Built in the late 1940s, Regent Park was Canada’s first and largest social (public) housing project. Like many housing projects of this era, it was modeled after Le Corbusier’s “towers in a park” ideology, though in this case most of the buildings were only a few storeys tall and hardly towers.
It was built to correct what had become a major slum on the east side of downtown Toronto. And like many cities around the world, this type of built form was viewed as the solution. Urban slums were crowded and dirty. Density was bad. The solution was to spread people out and surround them with green space.
But that didn’t work out so well. Regent Park failed. So today we are once again starting again. Phase by phase, the old is being demolished and the new is being built. However, unlike the last time, I think this time it’ll be for the better.
But there’s something very ironic about this story.
Before Regent Park became Regent Park, it was called something else: Cabbagetown. That neighborhood of course still exists in Toronto – it’s adjacent to Regent Park – but it’s now a bit smaller having given up a portion of its land to the first iteration of Regent Park.
Today, what remains of Cabbagetown has become an affluent and desirable inner city neighborhood with, allegedly, the largest stock of Victorian housing in North America. But of course it wasn’t always that way. At the time that Regent Park was being conceived, Cabbagetown was a slum. And that’s why we built Regent Park version 1.0. It was the solution for this entire section of the city.
The photo at the top of this post is the southeast corner of Gerrard Street East and Parliament Street. The building at the corner is the Hotel Gerrard. The photo is from 1919, which means it’s a photo of Regent Park when it was still called Cabbagetown. It’s part of what we demolished to make way for the new.
In 2013, that same corner looked like this:
What’s ironic about all of this, is that the area we spared from grandiose urban renewal plans actually became the richest part. And where we intervened is where things got screwed up. So much so that we’re now starting entirely from scratch, again. All of this just makes wonder whether Cabbagetown, in its entirety, would have ultimately taken care of itself had we just left it alone.
But what’s in the past is in the past.
So to end on a positive note, I’d like to share a short video that somebody recently shared with me called Spectrum of Hope. It was co-directed by 7 young artists from the neighborhood who are calling it “a piece for Regent Park, by Regent Park.”
I think it’s a great example of the positive momentum developing in this neighborhood. I hope you’ll give it a watch and then share it around. Click here if you can’t see the video above.