The name Regent Park has conjured up a couple of different images in Toronto over the years. For years the connotations of the name were negative, usually with the social housing project popping in the news to report on another crime within its blocks. In more recent years the name has become pretty much synonymous with the turnaround that the area has experienced ever since the comprehensive rebuilding plan for the area began to bear fruit. Never during any of those times, however, has the name Regent Park ever brought up visions of an actual park… but that all has now changed: on June 21, 2014, Regent Park the park opened with considerable fanfare in the heart of Regent Park the neighbourhood.
The last trees were planted and the fences were gone just the evening before the official opening. By the time Councillor Pam McConnell, Heather Grey-Wolf of Toronto Community Housing and Martin Blake of The Daniels Corporation took to the mike to celebrate the opening of the Planning Partnership-designed park, a couple thousand people had poured onto the site, spilling across the lawns and walkways to enjoy performers scattered throughout the site, gathering by the generous overhang of the Regent Park Aquatic Centre to listen to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, checking out the new greenhouse and community oven site, strolling through the farmers' market and speciality food sellers area, or if you were a kid, thronging the new play equipment.
The TSO under Maestro Bramwell Tovey kicked things off with a specially commissioned work followed with O Canada, lyrics rousingly sung by the children's choir of the Regent Park School of Music, one of the arts organizations housed across the street in the Daniels Spectrum. The TSO followed with Gershwin's An American in Paris, which thematically maybe should have been a Torontonian in Regent Park, but which transfixed the crowd no matter what the music was originally written for.
Not quite finished yet are the new community greenhouse and community bake oven on the west side of the park. The greenhouse and oven are part of the Regent Park Food Partnership, a program connected with the Centre for Social Innovation which is housed across the street in the Daniels Spectrum. Representatives were on hand to talk about the programs under the RAW-designed space frame which unites those facilities with a fenced off-leash area for dogs.
Musicians drew admirers wherever they played, including the harpist above, trumpeters, drummers, and more who were stationed around the parks' great lawn.
Along the north edge of the park where Oak Street will soon be reconstituted, a farmers' market popped up along with stalls for foods created by locals representing the many nations who live here. A permanent site for the farmers' market should soon be finished just across Dundas Street to the south of the park.
More than anything else, kids were all over the new playground equipment which can only be counted as a huge hit: kids had been sneaking through the fences to play here for a few weeks already!
The show continued with bands and performance artists upping the atmosphere throughout the park as they paraded along the walkways.
In the end, it was the community who took to every inch of the park to fully inhabit it. While the degree of programming in the park won't quite match opening day again, there's no doubt that the new green space has long been needed and that the neighbourhood was aching to enjoy it, and will likely keep the park a lively place from here on out. With plenty of drinking fountains and a new splash pad too, we expect that even on the hottest days, Regent Park will be a big hit which will draw people from beyond the immediate neighbourhood to enjoy this great new city facility together.
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