The group in charge of redrawing the city split up some of the city’s most distinct neighbourhoods.
Civic-minded residents of downtown Toronto may have been chagrined (though not entirely surprised) to learn, upon the release of information about the proposed restructuring of the regions represented by city councillors, that the three downtown wards each have thousands more people than the average ward population. Toronto’s population has exploded since the wards were redrawn in 2000, with much of that growth in the city’s downtown core—and more is expected in the coming years. For now, people living in wards 20 (Trinity-Spadina) and 27 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) have significantly less representation than residents of other, less populous wards.
It’s for those reasons that the proposed changes to ward boundaries, presented to City Council in May, include splitting downtown into six wards rather than three, dramatically reshaping the political landscape of the area. But in trying to accommodate population changes and adhere to “natural and physical boundaries” and area history, the group in charge of redrawing the city split up some of Toronto’s most distinct neighbourhoods.
One of those areas is the beating heart of the city’s LGBTQ community, Church-Wellesley Village. Currently housed in Ward 27 and represented by Kristyn Wong-Tam, members of the Village have expressed concern at the thought of forming a smaller portion of two different wards. The proposal calls for a boundary to run along Church Street, the main artery of the Village.
“We understand the need for boundaries to change in terms of making sure that everybody in Toronto is fairly represented by the wards,” says Village BIA Chair Francis Gaudreault, “but we’re not a big fan of the idea of the Village being split in two to form those boundaries.”
Key to Gaudreault is the relationship the community enjoys with Wong-Tam, who is receptive to the needs of the area and the desire to avoid extra city bureaucracy. In fact, Wong-Tam told Torontoist she’d raised concerns with the consultants in charge of the ward boundary review early on about keeping neighbourhoods like the Village intact.
“Any initiative that we do in the Village, whether it be the festivals that we do, the art sculptures that we do, any of the installations, it has to go through the councillor’s office for approval, just because we’re a city organization,” she says.
Gaudreault said that while he’s not sure if residents of the area share his feelings on the issue, other organizations, including the residents’ association, strongly desire the Village to be kept together.
Protecting “communities of interest” is listed in the ward review background research report [PDF] as a guiding principle in the creation of the new boundaries and stipulates that identifiable groups should not, where possible, be divided. That includes groups defined by characteristics like age and language, and especially minority groups.
“I think it’s a matter of trying to prioritize a clustering of communities around common interests and history, geographical similarities, topographical similarities,” says Wong-Tam, who has represented Ward 27 since 2010. “It doesn’t make sense that we’re splitting such an iconic cultural neighbourhood literally right down its own main street.”
Both Wong-Tam and Gaudreault said they were hopeful that the issue will be addressed before City Council votes on the new ward boundaries, which won’t happen for several months. (As of this writing, neither the consultants nor the city had responded to questions about the boundary proposal.) The mayor’s executive committee won’t look at this issue again until October 26. That’s partly because of John Tory’s stated objection to introducing more councillors (the proposed changes call for an increase of three, to a total of 47), but it will allow the consultants to review their proposal and potentially change ward boundaries that cut through neighbourhoods.
“I can see that it’s obviously a work in progress,” Wong-Tam says of the proposal, adding that she’s confident the consultants are receptive to neighbourhood concerns.
Map by Sean Marshall