Building Community in Regent Park

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Building Community in Regent Park

How an integrated community hub aims to form the nucleus of a neighbourhood's reinvention.

Regent Park construction, February 2012. Photo by {a href=http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindaedwards/6904019323/sizes/z/in/photostream/}Linda Edwards{/a} from the {a href=http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}

In 2007, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation opted to embark on a $1-billion, 15-year revitalization of Regent Park, a social housing development, parts of which are more than sixty years old. According to the TCHC website, the current redevelopment will include “diverse architecture, expanding and reconnecting the road networks and adding new pedestrian-friendly streets maintained by the City.”

The project will increase the number of people living in the development by a little more than 50 per cent, and will add market-rate condos to the mix, whereas before, the neighbourhood had been defined by its many rent-geared-to-income housing units. A number of brand-new shared community spaces will also be built, including new spots for stores and other types of businesses.

Now, five years later, the occasionally controversial undertaking is about to see its first major results: the completion of renovations on the neighbourhood’s nearly-century-old Nelson Mandela Park Public School and development of an adjoining, integrated community hub.

“This idea of a community hub is really all about facilitating community interaction and overcoming isolation,” explains Susan Lewin of CS&P Architects, the firm behind the project. “The trustee for the school, in our opening meeting, told us to dream no small dreams.”

Construction on the school began about a year ago and is slated to wrap before classes start in September 2012. The community centre is set to begin construction this summer. The combined facilities, when complete, will serve as what Lewin describes as a “key platform” in the reimagined neighbourhood—”a whole basket of activities and uses.”

A rendering of the Regent Park Community Centre, scheduled to start construction this summer. Image courtesy of {a href=http://www.csparch.com/#section=3&category=10&page=82}CS&P Architects{/a}.

Much of the community hub’s functionality is designed with children and youth in mind. “We’re seeing the school and the community centre as one integrated facility,” Lewin says. “Within the school we have a new City of Toronto childcare on the same level as the kindergartens. So, what we’re doing within the school is reducing transitions for children between different programs.”

Lewin points out that, with the community centre, transitions between activities for older kids will also be reduced. “They can finish school and then just go over to the community centre and play some basketball or go out into the playground,” she explains, adding that computer lounges, game centres, and gym spaces within the centre are being developed specifically with youth in mind.

There will also be a new library in the school that will be open to the public, as well as a new green schoolyard—complete with a community garden—as a public park space for all to enjoy. An employment centre is also part of the package. The whole complex is intended to foster a sense of Sesame Street-style togetherness central to the greater revitalization vision. The hoped-for outcome is a high-density, mixed income, mixed-use space that brings together a melange of people.

“Revitalization has been a catalyst for other positive changes in the area and we’re happy to know that the new facilities will be able to accommodate the growth in the community,” says Sinead Canavan, a spokesperson for TCHC. “The cumulative impact of revitalization is even greater than the sum of the parts.”

Or, as Lewin puts it: “The community hub is really intended to be a hive of activity, to really promote a sense of community and build engagement and a sense of belonging.”

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