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From the Village: Connie Langille on the promise of The Village

May 13, 2024

“There is so much promise and potential in this neighbourhood. If we get cranky and say, ‘It’s all gone to hell in a handbasket,’ then we are admitting to ourselves that we have no inclination for allowing for promise and hope.”

Connie Langille moved into what the community affectionately calls ‘The Mansions’ on Gloucester Street in 1985. It’s no surprise that a resident with such history in the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood would end up as the President of the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association (CWNA).

Contrary to popular belief, the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association is not just a Facebook group. It is a neighbourhood organization for whom Connie is Chair of the Placemaking Committee, and for whom she is careful to clarify she does not speak on behalf of.

The CWNA works to connect the interests of residents, developers, officials, and businesses, so the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood can grow while maintaining its character and culture. It came about in 2011 when residents were galvanized by a development they disapproved of.

“A developer came in and bought the property we lived on, proposing what we called ‘the Death Star,’ a 48-story black condo,” Connie recalls. “We raised hell and the developer ended up pulling the application. He was wanting more than he was entitled to.”

But the organization is not against development. “If you don’t develop, things start to stagnate, and people in stagnant areas tend to become entitled, as if their place is the only place, and it’s very, very special” she says. “They become entitled in an unwelcoming way.”

“The world, Canada, the province, all of Toronto has changed. We’re seeing mental health and addiction crises and an increase in street-involved people all over the country, but some people tend to focus on enforcement as a solution,” she says. “The call for penalties clouds the root causes and long-lasting solutions.”

It takes a village to foster compassion in The Village. When unproductive conversations happen in the community, Connie tries to push dialogue in more constructive directions by talking to people one-on-one. “Sometimes you go for coffee, and you can see the defiance dwindle and they start to hear some of what you say,” she says. “It doesn’t happen as often as I would like, but I do consider it a win when it does.”

So, what does good development look like?

“Good developments are in keeping with what’s around them. They preserve the heritage and have outdoor art. They use similar materials. They make ground floor space available to small retail and community space, not just big box stores or banks,” she says. “It’s good to house people, but you can’t just neuter the public space. You have to consider the needs of the area.”

As for taking on the housing crisis, the CWNA is part of a group of neighbourhood associations called FOSTRA – the Federation of South Toronto Residents’ Associations. “Through FOSTRA we actively participate in the development of white papers to the government where we make the case for supportive housing, rent-geared-to-income housing, affordable housing, and these types of things,” Connie says.

“One of my driving hopes and dreams is that everybody realizes we are all working for the same plot of land, for the same people, and we want everybody to be well, happy, healthy, housed, and prosperous,” she says. “I don’t know how to make everybody play nice in the sandbox, but if the sandbox is open and they see us all working together, that must have some power.”