Russ Ford's Blog

A Community Failed by Bureaucracy



Today’s blog is unusual.  It is about a development project that did not succeed in south Etobicoke.  For those of you who are not familiar with the former Village of Mimico, we are the “wild west” of condo development.  If you can find vacant land, you can build a condominium on it.
 
It is the former home of the “Motel Strip” which was repurposed to supply about 3,500 housing units.  It is now easily,   ten times that number.  As a result there is an acute shortage of services and accessible community space as well as daily traffic congestion problems.  Mimico has become the poster child for how not to develop a modern urban space.
 
Harry Oussorun is a retired Pastor who has been the very public face, and the driving force behind a proposed development at his church, Wesley Mimico United.
 
Wesley Mimico has been an integral part of the community for almost 100 years. A structure of that age is not cheap to run.  It requires a massive amount of capital improvements just to make it functional.  That, coupled with a declining financial base, placed the future viability of the church at risk unless a creative solution could be found.
 
That creative solution took the form of a redevelopment proposal which would include senior’s condos, the church and a large community space.  In other words, a development that would specifically address some of the most apparent needs of the community.
 
Up until now, Harry’s most ambitious construction project might have been painting the back fence of his house.  Now with a crew of committed volunteers, he was trying to navigate through the complexities of a multi million dollar redevelopment project.  He had become a “developer,” albeit not an ordinary one.
 
This was because this was no ordinary development.  If it were it would have been much larger in scope and not sought to address community needs.   And unlike most other developments this one was a community project. Harry was the spokesperson, but he was backed by a phalanx of volunteer who committed hundreds of volunteer hours. Church members, community members and agency representatives all working under the belief that public good can and should be a part of any development.
 
The City of Toronto, which has the task of regulating and approving developments does not seem to share this belief or if it does is incapable of responding to a development like Wesley Mimico.
 
The City has produced a number of reports, usually from the Community Services Division about the need for senior housing and the shortage of community space.  This project could not have been more aligned to the needs of the City in general and the Mimico community specifically.
 
The creation of community spaces is integral to the health and functioning of a community.  It builds, as the researchers would like to say, “Social Capital.” It is where people come together around mutual interests or needs.  It is the glue that binds us together in community and it is a role that churches and service clubs have historically played in this city.
 
But the City is a bureaucracy where rules triumph over every thing else. Staff does not have the capacity to treat this development differently because that leadership has not come from City Council.  So the church had to pay the same development fees as a commercial developer, adopt the same agonizingly slow time lines and in this case they also had to address heritage concerns. 
 
Harry could have done what others do. Load the site with condo units and if the City balks, get it approved at the OMB.
 
But Wesley Mimico was not just a development project it was a community development project.  The church wanted and did propose something that would fit well with the community.  Ignoring the City and going to the OMB seemed inconsistent with the approach.
 
There is no one reason why this project failed, although the inability of the City to respond creatively and come up with a solution that would have created a win, win scenario for the church and the community is certainly a factor.
 
It is certainly a challenge when things don’t fit into nice bureaucratic boxes.
It also speaks to the need to end the "silo thinking” that is pervasive at 100 Queen St. W. or any other location that government sits.
 
The City does make concessions for the building of affordable rental units which is good, but that consideration has to be re-examined around a much broader definition of community needs.  In Ottawa, for example, this project would have been eligible for a significant reduction in development charges because of the project’s recognized value to the community.
 
The future now of Wesley Mimico is anything but secure.  They still have the building, although it is in such a state of disrepair that it is not useful without a significant investment of money.
 
So a likely scenario is for the church to sell off the site to a real developer who no doubt will propose something far less compatible with the community.
That is not exactly the win –win solution the Mimico community had in mind.
 
 

Comments

You raise a good point about

You raise a good point about the city making concessions for the building of affordable rental units. In this case the goal was for affordability although the cost impact of the heritage issues imposed by the city along with delays and development fees etc. rendered the units far from affordable.

Creative Solutions

I am so in agreement with Russ Ford's comments regarding lack of leadership at the City Council level on anything that involves creative solutions to a worthwhile project.

The Mimico Wesley Place is a good point in question. Harry Oussorun has put his all into re purposing the church and for some reason it couldn't get it's wings to fly. Unfortunate to say the least!

Perhaps the Corp[oration should approach Toronto Community Housing and sell the property to them, along with the plans, and repurpose it into affordable housing!

Just saying!

Social Capital is the most

Social Capital is the most important factor to motivate and develop awareness regarding the importance of any issue in the society! Let us expect a better tomorrow that these ' bureaucratic boxes' become bigger and these issues fit in well to move further. Sincere efforts never go waste in the long run and always leave a mark to get attention.

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