chephy replying to a comment from z / March 20, 2010 at 06:49 pm
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I am. There is no denying that proximity to good schools increases property values. People want both the better education and a certain social circle for their children - as evinced by their willingness to pay for it.

I think it is silly that such huge amounts are spent on social housing, especially when it happens to sit on prime real estate, right next to downtown core. Living in the city is expensive - many hard-working people who support themselves rather leeching off taxpayers can't afford to live here. Land values are much lower as you go further out, and if you build social housing there, at least you're not wasting taxpayers' money to house freeloaders on prime real estate. While I think social assistance is the lesser of two evils (the other evil being the rise of crime and underground economy, as well as generally abysmal life for many people, not all of whom are to blame for their fate), it should never provide a higher standard of living than working for minimum wage, otherwise you're removing incentives to work and multiplying the ranks of career welfare collectors.
Stupid Tree Huggers / March 21, 2010 at 06:23 pm
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"spread social housing throughout the city"...Oh great, now crime and prostitution will spread throughout the city. Why don't we give each one of these welfare parasites a brand new car? F*cking god*mn tree huggers...
gadfly / March 22, 2010 at 08:05 am
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Oh, that's okay: in another 50 years an entirely new breed of Ryerson Urban Studies graduates can blame 'mixed use' on the increased crime, we can tear down all these buildings and try the next social experiment du jour.
Lost in all of this posturing is the fact that when Regent Park opened (and the bleeding Star's own photos bare this out), eastern European people sitting on the front steps with their baby prams were the norm. Fast forward to 2010 and it's the gang bangers and 'other' nationalities that populate Regent Park. But, no, we can blame the buildings and 'bad design,' while another few hundred million the city doesn't have gets siphoned into socialist scams.
Let's see what the apologists have to say in 10 years about this disaster in waiting.
LH / March 22, 2010 at 11:19 am
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C'mon folks. Anything is better than what they have at the moment. As someone who lives close to Regent Park, there ain't many gang bangers living there anymore. Most of the people who inhabit Regent Park are recent immigrants from African and Middle Eastern countries.

Schools however will be a problem for those moving into the new condos/townhouses as I can guarantee you they won't want to send their kids to the neighbourhood schools as they will definitely not be up to snuff for their wants and needs.
JR replying to a comment from chephy / March 22, 2010 at 04:13 pm
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Toronto Community Housing Corp. is North America's biggest landlord. That's a lot of land to find on the periphery.

Also not so sure about the "it's silly to spend all this money on social housing" argument... Toronto's community housing reserves spent an extensive amount of time not being maintained to the point where it now makes more sense (fiscally) to replace the buildings. Take, as an example, the recently refurbished TCHC building on Carlton. Formerly decrepit, it's now a model of environmentally-forwards building, plus makes a good contribution to the street-scape. And hey, some poor people get to pay to live there (these aren't shelters, after all). Overall, that sounds like a win-win situation.
Sherman / March 23, 2010 at 05:32 am
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You can slap lipstick on a pig and make the pig prettier, but it will still roll in it's own filth. No matter what you build in Regent Park, until you remove the criminal element, it will still be filthy.
M.C. replying to a comment from chephy / April 17, 2010 at 11:45 am
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"...leeching off taxpayers can't afford to live here" - Since when do people who benefit from social programs "leech." My mom's held a paying job her entire adult life. But when my sister and I were born, and my dad went missing, she was in part-time university and couldn't really go out and find a job. For a few years, she "benefited" from the social assistance we received and we lived in social housing. Shortly after, she was back on her feet. What would we have done without this assistance?
John / June 3, 2010 at 03:11 pm
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The office at 415 Regent Park is in mess, Manager, coordinators, Receptionist are Boss of the Boss they do not treat community deserving resident, very well I cannot understand why Manager n did not take firm and swift steps to address this abuse of position. It is my hope that the Toronto Housing Board their responsibility to the Resident seriously and make it clear that the 415 is not the personal throne of any individual, and cannot be used for personal gain by removing the offender.

One Coordinator always leave the office 4 pm without telling any body, manager have no control, overstaffing, whenever visit this office all coordinator non-cooperative, misbehaving look like police are giving charity to resident, all the time searching on GOOGLE, HOTMAIL, YAHOO CHATTING EATING
C.N. replying to a comment from Sherman / July 26, 2010 at 04:52 pm
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I'm sorry, but this is really rude of you...
I happen to live in Regent Park, and I'm doing pretty well with my life right now. Moreover, I'm not a "pig" as you say. The amount of crime in Regent Park has decreased drastically, and people in RP have a generous heart, as crummy as that sounds, but it's true. However, I think that if RP became crime-free, then it wouldn't feel like home anymore to those that have lived here for years.
W / August 18, 2010 at 08:05 am
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Wow, the comments that come from soome people are very ignorant!
Crime happens everywhere, you can't just pinpoint it down to Regent Park. I live in Regent Park for about 4 years now, and honestly it helps my mother alot, whom is single with 4 kids. Not everybody turns to crime, drugs or prositution. Like the previous poster above, they have drastically decreased.
Brian / September 4, 2010 at 09:48 pm
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To the question of why buy a market rate condo if you will be surrounded by "50 gangbangers"

1. Location downtown. Not everybody likes to live in North York then take 2 hours to drive to Toronto for work.

2. Grew up in the projects then got rich (there are many).

3. Not planning on having kids. Or planning on having kids, and not wanting them to grow up to be gangsters (seriously gang bangers are no longer created in Regent Park but in suburbs like Scarborough; kids join gangs if they're bored).

4. Pays attention to local trends and realizes that "gangbangers" now come from Scarborough, North York, Mississauga and almost none from Regent Park due to heavy police crackdown and major investment.
Aaron replying to a comment from chephy / October 26, 2010 at 10:58 am
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I agree with this. This young kids who are currently considered gangbangers are there because that's all they know and that's what they are surrounded by. Being in a downtown core, there access these kids have to becoming gang members and drug users is incredible. Moving further, while inconvenient, parents and adults need to realize it is FOR THEIR KIDS BENEFIT. If parents don't want their kids growing up around cocaine, marijuana, and crack, THEN GET THEM AWAY FROM IT.

I am a university student and strongly believe the Regent Park area can be used to bring in students. Students will benefit the local businesses (while students are poor, their parents are not) and regardless of their personal income, they need to eat; and will eat. They will also, drink, party, and support local bars.

I am not for moving anyone away from their homes, moving is the most frustrating day in anyones life. However, as mentioned earlier, the further away from Toronto's downtown core, the less expensive real estate becomes.

Let's be realistic, idealistic, and look after the youth of our community.
Greg replying to a comment from Brian / March 1, 2011 at 01:11 am
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No connections to Etobicoke here. Also, very intelligent.
davenport / March 15, 2011 at 10:32 am
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Very interesting comments being made here. I happen to be a potential buyer and as ignorant as it may sound, I do not want live or raise my kids in an area full of unmotivated leechers. Let's face it, the government is being hijacked. I do believe that social assistance is great when the deserving people recieve it, however that sadly and often isn't the case. Collecting welfare has become a profession in the city of Toronto and far more lucrative then getting a low paying job.

I agree strongly with a statement above made by chephy..
"I think it is silly that such huge amounts are spent on social housing, especially when it happens to sit on prime real estate, right next to downtown core. Living in the city is expensive - many hard-working people who support themselves rather leeching off taxpayers can't afford to live here"
"it should never provide a higher standard of living than working for minimum wage, otherwise you're removing incentives to work and multiplying the ranks of career welfare collectors."

Prime. The real estate is exactly that. Walking through it just a few days ago I witnessed first hand a drug deal right in front of me. Seriously Toronto, Clean this s**t up.


Hilary Himmelmann / November 30, 2013 at 09:03 am
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