Black Creek SNAP in Action: The San Romanoway Apartment Towers Revival Project at Jane and Finch
By Adriana Gomez Project Mgr. Watershed Planning, SNAP/TRCA
The latest initiative from the Black Creek SNAP, takes place in the most populated towers of the Jane and Finch priority neighbourhood in north-west Toronto. This comprehensive project addresses food security, employment, water conservation and revitalization of outdoor spaces around the apartment towers, while giving special attention to community cohesion and cultural pride. The project, funded by the Metcalf Foundation and Toronto Hydro, is a perfect example of collaboration between the public and the private sectors, local NGOs and community organizations, to address local social, economic and environmental concerns in an inclusive way.
On the afternoon of Friday September 20, a wonderful event to celebrate the launching of the initiative took place at the tennis courts of the San Romanoway buildings. The event brought out more than 400 residents, to share their dreams for the project.
The project focuses on addressing food security through increased food production in balconies and community gardens. Social market research from the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority showed that food security is the number one issue for people living in the area, gaining more interest than crime and jobs. Research also showed that people felt nostalgia for planting activities and fresh food, accessible to them at their countries of origin. Through two pilot projects, residents will be offered gardening materials, and will be trained to grow their own food. In exchange, they will be asked to share information about quantity and size of their produce, as well as their experiences as apprentice gardeners. Participants will have accessibility to fresh nutritious food, otherwise unaffordable to them.
To understand the level of residents’ gardening skills and to gauge their interest to participate in the pilot project, the event on September 20 had a “Grow Your Own Food” station. Adults had the opportunity to discuss their needs and concerns with gardening expert, Gary Wilkins, while children participated in an activity in which they created a paper pot and planted an edible seed to be grown on their balcony. Five door prices, consisting of a variety of fruits and vegetables donated by the Black Creek Community Farm, were given away to offer a taste to residents of locally grown fresh food.
Revitalization of Outdoor Areas:
A few years ago, public amenities around the San Romanoway buildings, such as sitting areas and trees, were removed to address serious security issues. Now, after years of worthy efforts, the community feels ready to bring them back. The project will aim at revitalizing the austere outdoor areas. It will include eco-landscaping, beautification of abandoned spaces and installation of public amenities for the residents.
In order to gather residents’ dreams for the property, they were asked to vote with dot stickers on inspirational pictures of various outdoors public amenities, including public art, an outdoor theatre, a vegetable market, sitting areas, more flowers, more trees. They were also encouraged to locate graphic stickers of these same amenities on their preferred spot on an enormous aerial photo of the property. Additionally, they had the opportunity to write freely about their dreams, comments or concerns on an open board.
A “pop-up park” was also created at the tennis courts, to invite residents to experience the feeling of an established park. It included benches, big planters with real trees, flowers and picnic tables, where people sat during the event to eat their free roasted corn and ice cream while enjoining the pleasing beats of music played by local musicians. The elements of the pop-up park were built by ContractHER.com using Rona Select Pressure treated lumber, given by RONA at cost, and will stay in the outdoors areas of the property to be used by residents in the long run. (Rona Select lumber is a more environmentally friendly choice)
Job Training and Employment:
The project will offer job training opportunities and employment. As an example, the planters, benches and picnic tables used in the pop-up park for the opening event (and to be used in the long run at the property), were built by local youth, through a carpentering workshop. The workshop was led by Anastasia Vaskova, from ContractHER.com, a level 2 carpenter with a passion for youth mentorship and green building. Anastasia taught the workshop participants safe use of tools, reading drawings, measuring, cutting and assembly. Honorariums where paid to the youth at the end of the workshop.
Water Conservation and stormwater management:
The project has also a water conservation component. Rain-water will be collected in barrels to be re-used later, during dry summer days, to water vegetable gardens and other plants. This will have an added benefit; it will help to alleviate flooding issues in the neighbourhood, as rain water collected in the barrels will likely never make it into the sewer, improving the system’s capacity.
Community Cohesion and Cultural Pride.
The project is giving special attention to encouraging community cohesion and cultural pride. Social research showed that a majority of residents saw the apartment towers as a transitional residence; a temporal place to live, while they could relocate to another place. This results in lack of involvement in local neighbourhood-building activities and decision-making.
The research also showed that residents in this community socialize mostly along cultural lines, except in the case of gardening, where neighbour to neighbour conversation does occurs. Increased gardening and amenity space will strengthen community cohesion.
The arts are also an important element in bringing youth together in this community. An Arts Media Centre, managed by the San Romanoway Revitalization Association, and led by Ph.D. Musician Ruben Esguerra, focuses on forming musicians and other artists to pursue a career in the arts. At the opening event on September 20, local artists played their music, creating a delightful atmosphere, while promoting themselves. The musicians were paid honorariums for their work.
Who is Involved in the Project?
The project is a perfect example of multi-partner collaboration between public and private sectors. Besides the funding partners (Metcalf Foundation and Toronto Hydro), parties collaborating with SNAP in moving the project forward include City of Toronto’s Tower Renewal, San Romanoway Revitalization Association, Property Managers from the three towers in San Romanoway (Palisades, CAPRIT and Greenwin), JVS Toronto, RONA, ContractHer and Everdale through the Black Creek Community Farm.
The Sustainable Neighbourhood Retrofit Action Plan (SNAP) is a program to help established communities become more environmentally friendly and prepare for climate change, while addressing social and economic issues, one neighbourhood at a time. The SNAP process brings together residents, businesses, community groups and government agencies to develop a science-based action plan for change. Adriana Gomez is the Project Manager for the Black Creek SNAP. For more information you can contact her at email@example.com or 416-6616600 X 5708. www.sustainableniethbourhoods.ca Twitter @TRCA_SNAP.