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Ontario has a vision for the future of Thorncliffe Park. Residents worry if they’ll be included

The future the Ontario government envisions for Toronto’s Thorncliffe neighbourhood features six gleaming glass buildings, trees at street level, and a band playing in a square as people nearby enjoy lunch on a patio — at least, according to renderings from Infrastructure Ontario.

The government wants to build a transit-oriented community (TOC) in Thorncliffe, a type of community it defines as mixed-use, typically made up of residential and office towers near transit stops. It’s one of 14 planned in the Greater Toronto Area

The goal, Ontario says, is to create more housing, more jobs and more space for retail and recreation near the planned Thorncliffe Park Ontario Line station. While residents say they desperately need what the government is offering, some who have already been priced out of the community say they fear gentrification. 

“What about the next generation?” said Aamir Sukhera, a member of neighbourhood advocacy organization I Am Thorncliffe

“When they want to leave their families, where are they going to go? How far are they going to be?… Is it going to disrupt the community that we have?”

A man
Aamir Sukhera, a long-time Thorncliffe resident and advocate, says he feels hopeful about the TOC but needs to see Infrastructure Ontario make commitments to listen to the community. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

TOCs meant to revitalize, but trust is lacking

Transit-oriented communities are often considered positive developments with the goal of revitalizing communities that have been historically marginalized, says Nemoy Lewis, an assistant professor at Toronto Metropolitan University who specializes in equity and urban planning.

That’s in theory, he says, and only if equity is at the heart of the TOC process. He’d like to see clear protections and safeguards in place to ensure long-standing affordability issues aren’t exacerbated. 

“We should be mindful of what could potentially be the unintended consequences,” Lewis said. 

CBC Toronto is spending time in the Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood as part of our Communities in Focus initiative. Our goal is to hear your stories about this unique neighbourhood and share them with the rest of the city. 

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Sukhera says he advocated for a TOC after Metrolinx announced the neighbourhood would have a stop on the Ontario Line.

But, he says the community’s trust in the province is shaky over past interactions with Metrolinx, which decided to put a train maintenance facility in Thorncliffe, causing local businesses to have to move. 

Firm commitments to residents would go a long way, says Nosheen Khan, food security coordinator at The Neighbourhood Organization. She says the biggest concern about the TOC is whether affordable housing will be guaranteed.

“We’re encountering so many families who are multiple families living in the same apartment. So we need to prioritize rentals and affordable housing absolutely,” she said.

A man in front of a photo of Toronto.
Nemoy Lewis, an assistant professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, says affordable housing requirements are necessary for TOCs. (Prasanjeet Choudury/CBC)

Province, city in talks on affordable housing

The city of Toronto said city staff have been in “ongoing negotiations” with Ontario about affordable housing at the Thorncliffe TOC. The city told CBC Toronto that it’s negotiating a target of 20 per cent affordable housing units, but nothing has been finalized. 

When asked about the TOC and the needs of the community including affordable housing commitments, Infrastructure Ontario said that community benefits and affordable housing options will be “explored” through negotiations with Toronto and the building partner.

Ahmad El Sarraff
Ahmad El Sarraff, who was born in Thorncliffe and has never left, says Infrastructure Ontario needs to build trust with the community. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Lewis says there should be commitments to “ensure rents aren’t going to be exorbitantly increased.” He worries about property owners and investors that are beholden to their shareholders, who may prioritize affluent renters to meet profit targets.

“We have to make sure that we are not trying to improve the aesthetics of these communities, but we’re actually trying to address some of the root problems,” he said.

“It’s going to require multi-level government effort.”

Infrastructure Ontario is holding two initial consultation sessions with community members. But residents say it will take more than a few town halls to convince them that the development will work in their favour.

Sukhera says people are ready to be vocal.

“It’s incited a sort of emotion,” he said. “They’re going to do something about it.”

Thorncliffe resident Ahmad El Sarraff says Infrastructure Ontario needs to build trust with the community, as there’s some reticence around consultations only just starting when the project was announced months ago. 

“[The TOC] could solve a lot of community issues if communities were heard, rather than having a blanket project that is just generic… but doesn’t really address key specific resident needs,” he said

Thorncliffe Park bureau graphic

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