Christie Pits, Bloor Street, Toronto, Ontario
As the sun sets every Sunday during the height of the summer in Toronto, people gather on a hill in Christie Pits. With blankets, drinks and snacks in hand, people kick back to enjoy a movie with hundreds of their neighbours.
This is the Christie Pits Film Festival, a community initiative that has been organizing free outdoor screenings of great films and shorts since 2011. The event is a great draw and introduces a neighbourhood to its park. It also opens a new chapter in the history of this 106 year old park and hints at its future.
The park has long been a central place for the community. Almost since its inception, it has been a favorite place for tobogganing and recreation of all sorts.
Christie Pits has served as a stage for events associated with social changes in Toronto. In 1933, social tensions boiled over and the park was host to riots between the Swastika Club, an Anglo-Canadian gang, and Jewish and ethnic minorities who were provoked by racist imagery spread around the neighbourhood.
City-wide changes have also impacted the park. Christie Pits served time as the neighbourhood dump when contemporary tensions over city governance played out after Toronto's amalgamation. In 2009, during the garbage strike, what started in error with a Church group leaving garbage in the park would eventually turn into a city-sanctioned transfer and drop-off site.
In recent years, with the variety of changes restructuring Toronto's downtown neighbourhoods and with waves of new urban residents and continuing gentrification, communities are having to plan to ensure their ongoing vitality. And as Jane Jacobs writes in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, neighbourhood parks can be oh so delicate and must experience a diversity of uses at many hours of the day to ensure their vitality.
Groups like the Friends of Christie Pits Park, created in 2007, and the Christie Pits Film Festival are ensuring that the community is aware of its own backyard. Citywide groups like Parks People are serving a similar function, connecting local parks groups in a citywide network. Amplifying the voices of neighbourhoods.
Programming like the film festival promotes the vitality of downtown neighbourhoods and these uses are essential given the pressures currently exerted on many neighbourhoods across North America. Parks are extensions of communities and are a stage set for the story of a community to play out. The life of a park is a great indicator of the social life of a community.