Built as a public housing project in the late 1940s, Regent Park is a neighborhood that started as a public housing project and is currently undergoing redevelopment to make it a better place to live. The goal is to transform the area into a mixed-use and mixed-income environment with open spaces, entertainment and recreational facilities, and plenty more.
At the beginning, the neighborhood only had small roads and footpaths and was poorly linked to other areas and neighborhoods. This is why with time, Regent Park became increasingly isolated and was known as one of the most dangerous, poverty-ridden communities in Toronto.
The goal of the Regent Park Revitalization Plan is to create a neighborhood for people from all walks of life. With more than 210 new rental units, an increasing number of restaurants and retailers chose to move to Regent Park, including Rogers, RBC, Tim Hortons, FreshCo, Shoppers Drug Mart, and more.
The neighborhood is also attractive for its many facilities and amenities, including an ice rink, basketball court, soccer field, spacious community centre, and the Daniels Spectrum arts and culture facility. Other amenities in the area include a park with a greenhouse and bake oven and the Regent Park Aquatic Centre which is one of the newest amenities in the area. The aquatic center features a water slide, diving board, Tarzan rope, spa pool, leisure pool, and lap pool.
Once notorious for high crime rates, gangs, robbery, and bedbugs, today the neighborhood offers a mix of condominium apartments and subsidized housing. Townhouses and towers are built to gradually replace old buildings, and the goal is to create a neighborhood that combines social housing, rental housing, and single-family units.
At present, it is too early to predict what the future holds for Regent Park. Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat holds the opinion that this model can only be successful for housing in desirable locations. What is more, Regent Park can be transformed into a lively, vibrant neighborhood only if money comes from different sources, including federal and provincial financing and public-private partnerships.
For some experts, an important question to ask is whether existing low-income tenants would really benefit from the redevelopment project. Research in other parts of the world shows that people in the low-income bracket rarely return to the neighborhood to take advantage of better social and economic opportunities. Officials, on the other hand, argue that mixed-income communities are safer to live and offer more resources and a wealth of experiences. What is more, studies show that mixed-income neighborhoods have higher levels of acceptance and tolerance. Mixed-income environments and communities are known to offer further benefits such as better quality services and products for everyone, improved political economy, positive behavioral change in community members in the low-income bracket, and better social control and cohesion. What is more, mixed-income environments offer benefits such as improved accountability and social networks and access to more amenities and community-oriented services.
Many low-income Canadians in Regent Park juggle multiple jobs and have financial problems. They earn barely enough to pay food, rent, and utilities and find it difficult to make ends meet.
Regent Park was designed as a self-contained neighborhood back in the 1940s. In addition to lack of open space and infrastructure, the neighborhood was plagued by crime which made it an unsafe place to live.
Before the Regent Park Revitalization Project started, there were 2,087 low-rise and high-rise apartment units in total, housing some 7,500 residents. Only a small number of residents inhabited duplexes, row houses, and semi-detached houses. Many residents fell before the poverty line. In fact, figures show that 59 percent of residents in Regent Park had no income in 2001 and more than half of residents were single parents. The neighborhood was the home of immigrants from different countries, including Latin America, China, Vietnam, Congo, Bangladesh, Somalia, and other places. In fact, figures show that 69 percent of the residents were immigrants. Regent Park also faced considerable drug and crime activity, which can be explained by high poverty levels. In the 1990s, for example, the assault rate was 15 per 1,000 residents, a figure considerably higher than that of the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (1.7 per 1,000).
Before the Regent Park Revitalization Project, the neighborhood faced problems such as marginalization, low income, unemployment, and over-reliance on social assistance. Residents also faced social and health problems such as diabetes, repeated hospitalizations, mental health problems, and high mortality rates.
In terms of educational attainment in 2011, 61 percent had postsecondary education, which is lower than the average for the city of Toronto (69 percent). Some 27 percent of residents had a high school diploma (21 percent in Toronto), and 12 percent had no certificate (11 percent in Toronto). The labor force participation rate was also lower in 2011. Compared to a participation rate of 64 percent in the city of Toronto, the participation rate was 56 percent in Regent Park. The unemployment rate stood at 16 percent compared to 9 percent for Toronto. About 12 percent of residents had an annual income between $20,000 and $29,000, and some 12 percent of residents had an annual income between $15,000 and $19,000. In fact, only 7 percent of residents reported an annual income of $100,000 and higher.
The Regent Park Revitalization Project is a promising endeavor with the goal of transforming the neighborhood into a vibrant and thriving mixed-income community. Not surprisingly, many call the project a game-changer. Social inclusion and cohesion, for example, are aided by different projects and activities, including faith groups, grass root groups, cultural communities, and community activities. Access to facilities is also important for community wellbeing, including pools, tennis courts, multi-use facilities, and others.
Community participation and good governance mechanisms also foster social cohesion. To this, it is important to develop and implement mechanisms that enable and encourage residents to participate in different activities and groups. Obviously, it is too early to tell whether the revitalization project is successful, but one of the keys to success is the provision of local services to low-income residents and persons in distressed circumstances who are the most vulnerable.
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