It’s easy to hide from the cops in Jungle. The cluster of cul-de-sacs connected by a web of streets tangle together in the Toronto community housing area of Lawrence Heights like vines, which is one factor that has contributed to its nickname.
I visit Jungle on a snowy day in late March with Abdullah Barez and Kevin Persaud, both friends who grew up in Lawrence Heights and now work with youth within the community. They are taking me to see the effects of what has now been a years-long revitalization process. The community is getting a facelift from Toronto Community Housing, Canada’s largest social housing provider, who is attempting to fix community violence and shabby living conditions within their housing units through rebuilding and rebranding itself as “The New Lawrence Heights.” Not everyone is enamoured about this newness, though.
“Have you ever been to Jungle, Christina?” Kevin asks as we approach the bus just outside of the Lawrence West subway station.
“No,” I say. “Not really.”
“Hopefully we don’t get shot,” Abdullah jokes.
“If anything, she’d be the reason we wouldn’t get shot” Kevin says. When I ask why, Abdullah says it’s because I don’t look like I’m from the hood.
We load onto a city bus and wait as it ambles through the late-March snowstorm, halting and heaving its way over the slushy roads. When we get to our stop, tucked behind the glitzy Yorkdale Shopping Centre, we file off near Flemington Public School and follow the sidewalk through the neighbourhood. Kevin and Abdullah point out landmarks as we dodge muddy puddles. There is the skate park their childhood friend set up to give kids in the community something constructive to do with their time. He has since passed away. Abdullah points out the community center, a colourful building that stands out in the dingy grey daylight. It was painted by members of the community, Abdullah included, years ago as a way for them to participate in revitalizing their own space. Abdullah’s name is still painted on the wall.