Area residents frustrated as Moss Park revitalization plan scrapped

A plan to revitalize the Moss Park neighbourhood with a new recreation centre and state-of-the-art sports facilities has been deemed "not feasible," ending more than four years of community consultations.
Nimo Mohamoud was frustrated to hear that revitalization plans for Moss Park were deemed 'not feasible,' after more than four years of consultations. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

A plan to revitalize the Moss Park neighbourhood with a new recreation centre and state-of-the-art sports facilities has been deemed "not feasible," ending more than four years of community consultations.

"It feels like Moss Park is not that important," resident Nimo Mohamoud said of the decision. 

"We always take the back seat." 

Mohamoud lives in a Toronto Community Housing (TCH) highrise two blocks east of the park and said more recreation space is desperately needed.

Moss Park, at Queen Street East and Sherbourne Street, is just a block east of the storefront made famous by the CBC's hit situation comedy Kim's Convenience. It brings together a complex urban mix, with homeless people often sitting together drinking beer near a hockey arena and an aging community centre. There are programs serving area condo-dwellers and TCH residents alike, as well as those living on the streets.

But Mohamoud, like many area residents, feels the need to go elsewhere with her family to get the services they need.

She and her 12-year-old son often choose to walk 20 minutes to the more modern Regent Park Community Health Centre, though Mohamoud said he was on waiting lists there for six years before finally being accepted into swimming lessons.

The sign says 'John Innes welcomes you,' but resident Nimo Mohamoud says many people in the area don't feel welcome there, uncomfortable walking through Moss Park. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

Plans for a new community were to be funded by three partners — the City of Toronto, LGBT community agency The 519 and an anonymous donor — with all three finally deciding this week that the arrangement would not work, partly because the project collapsed under the weight of its own "complex governance frameworks," as Bruce Hawkins of the city's strategic communications department put it in an email to CBC News.

"The site currently provides essential community programming and park space in an area with significant recreational and parkland deficiencies. Increasing the amount of programming on this site posed a significant challenge without impacting the current programming offered," Hawkins wrote.   

"The site is currently managed by the City's PF&R division and the Moss Park Arena Board. Integrating an additional City Agency (The 519) and developing an integrated governance structure is complex," the email reads.

Neighbourhood 'bursting at the seams'

"Obviously, I am disappointed," said local city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. 

"We still have a neighbourhood that is bursting at the seams," she said in a phone interview.

Wong-Tam estimated the John Innes Community Recreation Centre needs to be at least quadrupled in capacity to adequately serve people in the area.

The store made famous by the CBC television show Kim's Convenience, is just a block east of Moss Park (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

She said a revitalized community centre will still happen, though on a smaller scale than initially planned.

"The city is staying. The city remains at the table. As the local councillor, I remain committed to building this new community centre."

A statement from the City of Toronto confirms the Parks, Forestry and Recreation division will oversee future revitalization.

Wong-Tam said she'll work with city staff to try to ensure funding is available in the upcoming 2020 budget process and expects to be able to provide an update in January.

"So I need to find $50-$60 million," she explained.

Darcy Higgins, with the community group Building Roots, says 'it's sad' that the ideas for revitalization were abandoned after years of consultation. (Lorenda Reddekopp/CBC)

Darcy Higgins, a partner in the community organization Building Roots, runs a low-cost vegetable market in the area, along with community art programs.

He had looked forward to the possibility of more programs moving into the area and saw residents' excitement build as they attended the consultation meetings.

He conceded the initial plan was "ambitious" and costly, but said the neighbourhood needs more.

"We need to do some community building programs ... to make sure the youth have a good headstart." 

As Mohamoud walked along Queen Street East toward the park, she said she and her neighbours rarely walk this stretch, saying activities such as drug dealing in the area make them feel unsafe.

Asked what she'd like to see in her neighbourhood, her answer was straightforward.

"Change. For the better," she said. 

I'd like to see programs for kids. Maybe a homework club."


Lorenda Reddekopp

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Lorenda Reddekopp is a news reporter for CBC Toronto.