– By Nina Badwal –
St. James Town is the largest high-rise community in Canada. With 19 towering residential buildings, it is also the most densely populated neighbourhood in the country. And more high-rises will be popping up here within the next few years. It’s a community composed of a substantial number of newcomers, seniors, LGBTQ members, low income earners and individuals facing isolation and mental health issues. The people living in this area face food insecurity and the lack of green spaces in the neighbourhood adds to their hardship.
Yet despite these obstacles, the people of St. James Town seem to have an incredible resiliency and hope for a brighter future – a neighbourhood of choice to call home.
On July 8th more than 30 residents and service providers joined the fourth instalment of the Spring Gathering Community Conversations virtual event. The topic of discussion was how to move forward towards an eco-friendly, greener neighbourhood.
The main presentation was by Aravind Joseph, Program Facilitator for the St. James Town Community Corner. Joseph introduced the audience to the programs and services available at The Corner’s Share & Reuse Hub located at 240 Wellesley Street.
“The Corner @240 is funded by the City of Toronto’s Community Reduce & Reuse Programs. The aim of the initiative or the space is to promote the culture of reusing, sharing, repairing and repurposing items to prolong their life and to prevent them from ending up in landfills…So, recycling is basically our last option.”
Joseph says sensitizing residents with sharing and reusing activities can lead to a much more sustainable community. “We have a lot of capacity building services. Capacity building enables residents to take care of themselves and take care of their own items… If I know how to fix something myself, I would rather give it a try than just throw it away; it also helps save money.”
The Corner @240 offers repair workshops, knitting and sewing classes, bike clinics, gardening workshops, and apprenticeship programs. Among the services is a feature called “A Library of Things” where residents can borrow hand and power tools, party equipment, sports and camping equipment, as well as toys and board games for the little ones. 240 also has a Digital Library where people can borrow laptops and tablets.
The Share & Reuse Hub also provides fixing services. “We fix electronics, home appliances, small and large furniture – as long as the furniture can fit into the space, we’ll fix it. We fix bikes, sewing machines, clothes, bags and shoes, watches and jewelry, and tools of course.”
Joseph says another important program at The Corner @240 is the donation campaign. People give a variety of household items and even non-perishable food. “Sometimes residents bring in random things and donate them to 240. And what we do is, we can repurpose them, refurbish them, upgrade them, we can even scavenge from them – basically open it up, take in what is good and scrap the remaining things. Use the good parts to fix something else.”
Some other services include electronic waste disposal, battery disposal, document and CD shredding and DIY (Do-It-Yourself) fixing. “If you already know how to fix something but you don’t have the tools, come in @240 and fix the item there.” The hub also helps residents with other tasks like assembling and disassembling furniture, computer software installation and digital orientation.
A major project The Corner @240 is working on right now is waste diversion and management, which is a huge challenge in high-rise apartment buildings. “You might have noticed that most buildings have one chute, they don’t have multiple chutes, and they don’t have separate ones for organic waste and garbage. So we are trying to work with building management and trying to figure out a strategy, a process where we are able to work with buildings more closely in diverting and segregating waste,” explains Joseph.
Other future initiatives the non-profit organization is planning are: providing fixing services at home, bike rental, food rescue, community gardening, community clean-ups, balcony gardening with residents and providing a “seed library” for that activity; starting a social bike club, and expanding the electronic waste diversion program.
The second presentation of the event, by The Corner’s Alaa Mohamed, included showing DIY videos on Clothing Transformation. “Clothing transformation is a way to reduce the waste – change something that you have into a new thing. It’s just like recycling or repurposing…and you will do it by yourself.”
One of the videos showed how to turn an old t-shirt into a tote bag in 5 minutes. Mohamed encourages people to do what her mother did when she lived in Africa. “She was repurposing our clothes to make them into different things. And when she had a huge project, she would take it to the tailor and get help, and change it; and nobody noticed that it’s not new.”
According to the World Bank Group, “The garment industry is one of the most polluting in the world, but some clothing makers and consumers are calling for a more sustainable industry.” Mohamed agrees, “The chemicals in textiles are very harmful to our environment; it creates greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change…We have to get out of the box and think in a creative way.”
Residents’ suggestions for a more welcoming SJT
* Plant more trees and flowers in the neighbourhood
* Need more information/awareness about which bins (blue, black, green) to use for waste items
* High-rise apartment buildings should have more than one option for the waste disposal chute: one for garbage, one for recycling, and one for composting
* SJT needs splash pads, drinking fountains and an ice-cream truck to beat the heat in the summer
* Apartment complexes should dedicate one room in the building for a cooling space with air conditioning
* The neighbourhood needs more green canopies
* There should be more parking spaces for bikes
For more information about the services offered at The Corner @240, visit: https://www.stjamestown.org/thecorner240/