Toronto Community Partnership Strategy: Priority Neighbourhood Areas revised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The consultation questions set before the community agencies were:

1. Are these system features the most important ones for understanding the strength of the neighbourhood system? Are there some features missing? Are there some features included that are less important?

2. All of these features need more measures developed (see next posts for more descriptions). Which feature needs measures developed for it first? second? last? For the most important features, which measures should be developed first?

And because this was an exercise in consultation, “how would you like to be consulted?”

Submissions and comments on the CSP may be submitted to Policy Adviser Sarah Rix, srix at toronto.ca.

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