Over the past eight months, mid-career professionals from a variety of disciplines in Toronto city-building have been imagining the future of Mount Dennis. Organized into three teams, they form the Curtner Leadership Class of 2019.
On May 21, they gathered to share their visions and implementation strategies with the public. ULI Toronto hosted this community presentation in a church at Weston and Eglinton, across from the historic Kodak Heights industrial park that Metrolinx is in the process of developing into Mount Dennis Station + Maintenance and Storage Facility.
The Curtner Leadership Program is an annual thought-leadership initiative focused on “solving real land use challenges within a defined region of Toronto District involving key stakeholders from the private, public, and non-profit community sectors.”
This year’s call to action has been: “How can the community vision of an Eco-neighbourhood be achieved over the coming years as Mount Dennis becomes a major transit hub and focus of redevelopment?,” which can be contextualized with the following points:
Mount Dennis is a neighbourhood within the geographical parameters of Jane Street (west), Black Creek Drive (east), Lambton Avenue (south) and Cobalt Avenue and the northern boundary of the TTC bus garage (north).
The Mount Dennis Community Association (MDCA) – one of Toronto’s most active community associations – aspires for this neighbourhood to become Toronto’s first “Net Zero” (carbon neutral) community, with aims of improving energy efficiency and reintegrating Mount Dennis into the city’s economy.
Mount Dennis Station will become a convergence point for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, the GO Transit Kitchener Line, the UP Express, and various TTC bus routes
Acknowledging that this transit investment will catalyze redevelopment in Mount Dennis, the teams explored how such development might be oriented to support the MDCA’s “Net Zero” aspirations.
Team 1 advocated for connecting the two divided sides of the neighbourhood with a bridge across the rail corridor integrated with an institutional building.
Team 2 envisioned redeveloping the Mount Dennis employment lands into Toronto’s first Innovation District, emphasizing colocation of manufacturing and research.
Team 3 outlined an intervention geared toward leveraging the transit investment to encourage uptake of greener mobility modes, and recommended enhancing cycling and pedestrian infrastructure to augment this behavioural shift.
Mount Dennis has a population of 13,593 (2016 Census data), with over 25% defined as low income, and 44% speaking non-English mother-tongue languages. The total housing stock consists of 5,386 dwellings (68% apartments, 32% house-form structures). Considering these factors, gentrification was a central focus across the teams. An underlying question they each seemed to tackle could be framed as “how might we leverage this moment of growth to secure further investment in the neighbourhood while protecting the interests of existing residents and business owners?”
Team 1 proposed establishing a Neighbourhood Trust as a means of embracing development while maintaining local decision-making and protecting long-term affordability. They describe this form of governance as “an organization that sets up an endowment to capture the resources that are unlocked when a community undergoes significant development and change. These resources are then managed by a board of local representatives from the community, local businesses and community agencies.”
In a parallel but more market-focused vein, Team 2 posited a Mount Dennis Redevelopment Corporation that could issue Request for Proposals to elicit solutions for opportunities such as station intensification and green space. This group could evaluate submissions with the support of an advisory design review panel.
Team 3 looked at ways of leveraging existing planning tools to solve for the issue of affordable housing on a site-by-site basis. They proposed that key growth and revitalization areas such as the No Frills site at Black Creek and Eglinton be designated as community planning permit system areas so as to enable high-density residential development with inclusionary zoning provisions.
During the Q&A, focus shifted to strategies for ground-up community action. One audience member drew attention to Ontario’s current political climate, and asked how citizens can work to hold developers accountable in a time when the tools that have previously been used to do so are being taken away. A core theme that resonated in the answers was “early organization” – that a community should establish its objectives as soon as possible, be it to influence policy-level decisions or negotiate with developers in the early planning stages of a project.
Responding to these sentiments, former City of Toronto Chief Planner, Paul Bedford, (who led this program and moderated the event) noted that the need to “speak with one voice” had been a key message of the evening. Pragmatic in nature, this statement leaves us to reflect on the relationship between consensus and activism as well as the ethics of advocating for those who cannot afford to participate when consensus is being built.