It was just a ground-breaking in the suburbs, but in some small way it stood for everything city hall appears to be turning against.
At the Malvern library on a soggy Tuesday morning, local teens joined their councillor, Raymond Cho, to launch construction of a $2.25-million youth arts centre.
With $1.1-million in city cash, the project will expand the Toronto Public Library branch by 3,700-square feet to make room for a dance space, recording studio and computer training area.
The upbeat event seemed downright radical against a civic backdrop of potential cuts to arts grants, library closures and layoffs.
Despite its seven-figure investment, the city appeared to distance itself from the event. The mayor didn’t show and city staff turned down a request to distribute a press release touting the event, according to event organizers.
“I’m very disappointed in that,” said Mr. Cho. “I’m very concerned the city is only talking about cut, cut, cut right now. This is city building, and an excellent opportunity to bring up morale in this city, and it is being ignored. People were wondering where the mayor was and where the media was.”
The event was organized by the library and SPOT (Success, Power, Opportunities, Teamwork), the group set up to run the facility. Organizers said they invited the mayor and asked the city to notify Toronto media, but were turned down.
A city spokeswoman said the strategic communications department had not been contacted, and that it didn’t usually issue advisories for outside organizations.
“We’re apparently not loud and proud of things like this anymore,” said Councillor Shelley Carroll, who said no one notified her of the event until the morning it took place. “It’s a shame for Malvern because what’s going on there is a universal success.”
The mayor’s office didn’t to return a request for comment.
Once infamous for gangs and violence, Malvern has seen its reputation steadily advance since 2007, when it was designated a priority neighbourhood following Toronto’s Summer of the Gun. A recent renovation of the Malvern library branch, along with new housing developments, have helped to burnish the area’s image.
The $1.1-million city commitment comes largely through the Partnership Opportunities Legacy Fund, an initiative championed by former mayor David Miller to combine public and private funds for neighbourhood improvements. The library granted the space in-kind and will pay the $30,000 annual operating costs.
The Youth Challenge Fund, which pools provincial money with funds from the United Way, is chipping in $1.79-million.
According to YCF’s mandate, young people comprise the majority of the board overseeing the structure, which is expected to have up to 1,200 youths using it within the first year.
The new Youth Hub is expected to be up and running by summer of next year.
“It’s a milestone we really wanted to celebrate,” said project co-ordinator Femi James, who grew up in the area. “It’s really grounded in the arts and will address a great community need.”