On January 18, 2014, the Storefront hosted a charrette for the youth of Kingston-Galloway-Orton Park as well as the residents of 4000/4010 Lawrence Avenue East to envision three community spaces: 1) the site of 4000/4010 and 4040 Lawrence Avenue East, 2) the community garden located at the Storefront, and 3) A-Z Variety Store located at the base of 4000 Lawrence Avenue East. With over 50 people in attendance, including local youth, residents, urban planners, architects, designers, and public service workers, the group took the opportunity to envision the spaces without limitations.
Participants were able to spend the day envisioning the space that they felt most connected with. As a result, they were able to dream big and design a space where the community could connect with and thrive in.
The site plan group envisioned a more connected, accessible, family-friendly site, which included community gathering spaces, various sports and play areas and more green spaces.
This healthier, more active lifestyle was aligned with the community garden group’s vision of a more connected community. Their ideas included community led, knowledge sharing workshops, community gathering areas (such as benches, fire pit/BBQ and picnic tables) as well other improvements on practical matters, such as open space pollinator plantings, gravity-fed drip irrigation and more electrical and water access points.
The A-Z Variety Store group, new to the Storefront’s visioning sessions, was really excited to re-envision what a convenience store could mean to the community, especially because Lucy, the owner of the store was also present. Lucy had already been working with the Toronto Public Health on their Health Corner Stores initiative but this was an opportunity to include the community in the ideation phase. The group also envisioned a more connected community, connected through healthy lifestyles and healthy food choices. This was the opportunity to dream big and potentially propose zoning changes in the renovation. Their ideas included opening up the entrance to the public and creating an accessible outdoor seating area, bringing in fresh produce and partnering with the Storefront to access the community kitchen to educate about healthy food choices.
The ideas generated from the charrette were inspiring and yet also quite possible. This was the just the beginning!
On November 18th, an Open House was held to celebrate local planning projects in the KGO neighbourhood, and to present information about Community Planning Boards. Thanks go out to our presenters from CDI (Community.Design.Initiative.), Youth-Friendly Initiative, TENT (Tornto Envisioning Neighbourhoods Together), CCE (Centre for City Ecology) and University of Toronto, with a special thank you to our keynote speaker Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto Chief Planner for coming out to address the neighbourhood and experience the energy and enthusiasm that KGO residents have been building.
As problems go, I guess it’s not a bad problem to have.
Last week, we held a Community Speak where 100 resident leaders shared dinner and discussed the future of their community, KGO. The number of people not only engaged in building a thriving community in KGO, but also leading change initiatives, is ever increasing. So, you may ask, what exactly is the problem? In one word: space. There are so many people wanting to do good work and not enough space in which to do it.
What I have come to know, through participating in local organizing and by endless (and delightful) conversations with architects, planners and designers, is that inner suburban neighbourhoods are crying out for well-designed public space. It’s not just (as some of the place-based literature suggests) about alleviating the “broken window effect” which attributes a poorly maintained physical environment to feelings of powerlessness. Like the downtown core and small towns across the province, if residents of inner suburban neighbourhoods are to feel they are truly civically engaged, they need the spaces to be civically engaged in: spaces designed to be public.
It’s not unusual to hear long-time community organizers in KGO wistfully asking, “Remember the Morningside Mall?” The mall, though privately owned, was the ideal indoor local “public” space. It welcomed everyone, it had event space complete with tiered balconies, it came with opportunities to eat, walk around and spaces for quiet conversations. In the mall, there was an opportunity to gather, celebrate, plan and organize in large numbers in a space that was both casual and welcoming. But times change, and though the original owners continue to be strong neighbourhood supporters, the mall itself was torn down in 2007.
As a neighbourhood backbone organization, Storefront strives to “provide accessible sites for community members of all ages and cultures to find and share solutions they need to live healthy lives, find meaningful work, play and thrive” and we are certainly creative in doing so. Storefront works hard to find spaces for residents and we look to our partners like East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club, local churches, apartment buildings, schools (when the cost isn’t prohibitive), and more and more to local commercial establishments.
And then there is The Storefront’s own space. As most of you also know, The Storefront, housed in a 7200-square-foot old police station, has embarked on an ambitious capital campaign to expand the building. But times are tough and The Storefront has chosen to focus its energy on the increasing momentum for organizing and effecting change in the community – raising the 5 million dollars we need to expand has had to wait. Still, we do our best with the space. It is great space and the youth who designed it (through the Community.Design.Initiative) have made it truly welcoming for all kinds of activities. And we use every corner of it!
Community organizing is reaching an all-time-high in KGO. Hundreds of people are working to improve local physical, social, environmental and economic opportunities. It’s exciting and it’s invigorating! And if given the choice between lots of space and no engagement, or tons of engagement and lack of space, I’d pick the latter every time. Still, as we think about how inner suburban neighbourhoods of this city have become marginalized, I would like to keep the notion of public space in the forefront of the conversation and urge us all to think of the possibilities with our communities being designed so that people could gather together at will to be the change they want to see.
By: Anne Gloger, Director at the East Scarborough Storefront