Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to you today.
My name is Tim Jones, and I'm the CEO of Artscape in Toronto.
I'm going to sort of make five recommendations to you today with respect to community cultural hubs, and I want to first start by thanking the government and the Department of Canadian Heritage for the recent changes to the Canada cultural spaces fund changes to the criteria that recognize community hubs. It's a very good and important step.
Today, I'd like to talk to you about the things the Government of Canada can do to strengthen the enabling environment for those of us who are developing community hubs in Canada. It starts with building capacity for those who are hub developers, doing a little bit of research on impact, making changes to the CRA regulations on how charities can invest in properties, and increasing the investment that the government makes in community hubs as well as exploring the re-use of government facilities for these purposes.
I'm going to give you a little bit of background on Artscape. We're a 32-year-old, not-for-profit urban development organization, and our mission is to make space for creativity and to transform communities. In Toronto, we've developed a portfolio of real estate projects that, on the one hand, provide affordable space to the creative community, but have also been a major catalyst for the revitalization of the communities and neighbourhoods that they're a part of.
We've been a pioneer in Canada in the development of this new form of facility called a community cultural hub. Sometimes it involves repurposing former schools, public buildings, or transit facilities, and sometimes building new places, as we've done in Regent Park.
Currently, we have four new projects under construction. Two of them kind of fall into the category of community hubs. One is something called Artscape Daniels Launchpad, part of the larger City of the Arts development opening later this year. It's a centre for art and design entrepreneurship, which we're very excited about, and one that we think will have a big impact on artists and designers across southern Ontario.
We're also in the business of trying to proliferate the development of community cultural hubs outside of the core, in Toronto. This is the first iteration of that exercise in the village of Weston. We hope to build a network of these facilities in the coming years.
In total, we have 11 different projects in operation and four under construction, about 2,800 creative people who are working and, in some cases, also living in our facilities, and about 140 different organizations and 42 public venues in our portfolio—just to give you a sense of the scale and reach of the work that we're doing.
One of the things that's really important to understand about community hubs is the impact they have on the community. We design them and build them from the ground up in the community through a community design process, and that's key to the kind of positive social, cultural, economic, and environmental impacts that they can have in all of those areas. The importance of understanding that work and taking advantage of that in the development of these places is really important.
About a dozen years ago, we coined the phrase “creative placemaking” to describe our work. We define that as leveraging the power of art and culture to be a catalyst for change, growth, and transformation of place. There's a real growing field of international practice in this area, and probably nothing could better illustrate it than the role that we've played in the revitalization of Regent Park and the creation of Daniels Spectrum.
Regent Park, as you may know, is Canada's oldest and largest public housing development. It was built in the 1940s by the federal government. Over a number of decades, many things proved to be wrong with the design and development of Regent Park. The warehousing of poor people in one area, the lack of services and amenities, and the design of the space itself made it a place where all the vestiges of poverty were very present. It's well known by reputation, across the country.
About 12 years ago, a bold decision was made to tear it all down and start over. We're now well along in that process, a process that involves temporarily relocating people and then reintroducing them into a new community. As part of the plan, which is, I think, very important, the social development plan was given equal importance to the master plan for the community, and that has had a huge impact on the way that this community has grown and evolved.
A lot of social infrastructure has been developed as part of this revitalization strategy, and our particular role was to look at the importance of culture and, when a community is going through this kind of transformation, how culture helps bring people together. How does it actually build social cohesion and how can it provide a platform for cultural exchange and expression? There are 46 different countries of origin represented in Regent Park, speaking 67 different languages, so there is a big opportunity to leverage culture for change and write a new narrative around this in what had become a very stigmatized community.
Through a community steering committee, we grew this idea of creating a place that was rooted in Regent Park but open to the world. It's been open now going on six years, and I'm happy to say that it's had a very profound impact on the community and neighbourhood around it. The young people like Mustafa the Poet, who you saw a minute ago, have helped to rewrite an important, more positive narrative around the community and not just sugar-coat the kinds of challenges with revitalization, of which there are many.
But I would say that largely this community is succeeding in its revitalization, and the community cultural hub has provided a platform for people to come together to help, as the Toronto Community Housing Corporation was looking to do, to build social cohesion. It gives local artists a platform for exchange and expression. For people who are community activists, it's a place to come and hang out, which I think is really important, but it's also been a key part of building a multi-billion dollar market for residential development in a place where people thought, 10 years ago, that you couldn't sell a single condominium.
That, I think, speaks to the power, on multiple levels, that community cultural hubs can have. I'm really happy this committee is looking at this issue, because I think it has this kind of catalytic impact, and these projects have the potential to do that right across the country.
I want to come back to the five things that I'm encouraging you as a committee to consider. The first is to think about how we can build capacity with hub developers across the country. There is lots of innovation happening in this field around the practice of creative placemaking, around the practice of community design, around governance and community stewardship, and around public-private partnerships. When we're building these projects, we have to think and work differently. It's important that we actually help hub developers build their talent in this area.
I mentioned the kind of multi-dimensional impact, the quadruple bottom line that some of these projects can have. There is a real need for better research that actually illustrates the cultural, the economic, the social, and the environmental impacts and outcomes of these projects.
One of our biggest challenges right now is to figure out how to fund these projects, not just through government but also through charitable donations. One of the things I forgot to mention about our model is that our projects are all self-sustaining once the front-end capital is invested. We look to government, to the private sector, to lenders, and to donors to help make that happen. We can't do it unless we can raise money, and the charitable portion of these projects is really essential.
Currently CRA regulations really restrict a charity's ability to invest in facilities, particularly these facilities that cobble together non-profits and charities and other uses in the same place, so we need a renewal of the regulation with respect to investment by charities in capital projects.
Those first three ideas are fairly easy to do. They don't cost a lot of money. The others, I think, are equally important but do require more investment, and I'm heartened by the new investment through the government's Canada cultural spaces program. That's really important, but projects like Daniels Spectrum would never have happened through Canada cultural spaces alone. We were very fortunate to get $24 million through the infrastructure stimulus funding program when that happened. Projects of this scale, which are going to have a profound impact on the community, need that larger type of investment.
Opening up the building Canada fund, or whatever the new iteration of that is called, is really important to non-profits so that we can actually advance projects like this.
Finally, there is a lot of interesting innovation happening around the disposal of surplus government property. I've seen in Toronto that government can sell an asset and get the market value for it but also, in the process, procure a community cultural hub like this. I think this is an area that really needs to be looked into at the federal level, how we can use old post office buildings and old government buildings to deliver social benefit and financial return at the same time.
Thank you very much.