A few decide where we live
By Ulli Diemer
After one of the longest citizen-vs-developers battles in memory, Meridian’s South St. Jamestown project has received final approval.
The Ontario Cabinet, the final court of appeal, has given the go-ahead, and now construction can start at any time.
Before that, the developer’s plans had been OK’d by City Council and the Ontario Municipal Board, so all levels of decision-making bodies have had their say. But the fact remains that the decision is a real disaster for the neighbourhood and for the future residents of the Winchester Square project. So you have to come to the conclusion that there is something very wrong with the way decisions are made about things like housing developments.
Why is it that a massive highrise complex like Winchester Square can be build in an area that is already overcrowded? Why are we putting more highrises hard up against St. Jamestown, the biggest highrise development in the city? Why are we going to repeat the St. Jamestown experience, when anyone living there can tell you several dozen things wrong with it? Isn’t it clear by now that highrises breed crime, loneliness, alienation, and cockroaches? Is there any doubt that no parent would want to raise a child in a highrise if he or she had a choice? So why are we planning to cram even more kids into South St. Jamestown than there are in Regent Park? Why do we keep doing things that are going to turn out so badly?
The answer, of course, is that we aren’t doing it. They are.
The fact is that local residents fought for years and years to keep Meridian from destroying the South St. Jamestown neighbourhood. Even after most of the residents had been harassed, evicted, and sometimes beaten up and arrested, the remainder kept fighting. The battle continues for a full decade, with the neighbourhood almost unanimously united. And yet they lost.
Because in our society money talks. What ordinary people want doesn’t matter a damn to those with economic or political power.
If we are going to prevent more South St. Jamestowns and more St. Jamestowns (and I imagine the people living in St. Jamestown would be very much interested in doing that) then we have to work to change the whole system.
We have to abolish a system whereby a tiny handful with a lot of money can decide how thousands of other people are going to live, how thin their walls are going to be, how much sunshine they’ll be able to get, where their children will play, how much crime and vandalism they’ll be subjected to. Because all those things are determined by how housing and the city generally is planned. And as of now, that is determined mainly by the developers that own the land, and by the politicians who always see things the way the developers do.
But that isn’t the way things should be. How we live is everybody’s business, so everyone should have a say in it. A real say, a direct say, not the right to elect one slimy politician rather another than every few years.
Nobody should be able to dictate to other people how they should live and that means that no one should be able to buy and sell holdings of land to make a profit. Housing is a need not a commodity.
Until people take control of decisions about how they live away from developers and start making them themselves, talk about democracy is pretty much of a joke.
Published in Seven News, Volume 9, Number 9, September 9, 1978.