“Canada’s greenest neighbourhood,” seems like a lofty title, but the residents of The Pocket in Leslieville are more than up for the challenge.
Over the past two years, the east-end neighbourhood nestled between Jones and Greenwood south of the TTC yard, has been ground zero for an ambitious greening project.
Dubbed Pocket Change, a team of 16 residents is organizing to chase grants, buy pioneering green insulation materials in bulk and educate one another on the latest developments in energy-efficient retrofits. The goal: to make the neighbourhood the first net-zero emissions community in Toronto – and to show others across the country how to do it.
“We’re committed and we’re determined,” says David Langille of Pocket Change, which was established by The Pocket Community Association in 2017.
The area has a long tradition of progressive politics and is home to its share of climate change specialists, including architects and researchers.
Then there’s its relative remoteness. With just 3,500 people in 1,100 homes, the scale of the neighbourhood makes it easy for ideas to catch on, says Langille.
“You can’t drive through this community, because of the tracks and the TTC yard. Kids can play in the street and neighbours can talk to one another,” says Langille. “We have a high degree of social interaction.”
The message is further spread through the group’s climate-oriented events, dubbed Pocket Parties, which range from tours of local homes (including that of architect Paul Dowsett, who manages to cover his gas bill each month with income from solar panels) to family-friendly Eco Fun Fairs that feature demos of electric cars and other awareness-raising activities.
The community’s ambitious plans to become the first fossil-free neighbourhood in the city started much smaller, when Langille’s furnace broke down and he started researching eco-friendly replacements.
First, he looked into solar power, but learned that would be inefficient unless the home was fully insulated. He called local MPP Peter Tabuns, who put him in touch with a company specializing in energy conservation in the Riverdale area.
Word spread through the community, and The Pocket Community Association approached the city for support through its TransformTO climate action program. City officials were invited to the neighbourhood to deliver talks on energy efficiency.
As the area’s outreach efforts grew, the neighbourhood was selected for a pilot, Toronto’s Greenest Neighbourhoods project, and received a $10,000 grant to support efforts, which funded the project’s official launch, as well as creating a community energy plan for the neighbourhood.
As part of this project, the groups were also able to gain access to infrared tools that let homeowners scan their place with a camera to pinpoint heat loss, as well as access to an infrared map of the neighbourhood that showed how much heat each house was losing.
From there, climate group Environmental Defence committed $19,200 for the group’s engagement work.
The group was also one of several neighbourhoods applying for $6.7 million from the Green Ontario Fund, which was created under the previous Liberal government to assist homeowners with energy-efficient upgrades. The grant was pursued with the hope the project would act as a prototype for elsewhere in Ontario. But those hopes were dashed when the Ford government decided to abandon the province’s cap-and-trade program, cancelling the entire $377-million Green Ontario Fund.
It was a major setback. “It [the grant] was well researched, the money was there – it just went up in smoke,” Langille says, noting that the group is seeking new workarounds, setting its sights instead on the city’s home energy loan program, which can offer low-interest loans to homeowners of up to $75,000 towards various retrofits from replacing windows to insulating roofs.
The group is also researching new tech that could be suitable for those local retrofits.
The initial plan was to wrap homes in a blanket of insulation, a process that’s been popular in the Netherlands and England. But Langille says the community is now looking into buying Canadian-made Rockwool insulation in bulk.
In the meantime, the work of spreading awareness continues, with more Pocket Change events coming down the pipeline. The next Pocket Party is scheduled for September 29 to keep up on the latest news and events, visit the Pocket Community Association’s website.
For more information on how to get connected with various climate action engagement efforts in Toronto, visit TransformTO.