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.