South Etobicoke is the type of community that only makes the news when another plant closure is announced.
This “inner-city suburb,” as the United Way likes to characterize it, in many ways still has the feel of a small town. Long-time residents still refer to the historic communities as Mimico and New Toronto. Lakeshore Boulevard is still known as “the highway.”
Countless studies have shown that the priority for the Lakeshore community is a recreation centre. But there are community priorities and then there are political priorities.
And right now the political priority in the city’s rec department, despite the simmering controversy over permit fees, is a skating rink. Never mind that the 40 per cent of families in this community who live in poverty can’t afford skates.
“We’ve been to all the public meetings. We went to the mayor’s Listening To Toronto series, we went to the budget consultations, and it’s always been the same response. They hear us but they don’t listen when there’s a real decision to make,” says Amber Morley, a high school senior who has spent months working the phones in a small office in the LAMP Community Health Centre to draw attention to a curious bit of shuffling on the city’s part.
The building of a 20,000-square-foot community centre was supposedly etched in stone in the former city of Etobicoke’s Lakeshore Village bylaw, passed in 1991.
It allowed the Daniels Corporation to build its planned Lakeshore Village on the former site of the Goodyear Tire Company (north of Lakeshore between 9th and 13th Streets). In exchange, Daniels either had to build a community centre or give the city the money to do so.
There was a lot of community concern at the time about the size of the development and the high likelihood that this new community would need a lot of services. The bylaw was a way of address the needs of Lakeshore Village.
But for reasons that can be best described as political, the community centre never happened.
Instead, the city plans to spend the money from Daniels to add a room of about 7,000 square feet to the recently built Father John Redmond Catholic Secondary School south of Lakeshore at Kipling. The city is calling this room the Ken Cox Community Centre in recognition of a local volunteer.
“Calling it a community centre is an illusion,” says local resident Ruth Grier, a former NDP cabinet minister and part of the Lakeshore Community Centre Working Group, a residents organization that sprang up immediately after the city announced its plans.
“It was not very hard to recruit people,” says Grier. “We were promised a community centre. People are upset that we got far less than that.”
In 2004, the completed community needs assessment funded by Daniels called for the immediate construction of a community centre to address the needs of the area’s youth. It also noted that the one resource this community was not deficient in was skating facilities.
Last summer, the city held a consultation on the new centre, but it was less a consultation than a meeting to advise the community that a deal had been reached with the Catholic School Board to attach a small gym to the recently built school. While city staff acknowledged that the arrangement is not ideal, they advised residents that the agreement with the school board guaranteed access to school facilities.
The city also announced it was building a skating oval within yards of the new school at a cost greater than that of the community centre.
Later, when asked how the city determined the need for another ice rink, parks and recreation general manager Brenda Librecz could only say that it’s been planned since the late 1990s.
“The city is short of resources, and it’s wasting what it has on something we don’t want while not investing in something we need,” says Grier.
Reallocating the money to the community centre may seem like an obvious solution, but the municipal powers that be don’t see it that way.
Meanwhile, the deal with the school board for access to the school has already fallen apart. The city doesn’t have the money to run any programs and refuses to rent the space to other groups.
The only concession to the community is a promise from Librecz to conduct yet another needs assessment – but only after the skating oval is built.
To most of the youth, this seems like yet another pat on the head.
Jasmin Earle is chair of the Lakeshore Community Centre Working Group.