Crowded community mobilizes against increased density


St. James Town residents have rallied under the name Smart Development to offer “smart” solutions to a highrise proposal they fear will bring thousands more people to their already overcrowded and underserviced neighbourhood.
“When we looked at that proposal… it was very unsmart development for a variety of reasons,” says Chris Hallett, a neighbour of St. James Town and a Smart Development spokesman.
In a preliminary report, city planners listed more than two dozens of reasons why they didn’t support the proposal, as it originally stood, for St. James Town’s north end on the north side of Howard St.
Hallett estimates  the development will add between 5,000 and 7,000 more people to St. James Town which already has 30,000 residentsliving in 18 “slab” high-rises in a kilometer-square area.
Toronto Centre-Rosedale councillor Pam McConnell saysthe development site is currently derelict and dangerous, “and it absolutely needs development”—a move that would also see historical buildings on Glen Rd. and Howard St. renovated and restored.
When St. James Town was developed about 50 years ago, it was intended to house a population of roughly 15,000 adults only. Today it’s home for newcomer families, retirees, and those on social assistance.
For all those people, says a Smart Development report, basic services such as park space, recreation, retail, garbage management, social and medical services “either do not exist or are inadequate.”
Says Hallett “there’s not enough concern for what’s really going to happen once those buildings are put up.” One thing St. James Town badly needs is a health centre similar to that in Regent Park, says Hallett.
With seniors and people with addictions “we have a variety of (social) issues that need services that are readily available to them,” says Hallett.
Initially, residents were encouraged when they were involved in a working group to discuss the proposal, says Hallett.
“Where we have been discouraged is there is a major issue about height and density which we believe could have been advanced more on the agenda discussions than it was.”
There’s also the social services issue. “There’s more than adequate space to build in social services into those developments,” says Hallett.
“That’s our point of frustration. We just don’t seem to be able to get that message across. They’re not dealing with the guts of the issue. We feel there’s only token listening.”
McConnell acknowledges the community needs a health centre whether it be on the development site or “in proximity” to it. “That is an important goal,” she says. “Our antenna are up to look for a site location for the health centre.”
There is a bright side to the story—with the creation of Smart Development has come an offshoot program that’s looking at ways to make the existing St. James Town neighbourhood better for its occupants.
At the March Smart Development meeting, architects and city planners donated their time to meet with residents to look at the community’s outdoor spaces and review examples from other places to see what could work for St. James Town.
In the end, plans were made to revitalize several gardens, a parkette was created where dead trees once stood, murals have been installed, banners created by residents now hang on lampposts, and a net was donated to the net-less tennis court where residents now play tennis and volleyball.
In addition, an outdoor vendors’ co-op was set up in which the vendors raised $1,000 to put back into community improvements.