Toronto to revitalize Lawrence Heights area

First to be revamped was Regent Park in downtown Toronto. On Thursday Mayor David Miller announced a plan to re-do the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood in the city's northwest.

Toronto is set to launch another massive revitalization of one of its troubled neighbourhoods.

First to be revamped was Regent Park in downtown Toronto. On Thursday, Mayor David Miller announced a plan to re-do the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood in the city's northwest.

"Lawrence Heights is a neighbourhood where the people love their neighbourhood, but it's a neighbourhood where the buildings have been in decline - a little bit like Regent Park," Miller said.

"Physically it's isolated from the neighbourhood around it. We're going to be able to reconnect that neighbourhood with the fabric of Toronto and allow people a better chance in life."

The plan is to remake a huge section of the city spanning east to Bathurst Street and west to Dufferin Street.  The project will run north and south from Lawrence Avenue West to Highway 401.

Central to the change will be the revamping of the neighbourhood's 1,200 Toronto Community Housing units. The plan is to tear them all down and replace them with mixed-income housing, parks, schools and new shopping centres.

The transformation of the 1,200 community housing units is expected to cost roughly $350 million — with much of the funding to come from the sale of about 4,000 new market value condominiums.

The redevelopment will include not only the Lawrence Heights neighbourhood, but also the Lawrence Square shopping mall, the redesign of major roadways and possibly remodelled subway stations at Lawrence West and Yorkdale.

The plan also includes proposals to make changes to Allen Road, which cuts through the area.

"The Allen Road slashes through the heart of this community," said Coun. Howard Moscoe.  "It’s an artery clogger, and it requires a triple bypass."

Regent Park 'set the bar'

The Lawrence Heights residents will be relocated within the community during the reconstruction, and then offered the chance to move back when the different phases are completed.

Miller said he doesn't believe the changes will force out existing residents.

"It's one of the reasons that we've engaged the people in Lawrence Heights right from the beginning of this process," said Miller. 

"It shouldn't be people from somewhere else coming in and saying, 'this is what you need.' It should be the people from the community saying, 'This is what we want.'"

Toronto Community Housing CEO Keiko Nakamura, joined Miller in making the announcement. She said the Regent Park redevelopment has "set the bar" for what social housing can be.

"This project is going to take us about 20 years," said Nakamura. "So, we'll probably do four or five phases - and construction could start as early as late 2011 and we're hoping we can get through the approvals and make it happen soon."

The 15-year, $1 billion Regent Park redevelopment project got started in 2005 when the city decided to replace aging buildings with new apartments and condominiums.