Pondering the future of planning and policy-making in a place that flourished with little planning & policy oversight.
There are as many personal stories and views of Kensington market as there are people who live, work or visit the area. We were able to glimpse a small portion of these stories during a pop-up engagement event we held on the first Kensington Pedestrian Sunday of the season on May 27th.
It was a beautiful sunny day with the streets closed off for Pedestrian Sunday, and everyone from toddlers to tourists were eager to participate in the activities we had set out.
Run by four university student and recent graduate volunteers -- Daniel Bailey, Tom Piekarski, Mary Shin, and Micheal Zusev – (with Lisa Cavicchia from the Canadian Urban Institute helping out), we quickly set up our booth and invited pedestrians to share what they love about the market. Participants were encouraged to add stickers, drawings and text to Marlena Zuber’s wonderful Kensington map and sidewalk chalk the ground, and talk with us to share how they feel about this important space in Toronto. For those who wanted to learn more, we offered written materials which described the local planning process and how to become involved.
To me Kensington market is a social space, somewhere I visit with friends or family to eat or shop or just walk. When I think of Kensington market I think of the people I’ve spent time there with: it is those relationships that I’m reminded of rather than a specific store or location. Kensington Market simply provides the perfect backdrop to that.
The event was held as part of the City Building Leadership Program (CBLP) - in which university students raise awareness and provide information to the public on the planning process. The goal of this pop-up was to engage the public in thinking about the urban environment and planning process, and to create an opportunity for passerbys to share their lived experiences in the neighborhood.
Tourists from outside Canada we spoke to identified Kensington market as one of many local attractions in the city that they were eager to visit, and they often asked for recommendations for places to eat, or other things to see in Toronto. From these conversations, it does seem that this idea of Kensington market as a national historic site or commercial district instead of a living neighborhood continues to prevail.
Residents of Toronto who live outside of the market we spoke to expressed very positive feelings towards Kensington market. Some saw it as an example of vibrancy that we should widely adopt. Others expressed wishes that every day should be car-free. Others expressed the uniqueness of the Market - something that shouldn’t or cannot be replicated elsewhere in the city.
Local residents we spoke with had very different views. Some expressed fear that the fabric of the neighborhood was under threat by development, gentrification and the interference of government officials. Some residents would not say anything positive, others said they opposed the entire planning process and planning profession. Others viewed the changes as a continuation of the dynamic nature of the area. Almost all residents knew about the planning process, how to get involved, and many had previously engaged with it even if they didn’t feel welcome in the process.
Balancing all these views in a fair way is crucial as the city develops the Kensington Market Heritage Conservation District (HCD) together with the community in an effort to “conserve the cultural heritage value and heritage attributes of the neighborhood” . Last July, council passed a bylaw stopping the demolition of any buildings in the area for a year to give the study time to complete.
The history of Kensington market, however, is one of change largely free from government oversight: as different waves of immigrants have made it their home there has been constant incremental change without the government mandating anything.
As part of the Kensington Market HCD process, a Community Advisory Group (GAP) was formed to help the city understand community needs, and the general comment was the plan should not stifle incremental change and reinvention, while also dealing with concerns about land and rent cost increases, short-term rentals, and large numbers of entertainment venues and restaurants changing the character of the area to be more destination rather than also a neighborhood 
This event was part of the CUI’s City Building Leadership Program (CBLP). This program is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. It is helping to give planning and policy students the soft skills and real-world experience needed for success after graduation.