A proposal to revitalize Winchester Square has been met with surprising resistance from a vocal area resident.
For a city with an unhealthy obsession with being “world class,” Toronto does outshine all others in one category: NIMBYism.
People here oppose everything from methadone clinics to splash pads for a wide variety of reasons and, on Tuesday afternoon, a community garden became the site of yet another internecine, high-volume battle over a small and tangible change to revitalize a public space.
For four years, Central Neighbourhood House has worked with the City to acquire permits to introduce a community garden in Winchester Square* on Ontario Street. Featuring 12 raised gardening beds, the garden was devised to improve the look of the neighbourhood and encourage area residents to become more involved maintaining their community. A core group of 25 people have committed to doing so, with an additional 60 having expressed an interest. There will also be an after-school program wherein 35 kids will grow over a thousand pounds worth of vegetables, with help from another 60-70 children attending a local summer camp.
But recent complaints have resulted in a delay for the long-planned project.
Karen McArthur, a 48-year-old lawyer who lives in a townhouse north of the square, objects to the quality of the wooden planters outlined in the proposal and the sort of people the garden would draw to the area, whom she refers to as “derelicts.” When asked who she meant by “derelicts,” McArthur elaborates: “Crack addicts, people sleeping here, drinking day-in, day-out, welfare, people from the shelters coming up.”
McArthur added that her problems with the vegetable garden extend to “coyotes, raccoons, human consumption and defecation, and growing food in containers made of pressure-treated wood.” (The objection to the wood stems from concerns over their toxin content, but the City uses the same kind of wood in High Park and the soil quality there is regularly checked.)
McArthur said she has been “constantly” speaking with the mayor’s office, and her complaints sparked yesterday’s community meeting. The mayor was rumored to make a public appearance but neither he nor anyone from his office were in attendance.
Rebecca Price, the Community Development Co-ordinator at Central Neighbourhood House, says the kids are anxious to get going. “They’re really eager to plant pumpkins,” she says, before adding that the garden is for everyone, and that some of the so-called “derelicts” have indicated a desire to get involved.
With regards to other community gardens that have sprung up in the area, like those found in Regent and Moss Parks, no one The Grid spoke with for this article could recall a reaction similar to McArthur’s.
Darcy Higgins, the director of community food-advocacy group Food Forward, got involved with the Winchester Square project to improve food access to low-income individuals. But he argues there’s a social benefit too: “When you use a space, it’s not attractive for people who want to do something hidden in the dark, like drugs or dealing.”
Heather Anderson, a 45-year-old Bleecker Co-op tenant, has noticed the difference already in Winchester Square. She says the area used to be drunk and disorderly but it’s much better now. She makes sure not to de-humanize the so-called “derelicts” in her support: “They’re people, too.”
Barry Phelan, another area tenant, tells the story of his dog once grabbing a needle with his mouth during a walk through the square, and he’s glad it’s being cleaned up. “They’re putting planter boxes in to teach street youth how to grow stuff. How can you protest that?”
CORRECTION, JUNE 20, 2012: The original version of this article stated the proposed community garden is to be planted in Winchester Park; it is actually intended for Winchester Square, which is located just south of Winchester Park.