The following is a guest post by Sophia Ilyniak, a graduate student at York University
The Etobicoke York Community Council adopted the proposal to develop 22 John and 33 King this week. Most people who came forward to speak were in favour of the development, but many, of course, were concerned about the height of the tower.
Here, I want to focus on a few things that were brought up in presentations by those who spoke, beyond the wind-tunnel effect of the tower or its aesthetic effect on the skyline. But first, I want to explain where I’m coming from: I am a student at York University and I don’t live in Weston. I’m looking from the outside in, and so far, mostly from a policy and planning perspective. I think that the word “revitalization” is certainly another word for gentrification. “Densification” is one sure-fire way to gentrify a neighbourhood. Compensating residents with “community benefits” from the 22 John / 33 King development makes that easier.
Former MP Mike Sullivan was the only one at the meeting who brought up anything about the marginalized population of Weston. He said,
I’m in favour of the idea of creating artists live/work residences and making 33 King into a better place, but I’m not sure that a 30 storey building with 1,400 more people coming to live in Weston is exactly what the residents understand. Especially when the average income in the area of Weston Road and Laurence is only $15,000 per year.
He suggested that Rockport sign some sort of agreement to make sure local youth get jobs and/or apprenticeships for the building of the development. This was well-received by community council—they mentioned that Hammerheads, a group with local affiliations, could take this on.
Gary Alderson, Weston resident and former farmers’ market vendor, pointed out that the audience in the council chamber was certainly not a representation of who lives in Weston – “I don’t think we have any of the residents of King Street that are here that would say that they’d be against the height. What we have here is primarily land owners, wealthy land owners who live in the core of Weston which
don’t seem be to against this kind of development.” [See Alderson’s comment below for clarification.] Whether or not this is the case, this statement stands as an important reminder of who has the time and energy to show up to consultations and Community Council meetings, as well as who in the neighbourhood might be called on for voluntary support.
Finally, the confusion around how the tower went from having 18 storeys to 30 was explained in a very simple way by Councillor Frances Nunziata. She said that it had been explained,
…over and over and over again. The reasons why this changed from 18 to 30 is what we’re getting – the community benefits were getting, the open space we’re getting, the cultural hub, the farmers market. That is the reason for the change in the height.
This is an agreement under ‘Section 37’ of the Ontario Planning Act. Section 37 agreements, which trade developer benefits for community concessions, have been controversial elsewhere in Toronto, as explained in the report “Trading Density for Benefits” published by the University of Toronto.
Councillor Nunziata ended her presentation with this:
I know it’s difficult for people to accept change. But if you want change, if you want to improve your community, you need to accept change. If you want to keep things the same, then don’t complain.
I think this is a problematic way of looking at an issue. Weston certainly needs investment—I cannot imagine who would not be in favour of that. But “complaining” or being critical of a development is not resisting change. If anything, those critical of a such a development are the ones most ready for real changes. Mike Sullivan hinted at a few of them: “I really hope that this ‘revitalization’ that everyone is talking about includes a community centre, includes all-day express transit, and includes enough jobs to go around.”
Investment into a neighbourhood that has suffered from structural disinvestment for a long time does not have to involve catering to big developers. If this is the first “Signature Initiative” of Weston’s “revitalization” plans, what are the rest going to look like? The problem is actually that this development is not changing much—it’s following the same formulas used downtown, which have ultimately produced the ring of increasingly concentrating poverty around it.