November 25 2013

Regent Park Social Housing Revitalization: A Mixed-Use, Mixed-Income Success?

The Regent Park Film Festival in Toronto spurred me to check out the $1 billion, fifteen-year revitalization of the neighborhood and also see some great films produced locally and internationally.

Old social housing and new revitalized buildings in Regent Park, Toronto

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.

Regent Park before the revitalization, Toronto, 2006

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to their predecessors, the new high-rises, mid-rises, and townhomes face the street and are no longer fifty years out of date and in sorrow disrepair.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.

Regent Park Revitalization Design Plan, Toronto

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.”

Richard Fung, filmmaker, and Jason Creed, featured in "The S on my Chest" documentary, at the Regent Park Film Festival, Toronto

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.

Lindsay Vanstone

Lindsay graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor’s degree in healthcare ethics. Her interest in the link between health and the built environment led her to take electives in urban studies. Last summer she tested this interest in urban planning at the Career Discovery program at Harvard University. She engaged deeply with the design and planning problems she studied, particularly community and economic development, and placemaking, and is now looking to attend graduate school in planning. Lindsay will be blogging about how Toronto is responding to the changing demands of its ever increasing and diversifying population and trying to create a healthier and more livable city and region.

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 25th, 2013 at 9:54 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Housing, Lindsay Vanstone, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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