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Recently from the Newsletter
June 23 - Downtown North Development Round Table
It may be officially summer, but the ARA P+D committee hasn’t let up for a moment. Last Saturday the team hosted an afternoon roundtable for representatives from residents’ associations across Downtown North – the sector roughly contained from Christie east to the Don Valley and from College north to the CP rail line.
Led by a powerhouse consisting of ARA planner-in-chief, Edward Leman, lawyer extraordinaire, Henry Wiercinski, HVRA community champion, Susan Dexter, and Bloor East association rep, Linda Brett, some forty participants spent three full hours on Zoom exploring key trends in our communities, assessing City Planning’s current work in response to the Province’s “Growth Plan Review,” and sharing useful practices in engaging with stakeholders on major development applications in their areas.
Sharing the e-stage were Councillors Mike Layton and Kristyn Wong-Tam, both of whom emphasized the importance of active residents’ associations, particularly after the cataclysmic halving of City Council by the Ford government. Also on the call were City staff who gave up a sunny Saturday afternoon to present their work-in-progress and to answer questions about everything from the Committee of Adjustment’s plans to reduce appeals to how the City is dealing with the Province’s mandatory density targets for Major Transit Station Areas – like ours!
Participants were particularly impressed with the ARA's Project Review Checklist. Recently developed by Edward, this checklist forms the basis for the official Position Statements the ARA now crafts in response to major projects. As we rationalize our responses and processes, and as we work to intervene early -- well before a formal development application is filed -- we hope to continue having a positive impact on projects within our borders.
For the Record
For those of you who are interested in doing a deep dive into the subject, Edward’s cut the video of the round table into three separate sections and posted them to YouTube:
Part One - Key Trends: https://youtu.be/CfqPTTdGkio
Part Two - City’s Growth Plan Conformity and Inclusionary Zoning: https://youtu.be/77IDqwqXf3c
Part Three - Engaging on Large Development Applications: https://youtu.be/Et5If3tVUiU
May 26 - Stop Spadina: the Untold Stories
Last week we recounted the early work of Annexonians Bobbi Speck and Lorraine Van Riet, leaders of the Committee of Concerned Citizens (CCC) formed in 1968 to stop the Spadina Expressway. After their cause was publicized in the Toronto Daily Star, they went full tilt in their efforts to reach out to politicians and to educate the public.
Together with representatives from the Kensington and Sussex associations, the pair even secured a meeting at Queen’s Park with Alan Grossman, the MPP whose riding encompassed the vulnerable community south of Bloor. But while lobbying politicians at all levels was important, getting the community involved was equally crucial. And so Bobbi and Lorraine organized two particularly significant public meetings, the first of which was in May of 1969.
The Kendal Meeting
This meeting at the Kendal home of Fred and Louise Field was focused on blockbusting techniques in the Annex. The biggest slum landlord was Metro, which was cynically letting its Spadina Road properties decline into shabby rooming houses, thus further devaluing neighbouring real estate for expropriation. Added to this injury, developers with visions of high-rise towers dancing in their heads worked the side streets, offering options to owners and spreading fear of plunging land values.
At the well-attended Kendal meeting was a woman who seemed extremely knowledgeable. When Bobbi approached her afterwards to ask if she would get involved, the woman replied, eyes twinkling, “That’s why I’m here.” It was only when they later checked the sign-in sheet that Bobbi and Lorraine realized they had been talking with the formidable civic activist and urban thinker, the internationally famous Jane Jacobs!
Jane Jacobs had arrived much earlier in Toronto in 1968 with her three children – that would be our very own ARA Board member, Jim Jacobs, and his siblings, brother Ned and sister Burgin. According to Jim, the family hadn’t been in town more than a week or so when a young Peter Stollery, alerted to Jane Jacob’s presence, had ridden his bicycle to her house on Spadina just north of Lowther. His mission: to secure her help in delaying a vote on the expressway to be held the very next day at Toronto City Council. (Hard to credit now, but in those days members of the public could freely ask to address Council at its meetings.)
Legal circumstances required Jane to be circumspect – she was fresh, after all, from having been arrested for her activism in New York – so Burgin volunteered to accompany Peter in her stead. Since Burgin was tall for her age and strikingly attractive, the group decided that no one would realize she was only fourteen years old. The stratagem worked. Council thought there was no harm in granting the nice young couple’s wish for a month’s delay so they could learn a little more about this proposed extension. Alas, the vote went through the next month. But chalk one up for the delaying tactics so critical to urban activism!
Passing the Baton
So it was in the Spring of 1969, that Jane stepped out publicly to support the cause. And that very June, she agreed to speak at a teach-in Bobbi and Lorraine were organizing at the Spadina-Bloor JCC. She was now fully and openly invested in the fight.
Bobbi and Lorraine maintained communication throughout Metro, and, newly invited onto the ARA Board, continued urging the ARA to withdraw its support of the expressway (a reversal that didn’t happen until that November). They participated in the formation of federations uniting City and Metro residents’ associations (CORRA and METTRA), headed by their contacts in York, North York and south of Bloor. However, at the end of the summer it was time to prepare for the arrival of two new babies and turn attention to their families and their professions and their own lives.
Bobbi and Lorraine happily passed the baton to Jane but didn’t by any means retire. They continued to participate in the activities of the new and ultimately successful Stop Spadina movement, begun exactly one year after their first CCC meeting on Brunswick Avenue in September 1968.
The Bad Trip
The story of the fight against Spadina with Jane Jacobs at the fore of SSSOCCC (Stop Spadina Save Our City Co-ordinating Committee) has been told and re-told – first and perhaps most famously by David and Nadine Nowlan who wrote and published in 1970 with House of Anansi Press the seminal book, The Bad Trip. Their short volume (used copies of which are still to be found online) thoroughly debunked the myths behind expressways as solutions to urban development.
There were sit-ins and demonstrations, mild acts of civil disobedience, and persistent pursuit of attention in the media, some of which we will regale you with in next week’s newsletter when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the official halt to the Spadina Expressway – June 3rd, 1971.
-- With grateful thanks to Bobbi Speck and Jim Jacobs for sharing their stories.