Inside Regent Park: Toronto’s test case for public-private gentrification

Inside regent park: toronto's test case for public-private gentrification
Regent Park in winter

Once notorious for bedbugs and crime, the Regent Park social housing development has been transformed with a $1bn revitalisation – and more than a few luxury apartments. But has it managed to avoid social cleansing?

Paintbox Bistro is a typical modern restaurant: high ceilings, framed art and hand-built wooden tables, serving everything from snacks to wraps to flank steak by a chef who did time in trendy Toronto eateries. It’s a description that could apply to many of the restaurants that regularly pop up (and back down) throughout Canada’s foodie capital. Except Paintbox Bistro has a twist: it is located in what used to be the city’s roughest neighbourhood, Regent Park.

A 69-acre housing project known for bedbugs and crime, Regent Park became especially notorious in 2005, when a member of the Point Blank Soulijahs gang – an offshoot of the Regent Park Crew – shot dead a 15-year-old bystander near the Eaton Centre, the biggest mall in the downtown core. The killing shocked Toronto; several years later, in 2012, fighting between the gang’s descendants, the Sic Thugz, led to another weekend shootout.

Visit now, however, and the area is unrecognisable: a $1bn revitalisation project has transformed it into a mix of subsidised housing, condominium apartments, retail shops and community amenities. Paintbox itself, a certified social enterprise, trains and employs local people who face barriers to employment, many of whom live at or below the poverty line.

“It took us five years to refine the model,” says Chris Klugman from Paintbox Bistro. “Now we have about half our staff who fit our mission, working alongside experienced professionals attracted to Paintbox because they share our social conscience.” […]