On Community Benefits: Development 101

On June 20th, 2017, the Parkdale Community Economic Development (PCED) held a panel discussion entitled On Community Benefits: Development 101. Moderated by Emily Paradis (University of Toronto), panelists Benjamin Hoff (Urban Strategies), Clara Stewart-Robertson (Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre) and Claire-Helen Heese-Boutin (Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust) provided an overview of development and planning processes in Parkdale, with an emphasis on when, where and how community members can claim ownership over neighbourhood change.

Three broad areas of development were discussed: Private Development, Public Infrastructure, and the Commons. Private Development is characterized by developers who are driven by maximizing profit margins and carry financial risk. Public infrastructure, by contrast, focuses on improving public assets and directing urban development. However, it should not be assumed the public sector necessarily responds to the needs of “the public.” Local government, in particular, tends to privilege the concerns of business and real estate industry over the concerns of community. Community-initiated development is an alternative approach to development that focuses on collective assets and protecting “the commons.” This approach considers human necessities, such as housing, to be shared, universal human rights. Moreover, “the commons” are beyond state ownership and private property, representing places of engagement and shared wealth, communal care, and community. The Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust is a prime example of treating housing as a human right, seeking to secure affordable housing and community space in perpetuity for the people of Parkdale.

With development pressures and gentrification arriving in Parkdale, the panelists discussed the need for community members to unite and assert their voice in the urban development process. PCED is facilitating the creation of a Community Benefits Framework to support the people of Parkdale in having a say over the way that the neighbourhood changes. A Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) is one tool that can help move the framework forward. CBAs are contractual agreements that are negotiated with a developer and a community coalition to ensure that the needs of local residents are addressed through publicly funded development in the neighbourhood. The Community Benefits Framework will not only help the community understand the complex language developers use in the development process, but it will also place the onus on developers to understand a community’s demands and priorities, and ensure that those needs are acknowledged and fulfilled.

Filmed by Philip Lortie.

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