Urban Regeneration in Toronto: Rebuilding the Social in Regent Park

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Greaves, Astrid
Regent Park , Toronto , urban regeneration , public housing
This thesis presents a critical exploration of the ‘revitalization’ of Toronto’s Regent Park. Regent Park is Canada’s oldest and largest government subsidized housing development. Originally designed in 1947, Toronto City Council approved the revitalization of the neighbourhood in 2003. Within this thesis, Regent Park serves as a means to examine some of the ways in which urban planning and design, public policy, architecture and landscape architecture interact with people’s daily practices in their socioeconomic and cultural contexts, to ‘rebuild the social’. In order to do this, the thesis begins by presenting an account of the original development, providing a sociohistorical context for understanding the more recent revitalization. Secondly, the thesis provides a review of relevant theoretical literature pertaining to the idea that design shapes society, discussing key aspects of modernist and postmodernist accounts of the city, arguing for the salience of a broadly ‘relational’ model inspired by the work of Julier (2008) and others. Thirdly, the thesis conducts an empirical analysis of the recent revitalization process, using a mixed methodology of documentary analysis and in-depth interviews with a key developer and the residents of Regent’s park. This analysis explores the ideological commitments at play within the planning process, as well as the practice of planning itself, investigating how theories of design and planning relate to the actual process of planning, including the political and financial obligations. The analysis then compares the intentions of the design with the inhabitant’s lived experience within the space, focusing on the inhabitants’ active role in negotiating the space in ways that were ‘unplanned’. This thesis provides a sociological exploration of Regent Park as a complex site of interaction between the design of the space (influenced by theories of design, as well as economic, political and social motivations), the materials that make up that space, and the actual use of the space by residents, the outcomes of which challenge deterministic accounts of urban development.
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