DECA builds vision for future of Danforth

A picture of what Danforth Avenue might look like in the future is beginning to come into focus, with a neighbourhood group preparing to get ahead of a city study considering future development of that neighbourhood.

The Danforth East Community Association (DECA) visioning committee has been meeting for several years hosting discussions around the future of the neighbourhood and drawing feedback from consultants, residents, and student groups.

Over the last several months, those discussions have been centred on an upcoming city Avenues study on Danforth that will see a vision and clear guidelines laid out for future development of the street.

“It’s a once in half a century thing that you really get to take on a street,” said Stephen Wickens, chair of the DECA visioning committee. “Fifty years ago the Danforth changed significantly – the streetcars went out and the subway cars went in.”

When that happened, the focus of the street changed a lot, becoming more traffic-centric and less pedestrian-friendly, which had a major impact on businesses.

Now, the committee is hoping to shift that focus once again, and, consistent with DECA’s origins as a group that was formed not to oppose something, but to construct something positive, they head into their March meeting having nearly decided on a short, focused list of priorities they would like to see achieved when the avenue study commences sometime in the next year.

“If we get out ahead of the game and have a pretty clear vision in place in advance, we seriously reduce the chance of being forced to play defence,” said Wickens. “There’s a lot of opportunity here, we have to make sure we don’t blow it.”

Wickens, who noted before DECA formed he gathered background on revitalizing the area through study and discussion with famed urbanist Jane Jacobs, said that the group is close to settling on four rough goals for the upcoming discussions.

“We need to be transforming the Danforth back toward its original goal as a destination, much more than a thoroughfare,” he said. “We need to be balancing the transportation mix.”

Key to that is making the area a place that attracts – and retains, through accessible walkways – a number of pedestrians for various reasons at different times during the day.

To that end, a further goal should be to attract large employers to the neighbourhood to make use of some of the large, empty lots and add to the people who spend their weekdays in the area.

“If you have areas that are just residential, their economy and their main streets tend to not be very lively because it’s hard for businesses to survive that way,” said Wickens. “But as soon as you start to bring in employment or institutional uses, people then are coming in large numbers to a neighbourhood in the daytime when other people are leaving.”

Another goal would be to put into place fairly stringent guidelines for development.

“Redevelopment is a big part of what we need, but at the same time bad development or overdevelopment can be a real problem,” he said. “We’re trying to get something in place that is recognized and would have some teeth.”

The neighbourhood is unique in that the corner of Coxwell and Danforth is represented by four different city councillors – and Wickens said the group benefits from a positive relationship with all four, as well as constructive relationships with city staff.

The visioning committee had already been meeting for some time before the city agreed to conduct a study following a motion by Ward 31 councillor Janet Davis on the July 2014 approval for the condo development at 2359 Danforth Ave.

“We’d been lobbying for it for a few years,” said Wickens. “This allows us to bring the community into the discussion more. Overall, I think this is a neighbourhood now where people are actually paying attention to what’s going on. It’s a neighbourhood that’s certainly on the rise … while the progress hasn’t been as quick as some would like, it is possible.”

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