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FORUM: Celebrate citizen activists (July 2018)

July 18th, 2018 · No Comments

Residents’ associations cultivate neighbourhoods

By Mike Layton

At the Palmerston Area Residents’ Association (PARA) annual general meeting last month, I realized something. We are so lucky to have such informed, open, and dedicated neighbours. Often people, including the media, are critical of neighbourhood associations labelling them as NIMBY, meddling neighbours standing in the way of change favouring homeowners.

In my experience, this can’t be further from the truth.

Over the past several years I have relied heavily on the advice, expertise, and leadership of residents’ associations in Ward 19 and beyond.

Some are quite large, while others are only a single street. Some have bank accounts, some don’t. Some have elaborate constitutions and bylaws that govern them, while others have no rules. They hold meetings in parks, party rooms, living rooms, or bars. However they define themselves, these associations are a wealth of information and connectivity with the local community.

No, they are not elected officials. Yes, sometimes they don’t have membership that is as diverse as those who live in the community they represent. No, their views are not always shared by everyone in their community (even within their own leadership). However, none of this takes away from their value as an organizing unit, a sounding board, and a communications tool.

My office routinely calls on residents’ associations to circulate information about planning applications, laneway namings, streetscape designs, emergency shelter plans, and so on. We also request that they join steering committees, working groups, and construction liaison committees, to name a few.

Let me give you a couple examples of where I have found the input and participation of residents’ associations to be invaluable.

In 2013, I was approached by Native Child and Family Services about their plan to open a new youth facility on Bloor Street West. A minor Official Plan Amendment was necessary because the rear of the property was not zoned properly on a map. I loved the idea, but I was worried about how it, and they, would be received by the surrounding community.

So, I set up a call with the chair of the local residents’ association, Allan Reynolds, to discuss the plan and get his feedback. On that call, he explained his experience with Native Child and Family Services on another housing development in the neighbourhood and he committed his full support for the proposal. He brought the proposal back to the local residents to explain the necessity of the facility and the good reputation of the operator. When it came time for the City of Toronto to host the public meeting on the official plan amendment, it was met with unanimous support from the surrounding community.

Through the engagement with the local community association and their conversations with their members, we reduced barriers to ensure that this important facility serving Indigenous youth could open its doors.

PARA, the Harbord Village Residents’ Association, the Annex Residents’ Association, and the Seaton Village Residents’ Association organized themselves into a new working group that, over the next few years, would spend hundreds of hours across dozens of meetings to ensure that we proactively developed a vision for our community that reinforced what was great, but at the same time made accommodations for new residents and affordable housing.

The power and influence of these four residents’ associations resulted in significant changes to the Westbank Development proposal on the former Honest Ed’s site. Their leadership and willingness to engage with councillors, the city, and developers in a constructive relationship is a model for large-scale development proposals.

Finally, if you’d like a snapshot of how residents’ associations organize in modern neighbourhoods full of tall buildings, just look at the Liberty Village Residents’ Association’s (LVRA) Facebook page. You’ll find everything from people posting thoughts about development proposals to people asking for recipes, tools, or DVDs from their neighbours.

In the LVRA’s model, buildings as a whole become members and they host large events for the neighbourhood to allow people to get to know one another.

So to PARA, the OCA, Seaton Village, the Fort York Neighbourhood Association, the LVRA, and all the rest of the RAs, CAs, and ratepayers — thank you for meddling.

If you’re not currently a member of your residents’ association, or just haven’t been to a meeting in a while, join your neighbours and get active in your community.

Mike Layton is the city councillor for Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina.



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Tags: Annex · General · Opinion