Posts tagged ‘Community services’

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.

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.
June 13, 2011

InsideToronto Article: City deciding fate of local pools

Monarch Park Collegiate

Image via Wikipedia

A small news article in the local paper flagged another round of cuts threaten school pools, yet again.It seems the City’s lease on pools expires this year on December 31, 2011. InsideToronto Article: City deciding fate of local pools. However, it may not be so dire as portrayed.

If the school pools can demonstrate “continued community use,” the funds will flow through the Toronto Lands Corporation.

Monarch Park High School’s pool is one of the few accessible pools in the city. Not only is the equipment available for people who use wheelchairs, the water is kept warmer as well. Monarch Park Community Aquatics is now offering a Recreational Community Swim on Fridays from 6:30 -7:30 pm. Enter through the doors marked #2, which are the first set west of Coxwell. Admission:  $1 per person or $5 per family For more info contact:  monarchparkaquatics@gmail.com

May 18, 2011

Toronto youth initiatives: Ground-level view of the stratosphere

After the “summer of the gun” in 2005, various funders and levels of government focused on the issues of youth and youth violence. The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence was produced. Funding appeared in the Priority Neighbourhood Areas through the Youth Challenge Fund (YCF). Laidlaw Foundation made youth a central focus of its work. United Way Toronto developed a “policy outcomes framework,” calling for coordinated action from the provincial government. Each summer since, through Focus on Youth, a provincially-funded program, the two largest public school boards have run programs providing youth employment and space for non-profits in Toronto schools.

So now, more

than five years later, some of that work is well established, and some of it, such as YCF, is near the end of its mandate. From the 30,000 foot level, things look good.

The provincial government’s youth policy framework is being developed, guided by “big brain science,” as one watcher called it. Literature reviews are done and developmental milestones are being firmed up. United Way Toronto has been hosting a multi-stakeholder Community of Practice for Youth and has developed evaluation frameworks with youth-serving agencies to develop a youth strategy. Consultations are underway for United Way’s development of a strategy. A city-wide Dialogue on youth violence working group is rolling along. A frontline youth workers crisis response guide has been developed. Laidlaw Foundation’s and United Way’s multiple reports and initiatives are well underway (see More below).

If youth of this city need strategies, guides, conferences and policy, the non-profit and government sectors are working it. But a recent conversation with a group of youth service-providers providers a more sobering reality check. While “capacity-building” and “skills-building” is being funded, program operating costs are scarce.

The south entrance of Dufferin Mall in Toronto...

Image via Wikipedia

One set of neighbourhood agencies have spent a year exploring after-school programming for local youth, but have stalled because they haven’t found a funder that focuses on this need. The Youth Challenge Fund, which focused on Priority Neighbourhood Areas, is in its last year. The City’s Welcome Policy is frozen – and this may be a seasonal occurrence. Youth settlement funding for newcomers is drying up. One youth worker explained he has no more funding to take youth to museums or other downtown excursions. His program cannot cover the tokens, never mind the admission costs of these attractions. Another worker lamented a summer of trips to the local park instead of places further afield, such as the Toronto Islands. The kids in these programs sometimes have never seen Lake Ontario. To raise funds for TTC costs, they are making arts & crafts to sell locally.

And community space for youth is still a crunch.

  • While LOFT has been able to open a youth social enterprise space, the Dufferin Mall space has closed.
  • Media centres have been or are opening in four Toronto libraries, but operating funding beyond three years is uncertain. What will happen to the city’s recreation centres is still to be determined.
  • Social Planning Toronto is working on a report to track how youth are able to access community space in Toronto. They are finding attitudes are as important a barrier as availability of space.
  • The provincially-funded Community Use of Schools program has opened 77 schools in the TDSB, but the hours are restricted to after 6 p.m. on week-days and week-ends. Because of the identified deficit, Board staff are actively discouraging bookings on week-ends because of the added overtime costs which eat into this budget.

A few sparks of hope continue to emerge, though. The Toronto District School Board, for instance, is playing with new ideas like delayed starts for the school day and more “schools of choice.” Even with the sluggishness of strategies or the scarcity of funding, people are being creative. However, in the end, all this thinking won’t be enough.  While we create more strategies, another generation of youth is moving through their teens.

February 15, 2011

What’s important to you about community services in your Toronto neighbourhood?: City consultation open

The City of Toronto is looking for our help as part of the development of its Community Partnership Strategy. The Community Partnership Strategy is an  initiative that will help the City make sure that Toronto neighbourhoods have community services that work well for residents, and a strong community service sector to deliver them.

Together, with the Centre for Research on Inner City Health (CRICH) at St. Michael’s Hospital, they have gathered 50 ideas about the things that the City could pay attention to so that it knows how well community services are working for residents in Toronto neighbourhoods.

They are now asking Toronto residents, community service organizations, funders, businesses, and others to say which of these ideas are the most important. The City will use these opinions to help decide what work needs to be done to ensure Toronto has community services that work well.

Our input  is invited. There are three ways to do this:

  1. A researcher from CRICH can come to your organization and to meet with a group for about 30 minutes. They would explain the study and ask participants to fill out a short questionnaire and rate the collected ideas.
  2. Attend one of the two ‘open houses’ that being held:
  3. Participate online by sending an e-mail to smh.toronto.study@gmail.com for more information.

Participation is set to run from February 22, 2011 – March 15, 2011.

(My thanks to Sarah Rix for forwarding this to me.)

December 1, 2010

How scared should we be about bed bugs?

Adult bed bug, Cimex lectularius

Image via Wikipedia

Knowing I work at WoodGreen Community Services, which has been on the forefront of the bedbug issue for a while, a friend asked me how nervous she should be about going to a movie theatre that night.

Her fear sprang from the furor causes when a tweet wrongly accused Scotiabank Theatre of harbouring bed bugs and the widespread media coverage how the bugs are sweeping Manhattan’s toniest locations.

“Or how about subways and street cars?” she asked.

“Go,” I said. “If you’re nervous, strip off when you get home, bag your clothes and then launder and dry them.”

We are not (yet) at the point you have to stop going out into public spaces.

Some activities are riskier, such as

  • moving residences (especially if it’s into an apartment building — so make sure to ask),
  • travelling (check those head boards and mattress seams), or
  • picking up second-hand furniture off the street (no more boulevard shopping).

I still trust the Toronto Transit Commission – especially safe in the winter when most of its vehicles sit outside overnight, freezing. And I think movie theatres – and other entertainment venues – were so shaken by the Twitter furor, that I expect discreet inspections are done regularly.

The good news, this week, was the attention that bed bugs generated at the municipal and provincial levels. If we manage our own surroundings cautiously and if coordinated and proactive actions are taken, bed bugs will be well-managed.

A community bed bug committee, composed of residents, tenant associations, non-profits, government reps and broader networks recently adopted a “Bedbug Mani-pest-o” outlining five key points:

  1. Build a public education campaign to raise awareness on the rising incidence of bed bug infestations, the methods of dealing with them and to de-stigmatize bed bugs
  2. Establish standard protocols for treatment of bed bugs
  3. Develop and promote a consistent community response that includes funds to support vulnerable populations to reduce financial barriers to eradicate bed bugs
  4. Conduct widespread monitoring of bed bug incidences across the Province
  5. Draft and enact legislative policies that support quick and effective responses to bed bugs

Liberal M.P.P. Mike Colle has taken almost all of these and built them into his recommendations to the province, only shying away from the legislative piece.

N.D.P. Cheri DiNovo has introduced a bill to license landlords.

The Toronto Board of Health and the City of Toronto are both lobbying for more resources, arguing that early interventions will ensure bed bugs don’t spread further.

Solutions are emerging.

For the moment, we can sleep tight. Just don’t let the bed bugs bite.

September 23, 2010

The "right" to choose your neighbours becomes an election issue

Just as the Annual YIMBY (Yes In My BackYard) festival is being organized for October 16 at the Drake hotel, Nimbyism is being re-visited in the Beach municipal election. Both events seem to be about having policy-makers listen to residents, but the difference lies in the inclusive lense that is used. Debates about what occur in a community often spill over into who will live in a neighbourhood, whether they be students or those living with life challenges.

A friend in the Beach tells the story of a church building which moved through three different applications to convert to affordable housing, each time being denied because those living nearby raised concerns about the proposed new mothers, or seniors or other populations who were to be sited there. The current controversy, about a new building opening on Gerrard at Woodbine, has convinced me to attend tonight’s All Candidate meeting as a case study of the tension between service-providers, policy-makers and local residents.

The HomeComing Community Choice Coalition circulated the following letter:

Thursday evening, September 23, there is an all candidates meeting in Ward 32 (Beaches) and one candidate is calling on voters to come use their voices based on their “right to be angry about the location of supportive housing at 1908 Gerrard Street East”. (at Woodbine)

In November 2007, neighbours heard that a private developer intended to build an apartment building on the site – and planned to rent the apartments to people living with mental illness under an agreement with Houselink Community Homes.  The development was zoned for the intended use, so there was no need for public consultation.  A number of area residents spoke against the development at the Affordable Housing Committee meeting dealing with the funding for the development.  As a result, City staff were directed to host a public open house with the local community in consultation with the office of the local Councillor Sandra Bussin.

At the public open house a number of concerns were voiced, many of which were related to the approval process and lack of consultation.  Other concerns were related to the people intended to live in the development:

  • that the area was overly represented with social housing
  • the impact of the housing on the community in terms of safety and security
  • whether there would be sufficient support provided to the tenants
  • the perceived lack of support services in the area

Confronted by a number of angry residents, Councillor Bussin stood her ground and defended both the process and the right of people to live in communities of their choice.  At the subsequent Council meeting to approve funding for the project, Councillor Bussin expressed her shame at the behaviour of her constituents.  Almost all of the Councillors present also rose to speak in support of funding for the project and to denounce those who would exclude people from the community based on a disability.

Now almost three years later, the building is ready for occupancy.  Graffiti calling Councillor Bussin a traitor was painted on hoardings at the building a year ago and recently similar graffiti attacking Bussin has been painted on the building itself.

Finally, within the past few days, a leaflet has appeared apparently from Martin Gladstone, a candidate for City Councillor, calling the process flawed and accusing Councillor Bussin of working against her constituents and shutting them down (attached).

While HomeComing Community Choice Coalition does not endorse any candidate for public office, we are concerned that this Councillor is being targeted for standing up for the rights of people to live in communities of their choice.  We have often affirmed that people do not have to ask the permission of their neighbours to live in a community and the neighbours do not have a right to be informed or consulted before new housing is built, if the only issue is the disability of the people who live there.

We will be at the meeting Thursday evening and hope that others will be there as well to say thank you to Councillor Sandra Bussin for standing up in the face of angry residents to say to the new Houselink tenants: “Yes in My Back Yard!”

HomeComing Community Choice Coalition

“We promote the rights of people with mental
illness to live in the neighbourhood of their choice.”

Postscript: So when the issue came to the floor tonight, Sandra Bussin’s hecklers called out, “It’s the process! Process!”  They knew, at least, it would not have looked well to be seen as picking on people living with mental illness.

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.

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.

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