Renewing Scarborough’s past prosperity starts with crafting a more positive image for the area, many people at a “town hall” meeting organized by local Rotary clubs seemed to agree.
Scarborough, as diverse and different as it can be from Lake Ontario to Steeles Avenue, has complex problems, its five Rotary clubs acknowledge. Manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and poverty has concentrated in many pockets.
The Danzig Street mass shooting in 2012, which left two dead and nearly two dozen injured, forced Rotarians to rethink Scarborough’s future.
“When I was talking to my friends and neighbours, I knew that the incident really hurt,” Harry Hakomaki of the Rotary Scarborough Twilight Club said at the meeting Tuesday, June 24, in the Scarborough Village Community Recreation Centre.
One thing that became clear is Scarborough’s amalgamation with Toronto in 1998, which took away its status as a city, still angers some people involved in Rotary’s fledgling community renewal campaign.
And, for several in the room Tuesday, so do the combined United Way and City of Toronto efforts to pump resources over the past eight years into “priority neighbourhoods” - now rebranded “neighbourhood improvement areas” - many of which were, or are, in Scarborough.
“Scarborough has a narrative problem,” said John Stapleton, a resident who sat down to talk about social development. “We had a number done on us by the United Way. They said because there was increasing poverty in Scarborough, we were on the decline.”
Scarborough Village was one of the first Toronto neighbourhoods targeted for investment, but city officials and an agency called Action for Neighbourhood Change - located down the hall from the meeting room - who had been grappling with its problems for eight years, weren’t asked to participate.
As part of renewal, Scarborough doesn’t just need more services and hubs, Stapleton argued, “but more opportunities to prosper.”
James Burchill, working on his own Scarborough-boosting initiative, said the former city was “robbed of what was ours to pay off expenses elsewhere” by amalgamation, and needs to bring back what it lost.
Renewal should start with the people of Scarborough “promoting ourselves to ourselves,” and then re-educating the rest of Toronto, he said.
Ideas floated to move the area in a better direction were varied: Tax incentives to attract industry, more business improvement areas and resident groups, more bicycle lanes, mentoring, and “business incubators” to spark high-tech innovation.
John Mason of Guildwood said arts and culture “can be an economic driver” for the area, as the ongoing Cultural Hotspot project for south Scarborough shows.
Hakomaki said the clubs want to release well-researched discussion papers in 2014, and build a network of businesses, faith groups, and non-governmental organizations aiming at both shorter and longer-term renewal goals.
He hoped people would continue the conversations about what is good about Scarborough and what it needs, at home, at work and with their neighbours.