Tower renewal program planned for Thorncliffe Park

Highrises in crowded Thorncliffe Park will be among the first Toronto buildings chosen for “tower renewal” projects aimed at improving the lives of tenants and helping landlords. A partnership between the city and its United Way is behind the two-year initiative, which the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office says it will carry out in its East York neighbourhood with co-operation from building owners and tenants. In coming to Thorncliffe, an apartment community between Overlea Boulevard and the West Don River where both vacancies and public facilities are few, the United Way is following up a report it released last January called Vertical Poverty. The report found lower-income families in Toronto were living more and more in privately-owned and aging apartment towers, particularly in the city’s suburbs. “They are some of the city’s most inefficent buildings, yet they present an incredible opportunity,” said a United Way release this month. Jehad Aliweiwi, TNO’s executive director, said the project is a chance to re-imagine buildings in Thorncliffe and the spaces between them. The city, for example, could help with zoning changes that would make a tea shop or a fruit stand in the ground floor of a highrise possible, he said last week. Aliweiwi said green spaces between buildings in Thorncliffe are “vastly underutilized.” Landlords can open them up as space for children to play in, linking them to the ravine surrounding the neighbourhood and taking some pressure off its small community park. In a community where common rooms in buildings are rare, he said, it may not be possible to have a common room in each highrise, but perhaps buildings could share one. Unlike other tower renewal projects announced this summer in Rexdale and Kingston-Galloway, Thorncliffe’s has not named any specific buildings for improvements, but Aliweiwi said his agency may try involving a whole cluster of highrises whose landlords are interested in renewal. At least three local landlords seem to “get it,” he said. Aliweiwi said the size of the financial resources being committed to the project wasn’t clear yet either, but more details could be expected at a public meeting, tentatively scheduled for the evening of Oct. 24. Many Thorncliffe buildings are around a half-century old and “at the tail end of life,” he said, adding they’re in need of cladding and energy efficiency retrofits the project could provide. Local landlords also would benefit from better waste management, since several Thorncliffe highrises are not on the city’s recycling route. Systems for collecting recyclables do not exist in them, Aliweiwi said, and so their owners simply pay the city fines. “The waste that’s coming out of these buildings is alarming.” Aliweiwi blames a lack of resources for facilities and lack of participation by residents, which he said TNO will try to change through education. Last week, he also said he was trying to re-imagine the situation as a chance for young people, with the co-operation of building managers and tenants, to collect and sort recyclables at some buildings. More information on the program and ideas behind it are available from the city at www.toronto.ca/tower_renewal and the United Way at www.unitedwaytoronto.com/verticalpoverty/report/introductin;