Posts tagged ‘Urban Affairs’

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.

March 10, 2013

Gaming Toronto’s neighbourhoods

Do you know the names of Toronto 140 official neighbourhoods? Click that ‘hood tests your knowledge of officialdom, making a game of the City of Toronto’s administrative planning areas. Developed for Code for America by Matt Keoshkerian, a transplanted Torontonian, the website uses data now available through Open Toronto.

In a Google world, Click the ‘hood cleverly avoids the perennial problem of double spellings between the spelling of neighbourhood and neighborhood. The site has gamified city neighbourhoods around the world, including Montreal (20 neighbourhoods), Vancouver (23 neighbourhoods), and Saskatoon (59 neighbourhoods).

With the growth of mapping, neighbourhood names are facing a new revival. Sociologists argue the naming of a neighbourhood is an important marker of social cohesion. Condo developers know this well, too. Donmount public housing was subject to an entire re-branding when it became Rivertowne, and the neighbourhood around it as taken the name Riverside. My favourite recent example of this is the new development at the corner of Woodbine and Upper Gerrard within days of local residents voted to call their area Beach Hill, a name marketed by a local condo development.

English: Neighbourhoods in East Toronto

Most of these cities have geographic gaps, parts of the city where no common consensus has emerged on the name of the place. Even within Toronto this was a problem.

Developed about ten years ago in an effort to coordinate competing geographic descriptors across various service divisions, City of Toronto staff divided the city into 140 areas. The areas were clustered to capture similar social demographics among residents and to be similar in population size. Natural boundaries, such as ravines and railways, were used where possible. Finally, neighbourhood names were selected, without broad consultation, on historic names or local geographic features, such as street names.

Through this method, the entire city was mapped and, now, with the power of gamification, the City’s 140 administrative neighbourhoods will become more familiar to Toronto residents.

(P.S. My best time? About 80 seconds for 20 random neighbourhoods.)

February 1, 2013

Immigrant settlement in urban areas: The importance of city governments

Cities that do integration well, do well, argues a new report, From Policy to Practice: Lessons from Local Leadership on Immigrant Integration.Immigration lines

Given the timing of the impending adoption of the City’s of Toronto’s new immigration strategy, the Toronto Newcomer Initiative (a report with many graphics and colourful pictures), I thought it timely to look at what other substantive work is being done.

Where the academic-driven Welcoming Community Initiative is looking at settlement issues across the province, Cities of Migration has focused strengthening knowledge translation in urban areas across Europe and North America. Its most recent report is a series of paper from various researchers and foundations (including Toronto’s own Myer Siemiatycki). The authors provide numerous examples of how cities in the West are becoming more inclusive.

The authors start with the idea that cities have “a traditional role as places of integration.” They call for a focus on:

Integration as a complex process

  • Increased local and international mobility is the new norm.
  • Migration is often a circular process, with people, capital and cultural exchange moving back and forth across borders.
  • Policy at each level of government can make the environment more or less welcoming.
  • Non-profits and other civic organizations are instrumental in these settlement processes.

The geography of settlement

  • Newcomers move to cities but settle in neighbourhoods. Activities tend to be locally focused, so welcome initiatives should be too.
  • Newcomers are also less likely to be setting in the downtown core of major cities, but are living in their suburbs or smaller, secondary cities.

The centrality of economic integration

  • Cities are welcoming the entrepreneurial activities of newcomers, providing support, networking, etc.
  • Opening up labour market opportunities is key, through targeted employment assistance and business start-up assistance.
  • “Living wage” is being recognized as an important policy commitment at the municipal level.

The key role of municipal government

  • Cities have a role as employers and as funders to enhance economic opportunity for newcomers.
  • Cities have a role in planning and zoning by-laws, fostering business opportunities and new cultural/faith spaces.
  • City space creates opportunities for exchange and interaction, so that strangers can become neighbours.
  • City programming, through libraries, parks, and recreation, can promote immigrant integration.
  • City governments have a role in procurement to create economic opportunities for newcomers.
  • City governments have an important role in building civic engagement opportunities, including voting, identity cards, etc.

Improvements, they note, help multiple groups. Youth, for instance, are as likely to benefit from these initiatives as newcomers.

Among the report’s recommendations are fourteen for municipal governments. Here’s the top 6 (my selection):
1.       Encourage the mayor to become a public champion for immigrant integration.
2.       Ensure immigrants, including non-citizens, can participate in the democratic process.
3.       Lead by example and set the new standard for inclusive hiring practices.
4.       Target initiatives to multiple demographic groups with similar needs and experiences.
5.       Rely on good, longitudinal data to measure and target programs and services.
6.       Recognize that your city is competing for immigrants.

December 14, 2012

Research fatigue and other lessons from Toronto’s Regent Park.

“Research Park – er, I mean Regent Park…”

It was a telling slip in one resident’s lament about the degree of academic surveillance taking place in Regent Park, the low-income Toronto neighbourhood where public housing has been torn down and is being rebuilt as a mixed income community. Thousands of new condo and townhouse owners will be living alongside the original low-income tenants in the next decade.

It is a living lab, a natural social experiment that is too tempting for a city with three universities and several more within driving distance of it.

Professors, grad students and undergrad class projects have taken their toll on Regent Park residents, creating a research fatigue, just as the second and largest phase of the redevelopment at Regent Park is underway.

(See More below to see a short list of the research projects I know.)

“If another researcher knocks on my door again, I won’t be very polite when I answer it,” declared one resident.

Another long-time resident was puzzled by the attention, saying

Our neighbourhood is just like every other one. There are all kinds of people. It’s not related to income or our location. It’s just that we’re living in a fish bowl.”

However, a recent panel at University Toronto drew a packed house of academics, residents, community service providers and advocates. The interest in undeniable. Even the residents in attendance at Regent Park Research Panel: New Findings from the Field were active in the debate afterwards. The speakers, all graduate students, have spent long stretches in the community and so spoke with an authenticity generally welcomed by the audience.

Each spoke in turn on their area of study.

Ryan James, York University

Youth, Stigma, and Security in 1970s Regent Park

James, an Anthropology doctoral student with ties to the community, described a history of Childhood in Regent Park. One of the powerful points in his narrative was the vulnerability of local children and youth.

One young women explained, “Being poor almost meant that you have a target on your back for sexual predators.”

Gordon Stuckless of Maple Leaf Gardens notoriety was remembered in the community.

When the community rose up in defence of its children, a vein of  “virulent homophobia” also erupted. This died down though, James explained, when gay rights activists held counter-demonstrations protesting that homosexuality did not equal pedophilia.

Sharon Kelly, University of Toronto

Navigating the road back home: The return of Regent Park Phase I residents

The next speaker, Sharon Kelly, also a doctoral student in Anthropology, embedded herself within the project unit which managed the moves required by residents as the redevelopment occurred.

“It was a place of hope,” she explained, decorated in bright colours and with fresh flowers, where residents, assigned by random draw, pored over floor plans to choose their new units. Higher floor or lower? North, south, east or west? Early project phase or later? In Regent Park or nearby? They lingered, ranking their first, second and third choices.

However, Kelly explained the site office was also a place of distrust, where residents worried about favouritism or grew weary of delays or frustrated their choices were not available. Some of the tensions were very real. Long-time residents were upset that a random draw meant that their length of tenure was not recognized. Or families and seniors, who were not able to meet shorter moving times, sometimes lost out to others who were more nimble.

Staff were sympathetic, but argued that the lottery system ensured impartiality, especially given the difficulty of evaluating and comparing competing needs. It was emotionally draining work, Kelly explained, and staff were forced to make decisions fast in order to keep up with the construction schedule.

A swap board was created so that tenants could negotiate changes among themselves. While well-intentioned but, Kelly did not hear of any viable trades made this way. What it did offer however was a sense of control that tenants welcomed.

When asked what some of the challenges, Kelly explained the biggest issue regarding complex work of resident relocation was the deceptively simple issue of communication.  Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) was cognizant of this, she said, and, for instance, when they needed to contact residents, they knocked on doors instead of mailing letters.

The work goes on, as three more phases have to be completed.

Martine August, Planning, University of Toronto

From isolation to inclusion? Tenant experiences in Regent Park’s Phase II

The final speaker was Martine August, a doctoral student in Planning, working with Alan Walks to take a critical look at gentrification and mixed income neighbourhoods.

August began with a brief description of the development plans for Regent Park. Begun in 2002, the revitalization of the neighbourhood was set to happen in five phases through a Public Private partnership. Capital would be raised through the sale of private market, newly-built housing stock.

The first phase is now completed, and residents have returned to new homes. Once complete, only 19-20% of the housing will be Rent Geared to Income (RGI), down significantly from the original neighbourhood. While the overall number of low-income residents will stay approximately the same, as higher income people move in, their density will be decreased.

Arguments for why this is good, August explained, is that there is “presumed need to deconcentrate poor people” because they are isolated from good role models. The concentration of need, the argument goes, leads to negative outcomes; Cause and effect are being mixed, she argues. (Professor Jim Dunn’s work, see below, is also finding that the “role model” argument is based on weak evidence.)

In the public’s mind, mixed income neighbourhoods have emerged as an ideal without the supporting evidence.

At best, these arguments are offensive, August explains. At worst, it is used to justify gentrification, leading to the removal of homeless and other marginalized people. This framing re-stigmatizes poor people (in a similar way to how public housing was originally and purposefully built to be unattractive).

Discussions of renewal and mixed neighbourhoods “use the language of balance in service of exclusion,” August argues. It is an academic argument she wants to test.

To explore this further, August interviewed 32 households before they moved out (pre-phase 2) and 50 households who have moved back from phase 1.

Residents were enthusiastic about several things in Regent Park: central location, availability of services, walkablility, easy access to public transit, number of local ethnic grocery stores, parks, and places of worship.  Residents described the benefits of living downtown and the vibrancy of the neighbourhood (all themes which are part of the marketing campaign for the new condos).

Residents also described the strong social ties and community connections they had with other tenants. “This doesn’t match the story of social isolation which is told about poor neighbourhoods,” August explained. Newcomers found each other, people borrowed from each other,  kept care of each other’s children, celebrated together, were there for crisis support. Community members also were proud of their political activism, describing Regent Park as a place which hit above its weight because of the concentration of people together.

So, contrary to stereotypes, Regent Park is well-located, well-connected, well-served.

“Not that weren’t real problems,” August said. “First, being the state of repairs and maintenance of the buildings, pests, broken appliances, plaster crumbling, and poor common areas. And it’s not clear that redevelopment will improve this. Already residents are telling of problems in their units, falling glass, broken shelves, buckling floor boards. TCHC has a $6m cut to their repair budget”.

Drug activity is still reported, according to August, but the tenants tend to take the attitude that “but if you don’t bother them, then they won’t bother you.” Tenants also recognize that solving this issue is not simply a matter of getting “the bad guys out.”  Brothers and sons are swept up in the crackdown, and the problem usually just shifts to a new location.

New design and new condos haven’t stopped these old problems.

Residents also report that stigma still an issue. although many resist the stereotypes. Something as simple as clothing reinforces class divisions within the new community.

Each new condo tower has achieved higher prices than one before.

August argues that if the purpose is to solve social problems, a market driven approach may not be the best way to address the issues.

English: As part of the redevelopment of Regen...

As part of the redevelopment of Regent Park from a social housing development to mixed-income neighbourhood, four of the five apartment towers designed by Peter Dickinson are being demolished (one will be preserved for historical reasons). Constructed in 1958, the collection of Regent Park towers won a Silver Medal by the Massey Medals for Architecture in 1961. This is an image of the second tower being demolished. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However the market forces are pressing forward. The number of condos have now gone from around 3000 to 5400 without much discussion.

This will have impact on many levels, including the political presence of tenants as gentrification shifts to the local demographics to more middle-class concerns. At this point, residents associations, like RPNI (see below), represent tenants. Condo associations are also emerging. There may be opportunities to bridge among these associations.When asked, August recounted a telling story from the Don Mount (now Rivertowne) re-development across the river from Regent Park. That smaller community has also undergone a “renewal” that mixes income groups into a single housing project. Low-income tenants there report that people in market-rent housing have been really dominating community meetings, focusing on issues such as safety and policing, noise and garbage collection. Tenants feel targeted in their own neighbourhood.

When Regent Park condo owners heard about local youth being targeted by police, they organized an information session for youth, to learn their rights. This “rights-based” approach, in contrast to “keep-your-head-down” approach, highlights the very different frame of experience that middle-income and low-income people use.

The evening ended with the promise to continue the discussion, finding opportunities to bring these findings to the people of Regent Park.

“Good people live there,” one tenant said in conclusion.

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.

September 26, 2011

A critical look at international city rankings

“Well, big deal,” the Montreal Gazette sneered in Montreal and its place in the world, its editorial response to a recent international survey on urban quality-of-life. Montreal was behind Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. As a native Montrealer, I have to concur with the Gazette’s summary:

…rankings tend to favour an ideal, cleanly scrubbed and tidily tended city – which is essentially a suburb.

The editorial consoled readers, throwing in that New York City came 56th on the list.

So how accurate is the measuring stick for the wide range of surveys which rank cities?

This is the question that Toronto’s Intergovernmental Committee on Economic and Labour Force Development (ICE Committee) asked when it commissioned a review of the various urban ranking surveys last year.

As expected, the final report found methodological weaknesses in the comparisons and poor interpretations of the findings by the media and public creates more confusion than clarity when it came to grading the world’s cities. The report author reviewed forty-four rankings and identified seven key lessons:

  • Audience and purpose matter
  • Beware of over-simplification
  • Look at the scores, not the rankings
  • Be wary of data that has been overly manipulated and processed.
  • Longitudinal data are more useful than one-off “snapshot” studied, but watch out for iterative studied that change the rules as they go.
  • Stale source data may leave a false impression.
  • Make sure that apples are being compared to apples.
Probably the fairest explanation for why these studies continue to pop up in the media is attributed to Joel Garreau:
 “These lists are journalistic catnip. Fun to read and look at the pictures but I find the liveable cities lists intellectually on a par with People magazine’s ‘sexiest people’ lists.”

(Still, if you lean towards parochialism, patriotism, or partisan, if you believe Toronto is the centre of the world, you will be glad to know that Toronto generally does well on these international scorecards.)

July 27, 2011

The complex origins of vacant and abandoned homes in a neighbourhood

Recent lessons from the housing crash in the United States described families simply walking away from their homes, leaving their front doors unlocked, because they couldn’t afford to carry their mortgages anymore. Financial abandonment is one of the starkest reasons residences are left untended.

However, like most things, it’s always more complicated. Just how empty and derelict does a building have to be to be abandoned? The octogenarian who lives only in two rooms of her house, having sealed off the rest, still holds domain over it all. But what if she was hospitalized? And then sent to long-term care? And then failed to pay her taxes?

In my neighbourhood, I can think of eight homes that, depending on the definition used, are vacant or abandoned. None of them, that I know of, are haunted or marijuana grow-ops:

  • After a fire started by a basement tenant put one family out of their new and hard-earned home, their re-building was abandoned because of lack of funds and the complexity of (re-)building without a contractor.  That’s been about ten years now since they lost their dream.
  • Another house on the same street also suffered a fire. The house attached to it also suffered damage. Neither household had insurance to re-build. It took two or three years for the first home to be sold to a speculator, who hired cheaply, and then sold it with fresh paint and pot lights “as is.” The family moved out of the attached house, and the landlord rented to a poorer tenants less able to complain.
  • There are three other homes in the neighbourhood where elderly residents have moved to homes for the aged, none of them interested in selling. One of these homes has been empty for over twenty years, the other fledges various young family members every few years, and the third has rats for inhabitants.
  • Another family home in the neighbourhood was sold to the owner’s brother who had no interest in living in it nor in renting it out. It has sat, preserving the family capital, for a quarter century.
  • Another home was bought by a resident in the adjoining house, so as he could enjoy some peace, but the cost of re-zoning the properties to make them a single home is too prohibitive. So, officially, that home is empty.
  • A final house in my neighbourhood acts as a storage locker for a couple who live across the street from it. Vans are unloaded into and out of the house but no one lives there. Census-takers knock futilely every five years. (Another neighbour tells me of a similar house a few streets away which someone else uses to keep their cats and dogs housed – and yes, it smells.)
When this was a working-class neighbourhood, houses were cheap, and few took note of these alternate uses. This was long before housing prices climbed, when only affordable housing activists and a few academics saw such rough, unused gems as valuable housing stock.
In 2008, the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC), an activist group called Abandonment Issues and York University’s City Centre partnered to look at cycles of reinvestment and disinvestment in the Toronto area. They explored the housing cycles that happen as neighbourhoods are abandoned and then “discovered” again, creating a small building boon of condos and flow of capital. Some good pressure was raised over the issue but not much changed on the legislative front.
Nowadays neighbours are more likely to talk about the property values of these half million dollars homes left derelict or vacant.
In response to the idea of impact on local property values and the loss of additional housing stock as shortages grow, some other municipalities have adopted “Use it or Lose it” laws.
The City of Toronto’s Affordable Housing Office may, too, be exploring the issues these vacant and abandoned homes create. That’s good news if it doesn’t just provide new fodder for housing speculators.

June 29, 2011

Wellbeing Toronto

Long awaited, Wellbeing Toronto is launching this morning through the City of Toronto website.

Keep hitting refresh! It will be here soon.

The Toronto Star has given a sneak peek in today’s edition. The site lets users select and map , across the City’s 140 social planning neighbourhoods, from a menu of indicators, ranging from one of Toronto’s top ten languages, applications to universities, or robberies. It also maps locations of various civic sites, community hubs, rate payers associations and other neighbourhood features.

While it’s bound to have some bugs as it launches (I couldn’t see a legend), this is a significant contribution to the civic dialogue of the city – as long as more than real estate agents use it! (My conflict-of-interest? I sat in on two advisory panels during its development.)

June 23, 2011

New, more open data sharing on Toronto websites

English: Map of Toronto Français : Carte de To...

English: Map of Toronto Français : Carte de Toronto Deutsch: Karte von Toronto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Toronto data geeks can be excited about three new websites breaking onto the Toronto scene.

The first is a fresh new look for Toronto Health Profiles, a data partnership among St. Michael’s Hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health, Toronto Public Health, the Wellesley Institute and some community organizations. Thematic maps and data tables on a range of health indicators are being released as they are being developed. The site has gotten a good overhaul to make it easier to navigate and give it a cleaner look.

The second, from the Three Cities project, which looked at changing income trends in Toronto neighbourhoods, is releasing its findings in new more useable formats. The research website, driven by St. Christopher House and University of Toronto Professor David Hulchanski, Neighbourhood Change has re-launched with a new look. The site offers additional maps, a recent report on Scarborough and video clips. Information on Montreal and Vancouver are included alongside tower renewal in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

The third and most elaborate, the Wellbeing Toronto website will be launching June 29. (The site is so new, the URL was still being determined at the beginning of June!) It evolved out of the Neighbourhood Wellbeing Index/Indices project through the City of Toronto.

This new interactive site will build on census data and local administrative databases (liberated through Open Data Toronto). It has been funded through the Citizenship Immigration Canada Toronto Newcomer Initiative. The available data will be aggregated to the level of the city’s 140 planning neighbourhoods.

The site offers a range of goodies, from orthographic/satellite, cartographic/street view maps of Toronto. Ward boundaries and places of interest, such as community stores or convenience stores, will be mappable. An address search function is also to be included.

The developers have tried to make the site user-friendly, including some pre-set domains, including, for instance, a “diversity index” which measures ethno-racial mixes within a neighbourhood. Users of the site will be able to drill down into neighbourhoods or make comparisons among them. Up to 20 indicators can be loaded at a time, weighted differently, and then the data can be able to be exported to PDF, Excel or CSV formats.

The crime data is likely to be the most popular area of inquiry. Data for criminal code offenses for seven major crimes are included: Murders, Shootings, Vehicular theft, Break and Enters, Assaults, Sexual Assaults, and Arson. All of this rich fodder that has only been available on a limited basis up till now.

City staff are also looking to include other data in the future. Approaches to the Toronto Board of Trade, the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs, for information on hospitalization rates and seniors), the Canadian Bankers Association (for information on debt load), and the Children’s Aids Societies.  Indicators for arts and culture will be coming in October. The Toronto Transit Commission should also be included because  of the open data work, looking at routes, stops, crowding.

Both these sites will help to better inform civic discussions in the city and so are welcome web 2.0 resources.

June 1, 2011

Toronto District School Board 2011 budget deliberations begin

The head office of the Toronto District School...

Image via Wikipedia

 

 

 

A useful e-mail is circulating around the Toronto District School Board, summarizing some of the early budget deliberations, as trustees face another year of shortfall. The Board’s Budget Committee met on Monday, May 30. Here is the synopsis. The conclusion provides some useful steps for concerned parents and advocates:

The Committee members defeated the Staff recommendations to balance the 2011-2012 Budget, which included the following:

  • Shifting $30m (million) from large capital repairs to smaller projects
  • Permit Fees Increase – 22% as of Jan. 2012 — $ 1.60 m
  • Department Budget Reductions $3.70 m
  • Using savings from previous years   $13.10m
  • Transportation (no impact on students) $.25 m
  • Reduction to central departments casual replacement budgets $1.00 m
  • Purchasing of utilities $.80 m
  • Auditing for enrolment and class size efficiencies $ 1. 00 m
  • Broader Public Sector Directive and reduction of meeting expenses $ .20 m
  • Reducing of External Consultants $3.70 m

Possible total (short-term) savings found:   $ 55. 35 million

After this recommendation was defeated, the Budget committee agreed to meet Wednesday June 8th (time to be confirmed) to look at recommendations again. They asked staff to look at the possibility of lessening the $30 m cutback from capital funding (to $20 m or $25 m for example), and balance the remainder from items from another document presented (Appendix “B”) which lists items which are either under or unfunded items by the Ministry of Education.  Here is the list from Appendix “B”:

  • Outdoor Ed  $6.7 m
  • Regular Ed. Assistants  $ 22.6 m
  • Literacy Teachers  $15.2 m
  • Library Teachers   $ 6.25 m
  • Guidance Teachers  $5.59 m
  • Classroom Consultants, Central Coordinating Principals etc. $3.5 m
  • School budgets   $10.27 m
  • Elementary supervision  $9.31 m
  • School safety monitors   $6.13 m
  • School office  $8.06
  • Vice Principals  $8.34 m
  • Special education    $15.4 m
  • Model Schools   $8.5 m
  • Safe Schools   $3.05 m
  • Board Administration  $18.48 m
  • Transportation  $ 2.49 m
  • Permits   $11.2 m
  • Vision of Hope  $1.00 m
  • Aboriginal Education  $438,284
  • Continuing Education  $8. 01 m

Total:  $170,633,755.00 million under or non-funded items

Why does the TDSB have a funding gap?

There is currently a $150,000,000 million difference between what the TDSB receives in “directed grant” monies from the Ministry of Education (i.e., for things such as Full Day Kindergarten etc.) and what we choose to spend. Sometimes, the Ministry does not send enough money to cover an initiative that they direct the board to do, for example, adequate funding for teachers’ salaries to fully implement Full Day Kindergarten. This means money must be found elsewhere to cover this cost.

Sweatered vs. Unsweatered Grants from the Ministry of Education (MoE):   Grants from the Ministry are either sweatered (meaning they have to be spent on a certain program or in a certain way), or unsweatered (meaning the board has flexibility about how they spend the money).  For example, special education funding is sweatered by the MoE and can only be spent by the TDSB on special education programs and services.  The TDSB must also be accountable and track these monies to show the MoE they were spent as directed.

However, the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG) is an unsweatered Ministry grant, which means the TDSB has flexibility in using these funds event though the LOG is intended, in theory, to fund programs and services for students who are deemed “at risk” due to poverty and other factors, and/or who are aboriginal. While some of the LOG funding does indeed go to support students ‘at risk’, much of it is used to pay for under or unfunded items through the MoE’s funding formula and initiative funding.

The Inner City Advisory Committee (ICAC) and the Learning Opportunities Grant (LOG)

The ICAC has always argued that the Model Schools for Inner Cities Program (MSIC) should be funded by the LOG because that is what the grant is supposedly for. The Model Schools provides a holistic and innovative program in 105 schools across Toronto, and does this on a budget of $8.5 million that has not changed since 2006, in spite of inflationary pressures, salary increases, rising food costs etc.   Next year, in an effort to reach more underserved students, staff have decided to expand the MSIC to reach 125 schools across the city.  Last night the ICAC motion, asking for a 5% increase (approximately $425,000) to the MSIC funding, was defeated. (The motion is attached in pdf above.)

What can you do?

1.     Email or call your/all trustee(s) to ask that the motion be reconsidered at the June 8th Budget Committee meeting. (www.tdsb.on.ca click on “boardroom” to find a list of 22 trustees)

2.     Request a deputation (speaking for 5 minutes) spot for the June 8th Budget Committee meeting (http://www.tdsb.on.ca/_site/ViewItem.asp?siteid=88&menuid=310&pageid=239)

3.     Attend the June 8th Budget Committee meeting and the Board meeting where the Trustees debate the budget – June 22nd

4.     Advocate for a fully funded education system which meets the needs of all children and supports each and every one in achieving their highest potential.

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