Archive for June, 2009

June 28, 2009

A neighbourhood by any other name

No one in my neighbourhood agrees where we live. We laugh about our multiple names, but if attachment to a place begins with what we call it, we don’t know where we live.

The situation is aggravated by the bisection of the community into two different political ridings a few elections back. Confusingly, parents call a school trustee for whom they cannot vote, yet from whom they require help.

Even, a recent incarnation of a residents’ association debated the topic of a neighbourhood name at a few of its meetings, considering an on-line poll after no consensus was found. The website is still entitled ?? Residents’ Association.

When the Toronto Star tried to map out Toronto neighbhourhoods, they ended up leaving our 16 square blocks blank – nameless – hanging there between Riverdale and the Beach. Debate renewed on the Star’s website over it, many suggesting their version.

So, as a neighbour and I called this year’s Jane’s Walk, we are Greenwood-Coxwell: A neighbourhood of many names.

The naming of neighbourhoods is important, if you look at the energy that goes into it.

Spacing Montreal recently profiled a few Montreal quartiers struggling with their boundaries and their names.

Residents in a few of the Toronto Priority Neighbourhood Areas have also demanded changes to the original, City-imposed names. Crescent Town is looking at a version of Taylor-Massey Creek, and Jane-Finch is variously called Black Creek, University Heights or Elia. Residents in Eglinton East-Kennedy Park, Westminster-Branson have also reportedly rejected the City-imposed appellations.

As part of its newly introduced Historic Neighbourhood Strategy, the city of Barrie, Ontario is trying to involve local residents in just such an exercise. When residents identify with and are attached to their neighbourhood, engagement grows.

Identification with the geographic area in which you live is one of the key markers of belonging. Community developers often work with local residents to help them define, and if necessary, name their neighbourhood.

So how did we become a neighbourhood of many names? Through the complex evolution and structures that make up any neighbourhood.

Historically, we are:

  • Ashbridge Estates, as sometimes suggested by residents who live close to the original Ashbridge home.  Harkening to this semi-regal historical connection, but similar to an attempt to carve out a separate identity, as documented in some New York city neighbourhoods.
  • Ashdale Village, a now-defunct effort by some local residents who, through the efforts of a few residents, tried to re-create a cohesive identity. Yet, strangely, they focused on only a small section of the neighbourhood and faded away when one key member moved away. Such grassroots efforts are not always doomed to failure. AshdaleVillage.com has re-emerged with a new suffix.  The Pocket, just to the west of here has successfully established their heretofore unnamed identity, through the creation of a residents’ newsletter and regular events.
  • Leslieville, as sometimes used by those closer to Queen Street, or by real estate agents intent on capturing us with the re-branded neighbourhood to the southwest. (Jane Farrow, at the Centre for City Ecology, taught me that locals also call it colloquially Lesbieville because of the settlement of gays and lesbians into the neighbourhood. See the Star’s map of the week.)

Economically, we are:

  • the Gerrard India Bazaar as the local BIA’s version of our neighbourhood. Gerrard Street is the commercial centre of the community, but tensions arose with this name because it excludes others South Asian communities who live in and visit the neighbourhood. The (re-)branding of a neighbourhood is almost common, now. One neighbourhood in Seattle was tarted up by local businesses with a new name, banners hung, without most its residents even knowing about it.

Socially, we are:

  • Little India. This is probably the most popular among local residents. It is the name I was taught when I moved here, the commercial strip well-established, and what I often say, by habit, although it’s also a name which carries unfortunate colonial overtones.

Geographically:

The neighbourhood is proximate to a few others, so we are sometimes attached to:

  • Riverdale (for those who orient west)

and Administratively, we are:

  • the Greenwood-Coxwell Corridor (Greenwell? Although some in the neighbourhood prefer the perverted spoonerism Coxwood). During the development of the City of Toronto’s new 140 neighbourhoods, planners grouped demographically similar census tracts into larger “neighbourhoods.” Our name was chosen for two of the main streets which as boundaries to the community, and we were lumped with folks on the other side of the tracks – a long walk.

Now, mainly, when people ask where I live, I’ve learned to just give the nearest major intersection.

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June 21, 2009

Community hubs recommended for young and old

The same week the Pascal Report on the implementation of full-day kindergarten in Ontario was released, the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) released a Call to Action on building age-friendly communities. Bracketing opposite ends of the life cycle, the reports shared some very similar recommendations.

Both reports emphasized the role and importance of community hubs and the integrated delivery of services. Pascal recommended that schools serve families and the broader spectrum of their needs, while the OPPI called in a series of recommendations for government services to be delivered locally and for seniors and children’s services to be co-located. Both also addressed expanded learning opportunities for each age group.

The reports underscore the point that a focus on place-based strategies aids those who are most needy and least mobile: the elderly, parents with strollers, newcomers with more limited social networks and low–income people who rely on transit.

The benefits of this strategy are also shared. As the former mayor of Bogotà, Columbia, eloquently explained about some of his innovative strategies:

“Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children we will have a successful city for all people.”

—Enrique Peñalosa to Yes Magazine

___

A few other praiseworthy notes on the report by Dr. Charles Pascal, the Premier’s Special Adviser to the Ontario Premier on Early Learning:

  • By addressing the entire 0—12 age range, Pascal affirmed that the introduction of full day kindergarten was not a panacea to the challenges that many children face (he cites Willms’ research estimates of up to 60% of all children are vulnerable). As, as economist James Hechman shows, early investment must be followed up to be effective [emphasis added].
  • Pascal also recognized and named the summer learning loss which occurs for most low–income kids. The opening of schools as community hubs should bridge some of that gap.

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June 11, 2009

Canadian Index of Wellbeing launched

Roy Romanow entered the room to waves of applause. The early morning crowd had grabbed a muffin or some fruit and were now visiting between tables as they waited for the early morning launch of the new Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW).

Annie Kidder from People for Education chatted with John Ralston Saul (who reminded Canadians recently of Peace, Order and Well-being). Wellesley’s Institute’s Michael Shapcott twittered about the event from the back. Three funders (United Way Toronto, Maytree Foundation and Toronto Community Foundation) sat together chatting with a reporter.

Researcher geeks from across the country clapped each other on the back and hugged. Activists were almost jovial. They were here to see the launch of a new tool which, as one speaker said, would set aside the measurement of wealth and economic growth for the measurement of happiness.

Romanow’s opening comment caught the sentiment of the moment, reminded all that the historic St. Lawrence Hall, where the launch was being held, was where some of the very fathers of Confederation had gathered in the 18o0s.

The CIW will cover 8  domains; yesterday, three of those categories were launched: Living Standards, Healthy Populations, and Community Vitality.

Reports on the other domains will emerge as they are prepared. They include:

When the Atkinson Foundation set out to introduce this measure, the task seemed unwieldy and ambitious. Yet workgroups were formed, academics were pulled in, and consultations had.

Today, the CIW is everything it needed to be.

Questioners after the presentation quickly saw its strengths, looking to see how the Index could be used for different geographies, different populations and to develop policy solutions.

Indeed, one of the wisest parts of the the new CIW’s inauguration, because it assures further sustainability, is the simultaneous launch of an Institute of Wellbeing, in association with the University of Waterloo and Social Innovation Generation.

The CIW has a real chance of making a meaningful impact on the way we see our communities. Bravo!

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June 11, 2009

A reminder: CIW requires rigor in its statistics

My favourite statistical test emerged out of one of consultations for the Canadian Index for Wellbeing (CIW):

The Chief Statistician of Newfoundland and Labrador, Alton Hollet, explained some of the rigorous testing used in the development of the province’s Community Accounts, which allows people to search for data about their local community. The user-friendly website is the best demographic profile tool in Canada.

After telling the story of how a few audience members had fallen asleep during the initial and very dry presentations of the Accounts, Hollett sternly warned the gathered experts that people must see their lives reflected in the statistics to be presented to them because “if you can’t see yourself in the mirror, how are you going to comb your hair?”

It’s a statistical test — and a laugh — that has stayed with me.

June 5, 2009

Crime and social cohesion in Toronto neighbourhoods

Neighbourhood social cohesion has gotten some recent media attention in Toronto.

Presenting recently at 2009 Canadian Association of Geographers, Ryerson professor Sarah Thompson caught the attention of the National Post.

Co-author with Professor Rosemary Gartner, they have been able to map out “The spatial distribution of homicide in Toronto’s neighborhoods, 1988 – 2003” and to do some preliminary analysis on the difference between high homicide and low homicide neighbourhoods.

“Measures of neighborhood-level socio-economic disadvantage and the proportion of residents who were young males were the most consistent correlates of neighbourhood-level homicide counts,” according to their research.

At this point, more analysis is needed, however speculation on other reasons for the differences includes the level of community services available locally and the social cohesion in the neighbourhood.  It’s an exciting start.

United Ways Toronto and Peel are also bringing some attention to the issue of social cohesion. They’ve invited Garland Yates, a Senior Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to speak at their Annual General Meetings. He has been working with the United Way Toronto’s resident engagement project, Action for Neighbourhood Change, for the past three years.

CBC Metro Morning’s Andy Barrie interviewed him this week while he was in town. (The man does not mind getting up early when he travels, three mornings in a row.)

When pushed by Barry to move past the platitudes of “facilitating” and “enabling” and to explain what could be done to strengthen social networks, Yates rose to the challenge, explaining the messy and unorganized ways that social networks function and social cohesion builds:

“First of all…social networks are pretty organic…I remember when growing up my mother and others would do things for each other, like each other’s hair.

“I don’t think it is necessarily about creating [social networks], and we have to be careful, as well, not to overprofessionalize them.

“Where there are natural tendencies of people to relate and interact with each other…that relate to welfare and improvement of the neighbourhood, we ought to just encourage them.

“A kind of simplistic way of putting it is, is that if we have resources we should invest those resources in activities that get people to interact and not necessarily in a program structure.”

CBC Metro Morning, June 3, 2009

Upon reflection, the implications of both these presentations call for further exploration of the role of community agencies in the strengthening of neighbourhoods. Community service agencies formalize the supports that used to have to be provided by social networks, yet, in our complex, densely-populated communities, neither can replace the other.

And speaking of the The National Post, it’s doing some great Toronto-focused profiles of the city:

  • A series since the beginning of May, Peter Kuitenbrouwer’s Walk Across Toronto has focused on the wide range of neighbourhoods outside the downtown (and predictable, as he terms it) city core.
  • A weekly series called Toronto, A to Z, profiling interesting corners of the city. They are up to the letter M now.
  • 95 (and counting) separate profiles entitled My Toronto by “famous” sons and daughters of the city.

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June 1, 2009

2006 Toronto demographics

Map of Toronto

Image via Wikipedia

If you are feeling like a real demographic data geek, you’ll enjoy this presentation titled, Demographics of Toronto: A visual presentation of population sub-groups. It was assembled for a Toronto consortium meeting of the Canadian Social Data Strategy by Harvey Low, the City’s planning analyst who convenes the group of community agencies and city divisions.

Topics include 2006 census variables on population and age variables, immigration, and income. There is also a draft of a “mosaic indicator” to measure diversity and the degree to which Toronto neighbourhoods are ethnic enclaves.

If you are looking for more specific data, take a look at the links on the side of this blog. They include links to a range of sites. Particularly interesting is the City of Toronto’s Toronto-wide and neighbourhood level data across a range of domains.

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