By Ben Bull
Published May 11, 2007
Toronto City Council is taking aim at another of its blighted neighbourhoods, this time the affordable housing enclave of Lawrence Heights.
Councilor Howard Moscoe, who is spearheading the proposed redevelopment, says, "It will be a public-private development deal, and the goal is to finance it through intensification - the sale of land. We're going to eliminate the (public housing) stigma."
Just up the road from me is Regent Park - another neighbourhood notorious for its high crime and desolate landscape. The last time I looked, Regent Park is no more. The bulldozers moved in last year and the new community is slated for a 30 percent affordable and 70 percent alternative (part high-end, part medium scale) housing mix.
When I first moved in down the street from Regent Park, I found myself walking through it, by accident, on a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon on my way back from a friend's house.
Even at that time of day, it was a sinister place. Ominous, prison-style bland building facades, fenced borders, tattered strips of grass, and everywhere a dark corner and a dangerous echo. I almost ran to the other side.
I grew up near an even worse housing estate in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Halton Moor, which itself is currently in the process of reinvention/redevelopment, had that similar concentration of affordable housing. It too was inwardly facing, demonstrating the same fenced-off attitude which seems to characterize many of these poorly planned developments.
It was also a notorious haven for drugs and crime - a hopeless place to live.
As we have reported often here at RTH, there is little to be gained from single-purpose neighbourhoods. Whether it's white only high-end enclaves (like Dundas or High Park in Toronto) or middle class suburbs, as a society we have everything to lose by gating each other out of our respective communities.
At Regent Park, and perhaps now in Lawrence Heights, it appears that planners are finally cooking up the right ingredients for a healthy neighbourhood. The key word, of course, is "mixed". As with all recipes, the best results come when the mixture is just right.
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