THE BEACHES -
A WALK ON THE SOFT SIDE
by Vicky Schreiber
Area: East Toronto
Theme: History and Culture, Art and Architecture
Accessibility: Family-Friendly, Accessible Paths
Everyone knows and loves the beaches in Toronto’s east end - whether for a walk on the boardwalk, enjoying the jazz or afro music festivals, checking out the local pubs and businesses, or playing with family in the parks. Many see it as a desirable place to live and this walk explores housing alternatives such as El Pueblo, affordable housing along Hubbard, housing cooperatives and new housing developments on the former Greenwood Racetrack. The walk focuses on an appreciation for the softer aspects that are important for making the community diverse and vibrant.
Each stop also challenges us to think about ways we can build some of these aspects into housing plans and strategies, and into the fabric of our own street, condo, coop or apartments as we work to ensure everyone feels at home in our communities. Questions, articles and links to resources are provided for this self-guided walk so you may re-think and have a dialogue about topics of importance to Jane Jacobs, especially those conditions for enhancing “exuberant diversity” in our communities.
“There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.” Jane Jacobs So bring your feet, stroller, roller blades, bike and enjoy a walk along the boardwalk and let’s use the beach as a sandbox to reimagine the soft side, the people centred aspects about making our communities the best they can be as we continue to isolate and then emerge from this pandemic.
Route note: The route will take approximately one hour and is very accessible with lots of places to sit and even play or picnic. Note that it can be windy and cooler by the lake even in spring so dress accordingly. An alternate option for those interested in supporting local business would be to walk along Queen St for a coffee, ice cream or take out meal or beverage.
STOP 1: EL PUEBLO - 30 BEECH AVE
Doing things differently, but with increased density. City landscapes are in constant evolution and even with careful plans in place, new housing developments may be contested spaces, and plans may even be rejected especially when issues of housing density and height restrictions are being challenged or changed. El Pueblo was the result of such rejected development on Beech Ave in the 1970s. Les Bachorz - the engineer / architect also faced issues in financing the development as at the time this area of Toronto was not home to high end developments such as those envisioned and was considered to be in decline. Hard to imagine today. The design as an “alternative to high-rise apartment buildings and an answer to attaining greater density without shooting skyward.” did face some local opposition, however in the end by respecting height limits in the mission style design of homes around a courtyard, meant the project went ahead.
Today the Beaches area is home to many higher density developments - both old and new, fulfilling one of Jane Jacob’s conditions for achieving a dense concentration of people. So take note of these kinds of developments as you continue your walk and have a conversation about:
● What plans for higher density housing are planned on your street or in your community?
● How could they be improved to ensure they follow the planning guidelines in place?
● When and how should different stakeholders be consulted to ensure best practice and to engage voices from different segments of society?
For those interested in the issues of higher density you may also enjoy the Jane’s Walk this year called the Missing Middle, New Policy, Old Patterns
Further Reading - El Pueblo a-little-mexico-on-lake-ontario
STOP 2: ELLA KAYE RESIDENCE & 42 HUBBARD BLVD
Combining heritage revitalisation and sustainability with affordable housing. Hubbard Blvd. is home to two heritage buildings that continue to provide affordable housing that is integrated with the surrounding neighbourhood. Even the names celebrate history as Frederick Hubbard was Toronto’s first black alderman and Ella Kaye was a renowned local athlete. Both buildings have heritage designation as Ella Kaye Residence was designed in the art deco style while 42 Hubbard also maintained heritage features such as the stained glass windows at the entrances while integrating sustainability features such as solar panels on the roof gardens. Together these buildings provide diverse housing options for seniors, single people and families. Forty-two Hubbard, has won awards and is just one of many revitalisation projects being undertaken by Toronto Community Housing - Revitalisation Projects. [side note perhaps places to visit on a future Jane’s walk]
Both buildings are examples of Jane Jacob’s condition for mingling old and new buildings in a neighbourhood. As someone also seeking affordable housing in Toronto, the location of these buildings close to the beach, parks, libraries, transit, and local shops is important. We know that finding affordable housing in Toronto is almost impossible with long wait lists so as you take time to walk in the sand think about:
● Do affordable housing options exist in my community or street? If not, why not?
● What more can be done to ensure revitalisation and preservation of heritage buildings in our community?
For those interested in history and heritage the following Jane’s Walk may also be of interest History by the Park
For further reading
42 Hubbard - Toronto Community Housing
15 Hubbard - Ella Kaye Residence History
STOP 3: 80 Kippendavie Avenue
An avenue with many functions - homes, condos, a school, non-profit daycare and a housing cooperative. I walk to Kippendavie Avenue most weekdays with my grandson to take him to school and this one short block has a lot to offer. The development of a 20 unit housing cooperative in the 80’s has provided a different kind of home in the community. The soft side of housing cooperatives can be found in the ways they are governed, provision of at cost housing, and the ways members are engaged in all aspects of building community. Housing cooperative members are part of a network of over 2000 housing cooperatives in Canada housing more than a ¼ million people. [Cooperative Housing Federation Facts and Figures].
While housing cooperative development in Canada has a long history, like Kippendavie many were built during the 70’s 80’s and 90’s. With a lack of new development and the stability housing cooperatives provide for families and single people, vacancies for new members are rare in Toronto. With Canada’s National Housing Strategy in place and the Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada’s own visions for renewal, some promising new initiatives are emerging, hopefully bringing new life and new developments in cooperative housing which can be an important part of the strategy to reduce homelessness. Questions you may consider as you make your way back to the beach boardwalk are:
● What can city planners and local government do to support a favourable environment for more cooperative housing development?
● If you live in a cooperative housing development - how have you supported members during the COVID pandemic?
For those interested in other cooperative housing developments in Toronto - check out this year’s Jane walk St Lawrence Neighbourhood - All Grown up
STOP 4: BOARDWALK TO WOODBINE PARK - STREETS, BACK ALLEYS AND PARKS
New housing developments and building community. As you return to the beach - you can take some time with the kids to play in the playground beside the pool before working your way across Lakeshore Ave [at the crosswalk lights], onto Boardwalk and our final stop in Woodbine Park. As you walk Boardwalk take a look down streets such as Northern Dancer and Sarah Ashbridge and note the changes in the housing development completed over 20 years ago on the former grounds of the Greenwood Racetrack. This brownfield development also generated lots of controversy, however through landfill and reclamation and with half the site dedicated to parklands, it has brought improvements to the area. The development includes mainly single and semi-detached homes on short streets, with back alleys, enclosed by low-rise condos on Lakeshore and Queen Street E., the latter with commercial space on the ground level.
I have lived in this area throughout the pandemic and have benefited from the many ways families are taking care of each other and their community. As Jane Jacobs wisely noted “Two parents, to say nothing of one, cannot possibly satisfy all the needs of a family-household. A community is needed as well, for raising children, and also to keep adults reasonably sane and cheerful. A community is a complex organism with complicated resources that grow gradually and organically.”
So what has been growing and what’s possible in this new community - along the streets you will meet the dog-walkers and parents with strollers, in the back alleys note the kids playing and riding their bikes and scooters. Many families have turned their garage into backyard rooms to keep an eye on their children and take care of neighbours. Families on upper story balconies have celebrated front-line workers and used the spaces for music and dancing to lift each other's spirits. Neighbours volunteer for groups such as the Sandwich Sisters provided weekly meals for others.
Finally you will reach Woodbine Park home to festivals and sports clubs, birds and regenerated parcels of lakefront vegetation and ponds. During the long winter - families collaborated and kept a number of informal rinks open on the pond. Park spaces are essential even for those outside the immediate community but they are just part of the urban space and those soft aspects that are important for ensuring the kind of diversity envisioned by Jane Jacobs are equally important. As you end you walk please also reflect on how your community, street or apartment has come together over the past year:
● What spaces were important for your health and wellbeing?
● Even in isolation or practicing physical distancing how did you connect with others over the past year?