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The Power of a Piazza

Many moons ago I had the opportunity to visit Italy and revelled in the community atmosphere of people gathering, greeting each other, and enjoying a cup of coffee in many piazzas I was able to visit. I remarked to myself how different it seemed from my condo life at the time, living anonymously in a concrete structure. It was not until I had a baby and started organizing my own meet-ups that I started to experience community in Willowdale. It should not take a dog or child for us to be able to gather and connect.

This past summer we had the opportunity to host the first ever Community Movie Night at Avondale Park sponsored by CUPE Local 416. We kicked things off with some zumba dancing led by a sponsored class from Star Dance Studio located across Yonge Street from the Avondale community. How wonderful it was to see the smiling faces of participants who spanned from children to seniors.

As I looked across the park I saw so many smiling faces greeting each other. I heard some say, “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

Modern life is busy and it is so easy for us to jump from commitment to commitment without the opportunity to bask in the warmth of community. Yet, feeling a sense of connectedness and belonging is an indicator for mental health and overall sense of wellbeing. We need each other.

That is why, as a city councillor, I’m not just focused on the hard infrastructure that makes our city run, but also the social infrastructure which is equally vital. Which leads me back to the piazza. I am grateful we have Avondale Park, Lee Lifeson Park and Mel Lastman Square that are gathering spaces that create the opportunity for us to have the piazza experience in Willowdale. I have been in regular conversation with city staff and developers of the Yonge North Secondary Plan to try and negotiate for piazza-like spaces for our future neighbours, some of whom will likely live in 50 storey towers! Unfortunately, it is getting harder to negotiate for large green spaces in our dense community. At the same time, we cannot only think about the capital cost of building these gathering spaces. There must also be the resources and capacity to animate the space and bring people together.

This is where community members play an important role in helping us create our own piazzas. When we were zumba dancing on movie night, only ⅓ of participants danced, while the rest sat in their camp chairs and on picnic blankets connecting with each other and enjoying the spectacle of novice zumba dancers. I thought to myself, imagine if there was a weekly zumba time? Or a regular movie night? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone had a regular opportunity to get together.

And so, that is my hope - that together we can establish piazzas across our community. Kudos to Willowdale Central Neighbourhood Association that has brought music and drama to Lee Lifeson Park this year - all championed by a very small group of volunteers. We also look forward to a future movie night with the Bayview Cummer Neighbourhood Association. This past summer, I enjoyed a wonderful Canada Day Celebration at Gwendolyn Park organized by the West Lansing Neighbourhood Association. It takes neighbours coming together to create piazzas in our community.

If you have an idea for an event in your corner of Willowdale, please reach out to our office and we can work with you to help foster a stronger community together!


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