Regent Park, notorious in the media for violence crime, was planned as a social housing experiment in the late 1940s. The design was based on the garden city, the prevailing urban planning theory of the time. The intention then was to alleviate overcrowding, provide better housing, and address social problems by reconnecting residents to a “natural” greenspace setting through concentric planned communities. However, these problems continued throughout the ensuing fifty years.
In 2005, Toronto Community Housing, the largest social and affordable housing provider in Canada, started the Regent Park Revitalization to try once again to improve the living conditions and connect tenants to needed services and employment opportunities.
The goal? Transform Regent Park into a successful, mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood. Now, seven years after the initiation of redevelopment, we can begin to assess whether that goal is being realized.
Firstly, the success of the physical renewal and mixed uses cannot be denied. In contrast to their predecessors, the new high-rises, mid-rises, and townhomes face the street and are no longer fifty years out of date and in sorrow disrepair. “I can turn on the tap and get [clean] water,” said Freddy King, one of the directors of “My Brother”, a film about the persisting negative stereotypes and challenges in Regent Park, despite the revitalization.
The redevelopment in Regent Park is a thought out example of current mixed-use and urban design principles. Streets have been built to reconnect the neighbourhood to the surrounding city grid for pedestrians, transit users, and motorists alike. The ground level retail, condo lobbies, and community “cultural hub” further activate the pedestrian street environment.
To an outsider, the neighbourhood already feels much safer. Whereas before I was hesitant to explore Regent Park, I felt at ease walking to the film festival. Simply put, it’s no longer an area that you will take the long way to avoid. This feeling of safety will be instrumental to the neighborhood’s success.
Making Regent Park a mixed-use area has succeeded, but what about the mixed-income aspect of the goal?
On the surface, market rate condominiums are selling, meaning Regent Park now has a mix of high and low-income earners. However, the intention to create social cohesion has not been achieved.
Toronto Community Housing advocates that schools are key to integrating people of different backgrounds in a neighbourhood. However, designed for one to two people on average, the condos attract single, young professionals without connections to the schools. “For [new residents] it’s a place to live close to downtown as opposed to a place to live in,” said Jason Creed, long time Regent Park resident, Support Worker at Pathways to Education, and film festival board member. “If you’re an architect, then buildings are going up; but the community is being lost as the buildings go up.”
The attendance at and enthusiasm for the film festival made it clear that Regent Park’s community is incredibly strong community. Whether the higher income residents will want to take part in the community has yet to be seen.
Have there been successful mixed-income or mixed-use developments in your city? Did programming or the built form help them succeed?
Credits: Data, graphic image, and historical aerial photograph linked to sources. Photos by Lindsay Vanstone.