Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Public Housing...More Than Bricks and Mortar

In June the Public Health Agency of Canada released it's Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2008. One item that caught my eye was a piece on Regent Park in Toronto.

Regent Park is one of Canada's oldest, largest and more notorious public housing projects. The chapter spoke of the interrelation between things like education, housing in disadvantaged areas as public health issue, not just simply one of bricks and mortar. One program created for Regent Park is Pathways to Education and it has had some favourable results as can be seen below (from the above cited PHAC report, page 50).

Regent Park.jpg

'Pathways' is now being rolled out to a number of other communities in Ontario and Quebec. The United Way of Greater Toronto had a big hand in the project and, considering the United Way of Winnipeg's recent Urban Exchange initiative, maybe we'll see something like it here.

The realization hit home decades ago that the public housing "estate" of acres of tract and row housing or, worse yet, the dreaded public housing high rise have been a failure, simply a 'warehousing of the poor'. So much so, in fact, that cities from Chicago to Dublin spent the 90's imploding most of the towers.

In recent years I have been reading a number of good news stories about housing developments as cities try to re-engineer what public housing is supposed to be. From Regent Park in Toronto to Ballymun in Dublin (where 9 high rise towers in total have been removed), to Colshaw Farm in Manchester, England (redeveloped for mixed use) and ten projects in Chicago. The April 8 2008 edition of The Economist had a feature story entitled Public Housing: For Richer, For Poorer detailing how US cities in general, and Chicago in particular, is changing the way they create public housing projects. (For some Chicago vs Regent Park comparisons check this CBC Toronto story).

Locally, little has been done to think BIG about public housing, though attempts at improvements are underway. In December 2007 the province released the BUILDINGFoundations Action Plan, a two year, $84m plan to improve public housing in the province. One of the first projects to see new money is Gilbert Park.

When you look, however, at the list of main goals for the plan:

  • Improved safety including a dedicated investigative team to act on confidential tenant complaints and increased building security
  • Home renovations including new roofs, windows, doors and energy efficiencies
  • Annual inspections of all units and common areas to prevent mould
  • Landscaping and children’s playgrounds
  • A rapid graffiti removal program
  • Community enrichment programs such as adult literacy, a Rewarding Work youth mentorship and new resource centres for tenants;
and compare it to what the jurisdictions mentioned above are doing it's really putting a new coat of paint on a sinking ship.

Without a large federal government re-commitment to public housing, which is something most of the international examples above share, and a realization that "housing" is more than just bricks and mortar, significant changes for public housing in provinces like Manitoba will be slow going.

More on public housing in future posts.....

Also see a very good essay on public housing in Winnipeg from Oct 2007 on The Rise and Sprawl

- Update December 2008:
The province is doubling its commitment to a total of $48 million to rejuvenate Manitoba Housing stock.


Dwight Friesen said...


I'm looking for archival shots of Regent Park, and I was wondering where you found that one.


Dwight Friesen

Christian Cassidy said...

That was a wile back ... I'm pretty sure I just took it from one of the sources cited in my post or else I would have cited the phtoo location seperately. Try the PHAC report