This column by Rosemarie Powell and Kumsa Baker was originally published by the Toronto Star on Friday September 9, 2022. Rosemarie is the Executive Director of the Toronto Community Benefits Network. Kumsa is their Community Benefits Campaigns Director.
Scarborough residents and stakeholders are concerned about the recent proposal to redevelop a local community landmark, the Malvern Town Centre.
Currently, the mall is home to many shops, local businesses and important social, community and health services.
Recently, the City of Toronto received an application from real estate investment and property management company Davpart Inc. to redevelop Malvern Town Centre and build 15 towers containing more than 5,700 residential units.
The redevelopment would mean the loss of a supermarket, a gym, several fast-food restaurants, local businesses, and office space for the TAIBU Community Health Centre. TAIBU, a member of the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), is a community health organization serving Black communities in the GTA and has been on the front line during the pandemic serving Indigenous, Black and racialized communities with income, housing, food and mental health and supports.
With news of the redevelopment proposal, it’s critical the City of Toronto and developer Davpart support an equitable planning process that brings in local residents and stakeholders’ voices to the table during the planning review stages.
City-supported approaches to equitable planning in the inner suburbs of Toronto are not new. In 2020, the Jane-Finch initiative was launched and is described as a “resident-informed project to plan for the future of the Jane and Finch area.”
At the TCBN, a community-labour coalition formed in 2014. We have been working with network members to advocate for equitable planning processes that centre voices and priorities of residents most impacted by development, and to negotiate community benefits agreements (CBAs) into such development projects.
CBAs are legally binding, enforceable contracts that set forth specific benefits for an infrastructure or development project. Such agreements ensure the community is able to hold developers accountable to the promises made through community oversight and public reporting.
Benefits are wide ranging depending on local community priorities and can include commitments to things like local employment, diverse hiring, social procurement opportunities for local businesses, parks and green spaces, affordable housing, child-care centres, and community and recreation spaces. All these elements contribute to an inclusive, vibrant, thriving and complete neighbourhood which local residents must have a say in determining.
One area of focus for TCBN over the past few years has been working with network members in supporting local residents from under-represented groups into good jobs and career opportunities created through large-scale public and private developments across Toronto. To date, TCBN has supported pathways for over 2,000 individuals from under-represented groups into apprenticeships and professional, administrative and technical careers on large scale projects that have committed to a CBA.
With a projected skilled trades shortage looming in Ontario and the significant amount of new public and private development investments like the Malvern mall and Eglinton East Light Rail Transit line planned for Scarborough in coming years, now is the time for all stakeholders to work collaboratively to establish and support a Scarborough trades training centre to help to prepare the next generation of builders from local communities in Scarborough where these projects are planned.