A lot has changed in Toronto since the 1950’s. One thing that hasn’t is that we had a housing crisis then just as we do now. The often-misunderstood neighbourhood of Jane and Finch came about during as a part of a solution.
Jane and Finch
What is now known as the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), joined the Province of Ontario to fund the construction of subsidized housing complexes across the Toronto region. The area that grew up around Jane Finch was eyed for it being on the edge of town, with cheaper land values. The kind of homes built around the neighbourhood were considered cutting edge, forward thinking and even utopian.
The planners involved drew much of their inspiration from the Athens Charter of 1933. If you want the get a sense of what the charter was about, check out the Jane and Finch neighbourhood of Edgely Village. It’s east of Jane Street, south of Steeles Avenue and designed by Canada’s leading architect Irving Grossman. The neighbourhood was planned to be a mix of housing types. Like much of Jane and Finch, Edgley was planned with a mix of high rises, and townhouse both public and private. What really gives this kind planning its character is its relationship to greenspace. Most buildings are surrounded by greenfields, giving the buildings something of a monolithic vibe. For those devoted to the Athens Charter, it was as huge success.
Jane and Finch is different from the rest of the city
All this made Jane and Finch different from the rest of Toronto. By 1975, roughly a quarter of the housing stock around Jane and Finch was publicly owned while just 10% of the housing in Toronto stock was publicly owned. The neighbourhoods also looked different. Toronto remains a dense walkable place where Jane and Finch is spread out and can feel a little isolated. Toronto has plenty of high rises but much of the city is actually low rise. By contrast, officials were calling for 50% of all dwelling units in Jane and Finch to be in high rise units. Jane and Finch came in tall, dense, and suburban.
The people who came to live in Jane and Finch were different too. In the 60s the Pearson government made some changes to the country’s immigration system, establishing a merit-based points system. Canada had began its journey towards multiculturalism and made it easier for immigrants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America to settle here. Many of them were looking for affordable housing and affordable and Jane and Finch welcomed them. Already physically distinct from the rest or Toronto, Jane and Finch became racially distinct.
A problem for the city or BY the city?
For a city of white homeowners, Black Jane and Finch seemed like a world turned upside down. By the 80’s, governments began to move away from social housing, leading to a backlog of repairs and many high rise towers fell into disrepair. As time went on, racialized Jane and Finch became highly stigmatized, often seen as a problem for the city solve rather than a place that’s given so many vulnerable people a home.