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One of Canada's finest neighbourhoods

Roncesvalles Village named as finalist in nationwide contest
By Omar Mosleh

May 1, 2012

Neighbourhoods: Roncesvalles Village

Originally published in our Bloor West print edition(s).

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Roncesvalles Village residents know that their neighbourhood is one of the best in Canada and they’re not the only ones.

Roncesvalles Village was one of eight neighbourhoods that made the finals in the Canadian Institute of Planners’ Great Places in Canada contest and was the only one from Toronto.

The contest garnered more than 200,000 votes for locations nationwide. From a field of 90 nominations, a panel of professional planners short-listed 21 finalists. The ultimate winners were selected from a panel that included members of the Canadian Institute of Planners, urban designers and architects.

Although the top spot went to Osborne Village in Winnipeg, the Canadian Institute of Planners president Andrea Gabor said they were attracted to the west-end neighbourhood because of how tight the community is.  

“I think Roncesvalles is very interesting because it has a very closely knit community who are very committed to the neighbourhood,” she said. “And that goes quite a ways back to the time when some of the first Polish members established St. Casimir’s church in the early 1950s.”

To Gabor, the neighbourhood lives up to its name by feeling like a village while still retaining the convenience of the city.

In a recent trip to Los Angeles, she noticed how most people drove in and out of the suburbs, rather than living in neighbourhoods integrated into the core.

“In (Los Angeles) there were very few neighbourhoods,” she said. “In Roncesvalles, people can bike in or get on a streetcar, so they still feel like part of the city and connected to the downtown ... I think it embodies a lot of what people want when they’re living in the city.”

In their search for Canada’s best neighbourhood, the institute was looking for areas that were full of life and found a balance between residential and commercial.  

“When we’re choosing, we’re sort of looking for places that are very animated and that have a mix of uses,” Gabor said.  

Ward 14 councillor Gord Perks says the diversity of Roncesvalles is what makes it special.

“You can find everything on Roncesvalles,” he said. “You can find some of the best restaurants in the city, a community-owned theatre, you’re steps away from High Park, and you can also find places that provide support to low-income folks as well.

“It’s literally the most mixed and diverse main street anywhere in Toronto,” he added.

Perks also recognized how important resident engagement is to the area’s sense of community, including Roncesvalles Renewed, a reconstruction effort that saw new bike lanes, streetcar tracks and sidewalks, tied together by about 37 community meetings.

“We had meetings about what colour the bricks should be, to which species of trees should be planted,” Perks said. “The level of community ownership of the street has increased dramatically.”

The construction, which lasted about two years, did hurt some of the older businesses and forced them to close down, said Roncesvalles Village Business Improvement Area coordinator Keith Denning.

“The construction was of course very difficult for our businesses,” he said. “I think that it propelled some changes, people that were near retirement retired and we’ve had a number of new businesses open up.”

But similarly in what stood out for Gabor, Denning said it’s the residents in and around Roncesvalles who make the neighbourhood a great place to live in, if not the country’s greatest.

As an example, he points to the recent community initiative to rebuild the Jamie Bell Adventure Playground in High Park.

“It also has to do with this sense of community that we have here, that we’ve always had here,” he said. “I mean, this is the same community that rallied to save its local movie theatre when it closed.”

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