– By Dimitrije Martinovic –

“Revitalization” is coming to St. James Town North in the way of safer, greener and more accessible spaces for residents. 

St. James Town, which is bounded by Bloor Street East to the north, Wellesley Street to the south, Jarvis Street to the west, and Parliament Street to the east — is considered to be one of North America’s most densely populated neighbourhoods. Research by the Wellesley Institute has identified that St. James Town suffers from: 

“overcrowding, lack of green and public spaces, poor building and neighbourhood maintenance, and a general lack of resources for serving the large and diverse population.” 

There are 19 high-rise apartment buildings ranging in 14 to 32 stories in height, with a population density of 44,321 people per square kilometres, according to Statistics Canada’s 2016 Census. Ironically, in the 1960s when the first buildings were constructed (influenced by French architect Le Corbusier’s “Towers in the Park” concept) the complex was promoted as an idyllic residential location for the young middle-class workers who had gravitated to the city to work in the downtown area. Unfortunately, the project became mired in miscalculations from the start. Primary among these was the fact that the transition from high-end dwelling to a populous lower income neighbourhood (mostly comprised of immigrant families) was too rapid, and the developers did not foresee the need to include a range of social amenities to support such a large up-take in density.  

Another problem is that St. James Town is made up of both privately and publicly owned buildings and streets. The privately owned properties do not necessarily have to adhere to City standards regarding the upkeep of sidewalks or roads — circumnavigating these preconditions has proved to be an on-going challenge. After many committee meetings, and numerous reports that date back to the 1980s, the City of Toronto in 2000 approved a Community Action Plan, which aims to revitalize St. James Town through initiatives such as the development of new streets, the improvement of parks, and the maintenance and repair of buildings. The City’s St. James Town Connects Framework “builds on the 1989 Community Improvement Plan (CIP), the St. James Town 2000: A Community Action Plan and the St. James Town Open Space Study (2003).”  

Photo from Toronto.ca

Among the key areas that have been identified by both the City and resident’s groups as having the most impact are the creation of improved parklands and open spaces.  Known as the Open Space and Ontario Street Concept Plan, it will include:

  • Wider sidewalks; 
  • Connected and safe pedestrian walkways; 
  • Improved open space to better meet the needs of the local community;
  • Enhanced pedestrian experience through the addition of lighting, tree planting and seating; and 
  • Reorganized solid waste and surface parking to achieve mid-block connections. 

The Framework provides an opportunity for St. James Town to address community concerns and realize a vision for improved spaces through revitalization. Although revitalization has become a catch-all term that is being deployed to describe large-scale improvements to a neighbourhood, it can be a double-edged sword — it both gives and takes away. The gains to the St. James Town community through revitalization will immediately be obvious, but what will happen to rents as the property value of the neighbourhood goes up and the area once again becomes desirable to upper income professionals and their families? 

To learn more about the St. James Town Connects Framework visit: https://youtu.be/4Tmw91VsPF8. 

Dimitrije Martinovic is a journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre