Toronto Community Partnership Strategy: Measuring Community Based Organizations

Do community-based organizations affect the strength of a neighbourhood? The City of Toronto says so.

A new City report argues that community-based organizations allow the municipal government to “extend its service and strategic goals.”

Community organizations are active in almost every area of social, economic, and community life – in health care, education, economic development, social services, employment, training and skills development, financial services, the environment, culture, the arts, recreation, religion, and spiritual pursuits.

In fact, the presence of community organizations across Toronto neighbourhoods is on the verge of being systematically evaluated.

On February 3, the City’s Community Development and Recreation Committee will be examining a newly proposed strategy, the Community Partnership Strategy (CPS).

The CPS would “pilot and assess” a new way of measuring neighbourhoods, and a key part of the strategy will be to map the presence and capacity of local not-for-profit organizations (including faith-based organizations, but not hospitals and schools).

The strategy will start with the measure of access used in the Strong Neighbourhood Taskforce in 2005: % population within 1 km of an appropriate organization. (One kilometre = walking distance)

It’s an easy calculation, but a biased, and therefore faulty, one.

Suburban neighbourhoods are more likely to score as underserved compared to downtown neighbourhoods with more compact and dense populations.

For example, if a suburban has 1,000 residents, of whom only 40%  are near a community organization, 600 people would be unserved. At 40% coverage, the community would be ranked as underserved.

And, if a more densely populated downtown community has 80% of its residents within walking distance of an organization — no matter how small or appropriate those services are—, it looks like it is well-served. However, with a possible population of 10,000, 2,000 people are not getting service.

So which neighbourhood is needier?

The smaller neighbourhood has half the service level of the more populated one (40% compared to 80%).

Yet, the number of unserved residents in downtown neighbourhood (2,000) is twice the entire population in the entire suburban neighbourhood.

A focus on percentages rather than numbers of people explains why neighbourhoods like Parkdale, Regent Park, St. Jamestown and Alexandra Park never were identified as Priority Neighbourhood Areas. By comparison in 2005, they were “overserved.”

The CPS is going to have to do some fast footwork to ensure a more balanced set of measures is used to assess neighbourhoods. And City staff have already indicated they will.

Ground-breaking and insightful thinking has gone into the CPS. It can’t stall here.

The Underestimated Role of Community Agencies

Toronto Community Partnership Strategy: Priority Neighbourhood Areas Revised

Community hubs recommended for young and old

Collective efficacy: Our trust in one another affects neighbourhood crime levels

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