It really seems the strangest place to put a garden: tucked back behind City Hall. Nestled neatly at the corner of Foster Place and Elizabeth Street just south of Dundas Street West, the Downtown Diversity Garden is an oasis among the grey concrete of our urban centre. Wood-chip paths lead straight to bright red benches beneath a small group of tall trees. Black squirrels and sparrows play among rows of neatly arranged greenery. Giant pots filled with flowers and shrubbery stand guard along the edges. It is, as far as public gardens go, a well-kept space. Maintenance for this garden is clearly a labour of love.
You can see the dedication written on the face of community outreach worker, Juan Sanchez. He’s out there nearly every day clipping back thistles and pulling out weeds. His friendly smile is infectious, and you immediately get the sense that, smack dab in the middle of our concrete jungle, this garden is a very special place.
Prior to 2007, the space was part parking lot, part balding grass. Until a few staff members from Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation reclaimed the space and created an urban garden. This wasn’t merely the beautification of an urban space alone. It was also a pilot project to bring together a diverse group of all ages together (via a church group, Culture Link, the Hispanic Association of Seniors, among others) to get their hands dirty, and create a safe and healthy environment within the core of the downtown.
Sanchez and his supervisor, Rosa Jones-Imhotep, oversee the garden and develop outreach strategies to help foster use of the space as a vehicle to promote diversity. They offer gardening classes and provide employment and volunteer opportunities. Literally collecting the fruits of labour alongside people from different cultures and of different ages is exactly what Jones-Imhotep hopes the space offers.
And even if you don’t want to get your hands dirty, the Downtown Diversity Garden is perfect to just sit and briefly put aside your daily troubles. The politicians and their staff, working only a block away, would be wise to do just this.