Giving a Voice to the Community

Photo of Joel

Written by: Joel

on Thursday, January 7, 2016

We see communities changing around us every day, and the importance of architects in this process is increasing at a steady pace just the same. Perhaps not in the way our parents may have imagined, but in a much broader context. Sustainable.TO, along with many partners, has been working to help define this role and how it can impact communities with more than just the physical spaces we create. We have been exploring this idea at the East Scarborough Storefront since 2009, continuously working on smaller parts of a master plan with youth from the neighbourhood. In Bolton, we worked alongside teams of students to help them build their own master plan. A workshop in Detroit helped us realize the outlook many of us have on how cities are built, and how we can challenge these standards. It is our responsibility as architects to give a voice to the communities that we work within.

Conceptual image of the Storefront's future.

Conceptual image of the proposed East Scarborough Storefront after all phases are complete.


The East Scarborough Storefront is a community social services hub that serves the surrounding community of Kingston Galloway Orton Park. The collaboration between the Storefront, archiTEXT, SUSTAINABLE.TO, and ERA Architects is continuously engaging the youth from the surrounding community, mostly from the apartments that overlook the site itself. As funding becomes available, different stages of the 8-phased master plan can be executed in order to slowly re-imagine the space into something that better reflects the vibrancy of the community. More relevant, meaningful spaces have begun to arise from this process as they have been defined by members of the community. A resource centre, sports court, Sky-o-Swale, and a food hub are spaces that now not only exist, but are frequently full of life. Additionally, smaller phases have also been introduced as relevant opportunities present themselves, such as the new “Bee Bank”, a native pollinator habitat that now lives on the roof, in close proximity to the gardens.

The community coming together to tear down boundaries.

The community coming together to tear down boundaries.

Using assets from the surrounding community, this hub will continue to thrive in the future because its program was defined from the existing conditions of the site. It is built upon the ideas, skills, and strengths that are present in the community today.


Bolton Camp was once a place where people from the city could escape to Canada’s great outdoors. For those that couldn’t afford cottages or vacations, this was an opportunity to enjoy some of these experiences. After closing down in 2000, the cabins were falling apart, and the site was slowly being taken over by nature. The TRCA hired students to begin transforming the site into something that the surrounding communities, schools, and camps might be able to utilize, and invited SUSTAINABLE.TO to mentor some of these students.

Students work together to restore an old cabin.

Students work together to restore an old cabin. (Photo: Bolton Camp)

Utilizing what we have learned through our experiences with the East Scarborough Storefront, we encouraged students to think larger than what they could accomplish with their own hands. While they would spend the summer clearing trails or restoring cabins, what did they envision on the site in 5 years? 10 years? This led to not only the revitalization of cabins, but a “big picture” story that includes all aspects of the site. The cabins act as the beginning of a narrative that will be built over many years, by students and professionals, through small summer projects or larger proposals.

A key idea the students shared, thinking bigger than just this summer.

A key idea the students shared, thinking bigger than just this summer. (Photo: Bolton Camp)

SUSTAINABLE.TO was initially invited in the summer of 2014, and invited back in 2015, where we saw a mix of familiar faces and new students. We were able to act as mentors to encourage returning students to lead those new to Bolton Camp, and together they have begun writing a story that we will continue to watch evolve over the coming years.


In Detroit, SUSTAINABLE.TO had the opportunity to attend the Allied Media Conference, a series of talks, workshops, and charrettes that share positive messages and ideas to create a more just future for everyone. Along with our friend Jay at Studio Jaywall, we ran a short workshop that explored the processes that define the evolution of our cities. Participants were invited to imagine themselves in different roles around the community (residents, architects, developers, business owners, etc.) and were encouraged to work together to determine the future of a hypothetical site. Each person in the room had a goal that wasn’t made known to the others, and one that may also conflict with other’s goals.

A group that began divided, ended together in a discussion.

A group that began divided, ended together in a discussion. (Photo: Studio Jaywall)

At the end of our workshop, everyone was involved in a group discussion where they laid out their goals, and tried to make compromises that allowed everyone to succeed. We started to see the stigma that we have around certain roles in a community, and how we change our language to respond to these roles (for example, assuming all developers are evil). This opened our eyes to the possibilities of these stigmas being removed, and an open line of discussion was created.

Processes such as these are becoming more important as we redefine not only the physical, but also the social aspects of our cities and communities. As we now have the opportunity to repurpose and reimagine underutilized space in the city, we must have an effective process that ensures the inclusion of all members, whether they live, work, or play in these spaces. Bolton Camp is now well on its way to creating a vibrant hub of activity for the community to enjoy. The East Scarborough Storefront has progressed greatly since 2009, and continues to evolve, proving that this model of inclusivity can be successful. Finally, our workshop in Detroit proved that including all aspects of a community in discussions surrounding its evolution can and will lead to a more inclusive and successful future. Creating inclusive communities in our cities helps us create social and economic justice, and simply a better quality of life for all.