Climate-friendly Hubs: The Bathurst-finch Unison Hub

The Bathurst-Finch Unison Hub is an excellent example of how community hubs can model sustainability and use their social and physical infrastructure to build equitable, healthy and low-carbon neighbourhoods. We collaborated to hold two tours of the hub to foster peer learning with other community hubs. Check the virtual tour and learn more about the Bathurst-Finch Unison Hub - including how the hub is now responding during the pandemic to support a healthy and resilient neighbourhood. 

The Story of the Bathurst-Finch Unison Hub 

Before the Bathurst-Finch Hub building and gardens were built, the land was a parking lot for the neighbouring high school. Then, the Toronto District School Board and Unison Health and Community Services began a collaboration to convert the parking lot into a vibrant community hub to serve the Bathurst-Finch community's needs. Many community hubs have launched in repurposed buildings, but the Bathurst-Finch hub was custom-built and the design process involved deep collaboration between stakeholders, community members and architects. Construction finished in 2012 and the doors opened to the community in 2013. 

The hub aims to contribute to an increasingly vibrant, strong and healthy neighbourhood, offering a wide scope of human services, including health and dental care, employment services, legal aid, and counselling, all under one roof by community hub partners working in collaboration with local residents. When the hub is open to the public, they have on average 272 visitors per day and services are offered in 4 languages: Russian, Farsi, Korean and Tagalog.

Above: A graphic poster in the break room for staff and volunteers of the hub shows what collaboration means to the Bathurst-Finch Unison Hub community. 


Key environmental features of the Bathurst-Finch Hub building

While the hub building is not LEED certified, it was designed with multiple environmentally-friendly features in the building and the building grounds. These features include: 

  • The building was built to high energy efficiency standards. The building includes many energy-saving features to optimize the use of natural light and minimize the use of electricity, including large windows, motion-sensor light switches, and blinds on the windows that can be remotely controlled by staff to adjust the amount of light entering the space. 
  • The roof was designed to support an a solar array. (The hub does not yet have a solar array, but we are collaborating to secure funding to add a solar array to the roof). 
  • The building has a rainwater collection system to irrigate the community garden, which grows fresh produce for hub programs. 
  • A mixed-mode ventilation system collects and exhausts warm air through automatically controlled vents to keep the temperature comfortable. 

These energy-saving features create a more comfortable building and reduce the energy costs for the hub.

Above: The Community Hubs Advisory Group meets in one of the two community meeting rooms. On a warm, sunny day, the blinds are lowered to keep out heat, but continue to bring natural lighting into the space. 


Inside the building: co-located services and spaces for the community to gather

Image: Simon from the Bathurst-Finch Unison Hub shows one of the community rooms. 

The Bathurst-Finch Unison Hub is an important gathering place with community space that resident groups and community organizations can use to meet and hold events and activities. The hub has two community rooms and a children’s playroom, kitchen, and community garden. This space is available for free for resident groups and hub partners, and at a reduced rate for other community organizations. 

This physical space to gather supports community-building and offers space to organize around community concerns. For example, the hub’s Social Action Group is led by highly-engaged residents who promote civic engagement and host town halls and events on topics including housing, transit, food security, climate action and local advocacy. Environmental and food-related educational programming is also held in these community spaces, along with recreational programs.

Because the hub is a space to gather and to access services, the hub is building a strong community and building important social infrastructure. 


Inside the Hub: Community Kitchen and Good Food Market 

The community kitchen is commercial grade and available for community members and partner organizations to book and to use during events. Both community rooms connect to the kitchen, and a set of doors open directly from the community kitchen to the community garden!  

Access to the kitchen and reusable dishes mean the hub is also cutting down on waste from events. 

Above: Every week, a community Good Food Market is held in the front lobby, with fresh, affordable food available for community members. 

The Good Food Market is operated in partnership with Foodshare, which supports community markets in areas around the city. The weekly Good Food Market provides affordable fresh produce for residents, particularly for seniors and others who may have mobility or transportation challenges and face barriers to getting to larger grocery stores. Any unsold produce from the market is donated to the food bank space - located in the hub - or used in community programs. 


The Hub Grounds: The Community Garden

The Bathurst-Finch Unison Hub is an example of how publicly-owned space can be transformed to meet the needs of the community. What was once part of the paved parking lot of the neighbouring high-school is now a community garden, with raised garden beds built by students from the neighbouring Northview Heights Secondary School. The Northview Community Garden is run by volunteers from the local community and overseen by a volunteer steering committee. 

Above: Windows from the neighbouring Northview Heights Secondary School overlook the community garden. The garden beds were build by an instructor and students from the high school.

The community garden has 2,400 square feet of food production space, and the garden can produce up to 3500 pounds of fresh produce in a season! More than 65 types of produce are grown, including beans, peppers, tomatoes and herbs, and all of it is organically grown! Most of the produce is donated to North York Harvest Food Bank, and some is sold at the Hub’s weekly fresh produce market so that proceeds can go back into covering the garden’s expenses on supplies.

The community garden supports local food security and models environmentally-friendly methods. 

Above: Touring the community gardens with Simon from the Bathurst-Finch Unison Hub.


The Hub Grounds: The Roof 

The roof of the hub collects rainwater and channels it into a cistern under the hub, which can hold up to 6,000 gallons of water. This water supply is used for the community garden and meets the watering needs for the entire gardening season. The Hub has never had to turn on the taps to water the community garden! 

Above: A pipe connects to the rainwater capture on the roof, and channels the water to the cistern under the hub. 

While the Hub’s roof was designed to support solar panels, the hub hasn’t yet been able to add them. In collaboration, we’re looking to support the hub with getting the funds to install the solar panels. Roof-top solar panels have the potential to reduce 23% of the annual electrical consumption of the hub! 

Above: A photo from Hilditch Architects shows the design of the roof, built to support a solar panel installation. (Photo credit: Hilditch Architects


Community Hubs and Mobilizing Low-Carbon Neighborhoods 

Mobilizing low-carbon neighbourhoods is a key action area of Toronto’s TransformTO climate action plan. Toronto’s community hubs have the potential to be launch pads for wider community engagement and action on climate change, and can illustrate what fair and equitable climate action looks like. 

Above: A group photo after a tour of the Bathurst-Finch Unison Hub! Community members from Parkdale travelled to Bathurst-Finch for a meeting and tour of the hub. 

Responding During COVID-19: Community Hubs During A Crisis 

While community hubs like the Bathurst-Finch Unison Hub have had to rapidly adapt and respond to changes in their work during the pandemic, they’ve illustrated how important hubs are in a time of crisis. The Bathurst-Finch Unison Hub has supported residents and reduced social isolation, supported emergency food access, moved critical programming online, and continued to build civic engagement and participation. Read more about how community hubs are responding to COVID-19 and the lessons for building an equitable, resilient and climate-safe Toronto.

Read the report