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Dreaming Big in Mount Dennis

When we stepped in to the world of the Refocus Kodak campaign, we didn’t know quite what to expect. After all, this was a very non-typical community engagement exercise. First of all, it was a very grassroots initiative. It was being led by a community group, the Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF), who wanted to challenge the proposed plan by Metrolinx for the Eglinton LRT maintenance and storage facility that was going to be built in their neighbourhood. Further, the community – not the developer – was demanding increased densities – people wanted tall buildings with ample commercial, community and public facilities – something almost unheard of in the planning world! Our Client – LEF- wanted us to develop a fun and engaging session that they could include on their AGM agenda on May 21, 2014. LEF wanted participants to dream – and dream big – for what they wanted to see on the former Kodak Lands so they could tell Metrolinx what the community was really looking for.

The former Kodak lands near Weston Road and Eglinton Ave are indeed a gem. Having operated there for 80 years (employing thousands at one point) Kodak closed their factory in 2005 leaving 23 hectares of land vacant and ripe for re-development in the middle of the 416. One of the largest tracts of land in the old City of York, Metrolinx bought the site in 2012 so that they could build a maintenance and storage facility for the new Eglinton LRT. When the plan was released in 2013, community members in the surrounding Mount Dennis were unhappy with what Metrolinx was proposing – only a maintenance facility with an LRT station, bus terminal and small office building. The community (which is also a designated neighbourhood improvement area) saw the site as an opportunity for economic revitalization, job creation and creation of a centre for their neighbourhood. And besides, wouldn’t Metrolinx also want to make a little bit of money by intensifying such a large site?

With the assistance of local Councillors Nunziata and Di Giorgio, and in consultation with the community, City Council adopted 9 planning principles for the site, which any final plan will be judged against when it comes up for Council approval. Among these includes intensification and job creation. Now the only question that remained was – what exactly would community residents like to see on the site?

HTT_8964On May 21st, LEF hosted their AGM with a combined community consultation session to try to find out. Our role was to organize the agenda, activities and facilitate the session. We led off the session by presenting a series of 4 case studies: Telford Gardens (Hong Kong), Anderson Station (Calgary), Arlington Heights and Orland Park (both near the Chicago area). The purpose of the case studies was to inspire participants by demonstrating other “town centers” built around or above transit infrastructure, including (in the Hong Kong Case) intensification on top of a maintenance facility itself. Participants were broken up into 4 themes we had heard from previous consultation sessions: Resilience, Innovation, Education and Destination. We then asked them to go nuts with post-its notes and dare to dream big!

And the results? Close to 900 post-it notes with hundreds of ideas! In addition to the usual parks, and community centre ideas – some of the more imaginative thoughts included zoos, waterfalls and urban farming. The energy in the room that night was just amazing – participants remarked how creative and fun the night was and were happy that somebody wanted to hear their ideas for once instead of being just talked to. We were jubilant that the session worked out so well and that people were really engaged and wanted to dream with us!

HTT_8988So where does this all go? Refocus Kodak is planning to use all of these ideas to continue to engage around the Mount Dennis community and present their findings to Metrolinx. We have helped LEF design a mobile engagement exhibit that can easily be taken around to different community events. The hope is that by showing that the community is engaged and has ideas, it will be able to influence whatever final plans will be proposed for the site and perhaps deliver on some of the key features that the community is looking for!



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