Cougar Court community creates safer walkway

It used to be an area to avoid at night. With little or no light, the pathway that connects Cougar Court to Eglinton Avenue East was known for drug dealers and beat downs.

Thanks to a combined effort from the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS), Toronto Hydro, the Mayor’s Tower Renewal Project, Jane’s Walk, and the Scarborough Village Neighbourhood Association (SVNA), this path will now be a safer place to walk.

The groups came together on Saturday to cut down three 10-metre-tall trees and trim three metres off a fence. The move was all part of an effort to remove a blind corner on the path where drug dealers used to hang out and allow the light from the apartment buildings to cast itself onto the pathway and make it a safer route to travel, according to SVNA president Mike McKenzie.

“People that are doing things they shouldn’t be doing don’t want to be seen, so by opening it up it’s going to deter them from hanging out,” said Toronto Police Sgt. Jeffery Pearson, who is the local TAVIS officer.

TAVIS is a program led by Toronto Police to reduce crime in priority neighbourhoods.

A walkability survey, conducted by Jane’s Walk in Scarborough Village, found that 63 per cent of respondents identified poor lighting as the biggest barrier to walking in their community.

“This path is the main walking path to the local school, Cedar Drive and the local mosque, so it’s important that it is safe,” said Jane Farrow, executive director of Jane’s Walk.

The pathway also provides a shortcut to the local plaza and grocery store.

The community has been asking for changes to the pathway for several years and many are excited that things are finally being done to make their community a safer place.

Michael Skaljin, project manager of the Mayor’s Tower Renewal Project, said it is important to mention that this was community-led initiative.

“We did a lot of training over the winter with youths so they could to their own safety audits, so they could walk around and identify unsafe areas, and this is one of the areas they identified.”

The youth in the community are taking notice and getting involved, he said.

Masih Mahebzada, 18, has been volunteering in his community since the age of 12.

“I help in projects like this to make the community safer, and to make it safer for the people who walk through here,” he said.

This was one of three community safety events that TAVIS helped to organize in the Scarborough Village over the weekend. Others included a three-on-three basketball tournament and local gardening.