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Alternatives Journal, Environment, Toronto Politics

Yes, In My Back Yard!

Not Far From The Tree's table at YIMBY 2011. Photo courtesy the Centre for City Ecology.

Not Far From The Tree’s table at YIMBY 2011. Photo courtesy the Centre for City Ecology.

The flow of information and ideas between community residents and policy makers is often a one-way street. When someone tries to flip that idea on its head, it seems almost utopian – until you realize that the flipside is how things ought to be.

Enter the Yes In My Back Yard! Festival, now entering its eighth year. Started back in 2006 by Christina Zeidler, it began as a response to what she and others saw as a lack of public reaction to the widespread development in Toronto’s Queen Street West area.

The inaugural festival was held in the heart of trendy Queen West at the Gladstone Hotel as an attempt to relabel groups that had been identified as Not-In-My-Back-Yard organizations because of concerns over development. As the YIMBY Festival would tell it, these groups were actually in favour of community engagement and development, they just wanted local concerns taken into account.

“The idea was to create a positive, non-aggressive environment where politicians and community groups could come together and talk about the great work they were all doing while empowering those groups to feel active in driving policy,” said Gillian Mason, executive director of the Centre for City Ecology, the charitable organization that now spearheads the festival. “But there were few venues where community groups can come together with politicians in a positive setting, so this is how the idea was born.”

Mason echoed Zeidler’s stance that many groups slapped with the NIMBY label are actually in favour of many community projects – they simply oppose the tendency of community development to favour the wealthy and those with high-stakes interests, such as developers and politicians.

“These groups don’t often find a voice or are[n’t] given a voice until there is something for them to react to,” explains Mason. “So the idea is to have an ongoing conversation between community groups, developers, policy-makers and politicians about how to build a great city.”

The festival has outgrown the Gladstone as word has spread among groups throughout the sprawling city of Toronto. Participants at this year’s festival include representatives from Big Brothers and Sisters Toronto, the Birchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Centre, Karma Food Co-op, Jane’s Walk, the Made In Toronto Film Festival, the Neighbourhood Arts Program and Spacing magazine.

Read the full article at Alternatives Journal.

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Geography MA Environmentalist Citizen

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