Written by: Steve Socha
When we saw the pride on the face of Antenehe when he walked into the East Scarborough Storefront and saw the “KGO” tile pattern in the floor, we knew that there was traction to the Community. Design. Initiative.(CDI) This flooring pattern was an idea he had come up with at one of the many community design charrettes that have taken place at the East Scarborough Storefront over the last 7 years. To see their ideas actually come to fruition is one of the reasons why community members continue to show up and participate in the CDI, and why we as architects and designers continue to promote and facilitate community-engaged design.
The East Scarborough Storefront has developed a unique, diverse, and successful collaborative model to improve livability in the priority neighbourhood of Kingston Galloway/ Orton Park [KGO]. The Storefront’s major strength is its ability to align multiple and often divergent partners to achieve collective impact on a variety of local issues. The Storefront proposes to use its ability to facilitate dynamic partnerships to bring residents, professionals and local property owners together to create design projects by the community, for the community.
The KGO flooring pattern is part of an Employment and Resource centre, which was the first phase in a multi-phase redevelopment process that turned a former 1960’s police sub-station into a Community Hub in East Scarborough. Since 2009, mentors and professionals have been working with the youth and community to re-imagine the East Scarborough Storefront, their community social service delivery hub - a one-stop shop where, under one roof, 40 partner agencies deliver services to support the people of the community.
The 8-phased Master Plan allows for the realization of the vision in stages, as funding becomes available. The project is done in phases to keep the community energized and engaged. We need to show them that their efforts are yielding progress, or faith is lost, and the trust that has been built over the last decade can quickly whittle away. This is why small victories, like the KGO tile pattern, go a long way towards maintaining momentum and enthusiasm.
To date, the collaborative detailed design and construction of many of the phases have been completed: the renovation of office space, a community Eco Food Hub, an outdoor Sports Court sponsored by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment with Jumpstart, and the the Sky-o-swale® Green Roof Shade Structure, now trademarked by the youth who came up with the idea. The Sky-o-swale® Green Roof Shade Structure provides much needed shade for the Sports Court, and shade and water for the adjacent Community Garden.
All the while we have been planning to expand the building by adding to the side as well as a second storey. Perhaps more importantly, we are working towards connecting the Storefront to the broader site as a part of Tower Neighbourhood Renewal. Within the context of the Storefront’s re-imagining, the two surrounding tower properties along with the Storefront, are envisioned as one site, to be integrated.
We have already begun by removing fencing and adding pathways and landscape features, and the current phase will see a full reconstruction the landscape of the site to integrate the Storefront with the two adjacent apartment towers. The site was built in a time when every resident was envisioned to have a car, but that is not the case. The KGO neighbourhood is now one of Canada’s most diverse neighbourhoods with many new arrivals, and the focus must shift towards health, walkability, and community.
We have found that architecture and design-thinking is an ideal vehicle to engage with youth, and to thereby engage with their parents. CDI facilitates a conversation through architecture’s responsibility to engage across not only physical, but economic, social, cultural, and environmental contexts. The project goes beyond the buildings themselves and explores the far-reaching social and economic effects of this change on the landscape of the inner suburbs as a result of a fully participatory architectural process.
One example of how the participatory design process enlightened two different groups occurred when we brought together social workers with architects and designers. The architects and designers were referring to Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD), and the assets they were talking about were physical infrastructure. Social workers also referenced ABCD, but were referring to people as the assets. Whereas both groups ascribe different meanings to the same words, it later became clear that they both have the same goals. Both groups want to achieve a better life for residents, each group just takes a different route to get there.
By engaging with residents of these towers, we have learned many things about their lives and about the environment in which they live. The key learnings specifically relevant to the CDI are:
• The residents have aspirations for their community
• The residents are willing and able to put significant energy and work into realizing their aspirations
• Until the Storefront began to work with them, the residents had no way to connect with one another or with decision-makers in their apartment complex or in their community
We have been grateful to see the ever-expanding circle of stakeholders continually draw people into this influential project. Today, we have seen the creative projects of the class of Landscape Architecture students at the University of Toronto with students from the Technical University of Delft, the Netherlands. They have lent fresh eyes to a project that has been a 7 year labour of love for Sustainable, happily with no end in sight. As we say, once you are in the family, you are there for life. We can’t wait to see where this project takes us next.