Regent Park Community Activism/Engagement Writing Sample

This article was written for my work with the Regent Park Neighbourhood Initiative in 2013. This is an example of my community journalism and community advocacy work. The original post can be found here. Please note that the organization’s website (referenced in content) was taken down when Regent Park Neighbourhood Initiative restructured to become a neighbourhood association without staff.

14 Blevins Place: A Heritage Site to Remember or Forget?

What’s so special about 14 Blevins Place?
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The high-rise apartment building in South Regent looks exactly like the others surrounding it – red-brick, poorly maintained, poor lighting around entrances to the building, quite like most of the housing in Regent Park slated for redevelopment. Why then, when phase 3 of the Regent Park Redevelopment rolls around, will 14 Blevins Place remain standing while surrounding others are demolished and rebuilt to higher standards of living and beauty? **Update: Since this blog entry was published, the Preservation Board met and determined to not designate the building as a Heritage property — thanks to active engagement from our Regent Park residents.**

During the original planning of the Revitalization in 2004, City staff proposed that one of the low-rise residential buildings characteristic of North Regent, and one of the high-rise residential buildings characteristic of South Regent, be retained. They were to be “preserved and adaptively reused so that the use of the property as a public housing project for over 50 years would be commemorated” (Toronto Staff Report 2*). Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) agreed to the preservation of one of the high-rise apartment buildings in South Regent only, and so 14 Blevins Place was recommended for inclusion on the City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties, exempt from demolition and slated for preservative repurposing.

Why then were the buildings in North Regent determined unfit for preservation, while not so for the high-rises of South Regent? The preservation of 14 Blevins Place has been attributed to the fact that at the time of building, in the late 1950s, the Blevins high-rises were considered “a major advancement in public housing” (Toronto Staff Report 3*), designed by renowned architect Peter Dickinson, and winner of the Massey Medal for Architecture. The design featured “two-storey apartments that separated the bedrooms from the living space and enabled units to front onto both sides of the building” (Toronto Staff Report 3*). At the time of City consultation with the community there was support for the preservation of this building and none for preserving the town houses in the north. However, it has been nearly a decade since these consultations and support from the community for the preservation of 14 Blevins Place is hard to find.

We have been hearing from the community that they want 14 Blevins Place demolished as part of phase 3 of the Redevelopment of Regent Park. I spoke with one 14 Blevins Place resident who gave us a clearer understanding of why it must go.

Our interviewee immigrated to Canada in 1986 and has been living in Regent Park nearly ever since. She currently lives in 14 Blevins Place in Regent Park, and has been there for 12 years. I spoke with her about her experience living in 14 Blevins and whether she was aware of development plans to keep the building as a heritage site.

Though she says she likes living in the building, she has several frustrations around the living conditions. As we have heard already expressed from others, our interviewee noted serious issues of leaks, and building maintenance. The elevator, she says, is frequently soiled with urine and smoke (which we have heard from others including that the elevator frequently doesn’t work). Many neighbours complain of mice and cockroaches, and some even have issues with bedbugs.

Our interviewee illustrates her frustrations with an anecdote about her fridge. When she first moved into the building she noticed that the fridge was not in good shape – food was spoiling because it was not cool enough. She filed complaints with housing management,but nothing was done until it completely broke down 10 years later on Christmas Eve. In a rush, she had to prepare her Christmas feast at her friend’s place,desperate to salvage the food already starting to go bad in the broken refrigerator. The fridge was not replaced until the third week of January,leaving her to cope without the appliance for a month. The hesitance on the part of building management to replace the malfunctioning appliance is a trending frustration, no doubt compelled by the lack of incentive to invest in a building that will be either demolished or become City property.

Though a resident of the building for over a decade, our interviewee was unaware of the plans to keep 14 Blevins Place as a heritage building. When I asked her whether she was in support of this plan she immediately responded that she was not, and expressed confusion over the desire to maintain a building that was so neglected. She further noted the potential risk involved in maintaining a building with health risks such as insect and rodent infestation, expressing concern that these infestations, if allowed to fester, might just spread to the new buildings and recreate the problem.

At the most recent City consultation with the community on June 10th (see our June Newsletter or blog entry for a recap of this event), two 14 Blevins Place residents addressed City Planners to request the demolition of the building to audience applause. City Planner, Angela Stea, was receptive to this feedback but informed us that in order for there to be a change in the Development Plan, others need to speak up – so we have taken to the streets! We have been out in the community, talking with residents and finding that they echo our interviewee’s sentiments. Already, we have gathered many signatures on our petition for the building’s demolition. Additionally, we have started a petition that can be accessed at:

https://www.change.org/petitions/city-of-toronto-demolish-14-blevins-place-as-part-of-phase-3-of-regent-park-revitalization

If you, like many of your neighbours, feel 14 Blevins Place has no value in our Revitalized Regent Park, please sign the petition for its removal. To maintain the building as a heritage site is to maintain a reminder of the poor living conditions and neglect that residents have endured all these years. This simply does not fit with the theme of revitalization. 14 Blevins Place has well-served its usefulness, and as community members we do not want to see the preservation of this building for any use moving forward.

These kinds of decisions are important in maintaining the health of the community, and it is essential that residents participate in these decisions. Sign the petition, or email in your support for the plan, but make your voice heard. Our work at the Regent Park Neighbourhood Initiative is informed by you, and as such your engagement is critical. Currently, we are seeking to hear from the community on their feelings of social inclusion. Take the survey and help us to seek needed changes in the community and preserve what really matters to you.

* To read the Toronto Staff report visit  http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/2005/agendas/committees/te/te050118/it029.pdf

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