dandyARCHIVE: Will Bike Man ride again?

This article first appeared in dandyhorse’s Spring 2010 issue. Read one of our first dandyBLOG posts about creating the Spokes cover, by Chris Simonen.

WILL BIKE MAN RIDE AGAIN?

Story by Rodney Barnes, Illustration by Chris Simonen

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane!”

“It’s not a bird! It’s not a plane! That’s… But wait, who’s that over there?

“It’s Bike Man!” From behind a tree Bike Man comes pumping down the path, black cape fluttering behind. His red helmet glints in the sunlight. His yellow T-shirt glows. A bold “B” sits proudly on his chest. But his expression is the look of a young man shouldering great responsibility: it is his duty to prevent the dreaded Striped Bandit from stealing neighbourhood children’s bikes. In three episodes, Bike Man explores bicycle safety, theft prevention and wearing a helmet.

The series, filmed in 2006, won the Tim Hortons’ award for Best Community Film at the Cabbagetown International Film Festival in 2009. The videos were produced by the Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre (also known as Focus) an organization that helps youth in Regent Park engage with issues involving their community. With Regent Park’s revitalization now well underway, the entire neighbourhood has reason to care about the changes happening in the area. It’s the goal of Focus, and program director Adonis Huggins, to keep youth involved in the process. “We feel that young people have something to say in the issues surrounding their lives,” says Huggins, who started with Focus a year after its inception in 1990. At that time the organization was part of a larger pilot project initiated by the provincial government to help support residents in vulnerable communities. Regent Park was one of nine sites set up around the city. Back then the organization offered a community kitchen, support groups for women and a youth outreach program lead by Huggins who was hired as youth coordinator. In the early days, the organization struggled to engage young members. It was reaching community with its programs and garnering good press, but “one thing was missing,” says Huggins: “The young people.” The problem was that they were trying to fit the youth into an adult structure, getting them to come to meetings attended by the youths’ parents.

So Huggins switched tactics. “Let’s not make them fit into our processes,” he decided. “Let’s make process for them.” He wanted to set up a structure where the youth would play, but one that would also “help them analyze and think about their community.”

Art was the answer. He bought a video camera and the group started producing films about bullying, gangs and drugs. Soon the group expanded their activities to include a weekly radio show and magazine called Catch Da Flava and a summer media arts program. Funds were cut to the organization’s core support (for things such as rent and phones) in 1988 under Mike Harris. Focus merged with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, programming was cut and the organization became youth-driven. “We were known for doing innovative youth programming,” says Huggins, and so that is what it was whittled down to.

Today the group faces another major change. Buildings throughout Regent Park are being torn down and new ones constructed. Focus will remain together, though where it will end up is unknown. The building at 600 Dundas East is scheduled to be demolished within the next few years, as part of the second stage of the revitalization project.

Some of the youth are apprehensive about the change. “They’re telling us they’re moving us back, but I don’t think they’re going to,” says Lufa, 18. The co-host of the weekly Catch Da Flava radio show says she’s afraid that the new residents moving into the area will break up the community.

“It’s going to be offered to rich people,” she says. Nicolas Rowe, the caped star of Bike Man, doesn’t see anything wrong with the change. “They say they’re going to change the neighbourhood. I think it’s not going to change anything,” says Rowe, 16. “I personally think you can’t change Regent Park.”

Justin Goldenthruph, who is in the same building as Focus, says his building is one that needs work but unlike Rowe, Goldenthruph thinks the revitalization will drastically change the neighbourhood. “A cab driver told me one day that this was going to be the envy of the world,” he says, “It’ll be the new downtown.”

dandyhorse’s spring 2012 issue is themed on youth and employment. We have young dandies profile youth activists and other cyclists about town… due this June!  Subscribe today to get dandy at your door.

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