by Gregory Saville
Some high crime neighborhoods seem to remain that way forever, like a horror film that won’t end. Grandparents in those places share flashbacks with their grandchildren about ‘the old days’ of gangs and guns, while their grandkids still face those same neighborhood profanities decades later!
There is a theory in criminology called ‘deviant places’ that goes something like this: High crime neighborhoods persist for decades regardless who, or what generation, lives there.
Yet the San Romanoway apartments in north Toronto, a place we revisited a few months ago, is living proof the deviant places theory needs rewriting. It should be called the ‘reclaimed places’ theory because, if you know the incredible success at the San Romanoway neighborhood, you’d know that those chanting ‘it will never change’ are wrong.
SAN ROMANOWAY - HISTORY OF CHANGE
Read the history of SafeGrowth and you will learn that in 1999, not long after we created 2nd Generation CPTED, Gerard Cleveland and myself were asked to work with an urban design and crime prevention team to review conditions at a high crime apartment complex in the infamous Toronto Jane/Finch corridor. This was the San Romanoway apartments, a story that I published a decade ago, and now consider an embryonic version of SafeGrowth.
Since those early years, plenty has happened at San Romanoway where 4,000 residents live in 3 huge apartment towers. Most significantly, the crime and violence that plagued that troubled community has subsided considerably. It hasn’t vanished – last year they had a homicide. But, as SRRA program manager Cathy McCulloch told us, that was a rare event. In fact, on whole, crime is down and livability is up. It's a far better place than what we found 15 years ago during interviews and surveys. San Romanoway is no longer a horror movie; it’s a coming-of-age film about turning night into day!
Credit goes to the residents and the local organizers who have done all the hard work to transform the neighborhood, especially the non-profit, San Romanoway Revitalization Association (SRRA) – a group that still chases funding dollars but, somehow, keeps many of the programs running. Sadly, it hasn’t kept them all running and it hasn’t been easy! They have faced financial cuts, labor disputes, and defunded programs. As one of Canada's most successful crime prevention and community-building projects ever accomplished, they still don't get nearly the funding they deserve!
In spite of it all, somehow, the SRRA persists and residents, along with leaders from the property owners, community leaders, and police, keep disproving the ‘deviant-places-never-change’ theory. As the photos from our site visit illustrate, places can change.
Toronto basketball fans just celebrated the 2019 national championship Toronto Raptors with a “We The North” chant. I’m reserving my chant for the supporters, leaders, and members of the SSRA. You are truly "We The North"! You rock!