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Big Box vs. Community Thinking


Writing and photo by guest contributor Robert Near.

Smart!Centres has been trying to build a big box development on Eastern Avenue for years, and community organizers have been opposing them just as long. Finally, things come to a head on May 20th, 2008: the date of the first Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) hearing, where the controversial, often-hated board decides if the residents of Leslieville will get a giant strip mall of their own. 1900 parking spaces, 18 acres, a destination commercial centre.

"We see [the area] as a gateway to our community," says Kelly Carmichael, an organizer for the East Toronto Community Coalition. "It's time the community gets something a bit different. It feels like everything gets dumped here."

Before the big date, activists are doing their best to get Jim Watson, the Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, to declare a Provincial Interest in protecting 629, 633, 675, and 721 Eastern Avenue from a potential Wal-Mart. Doing so would stop the matter from getting to the OMB. David Miller, Daniel Liebskind, and Jack Diamond are some of the high profile supporters who've recently aired their views. Those wanting to sign the petition themselves can visit East Toronto Community Coalition's website, but must do so soon: the motion has to be adopted 20 days before the hearing.

The city of Toronto has a larger vision for Leslieville: one that includes live-work spaces, green building standards, and baseline wages. Residents have made their own plan, too, and will continue to ward over their community beyond the OMB hearing.

It should be like this everywhere in Toronto. That the OMB hears something that isn't wanted either by the city or the community's residents is mind boggling. We're living in a city that isn't controlled so much by its people - or even it's planning department- but by a group of unelected board members. It's time for this to stop. As Carmichael warns, "This could happen to anyone's community."


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