Brook McIlroy, an architecture, landscape, urban design and planning practice presented concept designs for the George Street Revitalization (GSR) Project’s streetscape to some 40 local community members at the Regent Park Community Centre in November 2019.
The concepts, developed in consultation with an Indigenous Advisory Caucus established for this specific exercise, encompass George Street, from Gerrard Street East to Dundas Street East.
The community members shared their thoughts through questions and concerns.
George Street residents and neighbours are concerned about how the design will function when there are issues that Toronto’s Downtown East area face related to poverty, homelessness, housing affordability, community safety, mental health and substance use, and opioid-related overdoses. Community members had difficulty imagining how the nature of George Street will change when it’s being presented as a destination for the wider Toronto community, families and existing residents and visitors.
Brook McIlroy and city staff explained that the community is evolving, including the addition of the Indigenous Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Dundas and George, GSR’s Seaton House replacement including more diverse programming and contemporary design attributes. The Public Realm will be part of a broader strategy of redevelopment and community engagement.
Current safety and security-related issues on George Street impact local residents and neighbours, including those residing at Seaton House. Concerns were raised regarding a number of aspects of the design and how those design features could have a negative impact on the safety of the street. For example:
Residents agreed that the design should enhance and emphasize security rather than beautification. A well-lit street would create a renewed sense of safety to this public space, similar to Allan Gardens and that 51 Division and first responders should be involved in developing the design.
Neighbours and community members wanted to understand how the City will maintain the integrity and cleanliness of the area. Public spaces can present maintenance challenges. Implementing a proactive approach to the George Street Public Realm using a dedicated maintenance team and/or community participants with the Indigenous community will encourage shared accountability for the space. A review of the design concept, will be undertaken and will be modified based on input received.
Participants raised a number of homelessness-related concerns:
The City explained that a detailed transition plan is in place ensuring that all Seaton House clients will move to new shelter spaces or a variety of housing options. The relocations ensure that the redevelopment can move forward. In future public engagements, GSR updates will be available, including the status of the Seaton House transition plan.
Residents wanted clarification concerning the design’s Indigenous focus.
Some residents were confused by the Indigenous focus of the design. The project being Indigenous-led is the result of a City Council directive, supporting the presence and culture of the original occupants of the land. Following Toronto’s growth, many Indigenous people made George Street and the Downtown East area their home. The link between Indigenous people and this area make George Street an ideal location for a Truth Telling and Reconciliation project.
An increased Indigenous presence will benefit the broader community bringing their unique approach to healing, inclusion, justice, sustainability and dialogue to future shelter and long-term care residents.
It is important that the street be part of an intentional connection between Moss Park and Allan Gardens and that “For George Street to ever be utilized by those not immediately adjacent, connectivity must be a focus.”
Some residents, involved in previous working groups, are frustrated with how much time has passed since earlier consultations and how little has been accomplished to date. More concrete action is required to push the project through the “bureaucracy” of the City. Instead of presentations, the community wants greater consultation and participation.