Canadians have the right to vote, the right to practise a religion of their choice, the right to life, liberty and physical and psychological safety.
But what about the right to light?
In the growing urban jungle, sunlight is growing increasingly sparse as more and more condominiums clog the downtown sky. Parks, playgrounds and general green spaces across the city are increasingly struggling for glimpses of the sun as buildings pop up to block it.
This is the issue facing students at the Church Street Public School.
Established in 1957 and located right in the heart of downtown at Church and Carlton streets, Church Street School has been fighting for its fair share of sunlight for years as developers with dollar signs in their eyes snap up real estate all around it.
A few years ago, a 45-storey condo was proposed for an area just south of the school, which for all intents and purposes would have blocked sunlight from the school’s playground for a good portion of the school day. City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, the Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Association and a number of community members successfully fought the developer, saving the sunlight for another day.
But it’s happening again.
Another developer has eyed the property – currently a parking lot across from the old Maple Leaf Gardens – with a proposal for a condo development even taller. Once again, Wong-Tam and the CWNA are forced to roll up their sleeves to fight for the childrens’ right to light.
And where is the Toronto District School Board in all this? It’s common practice for a developer’s building proposal to include financial restitution for residents and businesses in the area that would be impacted by the erection of their structure. In the case of Church Street Public School, the payment to the TDSB is rumoured to be $1.5 million for a new playground design featuring artificial turf.
It’s not the first time a development has thrown shade on schoolkids – it’s just the most recent. Back in 2014, parents at Lord Landsdowne Public School fought a developer on College and Spadina that proposed a 22-storey building in exchange for a $1 million playground. And in 2006, the TDSB sold Jesse Ketchum Public School’s sunlight for $2 million to the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences in Yorkville.
Supporters of development will say that’s what happens when you live in a city – if you want sunshine and space, move to the suburbs. But that opinion is in direct opposition to the city’s goal of making Toronto’s downtown core a family-friendly environment with ample green spaces and smart environmental sustainability projects.
In England, there is a right to light law, of sorts. Basically, under the Ancient Lights law, the owner of a building with windows that have received natural daylight for 20 years or more is entitled to forbid any construction that would deprive him or her of that illumination. As recently as 2010 a court upheld an injunction against a commercial property under the Ancient Lights law.
That’s a good place to start the conversation. If a building threatens an established green space or playground that has been bathed in sunlight for 20 years or more, consultations should take place. And if it’s a school, the TDSB should be speaking on behalf of the parents, not its own financial interests.
It shouldn’t be up to schoolkids to see the light.