There goes the neighbourhood…

‘Lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for.’ Fullan and Hargreaves

I live in an older, quaint, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse neighbourhood. A short trip from the downtown core, at one time my home would have been considered on the edge of the city. We call this area the “Old East Village”, and I can tell you, it is adorable.

When planning our move to London 15 years ago we were warned by nearly everyone we met, “Don’t live east of Adelaide. It’s a bad area.” Ignoring their warnings, we found our first apartment in a 100-year-old home owned by a sweet young family. The rent was cheap, the apartment cute and we could see the potential that was beginning to blossom in the community. Younger professionals and families were buying the homes for a song, and pride of ownership was evident. When it came our time to buy our first home, we knew where we wanted to be, and stayed right where we were: in the Village.

Some of the warnings were correct. There were issues in the Village that the residents could recognize and worked at fixing. The Dundas street corridor from Adelaide to the Quebec Street was a breeding ground for Johns, prostitutes, drug dealers and drunks. The area east of Adelaide had fallen into disrepair, and little effort was being expended by the city to revitalize it. In the last decade, the citizens and business owners have taken it upon themselves to literally “be the change” in the area, but despite our efforts the “East of Adelaide” stigma lingers, along with a few straggling problems. While others may have given up on Old East, we aren’t ready to quit just yet.

At the heart of my neighbourhood rests a school. The school my children and approximately 248 other students attend from junior kindergarten to grade 8, as well as English as a Second Language adults on the top floor. A true community school, Lorne Ave is the pulse of our neighbourhood, and has drawn young professionals in to the revitalization efforts. Built in the 1960′s, it is a large school with the capacity to hold 880 students (why, we aren’t sure), and as a result it is under capacity and has been targeted for closure under an “ARC” (Accommodations Review Committee) process. This isn’t the first time Lorne Ave has been placed on review, having received a ‘stay’ a few years ago. However, this one is the most serious, and for the first time I fear defeat. At the end of this ARC (Accommodation Review Committee) process, a school will be closed, and all indicators point to ours.

So did nearly all fingers of the people who attended and spoke at the first review meeting, and I can’t lie – it hurt. I realized that night that the stigma of Old East lingered on, despite our efforts.

“This is not about targeting a particular community or neighbourhood”, said the Chair of the meeting. And perhaps he meant it. But I don’t believe the parents and residents in attendance from the other areas believed it, or felt the same way. I went in hopeful for support from our neighbouring community, and was sorely disappointed as one by one, they paraded to the microphone and declared their support for the closure of Lorne Ave.

The first speaker of the night was a Lorne Ave parent who told of the value our school brings to the students, and the story of her son who wouldn’t be where he was now, she felt, if not for the support from the staff at the school. It was a story we hear time and again in our school, and one I could personally relate to. Following her were three other speakers, all from our neighbouring community, who’s school is also included in the ARC.

The first, whom I sincerely hoped might stand in our corner, took the microphone and stated that she was a fervent supporter of schools in the core of a city, and the communities they serve. Despite this, she fully supported the closure of Lorne Ave school. It was all downhill from there. One by one, the speakers who took the mic pointed at Lorne Ave and recommended it’s closure. My spirit was crushed until one of the final two speakers of the night from the Trillium Foundation extolled the virtues of our school, the value it brings to our community, students and city as a whole. I found a renewed hope, but my hope was sadly still overshadowed by disappointment.

At the break, a gentleman from one of the other ARC schools approached me. “Do you have children who go to this school?”, he asked. I told him yes, two children, and watched as his face scanned me once and looked surprised. He asked, “Looking around the room, how many parents would you say are from Lorne Ave?”. I responded that likely half the room were Lorne Ave parents, another good portion I recognized as being from the neighbouring school, and a handful I did not recognize. Again, he looked shocked, so I asked him why.

“That’s not what I expected after walking up Dundas Street just now.”, he said. I cocked my head and looked at him, trying to understand his implication. “So, you expected us to look like drug addicts or bums perhaps?” He chuckled and said, “Yes! Oh, no offence.” It was a little too late for “no offence” at that point. I was offended, by the entire evening, and I was ready for it to end.

“This is not about targeting a particular neighbourhood.” That’s what we were told, but sadly I don’t see that as the complete truth. If attitudes from those around us suggest anything, this is all about a particular neighbourhood – mine – and I’m not cool with that. Yes, our neighbourhood has had (and continues to have) it’s issues, but perseverance and determination has seen it come a long way and we are proud of our accomplishments, we are proud of our community members, and we are proud of our school.

The heart of the issue lies on the Dundas corridor, and the inability of the city to invest in the area, talk to the residents and get creative with a plan to turn it around. Being that it is so close to the core, I can’t understand why it has been  virtually ignored for so long. With the correct vision, it could become an incredible extension of the downtown and bring a new vitality to the city. With attention, Old East Village will continue to grow and be the best possible version of it’s diverse, quaint self. But that vision and help has to come from our city fast, before it is too late. The Village needs support from the city both to clean up the area, and to save our school.

The thought of losing our school is eating at me. The dream to reverse the stigma of our area is consuming me. The drive to fight for our neighbourhood is pushing me. I don’t want to begin to imagine what will happen to the Old East Village if our school closes. But when the heart of a community stops beating, well, there goes the neighbourhood.