An open letter to Toronto City Council, Mayor Miller, Councilor Adam Giambrone.
Firstly, let me say, I am not sure what this letter is. I am not sure if it is an appeal, a challenge, a lament or a series of hopes. I just know that I am called to write to you and so I shall. My name is Melanie Eve Janisse. I am the proud owner of Zoots Café located at 1438 Dundas Street West. I am a proud resident of Ward 18 as well as a new business owner in the DuWest BIA. I am a published poet and journalist, and a lifelong Canadian artist. I have degrees from Concordia University and Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Communications and Visual Arts. I am passionate about cities. I am passionate about this City – Toronto- which has been my home for over a decade. I believe in this city so much, that I have taken my very life’s savings, and moved mountains to purchase a commercial building on Dundas West, and further invested by opening the doors of my café in December of 2008. Now, we all know that the financial atmosphere worldwide at this time in our collective history was one of bleakness and despair. I still chose to invest in this good city. I was not able to obtain financing. I was faced with the painful and difficult process of obtaining my building permits from city hall. I still fought to make my hopes known and this city a better place through the bricks I owned, putting myself further into debt, increasing my personal fears and putting my family in a fragile state at a time of great instability. I still went forward.
You may say that these hopes are silly. You may say that they are couched in a notion of selfishness for my own financial interests, that I purchased a building to reap the personal benefits of this, that I opened a café to make money hand over fist to further my own interests. Some of this is true. I am a Canadian artist. I will never be rewarded financially for my creative contributions to this country. I am a Canadian artist that refuses to be poor, and so, I make choices to protect my future by making investments into real estate and small business. I do this because I am responsible, hard working, intelligent. Because I am willing to take care of myself financially.
I have been in business for one year now. I have gotten to know the merchants and residents of my community. I have listened to their hopes and witnessed their heartbreaks in this difficult time of worldwide financial crisis. This is one of the true gifts of operating a café. You meet such a cross section of a community. You come to love them. I live in a community that dreams for beautiful things. It is a community that works hard. It is a community that wishes for no hand outs. It is a community that is built on the hard work and ingenuity of the merchants, small business owners and independent contractual workers that line each and every street in this borough. From the firmly established Portuguese to the younger creative merchants moving in along Dundas West and the home-based workers that are less overt, we are a community founded on very hard work. We are a community committed to making this city exceptional one person at a time. Some of us are filmmakers, photographers, mothers, educators; some of us are fish mongers, grocers, butchers. The list goes on. We have worked very hard to make our hopes known. We set up a BIA. We established community and residential lists such as the Dufferin Grove Park and the Brockton Residents and Brockton Listserv. We have in good faith set monies aside in escrow in order to create beauty and a visual pride in our neighborhood. We have done all of the right things. And yet our district is in ruins. Our BIA is engaged in a bitter and upsetting fight with our Councilor over parking. Our money sits in a bank account unmet by the city in order to improve our area. There is garbage everywhere, a deep sense of neglect and a growing anger as one thing after another is taken away from us.
When the decision to remove the parking in this district went through, I could not help but feel that Councilor Giambrone did not do his due diligence. I am still waiting to meet the individuals that he spoke to from the constituency who thought this was a good idea. I am still waiting for some indication that an overwhelming majority of District 18 wanted this to happen. If I saw this proof in front of me I would (however disappointed) accept that democracy occurred. After the decision to remove the parking was passed, I watched as a swift crew of city workers were dispatched to Dundas Street and how in days, Councilor Giambrone’s transit vision was executed. It took days. I could not help but wonder why the impetus to improve this neighborhood is still not possible after years. This breaks my heart. It also breaks my heart that massive no standing areas were tacked on to this parking change (that to my knowledge were not even discussed at all, but simply implemented) along with no left hand turn signs that conveniently appeared along with the parking changes. This in fact may seem like a strange thing to be broken hearted over, but when, weeks before Christmas you witness terrified merchants yelling at the droves of parking authority vehicles as they tow away and ticket the few shoppers that still come here. As you watch their tears, hear about their financial despair, watch them give up, perhaps you can begin to see my heartbreak.
We watched in horror as the shuttle bus that was servicing our area (to accommodate for the street upgrades in our neighboring ward) vanished without warning. Many of us mobilized. We went door to door imploring our neighbors to make phone calls to the TTC, the Mayor’s office, to Councilor Giambrone. We asked for explanations. We demanded our right to essential service. We helped to restore the transit, and still to this day I am unsure why the choice was made and with no warning to take away the TTC in the winter, during the holidays and at a time when the residents and merchants of this area need the lifeblood of our transit. (I must point out that transit was only removed between Dovercourt and Landsdowne).
You asked us to be patient as you took away our parking, our fears brushed aside. The very transit that it was meant to expedite was taken away shortly after this. You asked us to be patient. I am no longer sure that we are able to remain patient. I am not in a position to remain patient.
I suppose I write this letter to portray some of the realities that occur at the ground level of this city, in my small area. Maybe it is easy to write us off as a few disgruntled merchants. I don’t know. Maybe it is worth it for a faster streetcar. I am not sure. Again, if I saw a reasonable plan to increase the speed of the TTC, which meant that every merchant from Keele to Bathurst also had to sacrifice parking and pedestrians, I can tell you I would not like it, but I would accept that it was necessary. But what I see is this. Not a single other councilor has agreed to sacrifice his constituents for this hope. Why? Because it is not the right choice. Because in the current manifestation of a ‘solution’ a small strip of merchants are loosing their life’s work at a time when their hard work should be rewarded, at a time when they need this city the most to protect their financial futures. You could never convince me that this is the right way to go about real infrastructure changes. You could never convince me that these parking changes between Dovercourt and Landsdowne have improved anything, for the speed of the TTC, or for the small businesses in the area.
As I mentioned earlier, I am an individual that is hardworking, decent, peaceful. I am willing to invest in this city. I am willing to make reasonable sacrifices in order to improve the overall good. I am willing to contribute my hard work to invest in the culture of my city, my country and expect very little gain in return. I ask for no handouts. I make my own way. I do what is right. I am no longer sure however, that if you work hard, invest in Toronto, do the right things, that this city is willing to support that. I do believe that I speak for many when I say that I have lost faith in the integrity of this fair city.
Barak Obama delivered his State of the Nation address last night. He went to bat for the middle class, for the small business owners. He acknowledged the pain and despair that has taken hold of the most vulnerable in these economic times. I implore you to do the same. I implore you, my city council, my mayor, my dear city to rescind the parking decision in Ward 18 on Dundas and College. I implore you to dig deep into your pockets and match the monies in escrow to improve this areas BIA. I implore you to begin to support your merchants and small businesses in a time of great need. I am asking for you to refocus. I leave you with one question. How will it matter in the coming years that our TTC goes faster by 19 seconds, when, like my hometown Windsor, Ontario, there are block after block of empty windows? How will we all grow then?