The Regent Park Revitalization Plan’s first phases appear to have had a positive impact on food security and other issues in the community.
“With a new retail grocery store at Dundas and Parliament and initiatives such as the Regent Park Farmers’ Market, residents of Regent Park are getting better access to high-quality and affordable food options that weren’t present before revitalization,” said Gene Jones, President and CEO, Toronto Community Housing, “
Residents also say the revitalization has changed things for the better in the community.
“It’s been helping people,” said Mary Ann Kalalang, Regent Park resident and restaurant worker for the past five years. “There are more programs for people to increase their worth. I like living here now. Everything’s accessible, there are a lot of community programs, I like it better than places I’ve lived before.”
Known to Torontonians as an area of social housing and low-income houesholds, Regent Park has traditionally been associated with crime and poverty.
Toronto Community Housing says their objective is to change this view and create a mixed-income community. The challenges to tackle include old housing, food insecurity and unemployment. So far, residents have seen a change in every facet of life in the community as Regent Park’s old image slowly starts to fade.
“You know the perception the general public had of Regent Park,” said Ahamad Idroos, Regent Park resident for three years. “That perception is changing tremendously. I believe within the next two years there will be a kind of metamorphosis that will take place here.”
Residents like Kalalang and Idroos have boasted the positive effects of the new grocery store, as Regent Park did not have an affordable grocery store prior to revitalization. But they also take advantage of the Regent Park Farmers’ Market.
“Last year was the first year of the farmers’ market,” Idroos said. “The organizers, Daniels Corporation and Toronto Community Housing, were very impressed. It was a great boost for my wife and I, and it gave a tremendous boost to our part-time business.”
Idroos and his wife see the Regent Park Farmers’ Market as a way to popularize their food – his wife works as a nutritional cook at Nelson Mandela Park Public School. He believes the farmers’ market allowed them to pass the first hurdle, as their products have been well-received by the community.
The farmers’ market is slated to return again this year and residents are very excited. Regent Park’s first restaurant, Paintbox Bistro, was also involved last year.
“Paintbox Bistro was really nice and accommodating,” Kalalang said. “We were able to use their kitchen for free, I would just bring all my ingredients and make it there. I’m excited for this summer’s farmers’ market. I love cooking, I love baking and I love people.”
Food security and affordability has been an ongoing contentious issue for the community. This was demonstrated earlier this year by a campaign to raise social assistance rates to adjust to rising food prices by the organization, Put Food in the Budget. Though not all residents of Regent Park are on social assistance, the revitalization plan aims to alleviate food security as well as other issues.
“We are building a community garden space into many of our new buildings, as well a greenhouse and an outdoor bake oven,” Jones said. “These will open this summer and will be operated by the Regent Park Food Partnership.”
A partnership between several organizations developing food strategies in the community, members include the Christian Resource Centre, Dixon Hall and Green Thumbs Growing Kids.
The revitalization plan is being completed in phases with the last phase being completed in 2019. It started in 2005 and in nine years has brought noticeable changes for the community. Though some residents still have concerns, as illustrated by Put Food in the Budget’s campaigns, the community is helping.
“Most needs are being met,” Idroos said. “I was involved in a focus group and we interviewed a lot of people and asked what they needed. We are very accommodative and inclusive so everyone’s needs are being looked into.”