Think about the neighbourhood you live in. Would you say it needs improvement? Do you have access to stores with healthy, affordable food? Should there be more recreation programs for neighbourhood kids? Do you feel connected to your neighbours?
Now think about the other neighbourhoods in Toronto. All 140 of them! When it comes down to it, are there other neighbourhoods that are more in need of support than your own? Which Toronto neighbourhoods are most “in need of improvement”? This is a question the city is trying to answer as they design the new Toronto Strong Neighbourhood Strategy – a strategy that will determine which Toronto neighbourhoods will be targeted for intervention and investment over the next few years.
Here’s a little background: The Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy was first adopted in 2005 in the wake of unprecedented gun violence in Toronto and several reports revealing dramatic growth in poverty and inadequate community infrastructure (like Poverty by Postal Code, Enough Talk and Cracks in the Foundation). At that time, City Council identified 13 “Priority Neighbourhoods” which received special attention and funding for social projects.
According to the Toronto Star, these neighbourhoods received an estimated $210 million between 2005 and 2012 which funded social projects across the priority areas. Funding came from various sources including the city, the province, the United Way of Greater Toronto and private donors.
Fast forward to 2014. The City is about to make a new list of priority neighbourhoods to focus on – now called “Neighbourhood Improvement Areas” in an effort to reduce stigma associated with the original name. I recently attended a community meeting where we were asked for feedback about how the new target neighbourhoods should be chosen. Here is what I learned:
1. The city plans to use five key factors to rate each neighbourhood:
– Economic opportunities – based on employment rate, income levels and social assistance
– Social development – based on graduation rates and social marginalization
– Participation in decision making – based on municipal voting rate
– Healthy lives – based on mortality and hospitalization rates, mental health and diabetes
– Physical surroundings – based on walkability and access to meeting space, healthy food stores and green space
Many residents have called for additional factors to be considered when assessing neighbourhoods, like safety, racism, public transit, access to affordable food, and true participation in decision making (beyond just voting).
2. There are still a lot of unanswered questions:
– What will happen to the 13 original priority neighbourhoods if they aren’t selected as Neighbourhood Improvement Areas?
– If some of the same neighbourhoods are chosen again, is the strategy really working?
– What about neighbourhoods that don’t make the cut but are still struggling?
– What is really at stake? How much money and time will be invested in Neighbourhood Improvement Areas? Where will the money come from?
– What will be done to ensure residents have a say in neighbourhood interventions?
3. There are ways (for you!) to get involved:
City staff are currently compiling a report that will outline the updated Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy and identify the new target neighbourhoods. You can find the report online as of March 10th and talk to your City Councillor about what you think before April 1st when Council will discuss the strategy and vote whether to approve it.
You can also learn more about how Toronto neighbourhoods are doing on the Wellbeing Toronto map. The map allows you to geographically display information related to the economy, environment, culture, housing, etc. To give you an example, here is a map I made of green space in Toronto (darker green areas indicate more tree cover, flowers represent community gardens):