Navigating Neighborhood Change: Can You Influence City Development?

Navigating Neighborhood Change: Can You Influence City Development?

Can you fight city hall? That’s the age-old question and the answer is yes. And no.

In a city that’s constantly under construction, you should expect your neighbourhood to change over time.

However, there’s a difference between change, like the narrowing of streets for bike lanes, and something that alters the character of a neighbourhood such as a large condo in the middle of suburban neighbourhood.

Nobody wants to be accused of NIMBYism, but we all want somewhere pleasant to live.
What do you do when faced with a big construction project you don’t support? You mobilize.

One of the most famous examples is the cancellation of the Spadina Expressway. The idea for the expressway began in 1960 with the plan calling for the highway to run through several ravines before connecting with Spadina Avenue. This would have resulted in cutting the city in half.

A coalition called “Stop Spadina, Save Our City” was formed in 1969 and according to, “the main method employed during the Spadina Expressway protests was targeting politicians directly through walk-ins and protests, face-to-face meetings, and pressuring them to take action by galvanizing support from prominent city planners.”

It worked. Imagine if something similar had happened before the Gardiner Expressway had been built! We’d have open access to the lake!

The Island Airport expansion is another example. Roughly a decade ago, Porter Airlines announced that it wanted to extend the island airport runway by 168 metres on each side, which would allow Porter to buy larger jets and fly to further destinations. Porter faced opposition from residents living near the waterfront as well as local politicians. Concerns were raised about increased noise pollution, the impact on the environment, and safety issues.

Community groups actively campaigned against the expansion, leading to restrictions on the lengthening of the runway and limiting the number of flights. It helped that prominent politicians, including Olivia Chow, Adam Vaughan and Mike Layton were vocal about their opposition to the plan. The plan was killed when the Liberals took office in 2015.

However, sometimes a project is so important to the city that it goes through regardless of protests, such as the Ontario Line, which is disrupting some residents in Leslieville and Riverside.

Other examples include the rehabilitation of the Gardiner Expressway. There were groups of people who wanted to see the eastern part of the Gardiner torn down, but it’s simply going to be repaired and now it’s been handed off to the provincial government to maintain.

If there’s a planned project in your neighbourhood that you want to prevent, one of the first things to do is attend any informational meetings as soon as possible. The earlier in the process something is, the easier it is to make changes. Your city councillor’s office should be able to answer questions about specific projects or at least point you in the right direction.

Check online to see if there are any local groups already mobilizing. Facebook is generally the best place to do this. There are also residents’ associations across the city. The more people that get behind a cause, the more likely it is to generate attention.

Go to and start a petition – there are over 150 petitions involving Toronto. Are you one of the 88 people who want the city to rename one of the stations on the Ontario line? Or one of 20,000 people who want to save the Marian Shrine of Gratitude on Weston Road?

The more people behind a cause, the higher the chance you have of changing the situation.

You might be wondering what prompted this blog. There’s a new building going up behind my house which is going to result in a lot of construction noise and dirt in the short-term and in the long term will result in a lack of sunlight in the backyards of myself and neighbours, not to mention constant noise from all the trucks making deliveries.

When speaking at City Hall, it was apparent to me that any opposition to any part of the project, whether related to the urgently needed housing or not, meant you were against the project, which of course was not true. They were not willing to address the impact of the massing of the servicing bays and areas and the impact the structure will have on the existing residential fabric. In councillor Moise’s words, considering the housing shortage we are experiencing, to delay the project at all “would be cruel”.

The project is part of the Yonge Street Mission and includes rental housing, which is sorely needed, but the sheer scope of the building in relation to the surrounding neighbourhood is simply too much.

The housing part includes over 190 units ranging from studios to 3-bedroom suites, which again, are very much needed, but this will bring hundreds of people into an area that is mostly populated by single family homes.

Earlier this fall I attended a hearing at City Hall earlier to argue against the rezoning application and was disheartened to see very few city councilors, if any, were actually paying attention to those of us that were speaking.

I was the only one who showed up in relation to this project, which did not help the case.

Have you ever tried to fight city hall? I’m curious to find out what happened