A trip to Ghana in 2009 by a few self-funded Scadding Court-area teens is paying off, and in the process offering an excellent example of how rich countries can learn from poor ones.
"What we saw there were all kinds of rusted out containers where people were selling chicken, cutting hair," says Scadding Court Community Centre head Kevin Lee. "We came back to Toronto, there's so much under-utilized public space, like sidewalks that are three times the size they need to be, and on Dundas Street, economically depressed, with no eyes on the street…."
So now, there are 19 containers on Dundas just west of Bathurst, and a charette at the Scadding Court Community Centre on Tuesday brought together architects, designers, city planners, public health workers and community members to show and tell how that might be expanded into the city's first container mall.
The first container went up three years ago, very shortly after the group, of which Lee was a part, got back from Ghana. At first, it was just food, but it soon morphed into retail, including Stin Can, a bike repair shop run by two 19-year-olds, graduates of the Biz Start program
who, according to Lee, were able to start up with just $2,000. (You may want to think about stopping by their container instead of your usual local.)
"What we're trying to do," Lee says, "is establish a template for the city of Toronto in terms of economic development at the grassroots level. Economic development doesn’t just mean trying to attract Google to move their head office to Toronto."
The city just found $80,000 to buy two or three new containers, according to Councillor Adam Vaughan, in whose ward the containers sit. Now they’re just waiting for a council vote on approvals, which could come as early as this week.
"You put 10 bureaucrats around a table, all it takes is one to say no to scrap things," Vaughan says from the floor of the charette. He says the original idea came from a private company who wanted to set up some containers on Queen West. Heritage Toronto nixed it, according to Vaughan, saying the only spot they could use was the parking lot at Queen and Phoebe, so the company dropped the idea.
The charette, and the community centre's central involvement, is a way, Vaughan hopes, to circumvent the usual impediments to Toronto ever having nice things. "What we're looking for here is a way to say yes."
Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Kevin Lee, Adam Vaughan