I’ve heard the same (familiar) message too many times this week to ignore it: The more you put into something, the more you get out. The first occurrence was at my son’s school, the second at a newly delivered community and the third, of course, on social.
In the first scenario, middle school parents (myself included) were told that the secret to their child’s success as they started this new journey, with unfamiliar classrooms and hallways, unknown teachers and peers, and a more challenging curriculum and competition – was quite simply, to “show up.” And not in the sense of merely walking in the door at 8:30 and leaving at 3:30. But showing up in the sense of the quality of what you filled those seven hours with. The school year will be “theirs” only if they participate.
The second example was at our SQ community in Alex Park, downtown Toronto. I attended a celebratory “street party” where all the players involved “showed up” to deliver the first 40 homes to TCHC residents that had lived through construction of the first phase of a revitalization project. Despite everyone being there to celebrate 40 newly built townhomes – the event centered around a shared theme – “people.” The city, the community, TCHC, MP’s (Adam Vaughan), City Councillors (Joe Cressy), the developer, the architect, the designer all joined together to celebrate and to share in the understanding that the day was about the “infrastructure of humanity.” We also shared the appreciation that the idea of places like this isn’t difficult – the delivery of them however, slightly more so. But it can happen when the parties involved work together for a shared best interest.
And acting in the best interest of the Alex Park Community happened well before our involvement. In fact it’s a community fueled by and famous for it’s passion for change and for residents that “show up.” In fact, the ARPA (Alexandra Park Residents’ Association) became Canada’s first social housing co-op operated entirely by its own tenants nearly 20 years ago, when Sonny Atkinson “showed up” by literally breaking down the barriers and walls that separated the community. He inspired and encouraged others to do the same.
His legacy continues today through residents like Mr. Tahir, who are all about participating in the community you’re a part of. Mr. Tahir “threw himself into community work and joined the board” to continue to develop and manage Alexandra Park. He told the audience that day – to also “show up.”
It was amazing to hear residents like Ausma Malik, Trustee for Toronto District School Board, Ward 10 share that residents had the the right to say NO to what didn’t feel right, and YES to those that did, and to bring forward ideas, that had yet remained unrealized by others, all the while adhering to their mandate of zero displacement.
TCHC Greg Spearn, President and CEO of Toronto Community Housing, also spoke of the importance of “showing up,” saying he was particularly proud of the fact that residents were deeply involved. He reflected that it was their specific input and contributions that influenced the ultimate design.
Imagine what would NOT have come to fruition if all of these people didn’t “show up” and get involved in their community.
Finally, the third occurrence of this repeated lesson was through social media. A tweet of a new community in NYC mentioned an app that caught my attention. A planned development by JDS in Manhattan, stirred some sentiment that some may consider reminiscent of some of the perspectives in early stages of the Alex Park revitalization. Community members on the Lower East Side are described as being nervous with the fear of a future that is “promising good but with the potential to wreak havoc.” JDS decided the best way to move forward was to lay the cards on the table. Everybody’s. And so they registered their development on CoUrbanize – a site with the intention of creating a shared space for communities, developers and municipalities in order to build better cities. Here are some samples from different sites they currently have project pages for.
Community members can learn plans and current status on the community while also submitting their concern. Inspired by the reality that people are often so busy today, they don’t have the time to visit community meetings to receive and discuss potential developments in their neighbourhood. So why not bring the information to them?
And bring it in a way that is easy to digest. Traffic studies, wind studies etc., are simplified so residents can understand the impact the development will have. And while the technology has facilitated the collaboration that’s required, the process of “showing up” and taking part has a history.
As the daughter of a developer, I see the world strongly through that lens. I have a childhood that witnessed life beginnings and endings of many structures. Contrary to what you may think, you don’t get numb. It’s always tragic to see something fall to the ground, whether intended or not. And it’s always awe inspiring to see something new rise.
But I’ve personally never seen it happen without consideration for that which already exists, and for that which will shortly follow. That’s a responsibility that I grew up seeing first hand. I have a father that reminisces as he drives and walks down every street in this city about what used to be, and yet still has the spirit to envision that which can be. But again, the stories he shares, are never just about him. There are a myriad of characters in his tales, and as he explains in each of them, the magic only happens, when all of the players “show up.”
To have a look at the video of a speech that was made during the celebration, please see below.