The redevelopment of Regent Park in Toronto. To the left is the completed Phase two of the five phase plan. To the right is what remains of the community built in the 1940s.

A Dividing Line

Regent Park is undergoing a revitalization effort at a scale rarely seen in North America, let alone Canada. And it’s not the first time.

To many Torontonians, the name Regent Park brings visions of poverty, immigrants and crime. To others, it is a strong and vibrant community of people who have worked hard to create a new start for their families.

Before it was Regent park, it was referred to as Cabbagetown.

In the 1940s, Cabbagetown was a poor neighborhood of new immigrants and was portrayed in the press of the day as a blight upon the city. It took its name from the number of residents growing food on their front lawns. Many of the houses were in serious disrepair and overflowing with extended families.

The solution? Bulldoze the neighborhood and replace it with one of the largest public housing projects ever conceived.

Regent Park would eventually comprise 69 acres of public housing on private streets and just over 2,000 walk-up, high-rise and townhouse units. The units created pockets of green space between them, as all the public streets had been removed, creating what was referred to as a “garden city”.

The “garden city” was born in one fell swoop in 1948 as the country’s largest public housing development.

Things went well for a while. The area had its problems, but it was home to a strong community of people who gardened, held parties in the commons and looked out for one another.

The initially lauded design — apartments in a park setting — proved to be highly problematic. Because the city had erased the old block network during the construction, Regent Park lacked so-called “eyes on the street”; with its many blind spots, the Park became a haven for gangs. — Source: UofT Magazine Feature, John Lorinc

Crime rates began to rise, and reached the boiling point in the summer of 1995. Officers entered the neighborhood to break up a drug deal but things quickly escalated. Hundreds of officers ended up clashing with residents in what has come to be known as “The Riot in Regent Park.”

It became a turning point for a community overrun by drugs and violence. The city and the police began to work closer with residents to address their concerns, which led, over the following decade, to the next redevelopment effort.

There were no supermarkets or banks. The area was extremely deprived of just about every service one might expect in a city like Toronto.

Residents in Regent Park have faced continual economic hardships, racism and negative stereotyping. According to Statistics Canada data, Regent Park is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada, with nearly 70 per cent of residents living below StatsCan’s low-income cut-off rate. — Source: Global TV News

The once-again-reborn Regent Park will be of soaring towers, low-rise units and townhomes. It will be a mix of public housing, mixed-income housing and market-rate condos.

To give credit where credit is due, the plans call for some good steps in the right direction, like reestablishing public streets and setting aside significant areas of land for retail and public space.

And while it looks pretty enough, there has been a lot of concern, frustration and distrust over the plans to rebuild this neighborhood.

Toronto Community Housing said that it would relocate all the current residents during the construction and then assist them in moving back , if they so chose. But this hasn’t always gone as planned. Residents have complained about how the elderly have been treated, about relocations ignoring special needs, and about the disruption of the community — to make way for condos that few of the existing residents can afford.

The Toronto Star did a great article on the issues around the relocation of tenants. See the link above.

The Pan Am Mascot at the new Regent Park Aquatic Centre.

The new Pan Am-built community centre and lavish pool, not to mention female-only swim days, seems to be winning some people over from outside the community, likely the very people who will buy condos here.

Wow. Thanks, Globe and Mail. I think it’s great that affluent columnists love the new development, but I wonder how the residents feel. It’s hard to answer this, as their voice is not well represented in the media or even online.

I continue to ask this question and I will share what I find. And I encourage anyone who lives or lived in Regent Park to please comment, or consider sharing a story that we can include in this publication.

In the meantime, below is one of the best-researched articles I have found on the redevelopment. It definitely has a pro-development slant, but this author did their research. Lots of great interviews with people on many sides of the initiative.

“By the early 2000s, almost 60 languages were spoken in the Park, which had become a hive of artistic, cultural and educational activities.” — John Lorinc, “The New Regent Park”, UofT Magazine
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