About the project
Housing the Proles of Leslieville, or Joe & Ian Do South Riverdale came about in response to a remark by a Ms Jones at the Toronto and Easy York Community Council in 2005. She starts by talking about Woodgreen’s housing developments (emphasis added):
e were asked about Woodgreen and we were lied to. It wasn’t that it was social housing... but it was built on a main street. Our neighbourhood has no less than nine social housing developments on the main street, and the streetscape is over.
Queen St. East may indeed have nine social-housing developments depending on what stretch of Queen you care about.
In the area between Coxwell and Broadview, there are nine social-housing buildings in seven complexes, at 1575/1555, 1480, 1187, 1167, 1153, 1070, 841, and 791 Queen St. East. (There are additional buildings on Gerrard, Pape, Renwick, Eastern, Jones, and Coxwell.) The entire distance from Broadview to Coxwell is not a single neighbourhood, but we’ll grant that for the moment.
The Queen St. buildings have indeed interrupted the streetscape, if and only if you believe that a streetscape must be comprised solely of retail businesses. Queen St. is a quintessential mixed-use neighbourhood, comprising –
- all those social-housing developments
- independent and chain stores (we are down to a single 7-Eleven from a previous two)
- market-rate apartment buildings
- single- and multiple-family houses
- car dealerships and service bays
- two community health centres
- a giant Shoppers Drug Mart made famous by De Grassi
- historic structures
- Chinese-food manufacturers
- and clothing stores
– among other uses. If you want Queen St. West, move to the other side of the Don.
Quit picking on the poor
What bothers me more about this and many similar remarks made during the discussions of the Foundry District redevelopment is the undercurrent of resentment of the poor. Mixed use means mixed; it does not mean a monoculture, and it certainly does not mean the implied monoculture of well-off yuppies. Let me restate what I wrote elsewhere:
I’d also like the members of the resentful, entitled-sounding, and peevish middle class who address the audience at community consultations to quit fearmongering about “social housing” in the Foundry District. Of course it’s not going to be wall-to-wall poor people, which is what you’re really worried about. (The claimed concerns of prostitution and drug dealing are a smokescreen. You just don’t want hillbillies living next door to you, even though you moved into what was originally a hillbilly neighbourhood.)
Remember, Queen St. East will never resemble Queen St. West in our lifetimes due to the social-housing developments erected along Queen during the 1980s, when nobody with money wanted to live in a neglected, contaminated hinterland – whose existence they only ever noticed in the first place while driving tediously through it to reach the Beach. So the poor were warehoused here, often in buildings with mixed rent-geared-to-income and market-rate housing. (Actually, I merely surmise that. I have not interviewed the managers of all the buildings. At least two buildings are set aside for people in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse – is that who you’re afraid of? – and another is a deaf building.) Like Trinity-Spadina with homeless shelters, South Riverdale is already replete with social housing and nobody is realistically going to propose building a lot more of it.
However: This is a quintessential mixed-use neighbourhood, I reiterate, with lots of poor people of various descriptions. And Options for Homes – headquartered on Queen East, by the way – has demonstrated that home ownership is a real option even for people making as little as $16,000 a year. Hence some subsidized housing, invariably intermingled with market-rate units, is manifestly called for and necessary in the Foundry District. They’re your neighbours too.
I really need to reiterate my objection to the attitude of some middle-class residents who only recently moved here. (You can spot their houses a mile away – front pad parking, new windows, new air conditioner.) They couldn’t afford real Riverdale and they use South Riverdale like a bedroom suburb. They don’t really live or shop here; at best you might see them walking their dogs (in the dull, lawn-like expanses of parks they think are custom-provided for that purpose). You never see them walking along Queen St. In fact, they kind of resent and are afraid of their neighbours, because too many of us are poor, low-class, Chinese, black, or eccentric.
Well, people, you chose to move. We want you to actually live here. It would be a good start to discontinue standing up in crowded public meetings and dissing your neighbours. You simply are not more important than the rest of us, or any less important.
So let’s put it to the test
If, according to Ms Jones, social housing is the problem, then what is it really about social housing that constitutes the problem? Its very existence? Well, get over yourself; it isn’t going anywhere. The residents? Well, I assume that is your subtext, yes, but you have to get over yourself on that count, too, as they aren’t going anywhere, either.
What does that leave? “The streetscape,” I suppose. And for that, you need to start a discussion about architecture, which nobody has. So that’s what we’re doing.
My methods were simple: I chose a few buildings; photographed them, usually on more than one occasion; and entered the lobby to count occupied apartments (always an approximate number, and I took no other notes, like names) and jot down any management names and addresses. I researched the owners of the buildings to the extent possible; though I still plan on a visit to City Hall and/or the Archives, that will have to wait. I E-mailed known building owners or managers, and snailmailed the superintendents of the other buildings. I asked for the year the building was completed, the architect, and the number of units and residents, and for any other interesting facts about the building.
At the time of site launch in January 2006, no one responded to my inquiries. If I query them again and they respond, or if they change their minds, their responses will be reported in updated critiques.
City of Toronto maps
The City of Toronto has a finicky, inaccessible, overcomplex little Web application that you can use to find information on social housing. If it needs this extensive a set of instructions, you know it’s a usability nightmare, but here goes:
- Enter an address or an intersection.
- Tick the Housing and Shelters box.
- Click the i icon (ℹ for Information). Social-housing developments will be listed with a reddish square. Click any one of them to read a new frame of information about the building.
Much of the information included in building critiques comes from this source.
The comments you see from me and Ian are almost exactly verbatim. I type as he speaks and I try to type as I speak, which leads to a kind of Heisenberg effect in which I don’t sound completely natural.
Where necessary, I correct mistakes we make if I do some research later and notice an error, but I always annotate the correction.
This is not a lifelong project
I have selected only some of the buildings and complexes in Leslieville. Most of them are right on Queen St. I am not interested in turning this into an ongoing, burdensome, Sisyphean process of documenting every building in the hood. I have had too many such endless projects in the past and don’t want any new ones, unless of course I’m getting paid to do it. (Check my other Web sites. I have an extensive track record of free projects. I simply cannot do that sort of thing forever.)
Hence you should not expect me to do any more than what I actually do. What I give you is what I give you and that’s all I can manage. You are, however, invited to write in with any other information you have.
- Updated with link to TOMaps.