Regal Heights Gate­way to ac­tivism

City jumps the gun, and neigh­bours are up in arms

Annex Post - - NEWS -

As if on cue, a few min­utes into an in­ter­view with Regal Heights neigh­bour­hood res­i­dent and com­mu­nity ac­tivist Dave Mes­lin about a lo­cal in­ter­sec­tion re­design at the cor­ner of Regal Road and Spring­mount Av­enue, a cou­ple of well-tat­tooed young men drive by the newly de­signed in­ter­sec­tion in a van and com­ment “stupid f***ing plas­tic things.”

Neigh­bour­hood streets are in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous, and with the city hav­ing a hard time im­ple­ment­ing its Vi­sion Zero agenda, lo­cal res­i­dents are creat­ing their own so­lu­tions, whether it be signs telling mo­torists to slow down, or a hash­tag invit­ing peo­ple to share their ex­pe­ri­ences of dan­ger­ous road­ways. But when neigh­bour­hood ac­tivism meets city bu­reau­cracy the col­li­sion be­tween the two can be “messy,” ac­cord­ing to Mes­lin.

This is a neigh­bour­hood, ad­ja­cent to Wy­ch­wood, with some his­tory of com­mu­nity ac­tivism and pub­lic space projects.

Last year, he and a few of his neigh­bours got to­gether and tem­po­rar­ily trans­formed the in­ter­sec­tion of Regal Road and Spring­mount Av­enue into some­thing that put pedes­trian safety first, while also high­light­ing the amount of wasted pub­lic space that could be put to bet­ter use.

Es­sen­tially, they re­ar­ranged the in­ter­sec­tion with chalk and leaves raked from a neigh­bour­ing slice of green­ery. The fix, though tem­po­rary, worked won­ders and freed up a cou­ple thou­sand square feet of pub­lic space. News of the project went vi­ral.

“It was a fun project and a way to point out to neigh­bours that there was all this ex­tra space, and in­stead of pave­ment it could be who knows what: trees, grass, a merry-gor­ound, what­ever,” said Mes­lin

Af­ter some con­sul­ta­tion, the City of Toronto de­cided to give the large and dan­ger­ous in­ter­sec­tion a look. En­ter the stupid f***ing plas­tic things.

Ac­cord­ing to Mes­lin, the Regal Heights Gate­way Project, when com­plete, will have green­ery, flow­ers and trees as the fo­cal point of a newly de­signed in­ter­sec­tion that of­fers both safety and beauty.

But the city moved quickly on the safety side of the ledger, in­stalling white plas­tic bol­lards and splash­ing down white paint with the green space en­hance­ments not due un­til the fall. As a re­sult, Mes­lin is knee-deep in neigh­bour­hood com­plaints.

“The first re­ac­tion from neigh­bours is that this is hor­ren­dous,” said Mes­lin.

“It’s re­ally ugly and un­nat­u­ral,” added Al­lan No­vak, an­other lo­cal res­i­dent who first spoke out against the project but has since come to un­der­stand the full scope of it.

“The fi­nal ver­sion will have no bol­lards, tons of green space, and it will be safer,” said Mes­lin. “To me, it’s about green space. Why have 2,000 square feet of con­crete when you can make it green.”

As soon as the bol­lards went up, Mes­lin snuck out at night with a cou­ple of cans of spray paint and painted the white plas­tic sticks green to at least blend in a bit more with the sur­round­ings.

He also put up an in­for­ma­tion page on a pole out­lin­ing the plan to green the in­ter­sec­tion and lose the bol­lards. Across from the util­ity pole, a large binder sits, of­fer­ing a dif­fer­ing viewpoint of the project and in­struct­ing neigh­bours who op­pose it to con­tact Mes­lin.

Some neigh­bours are con­cerned over los­ing a few street park­ing spots, some think the fix was un­nec­es­sary, and oth­ers think it is just an eye­sore. Oth­ers love the safety as­pect, in­clud­ing the curb ramps at an in­ter­sec­tion that was once near im­pos­si­ble to cross in cer­tain di­rec­tions with wheel­chairs or strollers.

Lo­cal res­i­dent Jen­nifer Wig­more, one of the chief leaf rak­ers of last year, said she spoke with city work­ers dur­ing the in­stal­la­tion of the in­ter­sec­tion.

“I saw them at the be­gin­ning and end of day,” she said. “By end of day, they said they couldn’t be­lieve how many times they al­most got killed. They were so up­set by the end of the day.”

Mes­lin is set to fol­low up with city staff on the out­stand­ing is­sues and said or­ga­niz­ing a pub­lic meet­ing to more fully in­form res­i­dents of the longer term vi­sion is im­per­a­tive and will hap­pen soon.

–– Ron John­son

The first re­ac­tion from neigh­bours is that this is hor­ren­dous.”

L–R: Al­lan No­vak, Jen­nifer Wig­more and Dave Mes­lin

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