John Sewell appeared on the October 21 episode of The Agenda to discuss the redevelopment of Regent Park.
In his public career, John Sewell has almost never met a real estate developer he liked or trusted. Elected as city councillor (they were called "aldermen" back then) in 1969, Sewell was one of the most vocal opponents of developments of the time, where concrete slab towers were accused of ruining neighbourhoods for the benefit of private landlords. He would later get elected to the office of Mayor on the strength of his activism as alderman.
So when he says he's found a developer who's doing good work in the city, it's worth paying attention. That's what Sewell wrote in a column for Post City Toronto:
"In my public life I have believed that the phrase “good developer” is a logical impossibility. But my mind has been changed."
"I’m convinced that Mitchell Cohen of Daniels Corporation, one of the biggest developers in the city, is successfully changing bad city policy into good city building as the Regent Park public housing project is transformed from a low-income enclave into a mixed-income neighbourhood."
Last October, Sewell was part of a panel on The Agenda which discussed the Regent Park redevelopment. The project involves the city taking one of the its oldest public housing projects and mixing it with market-priced units to finance the plans. Sewell was critical about the Regent Park redevelopment process.
In part, Sewell criticized the decision to work solely with one developer (Daniels) in the Regent Park process, a decision he contrasted with the very successful redevelopment of St. Lawrence Market during his tenure at Toronto City Council. (His comments are at about the six-minute mark in the video above.)
"What we did, this was the city that was in control... we actually said we're going to divide the site up into a whole bunch of development blocks. One developer gets to build in one development block and that's it. This idea that you have one developer on the whole of a development site, we said no, not on your life," Sewell said in October. "I think it means you start to get much more choice about actually what's happening."
As Sewell says in his recent column, he still has some criticisms of the Regent Park redevelopment — namely, the number of units of low-income housing is less than he'd prefer (and a smaller number than Regent Park originally housed, pre-reconstruction.) But Sewell acknowledged that's not Cohen's fault: "If you're going to have affordable housing you've got to have government subsidies." Those subsidies have been hard to come by in recent years.
Sewell told The Agenda Tuesday morning that his change of mind came after recording October's show on Regent Park.
"Mitchell Cohen called me after the show, so I spent an hour and a half with him two weeks later. He told me what he was up to, and I got a much better understanding of the situation," Sewell said.
He said he also has some hopes for the Lawrence Heights revitalization, which is inspired by the Regent Park process. In particular, Sewell is optimistic about the work Context is doing around Lawrence Heights.
"Howard Cohen [of Context] happens to be somebody I hired to be the planner in Trefann Court in 1971. So we go back a few years," he said with a laugh. "I'm hopeful it will be in good hands."
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