New development can bring new residents and new vitality to a neighbourhood, but it can also bring new challenges. One of the challenges that many older neighbourhoods in Toronto are facing is relieving the pressure that increased density places on existing social and recreational services. A critical piece of solving this issue is the creation of new community space in neighbourhoods where it is lacking.

In the Junction, a local organization called the Junction Commons Project (JCP) has been given the City's blessing to do the public consultation needed to see if a former police station in the neighbourhood could serve as a self-sustaining community space for residents. If successful, the JCP route could be a model for other revitalizing neighbourhoods to improve their own situations. UrbanToronto attended one of the recent JCP community charettes to see what local residents are looking for in a community hub.

Junction Commons Project, Andrew Keenan, the Junction, TorontoJunction residents are instructed by Andrew Keenan as to how the charette will work. Photo by Edward LaRusic

Last week's Junction Commons Project charette was facilitated by planner Andrew Keenan. The project, said Keenan, started when members of the community heard about the decommissioning of the former 11 Division Police Station at 209 Mavety Street last year, just the other side of the block from the intersection of Dundas and Keele Streets.

“Many savvy people in the Junction got together and petitioned the City to stop the transfer of the disused property to Build Toronto" said Keenan. Build Toronto would then have sold the land on to developers, but the City listened to the locals and asked them to write a more formal proposal, giving them until March 2014 to do the legwork on the consultation.

The JCP applied for and got a Trillium Grant to complete a feasibility study for turning the police station into a community hub. This past summer, the JCP brought on board the Ryerson University School of Interior Design to imagine what the hub could look like, and this fall the organization hired urbanMetrics and ERA Architects to conduct the detailed study, of which these charettes are a part.

Junction Commons Project, the Junction, Toronto2011 Google Street View picture of the 11 Division Police Station at 209 Mavesty Street.

Junction Commons Project, the Junction, Toronto2011 Google Street View picture of the 11 Division Police Station at 209 Mavesty Street.

Keenan says while public space exists in the neighbourhood, the space is often geared towards children, which leaves little room for other programs. More critically, he says, a lot of the community space is not publicly owned. Of the two other major meetings spaces, one is a vacant lot that is soon to be redeveloped as Duke Condos, while other, the 'Train Platform' is privately owned, "So we could lose it at any time. We're so starved for space we're using a Green P parking lot.”

Junction Commons Project, Ryerson University School of Interior DesignConcept of what a new community hub could look like inside. Image by Ryerson University School of Interior Design.

At the Annette St Library, approximately 20 people attended the first of five JCP charettes to ask residents to brainstorm what kinds of activities and programs they would like to see in a new community hub, as well as asking for ideas on to how to pay for the ongoing costs of operating one.

Participants wrote their ideas onto post-it notes, which were then grouped together into categories, such as 'health and fitness' and 'art rental spaces'. From there, each participant marked dots on the ideas which they felt were the best ones. The three ideas that received the most dots were then discussed in groups, where they were expanded on, and often tied together with other ideas.

Junction Commons Project, Andrew Keenan, the Junction, TorontoResidents share their ideas as to what activities they would like to see in a new community hub. Photo by Edward LaRusic

For the first question, “What would you like to find in a community hub?”, the top three ideas voted on were for providing a community garden, food events/education, and art programming. Some of the ideas generated from these three ideas included creating a community map for people who want to share their garden space, cooking classes for singles, and yoga classes.

For the second question, “What ideas do you have for generating income to support the community hub?”, the top three vote-getters were a community theatre, community dinners, and art rentals spaces. Residents suggested that the hub could host a costume/decoration shop, celebrity dinners, and gallery space for local artists.

Junction Commons Project, Andrew Keenan, the Junction, TorontoAndrew Keenan (far left) gives direction as residents split into groups. Photo by Edward LaRusic

Along with a broader stakeholder consultation of local politicians, businesses, and community groups, this series of charettes is being supplemented by an online survey. On November 25th, the ideas as a whole will be presented at a town hall meeting. With a large swath of the community that includes the BIA and local politicians supporting their efforts, 209 Mavety Street may successfully make the transition from community jail, to community hub.

While not every idea will make it forward owing to financial and feasibility concerns, Keenan say he's very excited about the ideas that residents have been generating, and that they are dreaming something big and amazing and will have that flavour the final result, rather than delivering something tepid and boring, and merely to low expectations. “As my wife Rebecca says, 'we've been shooting for the stars, but we're going to land on the moon'.”

For more information, visit the Junction Commons Project website. Got your own idea of what the Junction neighbourhood needs? Leave a comment in the space provided below!