Posts tagged ‘Community Development’

February 26, 2014

A new measurement of health equity: Urban HEART Toronto

The City of Toronto’s official 140 neighbourhoods now have a new measurement tool: an adapted version of the World Health Organization‘s Urban Health Equity Assessment and Response Tool (Urban HEART).

To be released today by the Centre for Research on Inner City Health (CRICH) at St. Michael’s Hospital, Urban HEART Toronto is a neighbourhood-level dashboard to five key health domains:

  • Economic Opportunities
  • Social and Human Development
  • Governance and Civic Engagement
  • Physical Environment and Infrastructure, and
  • Population Health

Key indicators for each of these areas were identified by panels of experts from academia, government and community. Things like diabetes rates, high school graduation rates and income levels were all part of final set of data.

After being collected for every neighbourhood, the data were sorted into Red, Yellow, and Green, like a stop light. The intention was to take complex data understandable. So Red means below a minimum benchmark, Yellow means below an ideal target, and Green means the neighbourhood is at or above target. All the benchmarks and targets were developed by the technical team.

At the recent City of Toronto consultations on the City’s Strong Neighbourhood Strategy, policy staff Sarah Rix described the nuances the Urban HEART tool offers. Under the former Priority Neighbourhood Areas, identified ten years ago, resources were concentrated in 13 identified area of the city. However, Urban HEART takes a wider view, allowing each neighbourhood to be measured, a little like a blood pressure reading or body temperature taken, Rix explained.

The result? Urban HEART allows anyone to get an idea of the strengths and weaknesses both within a specific neighbourhood and to also see how it compares to others across the city.

Under the new Urban HEART tool, no neighbourhood in the City is entirely green, nor is any entirely red. Neighbourhoods like Bridle Path suffer, for instance, for not being very walkable, while places like Scarborough Village, at the edge of the lake, show better mental health rates than the majority of other city neighbourhoods.

Like any collection of health readings, if a neighbourhood indicator pops up yellow or red under Urban HEART, further probing is probably a good idea. High youth ? High premature mortality rates? A simple reading of the numbers won’t tell us what to do, but they will tell us about the neighbourhood’s well-being and where to look to fix any problems.

First stop for Urban HEART will be an update of the City’s Strong Neighbourhood Strategy and discussion of ‘Neighbourhood Investment Areas’ at the Community Development and Recreation Committee on March 10, 2014.

Full disclosure: I was a member of the Steering Committee for the development of Urban HEART and helped with some of the technical aspects of the project.

June 2, 2013

Community heros lifting above their weight: The story of a community hub in Hamilton

Don MacVicar once broke three world records, lifting 10 times his weight combined in a single competition. Now, he’s doing bigger things. He’s lifting a community on his shoulders.

The familiar hallways of a school now open into community resource rooms.

The familiar hallways of a school now open into community resource rooms.

For the past eight years, McVicar has led a renewal project in the industrial north end of Hamilton, Ontario, creating a hub in the  Robert Land school when it was faced with closure. Re-named the Eva Rothwell Centre, the former school now hosts a job resource centre, recreation programs, youth drop-in, summer camps, community health programs, police services (staffed by chatty volunteers, with handouts on everything from crime prevention to bed bugs), and a clothing bank.  It’s also one of the sites of Pathways to Education (the strange rumour in the community being that the tuition bursary may be abolished). There is even a miniature railroader club in the school’s basement, art out of metal, rails and wiring and a full-size railway car on delivery, to be a new literacy centre. And, yes, of course, there is a weight room.

This is, like many stories of community change, the story of heroes — how often local improvement is made by the determined efforts of a small group of people. (In fact, that Margaret Mead reference is on the home page of their website.)

When the school faced closure, MacVicar and a group of community member approached the Hamilton school board and proposed to buy it. Private donors stepped in with some quick funding to pony up close to $350,000, giving the community association time to incorporate as a non-profit corporation.

Two weeks ago, the centre hosted five bus loads of elementary students from the Toronto District School Board to attend the ribbon-cutting for a new draw: Team Canada 72 room filled with hockey memorabilia and team players.  It’s part of MacVicar’s plan to make the centre a destination where people want to visit. Next fall, he hopes to bring in the Stanley Cup.

Heroic as these efforts were, the visit to this re-purposed school highlighted two key lessons, at the micro-level and the macro-levels.

At the micro-level is the importance of taking action. Asked how he had accomplished this, MacVicar softly explained “If I join a committee, and they’re not doing anything within three months, I quietly move on.”

The second lesson, though, is broader. This good work needs to move beyond the efforts of small groups. Community hubs, such as these, should be supported at the system level because relying on local heroes to make this happen shouldn’t be a record-breaking event.

October 9, 2012

Neighbourhood centres: From the history of social justice among settlement houses to community hubs’ modern place-based approach

Photograph of early settlement house, Toynbee Hall circa 1902.

Toronto’s University Settlement House, by the Grange, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.

St. Chris House, in the west end, has also reached the century mark. Not far away, Central Neighbourhood House, founded by students from University of Toronto, has also celebrated 100. Also, in the downtown core, Dixon Hall is eighty and St. Stephen‘s is fifty. Reputedly named after Reverend Wood and Reverend Green, WoodGreen, where I work in the east end, has just turned 75 years old.

Each of these neighbourhood centres cluster in the centre of city, reflecting the downtown area’s history as a place where new immigrants and low-income lived. As demographics have shifted and need has spread, other neighbourhood centres – and community hubs – have emerged across the city.

Over these decades, these centres opened their doors, drawing on a model from 19th century Great Britain called a Settlement House. More than charitable service organizations that focus on individual needs, settlement houses emerged from wider ideals of social justice. Settlement referred not to, in the modern sense, of working with immigrants, but rather to a call to university-educated young people to settle in poor neighbourhoods, bring their talents to bear on local problems.

In a sense, settlement houses worked to ensure the intellectual and social capital of a neighbourhood were not stripped away. They also preserved the idea of social contract between rich and poor. Most settlement houses enjoyed the patronage of wealthy donors.

The tradition of Settlement House offer a few key touchstones to modern-day hubs and centres:

Wrap-around services: As multi-service organizations, neighbourhood centres are able to address the various needs clients have. Need a job? food? compantionship? housing? They have it all. Dixon Hall, for instance, defines itself by its multi-service approach.

On-the-ground knowledge: Neighbourhood houses have also acted as early warning systems. Some of urbanist Jane Jacob’s critique of the “towers in the park” emerged  from New York contemporary and settlement house social worker Ellen Lurie, who tracked what happened to her clients who were being moved into this newer form of public housing from their old neighbourhoods. Even now, seeing the changes in its neighbourhood, St Chris House sparked the research into how gentrification was changing their downtown neighbourhood, leading eventually to the Three Cities report by David Hulchanski. After hearing more and more stories from the sector, WoodGreen supported a fight for permanent funding to control bed bugs.

Commitment to creating opportunity at the individual and system level: Recognizing that charity work and case management would not create the systemic change needed to end poverty, advocacy and community development became a core part of centres’ work. Childcare, youth programs, and adult literacy programs were all staples of early programming. University Settlement House’s Music and Art program was established in 1921. Later decades would see these social programs adopted and funded by governments at all levels. In more recent times, St. Chris House led the cross-sectoral policy table, MISWAA, which examined income supports for working age adults. In short, it’s about social justice.

Innovation: Because they are alert to changes and are able to bring a wide set of services to any social problems, neighbourhood centres also act as incubators, creating solutions to complex problems. WoodGreen, for instance, partnered with the Toronto District School Board to create the first seamless, full-day kindergarten class at Bruce Public School.

Community building: Early neighbourhood centres were the original community hubs creating links across difference, strengthening local community. St. Stephen’s Resolution program actively in neighbourhood disputes, and has trained hundreds to do dispute resolution. Multiple ages walk through their doors and learn about each other. Free, non-commercial space is increasingly precious. The community hubs springing up across the city are based on these same community development principles. Place-based approaches to problems sometimes work better than those which work with only specific client populations.

Settlement houses, neighbourhood centres, community hubs — whatever you call them — seem a tradition worth celebrating.

May 17, 2012

Resilient neighbourhood economies in an age of austerity: No big lessons

Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan (Photo credit: Kennisland)

Ten years ago or thereabouts, the U. K. government undertook an ambitious program of neighbourhood renewal focused on 2,000 British communities. A decade later, independent evaluations are “somewhat positive,” according to  Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and former CEO of the Young Foundation. Recent efforts have been trying, in a way, to put right mistakes of the ’70s and ’80s, when richer people moved into re-habituated buildings, Mulgan told a group of Toronto community funders and organizations at a meeting organized by the Metcalf Foundation earlier this month.

“Big strategies won’t work, there are no silver bullets. Lots of small initiatives work best,” Mulgan said. Instead, he elaborated, the focus should be on schools, social capital, job opportunities, and simply getting money to circulate within neighbourhoods, creating a multiplier effect, and, the current times of austerity mean agencies and funders are looking for an impact in new and interesting ways.

Mulgan also challenged old-time thinking about taking projects “to scale” (growth), saying funders and agencies would do better to look at replication (spread). While Mulgan was arguing that small is beautiful, it goes against the push from many funders for mergers.

To prove his point about the need for multiple, smaller inventions, Mulgan offered a top ten social innovations from his own work on these issues:

  1. Last year, the Young Foundation looked at Birmingham to see what makes a city resilient. It compared low-income communities with similar demographics and their social networks. Communities which were more diverse were doing better than those with two or three dominant groups — different than what researchers expected.
  2. The Young Foundation also created a program which taught resiliency to 11-year-old in schools, focusing on those who in stressed communities. Results showed lower levels of depression and better schooling. The new finding was that resiliency could be taught.
  3. Deciding that the focus on improving schools was not enough because even the best schools have high rates of truancy and drop-outs, the Foundation developed a new form of schooling, a “studio school” where learning occurred through practical team-based projects. The move away from abstract pedagogy led to better student motivation and was particularly effective with students from low-income families. Piloted in Blackpool, the government is now using the model across the country.
  4. Young, Somali female colleagues convinced Mulgan to develop the Uprising program for 18 – 25 year olds.  Participants have to run a community campaign which is then connected to national level. Three years later it is now spread in neighbourhoods across eight cities. Mulgan noted that recruiting men and White people has been a challenge. This program sounds like very much like Toronto’s Diversecity.
  5. Mulgan explained his fifth example was important as money was disappearing. His organization, NESTA is very involved in time banks. Within Toronto, Timeraisers has used this as a model for volunteering among those who want to bid on art, but Mulgan described a model that acted more as a parallel economy in low-income communities. Bartering, he explained, is useful in communities without much access to resources and money. Linking the program to local institutions, such as housing or schools, local residents earn credits which they can then “spend” among themselves.
  6. Mulgan and his colleagues became concerned about the high number of young people with advanced university degrees who were having difficulty access jobs.  So they set up “finishing schools” which offered intensive training in everything from voice coaching to self-knowledge. Employment rates doubled. While this might not work in Toronto which has less of class stratification, the approach to explicit teaching of social/cultural skills and mentoring are valuable, Mulgan explained.
  7. NESTA  found that buildings and physical plants are not enough for non-profits, but that they needed media platforms as well. In contrast to “big media,” hyper-local media platforms emerged, attached to community organizations or secondary schools (where youth supported the work) within communities, creating hubs for economic and social exchange. Mulgan predicted these would be widespread within ten years.
  8. Urban farming, connected to local schools offers opportunities for apprenticeships and entrepreneurialism. Mulgan gave the example of one Australian school where students raised fish, learning biology, and then sold them door-to-door. Mulgan described pockets of land transformed from “boring grass” to fruit trees.
  9. In their work with Muslim youth, the youth identified the need for advice on daily matters that was Koranically-correct. So the website Maslaha, meaning”Public Interest,” was created. A group of Imams offers this “real-world” advice, helping youth straddle between secularism and Islamists, offering on-line advice on issues ranging from speed-dating to diabetes.
  10. Attempts at measuring resiliency through the development of a new tool: Wellbeing and Resilient Measurement (WARM). Community and individual levels, covering a range of topics from employment, happiness and readiness for the future. Started in Birmingham, this is being piloted in a few other European countries as well. The tool creates space for discussions about local priorities.

Ever pushing boundaries, Mulgan lobbed a final idea when responding to questions from the audience. Too much time is taken up for non-profit staff writing reports which often don’t get read when they are sent in. If funders, want to have a real impact, and ensure truth and transparency, program reports should be done by blogging.

March 13, 2012

Outside the academy: The value of solution-focused community research

This is taken from a speech I gave at a pre-conference workshop on research at the 14th National Metropolis Conference of CERIS where I was asked to speak to the capacity of community agencies to do primary research. I took it as an opportunity to address academics and policy-makers. 

Photo Credit: Bard Azima, Livingface Photography, The Conference Publishers

As a director of research at a large community agency, I am admittedly a bit biased on this question.

Community-based primary research is good, not because of the much-touted participatory processes it uses, nor because it fulfills some evaluation criteria of funders, or because this research is somehow more “authentic.”

Community-based research is important because it addresses material realities and it seeks real solutions.

This is not to denounce those who do the hard, theoretical thinking that some of these wicked social problems require. But, if we are committed to social change and to wider ideas of justice, then we must address the grounded (and gritty) realities faced by those around us. This is an argument made by Critical Race Theorists, a place I call my intellectual home.

I am tired of research which is simply a walk in the park, describing its surroundings, commenting on it,  and noting perhaps an “oddity” or two. Occasionally, such research deteriorates into awful-izing a situation, describing in it in gory and pornographic detail.

My charge is that community-based research can’t afford to do that. To be honest researchers, we must look for change and find solutions.

“Research fatigue” emerges, I contend, when researchers spend too much time talking, dealing with process, and missing the end game. Community members tire of too much talk.

Admittedly, the field of action research has emerged to address this folly, but the solutions can be too simplistic, missing opportunities to make a change at the individual, program, organizational, sectoral and system levels. Instead, innumerable reports descend into a few “Try harder” recommendations.

To ensure they are accountable to for the use of government and donor dollars, non-profit, community agencies track an enormous amount of data. However, this is usually either administrative data useful for ongoing monitoring or program data for evaluation. Common categories include:

• Clients identifiers (d.o.b., sex, status)
• Client location
• Client concern
• Referral/Intervention
• “Dosage” or program participation
Some follow-up is also made to get a longer term picture of the impact.
This minutiae is a big industry – In our agency, one unit has its 23 staff take every Friday afternoon to do case notes – that time clients cannot access the service but data that is required for multiple managers to check, a director to review, so that it can be sent to funding program officers who later  return to do file audits, to be rolled into — I don’t know — giving us all a strong audit trail.

Good community research has a different flavour. It is:

Inclusive: More likely to include the unusual suspects – theory of creative teams – but not so process-oriented it cannot get to an end goal.

Solution focused: Awful-izing is easy; figuring out how to implement a solution is golden.

Asset-based: Such as the reports on resiliency in children and youth by Doorsteps Neighbourhood Services and Toronto Public Health which found how strongly tied children in “disadvantaged” neighbourhoods are to their families.

Analytical at the structural level: Reports like Social Planning Toronto’s fees and fundraising in school report, David Hulchanski’s work on gentrification in neighbourhoods done in partnership with St. Chris House (often ignored), or any of John Stapleton’s policy work look at the underlying triggers.

Sensitive to complexity: Two of the best recent examples which tried to capture dynamic interplay are the reports produced for the Strong Neighbourhoods Task Force which mapped needs and service levels to determine which neighbourhoods were the most under-served; TDSB census – Grades + SES + Experiential/self-report

Unpredictable:  The recent TWIG report on the new hour-glass shaped labour force created a new frame with which to think about poverty and inequality.

Outside the box:  United Way of Toronto produced two reports within two years of each other on the topic of neighbourhood poverty. Only the keenest among you have heard about Decade of Decline. But two years later, in 2004, Poverty by Postal Code made huge waves. The difference? GIS had evolved enough that maps could be produced, showing the same data visually.

This is work that can and is done by community agencies. I am proud of the theory-driven, knowledge transfer model we used in the Toronto East LIP. Over the past two years, we were able to:

• Map local services (in details beyond 211 Toronto)
• Map staff languages
• Map the social networks among partnership members
• Map levels of agency coordination and the gaps
• Map settlement pathways for immigrants and refugees
• Develop Toolkits for English Conversation Circles
• Develop Toolkits for grant-writing
• Produce information  sheets on private career college accreditation
• Produce fact sheets on frauds/scams Canadian newcomers may face
• Report local labour market information
• Begin to test the merits of place-based delivery of services ( community hubs) vs. outreach
• Set the groundwork for child care cooperatives and other parent supports
• Collaborate with grassroots groups and agencies to launch a report measuring the scope of the local underground economy
I think we proved community research can be both solid and solution-focused.
March 30, 2011

Another challenge for non-profits

Olivia Nuamah, the new C.E.O. of Toronto’s Atkinson Foundation, was a largely unknown entity so it’s not surprising that an overflow crowd arrived to hear her speak at last month’s meeting of the Toronto Neighbourhood Centres (TNC). She had impressed community attendees at Civic Action’s Greater Toronto Summit 2011 when she was the only one to raise, from a position on the main stage,  the topic of corporate taxes.

Nuamah came for the final hour of the TNC meeting; the discussion persisted well beyond the scheduled end. Nuamah described the culture shock of returning to Toronto, a city where she was born of immigrant parents, educated in the public school system, before emigrating to England as a young adult. After 16 years, she is back with a family, having spent her adult life in European advocacy.

Nuamah remembers the strong community development ethos in the Toronto of her youth, and she explains, she is shell-shocked at the erosion of services she see now. Her recollection of a strong and vital Toronto echo the type of city that Calgary Mayor Nenshi described in his visit here last February:

I was raised in a family in east Calgary in a working class neighbourhood that didn’t have a lot of money. What I had was remarkable opportunity. I graduated from excellent public schools, I explored the city that I love on public transit, I learned to swim very badly in public pools and I spent my Saturday afternoons in the public library. I grew up in a community that gave me a chance to succeed and gave every kid growing up in the community the chance to succeed.”

Now is different. Nuamah is surprised to see how the discussion of neighbourhoods isolates Torontonians from each other, disconnecting us from a common vision. She also sees how non-profits and community agencies have been depleted by multiple layers of reporting and competitive funding structures. Her own Foundation is admittedly a part of this, she said, “funding one agency six different times to do six different things.”

In the end, funders search for the lowest “price per head,” pilot projects become a normal course for service delivery, and auditors make program decisions. The community sector is pressed towards professionalization, further distancing staff and clients from each other. The effect is that neighbourhood agencies function as a corporate arm of city services and are not recognized for the wider scope and value of their community and city-building work. Nuamah described all these dynamics.

So the Atkinson Foundation is trying to find ways to support the non-profit sector. (As it undergoes this renewal, its grants are currently on hold and are set to launch again in 2012.) The foundation’s redeveloped agenda, Nuamah said, will address sustainability and include ideas of networking, sectoral advocacy, and strengthening the capacity of volunteer boards.

The trends towards cost-cutting and others whispers of the transformations from the United Kingdom are popping up here everywhere. “First, it was garbage,” Nuamah explained, describing the growing press for efficiencies as a path to privatization. Meeting participants hooted in recognition.

Nuamah pressed on, advising, we must be ready to work together to face the hard questions. We must think collectively. We must claim the basic right to advocate. We must also get better at communicating, moving away from the polemic and away from university-level language.  If the sector doesn’t start this hard work, the ground will shift before we can act.

The Neighbourhood staff weighed in, too, explaining how non-profits have learned to use every penny, giving greater value than what funders pay for; how the stress builds among staff as the system relies on individual heroes to make it function (One Executive Director in attendance described the regular announcement at her sector’s annual conference of the E.D.’s who had died in the previous year); and, how non-governmental funders had to be ready to defend the non-profit sector since community agencies are too often dismissed as self-interested.

The later afternoon meeting finally ended, but the discussion had only started.

August 25, 2010

Community Partnership Strategy: Community Space

This is a long-delayed follow-up to some earlier posts on the City of Toronto’s Community Partnership Strategy which is currently under development and will measure community resources in neighbourhoods across the city.

Bonnie Green writes in the recent issue of the Agora Foundation’s The Philanthropist about the tale of two non-profit organizations in search of program space in their local communities. The article, Creating Social Space in the New Urban Landscape, captures the challenge many non-profit organizations and neighbourhoods face: a lack of community space.

Good neighbourhoods need more than services; they need the space to deliver these community programs and places where community can gather. Much of the challenge of delivering service in Toronto’s “inner suburbs” has been one of carving program space out of basements and strip malls in order to bring community services to local residents. These community spaces are the places where literacy and health programs are found, where sports leagues and seniors’ groups run, where we can access the services we need or where we organize and work with others, from and for our communities.

Good neighbourhoods also need places where neighbours can meet each other, spaces like front porches, school yards and parks, corner stores, coffee shops, places of worship, recreation centres, school yards, dog runs, and even sidewalks. These are the spaces where we can go, outside of our homes and work, where we can meet each other on neutral territory.

Academics describe both these kinds of community gathering spots as third places, and maintain that they are vital to the social fabric of a neighbourhood.

The website Cooltown Studios describes such places this way:

If you aren’t motivated to leave home or your workplace, chances are you don’t live around too many successful third places.

So, it makes great sense that the City of Toronto’s Community Partnership Strategy (CSP) proposes to use these third places as an indicator of the strength of the community support system within a city neighbourhood, combining it with two other structural components: the presence of community organizations, and funding.

The CSP’s definition of community space will measure “space for residents, informal groups, community-based organizations; meetings, programs, administration; multi-purpose [and] dedicated space.”

Two types of  measurable spaces have been identified: community meeting space, which allows informal and grassroots interactions, and community program space, which is more likely to be booked and permitted for service delivery.

Similar to the work of the Strong Neighbourhoods Taskforce, the measure could also include the percentage of the population with one kilometre of meeting space, such as in libraries, recreation centres, and community-based organizations.

However, the CSP is more than an inventory of local resources. In consultation with community, city staff are exploring the “when is enough, enough” question to answer what benchmarks would work: how much space is needed in a neighbourhood and what functions does it need to fill? How do the needs of various neighbours differ? What’s the baseline requirement for any neighbourhood?

Not enough research — or policy-wrangling — has been done to determine these answers yet, so the early stages of the CSP are more likely to provide an effective way of comparing Toronto neighbourhoods to each other. Now, thanks to the CSP, that conversation will have a good evidence base.

June 7, 2010

Alone we go fast, together we go far

Political parties are a bit of an oxymoron. They are not actually that fun.

The newest version of political incubators are camps: NetChangeChangecamp, Govcamp, Agendacamp. Camps, these big messy open meetings emerged from other sectors, like Torcamp and Democamp works with developers, designers, investors and other interested folk. Even the legendary TEDs qualify as part of these innovative models, I think.

Described as “un-conferences,” here, networking and creativity trumps long debates and secondary motions which mires so much political action.

The idea behind Changecamp’s is to “re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation” and last fall it drew over 200 people to the Metro Toronto Reference Library.

Changecamp is spreading across the city now.

On Saturday, June 19th,[June 14th Update: Sometime soon] it will be landing at the Centennial College Centre for Creative Communication in the old east end of Toronto.

Michael Cayley, founder of the east-end Riverdale Rapids ning, and Mark Kuznicki, a member of the Centre for Social Innovation are two of the key leads who cooked up this community-level version.

The camp will be a great chance to meet neighbours and to talk about ideas.

And, as Al Gore reminded us, alone we go fast, together we go far. So, let’s have a chat.

For more info and to register: Go to the Riverdale Rapids events page.

April 11, 2010

Community Partnership Strategy: Neighbourhood Well-being Index

(Updates - July 1, 2011: The NWI is has been re-branded and launched as Wellbeing Toronto. July 29, 2010: This should now be referred to as the Neighbourhood Well-being Indices. Revised by the City researchers.)

Statistics and geography is about to get a whole lot more fun in the City of Toronto. City staff are working to create interactive, flash maps which allow users to explore neighbourhood-level indicators.

This fresh concept of a way to measure the vitality of a neighbourhood has now evolved into a first draft of the Neighbourhood Well-being Index (NWI). The NWI will collect neighbourhood-level information from a broad range of sources, including Statistics Canada demographic data and the City’s own administrative databases.

The NWI  is a new and separate initiative from City of Toronto staff, but it dovetails neatly with Council’s newly adopted Community Partnership Strategy, providing the broad evidence base for the strategy. The NWI also complements the move towards open data initiative, OpenTO, acting as an open data warehouse.

Some of the data to be mapped data is already available, in less friendly formats, through the City’s neighbourhood profiles, the Community Social Data Strategy and TO iMapit. The NWI will enable users to identify key populations groups or services of interest and then produce a user-friendly map of the data.

Several good examples from the U.S.A. give a preview of what the NWI might look like:

  • The New York City website Envisioning Development Toolkit is a friendly tool which compares neighbourhood rent and incomes.
  • California’s Healthy City is a more data-rich site which allows users to map local services and demographics.
  • The Reinvestment Fund’s Policy Map compares a range of data across numerous American cities.

In a sophisticated web-based interface, Toronto residents will be able to select the indicators and identify their own “priority neighbourhoods,” a shift from the current Priority Neighbourhood Areas that were selected using more universal indicators which don’t always match specific local priorities. Service-providers for youth or newcomers or seniors will able to identify the highest need neighbourhoods for each of their own populations.

Two overarching data clusters will be used as measures of a neighbourhood’s wellbeing, allowing a more granular examination of Toronto neighbourhoods. These are

  • Population Characteristics, such as Age, Gender, Language, Ethnicity, Family structure, Income.
  • Human Service Infrastructures, from and about Community Centres, Libraries, Parks, Police Stations, Schools, etc.

The NWI’s ten domains and particular indicators will likely expand as additional neighbourhood-level data becomes available. The first draft is exploring the following areas:

  • Arts, Culture and Heritage: Agency Funding & Grants; Community programs; Neighbourhood-permitted events
  • Civic Engagement and Social Inclusion: Agency Funding & Grants; City Beautification Initiatives; Community Meeting Spaces; Donations; Volunteerism; Voter Participation
  • Economic Security: 211 Calls for Service; Child Care; Community-based Services; Debt Load (excluding mortgages); Local Neighbourhood Employment; Long-term Employment; Social Assistance; Unemployment; Variety of Local Businesses; Wages & Benefits.
  • Education: Community-based Services; Early Development Instrument (EDI); High School Students applications to college/university; High School Drop-out Rates; High School Students passing Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT); Library Circulations
  • Environment: Open Space; Pollution/Toxic sites; Soil conditions
  • Housing: social housing waiting lists; property taxes; affordability (sales); adequacy (standards); rooming houses; Streets-to-Homes placements; Long-term Home Care Services survey; Toronto Community Housing tenant profiles; Homelessness & Hidden Homeless; 211 calls for information; and community based services.
  • Recreation and Leisure: Participants and drop-ins users of parks and recreation programs; waiting lists; facilities capacities
  • Safety: By-law inspections/Standards complaints [although these tend to rise with the income of a neighbourhood]; Calls for EMS; Community-based Services; Crime by major categories; Domestic Violence; Fire Code inspections; Firearms shootings and victims; Fires & Arsons; Grow Ops; Pedestrian & Cyclist Collisions & Injuries; Toronto Community Housing Safety and Incidents;
  • Transportation: Commuting; Public Transit Access; Wheel Trans Use; Traffic volumes. [One potential but unnoted measures is walkability]
  • Personal and Community Health: Birth Outcomes; Communicable Diseases; Community-based Services; Vulnerable Children (with data from Children’s Aids Societies)

Reviewers, both academic and from the community sector, are being asked to review the indicators, help identify priorities for the roll-out, and advise in the creation of an index for each domain.

The hope is that the NWI will be ready to launch in the next 16 – 18 months.

January 8, 2010

Toronto Community Partnership Strategy: Priority Neighbourhood Areas revised

What if we could measure the quality of a neighbourhood — systematically assess what’s missing and what’s in place? How could we use that information to ensure each community was strengthened?

Over the past year, City of Toronto staff and invited community members have worked to develop such a tool: that is the Community Partnership Strategy (CSP) [as described, a year ago, in one of the first posts on this blog]. The new strategy, if adopted when presented in the spring to Council, will allow all of the city’s 140 social planning neighbourhoods to be assessed across a range of domains so that priorities for supporting each neighbourhood can be set.

The City of Toronto set out to develop such a tool because, as Chris Brillinger, Director of Social Policy, explained at the end of November during cross-city consultations, “One weak neighbourhood affects us all.”

And more bluntly, he explained, the CSP will help to address when enough is enough, a question raised by Council members who push back at the seemingly continual call for additional community funding. The adoption of the CSP will allow a more systematic response to that question.

Community agencies are interested in the development of this new strategy because of the way the focus on Priority Neighbourhood Areas (PNAs) has funnelled funding into the 13 city areas since 2005. The PNAs created a rush to funding, as agencies followed the dollars and moved into these admittedly under-served areas. Brillinger reassured the crowd about the scope of this exercise, “Moving services from one part of the city to another is not on.”

As a place-based intervention, the PNAs made sense, leveraging scarce resources to address complex problems. As a long term strategy, PNAs are a recipe for starving the rest of the city — and other areas with high needs.

Under the proposed strategy, “focus neighbourhoods” would be identified according to marginalization of the neighbourhood and its residents, the [lack of] structures in place to support them, and the availability and capacity of local services.

The overall strength of the system would be assessed on the following areas:

  • Community Organizations
  • Community Space
  • Connectedness
  • Reach
  • Adaptability
  • Resources

(In future posts, I’ll look more at each of these areas in more depth.)

By looking at the strengths and weaknesses of every neighbourhood, the new CSP will allow a broader analysis of needs across the city. So, for instance, the areas with the highest unemployment rates or the poorest access to food can be identified, or the top ten neighbourhoods deserving youth programming can be threshed out from the top ten requiring additional seniors’ services. Each of these maps may be different,  but they will allow more targeted programming to be delivered where it’s needed.

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