Developing cities need to listen to all perspectives

by | Jan 31, 2014 | Editorial

Change is inevitable for a sprawling metropolis like Toronto. It’s understandable that aspects of the city need to evolve in order to accommodate the rapidly rising population numbers. Yet, it appears the city can’t get through a solid week without some type of backlash from residents when urban development is involved.

From the Billy Bishop Airport expansion, to David Mirvish’s Frank Gehry-designed towers on King St. W to the arrival of franchise competition in Kensington Market, all have become major concerns for residents living in those areas. Are the petitions, rallies, and protests against these developments what Toronto needs during this tough transitional phase?

It most certainly is. However one must be aware about what both sides want, and make sure protests go beyond the “not in my backyard” attitude.

Looking at Kensington Market and the approval for a Loblaws at College Street and Spadina Avenue in 2016, the main fear within the community is about the probable decrease in business for the many colourful smaller food merchants of the neighbourhood. Despite being a very resilient neighbourhood that’s remained fairly intact for decades, it becomes more fragile as corporate businesses slowly siphon off merchants’ customers. Even though the Spadina Ward is unable to actually tell landlords who their tenants should be, the importance of strengthening the decision-making process of commercial development with the community remains crucial. Loblaws wasn’t going to be stopped, but plans for a Wal-Mart next to Kensington have been stalled since the end of July last year, after residents mobilized to protect the community from potential congestion. A Wal-Mart doesn’t quite belong in Kensington Market. And it becomes more obvious when compared to deciding whether or not the Billy-Bishop island airport at the foot of Bathurst Street requires an expansion.

Meetings were held last year to address legitimate points from both sides of the debate regarding the airport. This is how development anywhere should proceed. Some people appreciate the convenience of having a downtown airport, but others worry about safety concerns involving both residents and marine life. Direct communication between developers and locals cannot be overlooked, and those who stand behind their community and care about what happens to it deserve to have their voices heard.

The city will change as it moves forward, and this is a process we have little control over. However, everyone living in areas of development must stand up, and make sure their communities are being treated fairly, and that any and all concerns are being addressed. Yet we must ensure we don’t protest just for the sake of protesting. Development isn’t an evil entity that needs to be banished. Businesses often – but not always – do seriously take into consideration the concerns raised by those in attendance, and one must understand that a dramatic change in scenery, doesn’t necessarily signal the end of a community’s identity and connection with residents.

Protest with passion, and understand the full story.