Building Roots primer: a food vision for Toronto neighbourhoods


Innovating Food in new Toronto housing developments

The development of community and commercial food infrastructure in new housing developments in the City of Toronto would bring about several benefits:

 - halt the creation of “food deserts” in new housing development/neighbourhoods and support food availability in existing ones;

address the growing interest of community members to be active in community food projects;

support the animation of diverse Toronto neighbourhoods with stronger community engagement and cohesion;

-  increase the availability of healthy, sustainable, and accessible food options, particularly in lower income communities;

create job opportunities for entrepreneurs, especially low income and newcomers, to grow, cook, and sell food;

 -  support struggling community food programs with greater resources and increase Toronto’s leadership in the local food movement.

The type of infrastructure needed to be built will depend on the interest of the community surrounding a development; the needs coming from new housing based on its scale; existing needs of the community; and the size and type of building(s) and surrounding areas.

Food infrastructure can come in the form of services for future building residents, or those that are accessible in benefit of the broader community. Developers can be involved in building infrastructure as part of the development, encouraging certain types of use such as retail, or partnering with community associations, building managers, residents, or other organizations and social ventures to create good uses of space or fund spaces in nearby facilities.

Types of infrastructure can include:

- Grocery stores, other food retail (green grocers, cultural food stores, street food, grab and go), a community café (see St. James Town Cafe) or food co-ops (like Parkdale’s West End Food Co-op);

- Community gardens or allotments gardens, with infrastructure for mid-scale composting, which could exist on a rooftop, private land, or nearby public space;

- Unit-focused projects, like supporting composting and design for balcony gardening;

- Planting and maintenance of fruit trees and other edible landscapes;

- Community and commercial kitchen space;

- A multi-purpose food or community hub that supports community programming that incorporates several of the above components and infrastructures.

The Daniels Corporation was a significant partner with community agencies and the City of Toronto in building food infrastructure into new housing and surrounding lands in Regent Park. Food projects include rooftop food gardens, a grocery store, and Paintbox Bistro, a social enterprise restaurant, café and caterer. The re-development of the neighbourhood will is now seeing a park with community gardens, a farmer’s market, and a bake oven. The developer has been a partner and funder of local agencies and the Regent Park Food Partnership in this work. Food initiatives will also be incorporated into Alexandra Park and Lawrence Heights revitalizations and smaller TCHC re-developments, with community advocacy working to prioritize their needs.

Community and rooftop gardens are also being built with the support of developers. The Davie Village Community Garden was created by Prima Properties in Vancouver in a space that has the intention of being developed, but will take significant time. Local policy and consultation with the community gave way to the decision to create a community garden on the space.

Individual projects can be supported by neighbourhood advocates, organizations, and city councillors, and in partnership with developers. The development of food infrastructure could also be supported by City of Toronto policy in various ways, such as by ensuring food access as part of planning for growth in the official plan, similar to current planning for employment or transit; community and local sustainable food initiatives as part of neighbourhood plans (secondary plans, social developments plans); Toronto Green Standard checklist; and/or community food infrastructure projects as part of Section 37 community benefits guidelines. Food infrastructure can also be built into neighbourhood planning guidelines and in the provincial policy statement.