Spare a thought, dear reader, for the poor inhabitants of Cabbagetown. At first glance, they might seem to have it pretty good. They live in a historic corner of Toronto where the streets are lined with charming red-brick Victorian houses. They have a lovely park with a little farm in it. They have an annual festival where neighbours gather and children laugh.
And yet, they are far from content. Every now and then, they rouse themselves into a positive fury at some threat to their treasured way of life. The last time they took up the torch and the pitchfork, it was over the design of a splash pad for kids. The colour of an awning was a “flagrant violation” of the neighbourhood’s heritage character. Now, it’s over a daycare. Yes, you read that right: a daycare.
Opponents packed a City Hall committee room on Wednesday to complain about all the bad things that were sure to happen if a Toronto couple were allowed to go through with their proposal to convert a big, vacant old house into a daycare.
Some said it would cause traffic mayhem on narrow local streets as parents dropped off their tots. “The impacts could be disastrous,” said one well-prepared woman, who showed pictures of a mock drop off and the living hell that would ensue.
Another said the proposed landscaping for the playground would not adhere to the city’s wet weather flow management plan. Yet another said the outside stroller area would threaten the heritage value of the street. Good grief. Nimbyism never reached such heights, even in its Toronto heartland.
The city desperately needs more daycare. Working parents often struggle to find an affordable space for their kids near home. Putting a daycare in a family-oriented neighbourhood such as Cabbagetown would make perfect sense. It would mean that local parents who drive their kids to a daycare some distance away could instead walk them there, drop them off and walk or take public transit to work. That could improve, not worsen, traffic.
Many Cabbagetowners saw the advantages. They put together a counter-lobby that pushed for approval of the daycare. They took a picture outside the building with their kids and passed it around. They sent dozens of messages to city hall supporting the idea and denouncing those who were trying to block it.
“Oh, give it a rest,” one proponent wrote in an online thread. “It’ll be great. I can’t wait for this to open! This is so needed in Cabbagetown where I live too. Oh, but the traffic, the noise, the children! Absolutely ridiculous. It will be FINE. It’s a freaking daycare, not a dragstrip they’re putting in. Only the most NIMBY’s of NIMBY’s could possibly oppose this.”
But they did. Did they ever. One resident who wrote to city hall about the issue said he and his wife work at home and worry about noise from the kids playing in the daycare sandbox. “The idea of tolerating this kind of noise,” he said, “is frankly ludicrous.”
A guy who lives near the site told the committee that opening up a “commercial operation” such as a daycare would be “a slippery slope for this iconic neighbourhood.” Trades people already refuse to come to his place because of the inadequate parking, he said. The daycare would just make things worse. “This is insane,” he said. “It’s an outrage.” Only in Toronto, in 2018, could proposing to create a nursery for little children be considered outrageous.
The fulminating was especially bizarre coming from this part of town. Cabbagetown is the native habitat of good, decent, socially aware people. Most of them want better public transit and walkable streets and a caring government that helps working parents. They like daycare, too. In principle. Just not in their backyard. In a particularly ripe online comment, one local said it would be much better to put the daycare in Regent Park, the sprawling neighbourhood to the south that is dominated by public housing.
In the end, the city’s committee of adjustment voted down the idea. Members said that they, too, worried about the traffic and the lack of parking, even though the applicants argued that most parents would indeed walk their kids to the place or push them in strollers. The room hummed with the satisfaction of the winners. They had triumphed … over a daycare.
Yes, only in Toronto.