Regent Park is a neighbourhood located in downtown Toronto. Regent Park is Canada’s oldest and largest social housing project; built in the late 1940s. Formerly the centre of the Cabbagetown neighbourhood, it is bounded by Gerrard Street East to the north, River Street to the east, Shuter Street to the south, and Parliament Street to the west. 41% of the population living in Regent Park are children 18 years and younger (compared to a Toronto-wide average of 30%).
The average income for Regent Park residents is approximately half the average for other Torontonians. A majority of families in Regent Park are classified as low-income, with 68% of the population living below Statistics Canada’s Low-Income Cut-Off Rate in one of its census tracts, and 76% in the other (compared to a Toronto-wide average of just over 20%).
Regent Park’s residential dwellings are entirely social housing, and cover all of the 69 acres (280,000 m²) which comprise the community. The Toronto neighbourhood then known as Cabbagetown was razed in the process of creating Regent Park; the nickname Cabbagetown is now applied to the historical, upscale area north of the housing project.
More than a half-century old, the Regent Park projects were aging rapidly and were in need of costly repairs. The city government developed a plan to demolish and rebuild Regent Park over the next ten years, with the first phase having started fall 2005. The addition of market units on site will double the number of units in Regent Park. Former street patterns will be restored and housing will be designed to reflect that of adjacent neighbourhoods (including Cabbagetown and Corktown), in order to end Regent Park’s physical isolation from the rest of the city.
In support of the Clean and Beautiful City campaign by Mayor David Miller, and to further the goal of elevating architecture in all Toronto Community Housing Corporation projects, an architectural competition was held for the design of the first apartment building in the complex. Toronto-based architects Alliance was selected winner of the competition, with a modern glass point tower set on top of a red-brick podium structure in their proposal.
Evolution from a transitional community to a residential community
Regent Park was originally designed as a transitional community. It was to house people experiencing financial difficulties, for whatever reason. Most residents were on social assistance, and working residents paid rent proportional to their income. In the last two decades Regent Park has also become an immigrant settlement community, as immigrants facing difficulties settling in Canada end up living there. Thus, the community is always viewed and administrated as a transitional community. This contributed to the concentration of a socially marginalized population, and various social ills of Regent Park. In particular, a transitional community failed to generate the awareness, interest, and commitment of its residents to invest in the development and sustainability of a higher quality of life.
The majority of the buildings in Regent Park are owned and operated by Toronto Community Housing the public low income housing administrator in Toronto. Regent Park is the “Community Housing Unit 27” managed by TCHC.
Most units are low rise apartment units bounded by Gerrard Street, Parliament Street, Dundas Street and River Street. The units are three storey brick buildings with central balconies. On the south side of Dundas Street the housing consists of 5 high rise apartment towers with two storey townhomes on the east and west sides.
Regent Park community groups and service agencies
Various community groups have been highly active in promoting a positive sense of community and community representation, and in pursuing a higher quality of life. Regent Park Neighbourhood Initiative (RPNI) is one such organization, which mission is “to provide leadership in building and sustaining a healthy and vibrant community.” Another such organization is Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre, which “uses media technology as a tool to employ young people, enhance resiliency, bridge information gaps, increase civic engagement, promote health and effect positive change.” Pathways to Education is a program of the Regent Park Community Health Centre that promotes “individual health and the health of the community by addressing the two principal social determinants of health: education and income.” Moreover, there are various cultural associations such as Regent Park Tamil Cultural Association, which aim to promote intra and inter cultural development and exchange, and to foster a healthier community.
Regent Park as a social experiment
Regent Park is Canada’s first and the largest social housing project or a social engineering project. Thus, it has attracted the attention of various social science scholars and media. Scholar and activist Dr. Sean Purdy has written his thesis based on his research about Regent Park. His paper “Ripped Off” By the System: Housing Policy, Poverty, and Territorial Stigmatization in Regent Park Housing Project, 1951–1991 provides valuable insights about Regent Park.
The recent Regent Park Revitalization Plan is also viewed and undertaken as a pilot Canadian social re-engineering effort. The federal and local governments view the plan as means to establish best practices and bench marks. Although such enthusiasm adds to the momentum of the revitalization plan, the Regent Park history warrants caution as not to repeat or reproduce the shortcomings of its past.
In addition, Norman Rowen, Program Manager of The Pathways to Education Program, and researcher Kevin Gosine have published research that documents the success of Pathways in improving academic achievement and reducing the high school dropout rate among Regent Park youth.