A woman and a man stand in front of their kitchen sink holding their young child.

Turns out, hydro lines can help connect Toronto communities

The city plans to turn a hydro corridor into a linear park, and we love the idea

Power lines aren’t what usually comes to mind when you think of community-building infrastructure. But along a five-kilometre stretch north of Dupont Street in Toronto, a vibrant network of individuals, families, industries and artist hubs has emerged next to a hydro corridor. Now, the city is planning to go one step further by creating the Green Line, a proposed linear park and trail system that will snake northwest towards Earlscourt Park from Spadina to Dufferin. The new park will do even more to connect this diverse series of neighbourhoods—though residents don’t want to see their community change too much.

“Everyone [I photographed] has a sense of concern that the neighbourhood is changing,” says photographer Avital Zemer, who recently produced a photo exhibit on the area. “They felt it was important to see the changes through but also to be careful about maintaining the character of the neighbourhood and not just push people out.”

The exhibit was organized by Jake Tobin Garrett of Park People, a national organization that helps communities make better use of their green space through grants and pilot projects. It features 19 Green Line residents whose stories reveal what makes this slice of the city unique—and how increased green space along the corridor would benefit the neighbourhood.

“This project shines a spotlight on some of the amazing people and businesses and organizations that are along the Green Line,” Tobin Garrett explains. “It allows them to tell their own story about what they love about their neighbourhood, what concerns about the neighbourhood and how the Green Line would be beneficial to them, or how they’d like to use it in the future.”

We spoke with Tobin Garrett and Zemer to find out how the exhibition came together and what they learned about this community along the way.

Graham is wearing grey gym gear and is stands in a gym holding a weight ball with a quote painted on the wall behind him

“I grew up here. I know every block, every laneway, every house. It makes the area very special for me. I opened my gym four years ago in 2014. I love this neighbourhood and want to keep everything close—the gym and my house and all my contacts are already here. My mom and my sisters still live in the neighbourhood.” – Graham

Local Love: What is the Green Line?
Jake Tobin Garrett: The Green Line is a vision to create a five-kilometre linear park and trail through an urban hydro corridor just north of Dupont Street. We have been working with the community and city for the last three or so years to really push this idea forward and to connect the existing parks that are already in the hydro corridor by creating new green spaces and a connected trail.

LL: What makes the Green Line so unique?
Tobin Garrett: There’s a mix of different kinds of housing along the Green Line neighbourhoods. There is still a lot of affordable housing in the area—a lot of co-op housing, some Toronto Community Housing. In the east, you have a lot of older industrial areas that are converting into cafés and bars and art galleries, specifically around Geary Avenue. The Green Line also has a lot of cultural institutions that run along it. You have Tarragon Theatre which fronts onto the Green Line at Bridgman. You have George Brown College and the Toronto Archives right on the Green Line. It’s a pretty unique spot in the city.

John stands in his motor garage in front of a white truck and red work station.

“I moved to Toronto in 1976. My wife’s father worked in a skate factory. The factory he worked at recruited people from Portugal to come to Canada. My life is a lot better here. I have to work a little bit harder, start at 9 o’clock and end in the evening, but back home you would start at 10 or later and then close at 1pm to go for lunch and get coffee. They take the time, the lifestyle there is much different, less stressed. Unlike Toronto where everything is rush, rush, rush. If the people of Canada worked the same way, it might not be the same country as it is today.” – John

LL: Were there any subjects that stood out?
Avital Zemer: I really liked shooting in the auto garage. It was a very busy environment—all his tools were there and a truck was popping out in the photo. I approached John, the auto mechanic, a few times to do the interview. He didn’t seem like the type who would be willing to share a lot, but once we actually sat down with him, he was very talkative. He was just so happy to share his experiences about his business and his life. It was kind of refreshing and surprising.

LL: Was there anything that surprised you as you were speaking to community members?
Tobin Garrett: I think something that surprised me was the long roots that people had in these neighbourhoods. The fact that so many people grew up there, moved away and came back to raise their own families or set up family businesses that have been there for sometimes decades. There’s something about the neighbourhoods along the hydro corridor and the future Green Line that makes people want to stay their entire lives.

Phil stands in a parka and hat on the sidewalk in front of a painted mural of a giant eagle with a person running.

Indigenous people say the land is communicating with us at all times and the only reason we can’t hear it is because we’ve stopped listening. That’s what I like to think about my artwork—it’s being influenced by my knowledge and my connection to the land. The influence is to bring out stories forward, because our stories have been marginalized by colonialism.” Phil

LL: What do you think makes this strip of land conducive to bringing a community together?
Tobin Garrett: I think it goes back to the diversity and affordability. I think the affordability of the corridor means that lots of different kinds of people are able to live together there. And there’s also diversity in terms of the types of buildings—you have this light industrial area that allows breweries to pop up next to car mechanic shops next to Portuguese bakeries, which makes it one of the most interesting spots in the outer downtown area to hang out in.

LL: What is your connection to the Green Line?
Zemer: My wife has a studio on the Green Line at the dead end of Geary Lane. That’s how I got to know about the project—through her. She’s actually featured in the exhibition. I met her about seven years ago and back then, Geary was a bit more desolate. There was just a Portuguese café and maybe one other restaurant. Now there’s a brewery, a new Mediterranean restaurant, Parallel, which is really good, and Greater Good, [a bar] that sells pizza. So, there are lots of changes. More young people and young businesses are moving in. We definitely felt the vibrancy of the area change in the last three years.

Two people dressed in winter outerwear stand in front of a stone bench and a painted mural of a city square.

“Samba squad is made up of non-professionals, people who have an interest in drumming, but have never really drummed. It’s a community group based on the Brazilian samba tradition. Geary Lane came about because you always need rehearsal space. I was looking for a place to rent, but Gili was looking for a place to buy. It seems to have been built for us. The walls are soundproof.” Rick

LL: How do you retain this essence of community as the neighbourhoods evolve and go through these changes?
Tobin Garrett: One of the things that we talk about at Park People is the ability for parks and public spaces to bring people together. I think investment in creating new green spaces and creating this connected linear park to tie all these neighbourhoods together and have more space for people in these neighbourhoods to go out and enjoy is a key part of that.

People of the Green Line is exhibiting at the City of Toronto Archives until July 31, 2018 and at the Tarragon Theatre from August 6 to September 30, 2018.

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