It’s not everyday that a city councillor gets the opportunity to stand beside the mayor while he announces a project with the potential to change the face of our city forever. Joe Cressy, City Councillor for Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina, is most recently known for his collaborative announcement with Toronto Mayor John Tory for the Rail Deck Park. I wrote about this idea in February and in 2014. It’s fantastic to not only see progress, but to know that the city is actually listening to those of us advocating for better services and improvements in city projects and policies.
High-profile appearances aside, Councillor Cressy has been working diligently to leverage Section 37 funds for several community improvement projects such as art, affordable housing, and community safety. Section 37 of the planning act allows for community benefit programs to be developed in exchange for changes to zoning regulations. If the owner of a property wants to build something that does not comply with regulations (like height for example), they may provide community benefits in cash or amenities in exchange for approval. The specific benefits are negotiated by city planning staff with local councillors in the area where the development is happening. While the agreements are approved by city council, the use of funds are generally controlled by the local councillor whose ward the project is taking place within.
A recent initiative with Block 22, Concord City Place’s upcoming development of two large towers at Spadina and Bremner, proposes the use of public art to cover the full length of the buildings, with funding from Section 37. The funds that Councillor Cressy is seeking would also be used to add lighting to the pedestrian bridge that presently spans the rail tracks, connecting City Place to Front Street. This latter component provides a much needed improvement for safety at night, especially for women walking alone.
The hope, of course, is that art projects like the one at Block 22, remain public-focused from conception to execution, instead of trivial attempts by a developer to appease the city with a half-hearted attempt at integrating “art” into yet another set of massive glass condos. It takes the efforts of councillors like Joe Cressy to ensure the public’s interests are not only kept at the forefront, but that the outcome is one of authenticity when they can so easily fall into the trappings of appeasement.