Regent Park Revitalization

RICS Forum

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I am very excited to be here today to speak about a subject that is near and dear to my heart – the revitalization of Regent Park.

On behalf of the City of Toronto, I welcome the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to Regent Park and congratulate you on choosing to focus on, and learn more about this exciting project.  Thanks especially to Phil Smith for the invitation.

Councillor Pam McConnell at the announcement for the Regent Park Arts & Culture Centre.

I would like to acknowledge Liz Root, from Toronto Community Housing and Remo Agostino, from the Daniels Corporation for being here today as well.  You will be hearing from them shortly.  What will become immediately apparent to you, as it has to me, is that without them we would not have been able to accomplish as much as we have so far.

Most importantly, I want to formally welcome all of you to my ward, to this fabulous neighbourhood – and as of last week, my neighbourhood.

The history of Regent Park represents an interesting case-study of how urban renewal projects evolve over time, and how successive generations grapple with urban development decisions that were made in previous eras.

Regent Park is the City’s oldest social housing project, constructed in the 1940s in the neighbourhood that was originally known as Cabbagetown.  Originally intended as a transitional community for those on social assistance or low-income workers paying rent geared to income, Regent Park evolved into largely a newcomers settlement community.

Despite obstacles related to concentrated poverty and poor urban design, Regent Park developed into a vibrant community with active participation in community and residential associations and groups.

The Regent Park Neighbourhood Initiative, the Toronto Community Housing Tenant’s Council, and Parents for Better Beginnings are just some of the groups that host numerous events and activities each year for residents, such as Sunday in the Park – a community festival held each June.

Councillor Pam McConnell at Sunday in the Park, the annual community celebration in Regent Park.

Arts and culture are also alive and healthy in Regent Park. The Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre is home to Regent Park TV, an internet based broadcast hosting programming created and produced by local youth.  Regent Park is also home to the Regent Park Film Festival held each November.  The festival showcases a selection of local and international films.
More recently, the federal and provincial governments partnered with TCHC, Daniels and Artscape to announce funding for the Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre.  It’s located in the centre of Regent Park, but more importantly placed in the heart of Regent Park to celebrate this rich cultural history.

Why do I emphasize this community spirit at a presentation to an association of land surveyors?  It is very simple.  Every aspect of this redevelopment is anchored around the preservation and enhancement of the most positive attributes of Regent Park.

Some have characterized this as gentrification, bulldozing, and social displacement.  This could not be further from the truth.  Revitalization, as a concept, does not arise simply from the utopian ideals of urban planners.

Artist concept of Phase 1 and 2 with the central park and aquatic centre.

In fact, it arose from the community that has lived here for generations and those that have joined more recently.  It is not about tearing down buildings and building new ones for others.  It is about how we can collectively re-imagine this community with an eye to healthy and safe living environments that provide the best possible opportunity for our children and their children.

It is important to recognize that the existing community have been partners from day one.  They remain involved in every aspect of the planning of future phases.  They are inviting of new residents, who have, and will be moving to their neighbourhood.  They are excited to involve them in their community endeavours.

This project is of tremendous importance to the City of Toronto. I thank my colleagues both at the staff level and Members of Council for supporting Regent Park unequivocally.  As you may have heard, plans are underway for the redevelopment of Lawrence Heights and Alexandra Park based on the principles – both social and physical – that we here in Regent Park have developed.

The last number of months has seen incredible progress in the implementation of the core infrastructure that is a prerequisite for Regent Park’s continued success.

We are moving forward with the consultations on the new Regent Park Community Centre to be located next to Nelson Mandela Park Public School along with child care and employment services – a true community hub.
The Big Park in Regent Park is also close to completing their consultations.

The Aquatic Centre is well underway as is the Arts and Cultural Centre mentioned previously.

There is unprecedented speed towards implementing these components. This speaks to the soundness of the revitalization plan and the commitment that the City of Toronto and our partners have shown to it.

It is with great emotion that I recall the summer of 2009.  This summer was when Regent Park tenants who had been relocated as part of Phase 1 first began moving into their new units just behind us on Sackville St.

The Longanathan family was featured on the front page of a Toronto daily newspaper – they were the very first family to move in to the new units. The smiles on their faces, and the support and thanks that were expressed made one want to melt.

I recently ran into Mr. Loganathan.  Nearly a year into their new home, I can tell you that he was adamant in how well this new arrangement is working for him and his family.

Councillor Pam McConnell at the launch of Phase 2.

This last week, my household moved in next door at One Cole.  I share Mr. Loganathan`s enthusiasm and look forward to enjoying his family’s company as neighbours.

I will leave you with this thought.  Tonight, tenants who have, or will be moving out during Phase 2 are drawing their lottery numbers for moving into their new homes. Their future is being decided as we speak – and it is one of hope and prosperity.

Again, thank you to coming to my neighbourhood, our neighbourhood, the community of Regent Park.

Thank you.


Official Opening

Friday, April 23, 2010

Councillor McConnell at the official opening.

Today marks an important milestone in the revitalization of Regent Park and I am thrilled to be here to celebrate it

In fact, I’ve got three reasons to celebrate : I’m the local councillor, I’m the vice-chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, and I’m a new resident

These wonderful new buildings are a tribute to the residents and TCHC who have worked so hard to make this happen

I’m pleased that City Council stepped up with $7.8 million in waived development fees, charges and property taxes to make these homes as affordable as possible

I also want to thank the Governments of Canada and Ontario for their tremendous financial support – these partnerships are essential as we build on our efforts to create affordable housing

In fact, this year through the full range of affordable housing partnerships, more than 3,000 new affordable homes are under construction across our city

These new homes contribute greatly to improving Toronto’s economic and social well-being.  These new homes will provide better, healthier lives for our residents and jobs for our workers

Neighbourhood revitalization and creating affordable homes are key goals of the City’s 10-year affordable housing strategy – Housing Opportunities Toronto (HOT).

Councillor McConnell at the construction site in 2008.

Our plan is based on the principle that affordable housing makes a powerful positive contribution to Toronto – and that’s certainly what these buildings and the Regent Park revitalization are doing

Let me conclude by presenting this plaque as symbol of our gratitude to TCHC:

It reads:

Toronto City Council congratulates Toronto Community Housing and residents on the official opening of 468 new affordable homes as part of the Regent Park revitalization.

Affordable housing makes a powerful positive contribution to our City’s economic and social well-being. It helps people build better lives for themselves and participate in the life of their community.

The City of Toronto is pleased to have supported this initiative in partnership with the governments of Ontario and Canada.

Mayor David Miller                Councillor Pam McConnell

Vice-Chair, Affordable Housing Committee

Councillor McConnell presents the plaque to resident Azizur Rahman (left), TCHC CEO Keiko Nakamura and TCHC Chair David Mitchell (right).

And I know this is just the start of the plaques at Regent Park – I look forward to presenting many more as we continue to make progress on the future phases of revitalization.

Thank you

[Read the news story about the celebration.]