October 13, 2016

Toronto’s Urban Diversity

European cities are struggling with the increasing diversity of their populations, places which historically grew out of national and ethno-cultural identities.

Divercities is a European Union funded project what is looking at how governance and civic structures can create “social cohesion, social mobility and economic performance in today’s hyper-diversified cities.” They hosted a conference in September at the University of Antwerp  with practitioners, policy-makers and academics.

Over the few days of discussion and debate, they asked some of us about what diversity looks like in our cities. Here below is what I said about Toronto, a place that people held as an ideal when we compared notes. I should have added “There is still work to be done!”

In February there will a larger concluding conference to present the wider findings.

August 4, 2016

Migration and Resilience: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives

I was invited last fall to speak as part of a panel to the idea of migration and resiliency. If you can stand it, here is my speech, posted at the Centre for Excellence in Research on Immigration and Settlement (CERIS Ontario) website:

In it, I start with my own family history of settlement, than look to the many ways that resiliency is manifested on the ground among newcomers, youth, and residents of our city of Toronto. Finally I describe the implications of this frame for community programs and services.

September 11, 2015

Where community hubs naturally occur…

She said little on the topic, but Jane Jacobs once commented on where “lively” centres of a community emerge. She advised,

They’re always where there’s a crossing or a convergence. You can’t stop a hub from developing in such a place. You can’t make it develop if you don’t have such a place.

Hubs, she said, emerge at crossroads, where people pass by or gather.

It’s why schools, libraries, neighbourhood and seniors’ centres, faith centres, and even local pubs are grabbing hold of the idea of community hubs. These are the places where people already congregate.

August 12, 2015

Building the Evidence Base: The foundation for a strong community hub

Happy to have co-authored this piece for the provincial framework. See original for reference.:

Community hubs are an idea that both community and policy-makers agree make sense. Reports, conferences and symposiums have all addressed some of the many reasons that they do. This appendix will review some of the evidence for this.


With the tight timelines set out for this work, WoodGreen Community Services did a rapid evidence review analysis on community hubs case examples and best practices. Rapid reviews focus evidence-based information within a short period of time. This approach was appropriate (1) given the general consensus that hubs are a community benefit and (2) the short timelines for the development of the framework. As evidence was collected, it was summarized and fed to the Special Advisor, Cabinet Office and the Advisory Group.

The definition used for “Community hub” was broadly inclusive, crossing government, the non-profit and private sectors, including neighbourhood centres, business incubators and community schools, where multiple services were offered in a single location with the intention of serving multiple or complex needs. Each case example studied incorporated some form of co-ordinated programming and open community access (although some hubs targeted specific populations). Broader public sector organizations, such as libraries and recreation centres, were not included unless they explicitly described a hub model.

The evidence review involved collating examples of hubs already in operation across the province and other jurisdictions through web-based searches and key informant interviews. The compiled evidence was fed back, on key topics such as the elements of successful hubs or their social return on investment, in the form of document reviews, report summaries, case studies, and presentations of thematic conclusions.

The focus of this review was guided by the questions set out at the start by the Special Advisor:

  1. What works?
  2. What are the barriers?
  3. And what can do the Province do to support this work more systematically?

This appendix provides a summary overview of these findings.

What works?

Across the province and around the world, community hubs have emerged as a policy solution and as an important way to meet critical local needs and preserve community assets. Community hubs are one of those rare interventions driven both by the grassroots and by the “grasstops.” This appendix provides a summary overview of these findings.

Current hub initiatives

A rapid scan of community hubs within the province revealed close to 60 examples in communities across the province, in rural, suburban and urban neighbourhoods which are already established or in the planning stages.

Leaders from multiple sectors have led these initiatives, including municipalities, school boards, health centres and planners, and non-profit, neighbourhood-based agencies and local residents.

Benefits of hubs

Where community hubs operate, they demonstrate

  • Improved health, social and economic outcomes for individuals
  • Demonstrated collective impact at the community level and integrated service delivery at the individual level
  • Better social investment
  • Protection of public assets
  • Stronger communities across Ontario

From the health sector perspective, the Toronto Central Local Health Integration Network worked with the Ryerson University-based Canadian Network for Care in the Community to identify the design features and benefits of a hub-based model for service delivery. These were:

  • Shared space using a hoteling concept, with scheduling of various programs offered by different providers to maximize the use of space and to provide extended hours of service
  • Provision of Primary Health Care and community based services on-site
  • Flexible design, multi-purpose, multi-size areas for programs
  • Space designed for current community needs and readily adaptable as community needs changed, warranting corresponding program and service changes
  • Reduces stigmatization associated with some single-purpose facilities (e.g., mental health or addiction services) through provision services in a multiple program setting
  • Improves patient and client experience through a seamless front-end that:
    • supports coordinated access to on-site services through centralized intake and scheduling
    • reduces the risk of multiple and duplicative assessments
    • improves hand-offs of clients across programs and providers
    • improves access to multiple services in one location
    • reduces the need for multiple visits to access services

In the education sector, schools which co-located with community services also demonstrate improved outcomes for students and families. The Inner City Model Schools within the Toronto District School Board[1] have tracked and demonstrated some of the strongest outcomes, including dimensions of academic achievement and health.


Social Return on Investment

One of the emerging areas of impact analysis is Social Return on Investment (SROI). SROI is cost benefit analysis with a social purpose. Looking over the lifetime of an investment, it identifies a monetary value for the cost and benefits of the provision of human services. This form of analysis creates a strong case proof for the value of many of the elements of community hubs.

Examples from multiservice, place-based delivery of services demonstrate the following investment ratios:

Examples Jurisdiction Social Return per $1 investment
Craft Café (Seniors)[2] Scotland 8.27
Community Champions[3] Scotland 5.05
Beltline Aquatic & Fitness Centre[4] Calgary, Alberta 4.84
Minnesota Public Libraries’ ROI[5] United States 4.62
Schools as Community Hubs[6] Edmonton, Alberta 4.60
Peter Bedford Housing Association[7] London, England 4.06
Centrepointe ERC[8] Ottawa 2.39

Completed SROI also demonstrated a range of other significant and specific impacts on local residents and communities in the social and health realms. These included lowered crime rates, avoidance of involvement with the youth justice system, higher school completion among youth, fewer falls for seniors, decreased diabetes rates, and higher levels of community trust.

Integrated Service Delivery

If hubs are examined from the program-side, they are most closely aligned with current discussions of Integrated Service Delivery (ISD)[9]. Community hubs provide the opportunity to enhance, coordinate and integrate service delivery to people and communities. ISD provides a sort of wraparound that allows concurrent needs to be met, thereby leading to more effective interventions and impacts.

Reviewed reports refer to an “integrated model of service delivery that looks like an inter-connected web of social services and supports at the community level that are supported by enabling policy frameworks at the systemic level that encourage and support formal planning, and integration activity between organizations” (A Report of the Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria, Albert, Marika, May 2013)[10]

The following themes are useful when examining community hubs:

  • “No wrong door” must be baseline approach
  • A regional integrated hub model for a specific geographic area
  • Non-linear with multiple entry and exit points, but with a single point of contact for client (i.e., to either provide service or to help client navigate to appropriate one)
  • Continuum of care
  • Words used to describe power of ISD in reports include: seamless, one-stop shop, wraparound, client-centred, accessible, responsive, “right care, at the right place, at the right time”


Accountability within Integrated Service Delivery governance and authorities:

  • Cabinet level responsibility
  • Clear single line of accountability within each ministry reporting through cabinet level structure (Nova Scotia Schools Plus)
  • Lead agency at local or municipal level with partners mandated to be at tables (mentioned in an interview with Simcoe Community and Children’s Services that this was highly effective in creation of Best Start Hubs in the region)
  • Single funding envelope and/or core funding (George Hull, Centre de santé Communitaire in Sudbury, OHA report)


Key Staff for ISD hub models:

  • Right staff in the right places (How District and Community Leaders are Building Effective, Sustainable Relationships, IEL, 2012)
  • Coordinators at both regional and local (hub) levels which are fully funded and recognize coordinators as ‘lynchpins’ of hub and key to hubs’ success
  • Centre de santé Communitaire in Sudbury has two co-ordinators: Coordinator of Health Promotion (identifies and brings in partner agencies, catalyst for synergy in hub), and Co-ordinator of Community Development (partnerships, outreach, capacity building)
  • “Back office” support staff (reception, website updates, appointment scheduling, system navigator, etc.; has broad system knowledge of all services available)
  • “Key players strategically placed….understanding that if no one is specifically designated and paid to organize/plan/communicate/outreach, etc., the work will not get done” (How District and Community Leaders are Building Effective, Sustainable Relationships, IEL, 2012)


Place-making & Community Building


Community hubs also demonstrate benefits with regards to “place-making” or community revitalization:

  • Many community hubs purposefully set out to reinvigorate their local areas; foci can include local economic development, poverty reduction, supports for children and youth and/or seniors, mental health and health services, etc.
  • Some hubs aspire to revitalize a particularly underserved community through a “social development lens” (Daniels Corporation and Regent Park project, Artscape Wychwood Barns, etc.)[11]
  • This process can unleash a ‘dynamic synergy’ which helps build community capacity, ultimately strengthening the local community and fostering a sense of ownership and pride of place


Leveraging Partnerships

  • Without exception, every report studied identified the critical importance of strong, collaborative partnerships that were leveraged to benefit the target populations of hubs
  • Some partnerships involved service delivery (e.g.., public health, mental health programs etc.), while others included private partnerships, proving “private sector can play a pivotal role in addressing social infrastructure deficits in these communities” (Daniels Corporation)
  • An imperative to collaborate: Partnerships and collaborations are an effective way to move a project forward, especially when resources are scarce” (Daniels Corp)
  • “In times of declining fiscal resources and greater demand for public services, districts have learned that forming partnerships can be fiscally prudent: on average, three dollars from community partners for every dollar they allocate (partners can contribute dollars or in-kind support in the form of access to family programs, health services and more).” (How District and Community Leaders are Building Effective, Sustainable Relationships, IEL, 2012)
  • “CLCs (Community Learning Centres) have made great strides in assembling a wide array of partnerships. It has to be acknowledged that this is a major component of success for the initiative given that only a few of these partnerships existed prior to the establishment of the CLCs…CLC schools have generated over $10.5 million in contributions (human, material and financial resources) over the last four years (2010-2014) for an estimated 2.13 return on investment.” (Fostering Engagement and Student Perseverance Community Learning Centres – Changing Lives and Communities, September 2014, Quebec)


The Value of being Local


  • Many reports identified the importance of hubs being ‘local,’ i.e., in and of the community and as close to the client/population they serve as possible
  • “Improved client access based on a ‘care close to home’ philosophy” (Local Health Hubs for Rural and Northern Communities An Integrated Service Delivery Model Whose Time Has Come, OHA, 2012)
  • Hubs should take into account accessibility (both in terms of public transport and ability), and ensure hubs are located where community and data has clearly identified a gap/need
  • Local neighbourhood audits or scans (some referred to them as a “needs assessment”) are a ‘must’ and an excellent tool for identifying gaps in services, as well as broader demographic research data allowing hubs to then identify and clearly define their goals collaboratively based on evidence
  • Audits/needs assessments can look at both social and physical infrastructure in community using a variety of tools (surveys, consultations, etc.) but must include involvement of key community players, especially in minority communities (e.g., Aboriginal, francophone, etc.) according to both the reports surveyed and several interviews (Simcoe County, Sudbury)
  • Locally responsive: Hubs which deliver programs that “respond to, and are shaped by, the unique circumstances and needs and assets of their community” is a key characteristic cited in hub studies and interviews (Study of Community Hubs, Parramatta, Australia)
  • Shared vision from the ground up: “A shared vision, set of principles and organizational strategies are a must for any place-based strategies” (Community Hubs Report, Parramatta, Australia; SPT Report, Victoria, B.C.; Artscape, etc.)

Common Elements for Community Building in successful hubs


In many reports, the value of hubs which are designed by the community for the community, and are therefore responsive to the needs of the community, could not be emphasized enough.  As mentioned above, local communities and their inhabitants across Ontario are all unique, so a top down (policy and funding) and bottom up (local input and involvement from the very beginning) are a good way to approach hub development, i.e., “common tools, local design.”

  • Community connections matter – no matter the focus of the hub: “Community connections ground children and give a sense of belonging that can help counteract challenges in their lives” (Exploring Schools as Community Hubs, Regina, 2011, p. 21)
  • “A school might be thought of as a two-way hub when children’s learning activities within the school contribute to community development and when community activities contribute to and enrich children’s learning within the school.” (Ibid, D. Clandfield)
  • “…the importance of having clear and focused goals when working with communities, the recognition of the importance of working from the beginning with the whole school community if trying to effect change, and again, the unquantifiable energy that can take place when school, community and partners come together in a common space to achieve a common goal.” (OPHEA, The Living School Success Stories, 2004-2008)
  • “Successful hubs include a variety of uses and services (including community services, health care, leisure and retail that attract different groups of people at different times of the day and meet a wide range of community needs and support community strengths” (Feasibility Study of Community Hubs, Parramatta, Australia)
  • Centre Santé in Sudbury is community inspired and driven; 450 card-carrying members (cards have no value, but reflect community support for Centre), 13,000 volunteer hours per year and a Board of Directors which is “embedded in community” (not hospital-style governance as per many CHCs); “important to recognize that each community and therefore each hub is unique, if you create right conditions and allow hub to evolve with the community, then each site will be a reflection of the unique community in which it is situated” (Executive Director Denis Constantineau)
  • “Have a civic quality, sense of stability and level of amenity that marks them [hubs] as an important place in the community…include an inviting public domain that encourages people to interact in the public realm” (Parramatta)




Theories of Change

Although hub advocates often describe hubs’ benefits using an ingrained sense of their worth, evaluation tools such as Theories of Change and logic models allow more detailed descriptions to emerge. A theory of change should describe why an intervention is being used. A review of hub providers who had developed a theory of change showed common elements are service and space, which lead to community synergy.

A graphic from the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) depicts this most simply, with the synergy depicted as a wide series of swoops at the top of the theory of change. It is labeled “Innovation.” CSI is so committed to this idea of what emerges when community and space are combined that it has also incorporated this pictorially into its organizational logo.
1: Centre for Social Innovation

Transecting a number of fields, hubs are expected to facilitate integrated service delivery and build collective impact. So, other theories of change attempt to capture and enumerate the multiple dimensions across which hubs cut. One mental health model[12] illustrated this complex matrix almost as a Rubik’s cube.

The 2005 Strong Neighbourhoods Taskforce also identified the complex interplay and importance of a place-based approach to community services and to communities. Subsequently, United Way Toronto developed community hubs in its Strong Neighbourhood Strategy. These are seen as important levers to bring programs to underserviced areas, increasing access to community space.

Virtual hub models, which aim to co-ordinate and increase access to local services, have also emerged in places as wide ranging as North Bay, Ontario and Chicago[13]. These places are using a hub model to co-ordinate service interventions and develop common evaluation standards.

What doesn’t work?

Despite the good work that is being done in the development and operation of hubs, a number of barriers were also identified.


Costs are long-term and broad, but funding is project-driven and siloed


What community hubs do not do is reduce costs. Some cases show, in fact, increased costs in the short term. But what they do instead is increase the efficiency of current program funding, reducing duplication and leveraging new opportunities, and reduce longer-term societal costs, demonstrating a “social return on investment” which makes the economic case for their creation and support.

Hubs also struggle with funding.

  • Funding is siloed, so that a single entity reports to several provincial ministries, each with their own accountabilities.
  • Funding cycles often do not align, creating additional administrative burdens for organizations.
  • Three separate funding streams are necessary to create and operate hubs:
    • Capital dollars for development, often raised through fundraising
    • Capital dollars for sustaining operations, which are scarce
    • Ongoing operating funding for programs, staff and core services.

Examples of tight funding restrictions, put in place by funders’ narrow mandates, led in one case review to long-winded negotiations about which program clients might be using a bathroom in the hub.


Complex legislative and regulatory environment

The review identified a range of large-bucket areas where hubs development and operations need to negotiate regulatory boundaries which affect their creation and operation. These include:

  • Zoning and Planning
  • Building codes, including AODA compliance
  • Privacy
  • Occupational Health and Safety
  • Compliance with local by-laws

Issues of privacy and confidentiality have received some focus as service providers strive to provide wraparound services, meeting the needs of their clients, while respecting their rights under Ontario legislation. Health care service providers carry an additional burden of protections so that cooperation with non-health care providers can be difficult to negotiate. Some hub models have managed this by walling the two service sides off from each other. Compliance is critical but complex.


Site development and property management

The expertise required to develop a community hub is often outside the experience of community service providers and local residents who have responded to the challenge.

One 2011 report, for the ICE Committee, described the long list of demands required during the development of community hubs:

  • Partnership-building
  • Feasibility studies
  • Lease agreements
  • Cost-sharing
  • Program space design and allocation/hours
  • Outreach and communication
  • Itinerant partnering
  • Protocol development
  • Source funding
  • Capital dollars fundraising
  • Location identification
  • Community consultations/needs assessments
  • Zoning/permits, design and space allocation
  • Visioning
  • Service planning
  • Governance and administration

Another case reviewed included a list of considerations which had to be worked through before further progress could be made (see figure 2). Hub providers made jokes about the needed heroics to move their projects forward and bewilderment at the extent of them.

Re-built, re-purposed and renovated spaces have also been shown to be more complex and more expensive than new builds.

What the province can do?


The work of local heroes

Most of the hubs already established within Ontario are the result of ‘local heroes,’ individuals, organizations, networks and sectors that have seen a need – or an opportunity – in their community and who have responded to it.

In Hamilton, both the Wever Hub, named after a local community police officer, and the Eva Rothwell Centre at Robert Land, named after the mother of a benefactor, were established in low-income neighbourhoods when local community members recognized a need. They built partnerships with public and private sector organizations and local government over a number of years to create a safe, shared space and set of programs the community could enjoy.

Social purpose real estate has emerged as a new model for self-organizing non-profit enterprises. Common Roof in Barrie and some of Artscape’s hubs in Toronto emerged with the recognition of the effectiveness of shared space.

The most important support the province can provide to community hubs is to develop a system which is responsive to local demand, providing it is technical, regulatory and funding supports where needed, and stepping out of the way where not.

Next steps

The provincial government has a number of policy, regulatory and funding levers with which it can support the continued development of hubs.

One of the more comprehensive summaries of how the province might respond was captured at the May 2014 Community Assets for Everyone Symposium on community hubs. Invited stakeholders identified key components in the development and creation of community hubs at a system (provincial) level.

These included:

  • A citizen-focused vision of service delivery
  • Provincial leadership and collaboration from the various government partners
  • A cohesive legislative framework and mandate to foster co-location and coordination
  • Appropriate structures, policies, incentives and resources to sustain the approach and people who will make this work
  • Flexibility to support and enable community-driven solutions
  • Start with co-location and build towards integration

This review was also able to identify the following areas for potential action by the province:

  • Mapping: No province-wide mapping has been done, partly because of definitional breath and partly because of service silos. The Ministry of Education has mapped Best Start hubs across the province, while also providing local demographics and service features. The Intergovernmental Committee on Labour Force and Economic Development commissioned a 2011 study of the numerous initiatives underway in Toronto, mapping those.
  • Funding: Hub operators have identified the numerous funding streams they access and the administrative burden this places on organizations and partnerships which offer multiple services. A common funding portal would ease some of this. Qualifications for capital funding loans, currently offered through Infrastructure Ontario, might also be reviewed in terms of their accessibility for hub developers.
  • Co-ordination Planning and Funding of Hubs: Hub developers identified a range of overlapping jurisdictions, clashing planning definitions, program priorities, and funding deadlines which they must negotiate in order to create a hub with multiple stakeholder. The province can demonstrate leadership in coordinating these to ease the burden of developing and administering place-based delivery of services.

Some emergent solutions will be low-investment, quick start options. Others will require more consideration and commitment, using a ‘whole government’ approach. Change at this order will require a change management process with input from all involved stakeholders.

The development of a community hub framework is a strong step towards making the changes needed.

[1] http://www.tdsb.on.ca/Community/ModelSchoolsforInnerCities/Research.aspx

[2] www.socialvaluelab.org.uk/2012/03/craft-cafe-sroi-report-launch

[3] http://communitychampionsuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/FullSROIreportCommunityChampions-No-Appendices-FINAL.pdf

[4] www.simpactstrategies.com/LiteratureRetrieve.aspx?ID=171987

[5] http://melsa.org/melsa/assets/File/Library_final.pdf

[6] Mapsab.ca/downloads/events/april/2014/SchoolsAsHUBS.pdf

[7] http://peterbedford.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Peter-Bedford-Housing-Association-Value-for-Money-Statement-2013-14.pdf

[8] Burrett, John. Social Return on Investment: Centerpointe Early Childhood Resource Centre. Unpublished. Haiku Analytics. Ontario (February 2013).

[9] In Ontario, housing, employment and mental health practitioners all use this concept.

[10] Reports reviewed here which include this element and which are cited in this section are: George Hull Centre (Mental Health Hub), Local Health Hubs for Rural and Northern Communities (OHA 2012), Schools as Centres of Community (US, see example of PS 5 The Ellen Lurie School, New York), SchoolPLUS (Saskatchewan), SchoolsPlus (Nova Scotia)

[11] “Artscape Wychwood Barns is a community cultural hub that opened in 2008 where a dynamic mix of arts, culture, food security, urban agriculture, environmental and other community activities and initiatives come together to provide a new lease on life for a century-old former streetcar repair facility.” (p. 1 of Hub Report Overview)

[12] Canadian Institute for Health Information, Return on Investment: Mental Health Promotion and Mental Illness Prevention, 2011, p 4.

[13] Chicago Peace Hub: http://peacehubchicago.org/about-us/the-peace-hubs-four-levers-of-change/

April 1, 2014

A Toronto strategy on poverty

Poverty is a desperate, sad thing. It damns us all, but hurts some of us even more.

Single mothers face twice the poverty rate of couples with children. New immigrants, First Nations people and People of Colour find the labour and housing markets exclude them in very similar and harsh ways. Youth now enter a re-shaped labour market with limited prospects for success. People travel further within Toronto for poorer jobs, bad food and scarce housing. These are terrible awful things which we all well know.

So, then…

As the great Torontonian Ursula Franklin reminded us, “After you have finished awfulizing, then what?”

On March 17, the City of Toronto’s Community Development and Recreation Committee considered a motion to develop a strategy to address poverty. The motion passed and is the April agenda at City Council.

Last fall, the Alliance for a Poverty-free Toronto (APT) produced a report, delivered to every City Councillor, which builds a strong case for change and then points the way. This second half of the report, the call for action, offers some possibilities for the conversation which is about to begin. In it, the Alliance put forward some very specific recommendations for many of the ‘wicked’ problems which face low-income people.

The APT report, Towards a Poverty Elimination Strategy for the City of Toronto, calls for actions in the areas of:

1. Employment (e.g. living wage policy, stronger employment equity, paid internships for youth and newcomers, advocacy for a provincial/national jobs strategy)
2. Income support (advocacy for more adequate provincial income support programs and improved access to Employment Insurance)
3. Housing (address provincial wait list, TCHC repairs, inclusionary zoning, upgrade shelter services, enhance Housing Stabilization Fund)
4. Transit (increased operating support for TTC, barring fare hikes, discounting transit passes for low-income residents, advocacy for adequate provincial funding)
5. Community Services (increased access to mental health, addictions, disability supports; better funding for non-profit and community organizations, better access to affordable child care)

APT also offered a few broad recommendations:

► The first is that a coordinated approach to addressing poverty is needed. In poverty, problems are complex and intertwined, so one-off solutions will not work.
► The second is that every decision brought before Council requires a poverty lense to be used – will the recommendation being considered make poverty better or worsen it? How can the decision under discussion improve the lot of those without? This strong core is required to make a change.

It seems now that strategies are sexy, the new way for governments to respond, to demonstrate their commitment to respond. Last month the Director of Poverty at the Rowntree Foundation in the U.K. posted a cynical blog post about a new Child Poverty strategy. A strategy has to be more than priorities, he cautioned, but connect to specific targets and spark action; otherwise it is simply window-dressing.

The time for action is now. Why? Here’s why:

In an anecdote about his childhood, Mayor Naheed Nenshi explains the difference a city can make. He explained, that while he was from a low-income family, they were not poor. The library with any book he wanted was up the street, the City pool was down and around the corner. For him, downtown was an easy transit ride away. At school, he would have enjoyed a daily snack (something particularly poignant in Toronto given the recent testimony by a pediatric nutritionist on how the school snack program saved Jeffrey Baldwin’s sister from starvation).

Poverty is not inevitable, but it is a choice, of our own economic and social priorities. The City has a chance to make a difference.

This is a version of a text delivered earlier as a deputation by APT for a municipal poverty reduction strategy. A version is cross-posted at Opportunity blogs here

March 29, 2014

Gentrification: Spike Lee kills it

A provocative look at neighbourhood change and gentrification in New York City: How newcomers are received

For transcript, see: New York magazine

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.

Continue reading

February 9, 2014

My neighbour, Jeffrey Baldwin

If I peek through the branches out my son’s bedroom, I can see the room where Jeffrey Baldwin lived, and died, he, the five-year-old who died from neglect, in my backyard.

At that time, when he lived, my children were close to his age, and I knew some of the hardships of this community and of our school. I remember the mother who asked me for $2 so her child could enjoy the school’s hot dog lunch. I remember the girl who carried the last bits of a bag of corn flakes to school for her lunch. I remember the boy who didn’t go to school because he had no winter coat until he got a hand-me-down — how he danced along the block then in that ugly corduroy coat! And I remember the kindergarten child whose mother was always ‘sleeping’ as she wandered our street, joining snack time on our porch.

But I don’t remember Jeffrey Baldwin, who also lived here in my neighbourhood. Instead, I vaguely remember the noisy crowd of adults that sat on his porch (one of them, Jeffrey’s aunt, trained in Early Childhood Education — another shocker).

Later, I learned that Jeffrey’s sisters were at the same grade school my children were, although, in different grades. We would all have gone to the same school concerts or gathered together out in the playground. Each day, Jeffrey’s sisters would have munched on the same daily offering of muffins or yogurt and carrots or apples from the small kitchen on the main floor where volunteers chopped and baked for the snack program.

At the inquest into Jeffrey’s death, a pediatric nutritionist said that this classroom food program probably saved Jeffrey’s sister; she too was targeted, neglected by her grandparents, but, unlike Jeffrey, she was ‘allowed’ to go to school, and so she ate.

I remember the snack program donation envelopes carried home in my son’s backpack each month. And I remember the hunt to fill it with the requested $20 donation each time. Times were lean in our household, but I knew some of my neighbours had it worse than we did so I felt that obligation.

Now, years later, having heard how the snack program had sustained Jeffrey’s sister, I sobbed aloud. I hadn’t understood the role of those scrounged pennies. “One doesn’t know,” I said to myself, “what makes a difference.”

I think Jeffrey’s awful death has stuck with me, not only because of the revulsion we all feel, but also, more personally, as a neighbour who failed him.

I remember a part of the murder trial for Jeffery’s grandparents, the testimony from another neighbour, who described how one day, Jeffrey’s grandmother asked her if she would take Jeffrey, then still a baby. She considered, but refused, having no way to know the atrocity to come.

‘We didn’t know’ seems an awful, sorry excuse. Bitter lessons.

In the closing days of the inquest into Jeffrey long neglect and death, Irwin Elman, the provincial children’s advocate said  “We expect and demand more. More from the child welfare system, more from the educational system, more from the neighbours, and more from the family who stood by and watched Jeffrey starve and die…We can do better.”

Elman’s right.

What neighbourhood-based solutions would have helped?  Better snacks? Better registration and attendance records at school? The parent-child drop-in where I found solace? Neighbourliness (what sociologists describe as stronger social connections and reciprocity)? More ‘eyes on the street’? Even, just more old-fashioned nosiness? Those questions continue to gnaw at me.

Some of the answers lie in the formal and informal networks of a neighbourhood. Perhaps, the inquest’s results will tell us more.

For now, a new family, full of kids, lives in Jeffrey’s house. They know the sad history of it, but, as another neighbour explained to me, they are re-writing it, making it better this time.

We all must.
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November 1, 2013

Advocacy lessons from American race politics for Canada

“It is eerie and unsettling to hear the same issues in country after country. It lifts our common challenges in ways that are sobering,”

Angela Glover Blackwell said, after listening to each person’s introduction.

Squeezed into an early morning session, the walls at the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) were lined with people from the non-profit sector and advocacy groups, funders and even a former Cabinet Minister, all concerned with racial equity. The Colour of Poverty/Colour of Change had invited us to hear Blackwell, Founder and CEO at PolicyLink, and Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity, University of Southern California, both speaking at a recent conference in Toronto, and here to share lessons on how to advance the equity policy agenda.

“We need to continue to look for ways to capture the weary, to inspire those with goodness in their heart,” Blackwell explained.

“There is an immediate need to think long-term”

To do this, advocacy efforts must be attached to the issues which are the currency of the times, Blackwell explained. She drew examples from the 60s, 70s through to the present economic crunch. As an example, PolicyLink has shifted its most recent advocacy efforts from the Promise Neighbourhoods of Obama’s early days to an economic inclusion “All-In Nation” economic plan.

“Early on we framed what we’re doing as equity, allowing people to reach their full potential. Equity is the essential thing to do. In the U.S., your address is literally a proxy for your life opportunity:  what kind of schools you will attend, the job you will have, even your life expectancy,” Blackwell continued. “So, for instance, we attached equity to transportation – it is responsible for access to education, health, and jobs. Neighbourhood environments determine obesity. All of this is  connected to equity.”

“So be clear about the goals, but attach that to whichever issue is in currency,” Blackwell said, giving the example of how Policy Link attached the equity agenda to ideas of job preparation and entrepreneurialism after the 2008 crash. “That became the nation’s agenda,” she explained, so we developed America’s Tomorrow.”

In short, Policy Link is successful in pushing for racial equity by working in three steps, Blackwell said. First they begin by talk to People of Colour and advocacy groups about a strong narrative with People of Colour at the centre. Second they look for ways to attach these things to a national agenda. Lastly, they find ways to change the conversation.

Policy Link also works with allies, Blackwell explained, such The Center for American Progress which is “inside the beltway” to set a national agenda. “We’re showing if you just get rid of inequity, a lot of things will move forward,” Blackwell concluded.

Professor Pastor waded in next, offering his advice to those in the room.

“Race matters,” Pastor continued, “so it is important to put it into the conversation. There is a lot of talk about inequality, yes, but we have to answer the lasting legacies of racism.

To get race behind, we have to put race up front.

Pastor cautioned about concentrating only in the past, though. “Frame forward. Focus on 2042 when the majority of the population and the majority of the workforce [in the U.S.A.] will be people of colour. In 2019, the majority of youth will be. In 2012, the majority of births were.”

“Inequity has a dampening economic effect,” Pastor continued, explaining this was being said by many outside ‘the usual suspects,’ pointing to the IMF and the Cleveland Reserve. Both, he said, have stated that the single most dampening effect on the economy is inequality.

“The process of conversation is important,” Pastor continued. “The real problem is disconnection. So we need empathy.

A neighbourhood can be angry enough to burn itself down without being able to channel that.”

A good model of how to do this is the young, undocumented American residents who organized as the DREAMers. They have a forward focus, using others’ successful narrative of “coming out”. They have captured the narrative, the moment and the imagination,” Pastor explained. They are able, he said, to bridge different issues, be forward-looking, use moral & economic arguments, and have a values-driven narrative which successfully shifted the discussion to how Americans were related to each other.

‘Rock the naturalized vote’ is another successful example of visioning forward, Pastor said. 71% of Latinos and 73% of Asian vote went to Obama because wanted to “punish ‘stupid shit’. Immigration was central.

“The Economic Bureau has said that the debt would be reduced $1 trillion over 20 years if immigration was reformed. Does it make sense to pay $36-40 billion ( = one agent every 100 yards) to protect another border while we only spent $150 million on settlement?” Pastor continued.

Successful advocacy efforts must make a two-pronged argument, Pastor explained.

“To make the case for equity, both moral and material arguments are required,” Pastor continued. “Organize your work by addressing both areas, that is

  • Economic – episodic, interest-based
  • Moral – values, sustained, deeply held

“So first, to build the material case, consider framing and data issues. For instance, a California report looked at the number of undocumented Californians. Re-frame it. They are Californians. Half have been here for 10 years+. Immigration reforms help the next generation of Americans.

Pastor offered some other concrete examples of how framing works, such as the idea of developing regional equity profiles for municipal areas highlighting how rental tenancy is higher by people of colour in Fair Housing & Equity Assessment – HUD’s new frame used disaggregated data. Pastor also pointed to the access provided through San Francisco’s place-based initiative Communities of Opportunity.

At the most technical level, data disaggregation is important, Pastor said, because it reveals race neutrality is not real.

Similarly, “Nerd to Nerd” relations are key to laying an evidence base.

Those technical discussions that identify the right geographic focus, or compare the outcomes for various populations, or which match database variables, can open whole new perspectives on complex social problems, to understanding the layers of poverty.

Finally, Pastor said, the moral frame is vital too. Understand the moment, he advised, and consider the strategic target within the universal good, that is targeted universalism. Appeal to the larger value because

As Van Jones reminds us, Martin Luther King didn’t say “I have an issue.”

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September 10, 2013

Toronto District School Board census 2011: Unsettling picture of inequality revealed

English: Park School studentsClose to 90,000 parents, or sixty-five per cent, of elementary school parents answered the Toronto District School Board’s census sent home last fall. The results are coming out now and reveal the unequal opportunities which children of different family backgrounds enjoy. A recent TDSB research report presents a startling picture of class and racial inequality among our youngest city residents.

 As part of gaining a snapshot of its students, parents were asked to report their family’s total income. Divided into five income groups for comparison, the report shows
  • 28% families reported a family income of less than $30,000/year.
  • 21% reported $30,000 – $49,999/year.
  • 15% reported $50,000 – $74,999/year.
  • 10% reported $75,000 – $99,999/year.
  • 26% reported $100,000+.

When this data was broken down by each family’s racial background, the differences became even more unsettling:

Bar graph showing self-reported family income of school board students by racial background.

TDSB research report on 2011 census of parents with children in Kindergarten through Grade Six.

The impact of these different family income levels was also reflected, as would be expected, in the out-of-school experience of children. Parents in each income group were asked about their children’s extra-curricular and pre-school activities.

Consistently, income was tied to children’s experiences outside of school. The following presents some of these marked differences. (Although the Board’s analysis covers all five income groups, figures for the lowest, middle and highest income groups are reported here as the pattern remains the same across each category.)

Child care centre (before Kindergarten)

  • 25% children in lowest income families enrolled their child in a child care centre.
  • 29% children in the middle-income families enrolled their child in a child care centre.
  • 45% children in highest income families enrolled their child in a child care centre.

Pre-school program

  • 25% children in lowest income families attended a pre-school program.
  • 34% children in the middle-income families attended a pre-school program.
  • 56% children in highest income families attended a pre-school program.

Sense of safety on their street or in their neighbourhood

  • 80% parents in lowest income group said their child is safe on their street or in their neighbourhood.
  • 90% parents in the middle-income group said their child is safe on their street or in their neighbourhood.
  • 95% parents in highest income group said their child is safe on their street or in their neighbourhood.

Sports & Recreation

  • 64/% children in the highest income families are involved in sports or recreation activities outside of school.
  • 54% children in the middle-income are involved in sports or recreation activities outside of school.
  • 38% families in the lowest income bracket participate in sports or recreation activities outside of school.


  • 59% children in the highest income in arts activities outside of school.
  • 32% children in the lowest income families participate in arts activities outside of school.

The patterns are not isolated to Toronto. Noted social commentator Robert Putnam explains, “Kids coming from upper middle-class backgrounds are living in a different world now from kids coming from working-class or less well-off backgrounds.”

However, the second part of the survey was more heartening. When parents were asked about their child’s experiences in school, the differences, by income group, were much smaller, showing only a percentage point or two difference around such things as feeling safe or welcome in the school. This area is an improvement from the 2008 census, a period in which the school board has worked to make improvements.

Opportunity. It’s a powerful idea, that everyone should have an equal chance, that every child should have an equal start. It underscores our sense of civic sense of fairness. Now, as ever, our school system must face this challenge outside its doors too.

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