Archive for ‘Neighbourhoods’

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.


Method

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)

 

Evaluation

 

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

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.

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.

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.

Arts

  • 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.

June 5, 2013

TDSB Census 2011 highlights student isolation

The most recent TDSB census of parents and students shows improvements where the school board has influence, such as including students’ experience, welcoming parents into schools, or creating an environment where students feel safe. This part is a good news story that shows that concentrated educational efforts can make a difference.

However, as media reports have highlighted earlier, students are also feeling more stressed. The census results also show that physical health and nutrition drop in higher grades. Similarly, students are more likely to report being tired, having headaches, or being less happy in higher grades.

One-third of students don’t want to go to school, regardless of their age.

Students are also less likely to report having at least one adult whom they “feel comfortable to go to for personal support, advice or help.”
  • 34% of Grade 7/8 and 46% of high school students said they have no adult in whom they could confide.
  • 34% of Grade 7/8 and 31% of high school students said they had one adult in whom they could confide.
  • 31% of Grade 7/8 and 23% of high school students said they had more than one adult in whom they could confide.

Students report being less comfortable participating in class, especially those in high school.

According to the census, overwhelmingly students feel safe in class, but do report feeling less safe in other parts of the school building or outside on the grounds.

These are startling initial numbers. The impulse will be to psychologize the results, to describe the deficits in TDSB students and in their families. However, I want to suggest an alternative.

The social science of sociology might shed better light on how to support students to succeed: When students feel they belong in their schools, they will thrive. Foresightedly, some Board staff and trustees are already taking some good first steps and so have struck a working group to look more closely at the issue of how school relations shape better learning.

While the comparisons have not yet been explicitly made, this committee might start with the widening demographic gap between teacher and students. Increasingly divided by age, culture and socioeconomic class, students have a pretty good reason to feel disconnected from the adults in their schools. It’s up to the adults to fix that.

June 2, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 26, 2013

Crime & Difference: What I want to say to our new local Toronto Police superintendent

English: The neighbourhood of Danforth Village...

English: The neighbourhood of Danforth Village in Toronto, Canada, looking east down Milverton Boulevard at its intersection with Woodmount Avenue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Toronto crime” is the the top search term that lands people on my blog, a blog about neighbourhoods and how we live together in community. However, as Mazlow’s hierarchy of need describes and, as our new local police superintendent must know, safety is the basis of all else.

Crime, and the threat of it, is why we pack high school auditoriums and why we write worried letters-to-the-editor. Whether our reaction is to lock ourselves behind double-deadbolted doors or to set up Neighbourhood Watches, these  are the ways we seek to protect ourselves and that which we love.

Last summer I attended a nearby community meeting with the local crime prevention officer. The attendees, many of my better-off neighbours, fretted about activity in the back alleyways, apparent drug activity at some homes, and people with substance abuse problems wandering by on neighbourhood sidewalks. None of these made the neighbourhood very family-friendly, so this focus wasn’t unfounded.

This is a neighbourhood where a substantial number of its residents have had some involvement with the criminal justice system, and the local police station has shown that targeting the few “bad apples” can drive down crime. Combing through a map of incarcerated individuals from a 2009 Toronto Star investigation, I found this part of the east end ranked on par with a few of the city’s better-known priority neighbourhood areas (see More below).

My own son, like many of my friends’ sons, had been mugged. It’s almost a neighbourhood rite of passage, disrupted once when a group of young men broke with orthodoxy and confronted a local mother demanding she turn over cash. For my son, though, it ended well. Older boys intervened and one of them, recognizing the aggressors, talked them into returning the stolen money. (Honour among thieves, indeed! I loved this story, when I finally heard it, because of the two degrees of separation and the power of social networks and social norms.)

I sat listening for a while, sympathetic to these women, protective too of their broods.

But now my son, the teenager I love, has grown. He is taller than me with a bristly haircut, a loping walk, and arms he’ll flex at the merest provocation. He looks, admittedly, a bit scary to some. And, as a mixed-race kid, he doesn’t carry the skin privilege I do.

Were they talking about him? A few assured me afterwards they didn’t mean him, of course, that they knew he was a good kid. But that’s small comfort. He has already been stopped by the Police, and I know the police won’t be asking my neighbours to vouch for him.

So our crime prevention meeting abruptly became nerve-wracking. Suddenly we weren’t talking about criminal activity. We were talking about how people looked, or dressed, or ambled around the neighbourhood. We were ready to call the police when someone, muttering to themselves or holding “too much” cash, walked by our porch. This, in a former working class neighbourhood, still with a group home, a rooming house, public housing, and scattered supportive units for people with mental health challenges?

Were we talking about enforcement over community-building? To sanction over supports?

Perhaps if we are scared enough, I heard.

This is the nub of the challenge our new superintendent will face: the tensions that arise among those who are different from each other, among those who do not have an easy understanding of each other and a code of behaviour to smooth things over.

It will take a sharp mind and a good heart to negotiate these waters, but I’m sure she’s up for the job of catching criminals, of resolving local disputes, and, as they say, of knowing the difference between the two.

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.

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