Aging Apartment Highrises will get Comunnity-Minded Mini-Makeovers in the New Pilot Project
A handful of aging apartments in the Kipling and Finch and Kingston Galloway neighbourhoods will be getting a facelift.
The United Way is chipping in $800,000, and residents, owners and community partners will decide how to spend the money. It could be an update to an old recreation room, or a splash pad where a redundant driveway once was.
The buildings involved are privately owned. Pedro Barata of the United Way said the property managers see it as an opportunity to turn underused space into places that will improve the quality of life in the building and community.
“Any time that residents are engaged and feeling better about the place that they live, you’re going to get safer neighbourhoods and lower turnover rates,” he said.
For the two-year pilot project, the United Way chose a cluster of buildings in the Kingston Galloway-Orton Park neighbourhood near the East Scarborough Storefront, and a group of buildings near Kipling and Finch near the Rexdale Community Hub.
Barata said the highrise at Kipling and Finch was the inspiration for the project, because the residents and property manager turned a space on the main floor into a recreation room for dance classes. Community agencies now use the room for a breakfast program.
Community MicroSkills Development Centre in Rexdale will help co-ordinate the project in the Kipling and Finch area, and the East Scarborough Storefront will help with the Kingston-Galloway neighbourhood. Storefront director Anne Gloger said it’s a bit like renovating a home, with everyone chiming in with ideas. They’re considering closing one of five driveways and turning it into a gathering space. There is also talk of sculptures, dog parks and places for children to play. They’d also like to have more options for economic activity.
Graeme Stewart of ERA Architects, has been working with partners at the Centre for Urban Growth and Renewal and the City to change zoning to allow for more flexibility.
Unlike today’s new mixed-use condo developments, when these apartments were built, they were zoned residential and have remained such.
“It’s really grim that you can’t do basic things,” he said, citing the example of a community barbecue where hotdogs had to be given away because monetary transactions were not allowed.
Many of Toronto’s aging highrise buildings were built in the ’60s and were initially advertised as modern and chic, he said. When the neighbourhoods fell out of fashion in the ’70s, the buildings remained static, with parking lots, chain-link fences and yards. Nowadays, inner suburb highrises have become one of the few affordable options for many families. In a report released earlier this year, the United Way noted that by 2006, nearly 40 per cent of all families in Toronto highrise buildings were “poor.”
Much of the housing stock is still decent and safe, but there are malfunctioning elevators, appliances in disrepair, and pests and vermin are common, the report said. Some buildings don’t have common rooms, and there are higher rates of crime and social disorder than other places in Canada.
“In 15 to 20 years, they will require billions to stay viable or they’re going to have to come down,” said Stewart, an adviser on the report. “We want to make sure we find ways so we don’t get to that point.”
Barata said the pilot project is part of the United Way and City of Toronto’s “strong neighbourhood” strategy, which aims to change the fortunes of 13 priority neighbourhoods identified as places with higher risk of poverty and lower access to services.