Pseudo Park – Tania Senewiratne


Regent Park, located in midtown Toronto, is Canada’s oldest social housing project. Designed in 1948 as a Garden City, the builders’ aim was to create a rural, green environment within the busy metropolis of Toronto. Buildings were built to face away from the city and green walkways replaced streets. The area was inaccessible to traffic and exclusively residential. Unfortunately, this design isolated the residents and facilitated a rise in crime, poverty and unemployment in the neighborhood. Due to this isolation and the lack of community and youth support organizations, tensions began to rise and Regent Park became known for drugs and violent crimes. Over the years, numerous attempts were made to redevelop the area. Finally, in 2013, Toronto City Council endorsed plans to replace the 2000 RGI (rent-geared-to-income) units with affordable housing units and condominiums. The new plans included commercial facilities and community centres.


At present, the $1billion, 15-year development plan is well on its way. Condominiums and townhouses surround a park and a community aquatic centre. The Daniels Spectrum building houses two small theatres and a number of community focused organizations. The original residents, mostly visible minorities, were relocated to other affordable housing developments on Adelaide, Richmond Jane and Finch, Steeles and Morningside. Unfortunately, many of the relocated residents have not been able to return to their neighborhood, due to construction delays and bureaucratic red tape.

In 2014, I moved west of Regent Park and found myself passing the neighborhood as I walked to and from work on a daily basis. For almost two years, I watched the affordable housing buildings vanish, to be replaced by condominiums. The old neighborhood simply disappeared.

A park was built adjacent to the new buildings and community centre. It includes an aquatic centre, a large patch of lawn, a small playground, benches and local artwork. I have always strongly disliked this park. It seems out of place and artificial – something that was forced into being and created for optics rather than function. Usually, parks teem with life, both human and non human. Chirping birds and shady spots under trees are standard. Regent Park’s park however always seems strangely quiet and incongruous. The neatly planted trees are small and perfectly spaced within concrete sidewalk blocks; the artwork, although beautiful, seems out of place; there’s no shade unless you decide to visit the aquatic centre for a swim in the indoor pool. Of course, after I learned more about the redevelopment, it all made perfect sense. The park is in fact a marketing and PR tool! It’s a part of the neighborhood sales pitch and it is designed to look sleek and sophisticated, like the new condominiums.


I chose this park in Regent Park for my shoebox and shoe because I originally discovered it, unintentionally, through the actions of the flâneur. Specifically, Benjamin’s flâneur who is described in Shauna Janssen’s dissertation as someone who “takes stock and collects images belonging to the detritus of historical change. He is a figure who also draws attention to marginal urban spaces and that, which is in passage and transition” (5). When I returned to the site armed with the information about the flâneur and urban geographies, it became clear that the park was a warped representation of what the redevelopment is attempting to achieve. It is meant to represent a better future by eliminating all reminders of its sordid and troubled past. The new Regent Park is sophisticated, glossy and clinical. It is this feeling of deceptive, detached, isolated expectation and an almost desperate grasp at perfection that I endeavored to create in my shoebox and shoe. Influenced by the themes and visuals in connection with ghosts, isolation and cosmetic beauty in relation to architecture and landscaping, I tried to create a Pseudo Park that looked beautiful, yet seemed completely disconnected, unwelcoming and cold.

I was inspired by Benjamin’s thoughts on the isolation of the flâneur and I attempted to manifest his words within the shoe and box. The park seemed to embody Benjamin’s flâneur who, “only seems to break through this ‘unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest’ by filling the hollow space created in him by such isolation, with the borrowed – and fictitious – isolations of strangers.” (58). A strange and eerie awareness of the lost buildings and community exists in the neighborhood. All physical evidence of the old Regent Park is literally rubble. Walls have been painted over and fences have been taken down. What exists is an acute feeling that something important has been misplaced among the beautiful new buildings and strangely perfect park. Its purpose as a park seems secondary and rather than invite people to play, rest and enjoy, it gives off a feeling of remoteness and detachment.

In theory, my interpretation of the park and its connections with the flâneur made sense. Attempting to transfer those understandings to a shoe and a box proved to be incredibly challenging. My initial efforts were less than successful. I eventually realized that I was attempting to design my shoe and shoebox as though they were research papers. I was using the same steps – research, map out each paragraph, write, edit and repeat. Ultimately, this method failed me. Both the shoe and the box had too many objects that, to me, represented certain aspects of Regent Park. It was too literal and therefore confusing and unappealing. After much trial and error, I finally recognized that the key was to make the audience feel what I was trying to create. It wasn’t a research paper that needed clear explanations or cited work. It was an attempt to make the public experience what I felt while walking through Regent Park.

After that moment of clarity, the pieces came together quite nicely. I used cold yet beautiful materials like metal and plastic in clinical and glossy colours. I used silver coins and mirrored flowers to decorate my shoe. For my shoebox, I created an ethereal cityscape and park that was beautiful to look at but lacked warmth and life. I recorded harsh sounds of construction and traffic and mixed it with the sounds of laughter and Somewhere Over The Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. Ultimately, I tried to create an initial sense of pleasure, which gradually erodes as the song warps into harsher sounds and the appealing picture in the shoebox distorts into something that is unfriendly and uninviting.

The old Regent Park was by no means an ideal place to live. It certainly required redevelopment. However, it was also a home for new immigrants, generations of families and a part of Toronto’s landscape. There seems to be no evidence of any meaningful attempts made to preserve and protect any part of the old neighborhood. Although the few new affordable housing units and condominiums seem to breath life to the neighborhood, to me, the park continues to look artificial. It is a Pseudo Park. – Tania Serewiratne



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