Filling the Canary District’s community advocacy gap

By Daryl Gonsalves –

In the Downtown East, several community advocacy groups have influence over government, developer and other stakeholder decision-making: the Cabbage­town South Residents Associa­tion, St. Lawrence Neighbour­hood Association, Regent Park Neighbourhood Association, Gooderham & Worts Neigh­bourhood Association and the Corktown Residents & Business Association.

However, one area lacks a cohesive community advocacy group: that south of Eastern Av­enue, between Cherry Street and the Lower Don River. Some call this rapidly developing commu­nity the West Don Lands, while others call it the Canary District.

Canary District was a largely abandoned area in 2006 before Waterfront Toronto announced plans to create a residential community. In 2009 that plan was changed to accommodate the 2015 Pan American Games athlete’s village. Further signif­icant developments such as Un­derpass Park in 2012 and Cork­town Common Park in 2013 provided significant community amenities that added distinctive character.

Connecting this neighbour­hood was the 514 Cherry street­car line, which began operation in 2016. Since then, multiple condominiums have been built, giving Canary District a vertical neighbourhood feel. Significant new developments include the Anishnawbe Indigenous com­munity hub at Cherry/Front, mixed-use developments includ­ing purpose-built rental units and the Ontario Line Don Yard tunnel portal.

Community engagement is not just a feel-good concept but a practical and essential element of effective neighbourhood gov­ernance that fosters long-term prosperity.

On the spectrum of commu­nity advocacy, I argue there are two extremes. On one end, ‘NIMBYism’ (Not In My Back­yard) is opposition-oriented, self-interested and has a short-term focus. On the other end, inclusive community engage­ment is solution-oriented, diver­sity-focused and has a long-term vision.

Every community group should constantly ask itself the difficult question: are they con­sistently and accurately repre­senting community interests, or using it as an ideological cover (consciously or unconsciously) to really represent their own in­terests? Given low voter turnout and general civic disengage­ment, it is a challenge for com­munity groups to understand what are the interests of the community that they represent. A delegate system could ensure that any new community advo­cacy group would effectively represent the wide range of in­terests within it.

All condominiums in Ontario are governed by elected boards of directors. But systems based on short-term election cycles can be prone to short-term thinking. The Delegate System could remedy this, tapping into the pool of elected representa­tives and creating an independ­ent advisory panel of experts to provide evidence-based recom­mendations and advice on long-term policy issues.

Readers of the bridge are en­couraged to write to the Editor on their vision of successful community advocacy and their priorities, especially for the up-and-coming Canary District community.