Metro Morning

Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust purchases first piece of community land

A community group working to buy property in one of Toronto’s gentrification battleground areas has scored its first victory.

Trust hopes to push back against area’s rapid-fire gentrification by buying property

This garden space is the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust's first purchase. (Submitted by Tish Carnat)

The Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT), a community group working to buy property in one of Toronto's gentrification battleground areas, has scored its first victory: the purchase of a piece of land behind the Parkdale Library on Queen Street West near Dufferin Avenue.

The approximately 5000-square-foot plot, paid for through fundraising and support from various foundations, will serve as a community garden.

The PNLT's mission statement is to "guide how land is used to benefit the community and keep Parkdale affordable and diverse."

"I think it's symbolic. It means a great deal," said land trust board member Tish Carnat in an appearance on CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

ESL students grow vegetables in the garden space, which has been running for 11 years. (Submitted by Tish Carnat)

Garden was almost turned into parking lot

Carnat, who also works as an ESL teacher, has been using the space as a garden for her students for the last 11 years with the permission of its former owners.

She got the idea to turn the previously abandoned strip of land into a garden while teaching English to Tibetan refugees, many of whom were once farmers.

"They're nervous in the class. And when we go to the garden, everyone finds something to do," she said. "It's mental health, peace… they just love being in there."

The owners had hoped to build a house on the land, but were never able to obtain the necessary permits.

When the land trust approached them to buy the space outright, Carnat said they were "sympathetic," having already turned down an offer to create a parking lot. It was ultimately sold at an under-market rate.

"The owners gave up their dream because they let us have our dream of sharing this with the entire community," she said.

'It was just this abandoned piece of property, and I kept seeing it and thinking garden, garden, garden,' said Carnat of the land behind the library. (CBC)

Affordable housing now top priority

The PNLT is already thinking about what they want to buy next.

"Now that we have urban agriculture, we need land for housing, we need affordable housing. And that's what we're looking at," said Carnat.

She said they are particularly concerned with the rapidly evaporating stock of rooming houses, fallback housing for some of the neighbourhood's most vulnerable residents.

To turn the tide, "the land trust is looking at purchasing rooming houses and finding community partners to manage them," said Carnat.

She clarified that the PNLT's stance is not that all gentrification and changes in Parkdale are necessarily a bad thing.

"Change is inevitable," she explained. "But what we need is to protect our most vulnerable population."

With files from Metro Morning

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