Archive for April, 2011

April 29, 2011

Hot Docs 2011 in the neighbourhood

Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Fe...

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A few good watches for people interested in the topic of community and neighbourhoods at this year’s Hot Docs film festival:

  • The Interrupters: looks at three former gang members who work now to stop violence when it erupts. The focus of earlier magazine articles, this Chicago program has been captured by Director Steve James, who did Hoop Dreams.
  • Bury the Hatchet: explores one Louisiana’s perseverance in maintaining its Mardi Gras traditions rooted in the history of its Aboriginal and Black residents.
  • Battle for Brooklyn: tells the story of a condo owner who has to fight to preserve his neighbourhood from developers.
  • Foreign Parts: is about another fight for a New York City neighbourhood. This time the focus for gentrifying forces is an industrial zone.
  • Living Skin: focuses on the boys in one Egyptian neighbourhood who work in the city’s tanneries.
  • St Henri, the 26th of August: celebrates Montreal’s working class neighbourhood. Two days, decades apart, and 16 film-makers.
April 28, 2011

Community Hubs in Toronto

Charles, Prince of Wales outside the White Hou...

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Last summer, Prince Charles announced the Pub is a Hub program had spread to over 400 English villages. Offering community services in the unused rooms, the program expects to save the institution of the hub and alleviate some of the needs of rural communities.

HRH explained,

The key is to identify what is needed in each community and meet that need using spare rooms or land at the local pub, whether it is a shop, playground, meals for the elderly or even allotments [community gardens]. There are so many benefits.

Community hubs serve three important functions in neighbourhoods:

  1. Services: A wide range to meet local need, providing wrap-a-round to a client’s multiple needs.
  2. Space: An accessible, neutral place for local residents
  3. Synergy: A critical mass of services which improves access and delivery to residents, and which creates the opportunity to strengthen social networks

It’s what neighbourhood centres have known and practiced for a long time: Respond to local need, build community.

Jane Jacobs (another timely reference with Jane’s Walks days away), explained that community hubs are

always where there’s a crossing or a convergence. You can’t stop a hub from developing in such a place. You can’t make it develop if you don’t have such a place.

In Toronto, community hubs are popping up in schools, in strip malls, street corners and libraries. The City government has incubators for business, fashion and food;United Way Toronto has thirteen in development or launched; the Toronto District School Board is launching Full Use Schools alongside its broader Community Use of Schools initiative; and community groups ranging from Artscape creating community art spaces to church congregations looking for new uses for old buildings are exploring the concept of creating neighbourhood spaces.

This week, the Intergovernmental Committee on Economic and Labour Force Development (ICE Committee) released a summary report  and profiles I wrote cataloguing these many initiatives. It’s just an overview but should create the opportunity for more discussions.

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April 19, 2011

Review of Toronto City Services

Not nearly so poetically labelled as the quixotic “gravy train,” the Service Review Program is the next stop on City Council’s search for waste. It will be a quick trip, occurring through much of the summer.

The Services Review Program has three parts:

  1. A Core Services Review which will review all City services to determine which are required by legislation, which are core activities of the City, and which services are discretionary. This part of the Services Review will conclude by this July. Public consultations, both on-line and through four public meetings, will begin in mid-May.
  2. A User Fee Review will do cross-city comparisons to explore which services use fees and whether they are at the right level. This review will be done through summer.
  3. Service Efficiency Studies will also be done on nine City divisions. This is the first round of a more intense examination of each City service department by “3rd party experts.” These recommendations will feed into the 2012 Budget, to be unveiled in November 2011.
April 11, 2011

Statistics Canada 2011’s long form census questionnaire will play out neighbourhood by neighbourhood

Within less than a month, Canadians will be filling in the new census forms delivered to our front doors, which we all have to answer. One month later,  a third of us will be given the voluntary long form, now called the National Household Survey.

People smarter than me have pointed out how this new format will hurt the reliability of the census. We know that low-income people and others who are not included in full civic  participation are less likely to participate. And, frankly, if they are not counted, then the government will look good.

“Look, fewer poor people in Canada!” And then, because dollars follow the evidence presented, “We can cut some of those costly support programs.”

That exact logic has some of us in the community sector worried. If people in our neighbourhoods are not counted, we will not be able to make the case for the need.

Toronto had a more small scaled rehearsal of this census “undercount” problem in 2006. Key Toronto organizations, City of Toronto staff and local academic researchers all raised concerns about undercounting in some key Toronto neighbourhoods. As a result, Statistics Canada went out and re-sampled the target areas.

In fact, when the Inner City Advisory Committee at the Toronto District School Board looked at the last census, they also worried about the undercounting problem and moved a motion to encourage local schools to set up form-filling clinics to help parents to complete the census.

Schools and community agencies are close enough on the ground to reach people who live in basement apartments, or who speak one of the official languages as a third or fourth language, or who have limited literacy skills. These are the people who are less likely to fill in the census form — especially if it is voluntary — so helping them to do so, helps build a more accurate picture of the neighbourhood.

On the other hand, some are arguing that we should boycott the voluntary long census form. The data, by most measures, will be unusable because the methodology has changed so much. Any data collected this way cannot be compared with earlier censuses. “Why participate?” they ask.

So, in the end, what community agencies and local schools are left with the prisoner’s dilemma.

  • If some of us, working for the benefit of our local community, support a higher response rate, our neighbourhoods will be helped,  but others, who didn’t do the additional outreach, will be hurt in the comparison.
  • If none of us work to support a higher response rate, then the resultant undercounts will hurt our clients.
  • And the final option, that we will all work to improve the census, seems the most unlikely scenario of all.

What we choose, and what others choose, will have consequences for all of us.

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April 7, 2011

Saunders: The important functions of receiver communities (and how we get in the way)

Doug Saunders ARRIVAL CITY

Image by Jenn Farr via Flickr

Doug Saunders, author of Arrival City, spoke last week to the School of Public Policy and Governance at University of Toronto’s Munk Centre. His presentation flowed over description of the functions of communities which act as the first landing zones for urban migrants, describing the ambitions.

Arrival city neighbourhoods, or what are sometimes called receiver communities, are often found at the end of a transit line or in some other inaccessible corner of a city.  There, often a cluster of people from a similar place or the same village will have settled. In whichever urban area they are found, these are places of social mobility and change or they are places of failed dreams.

Having just returned from the Libya-Tunisian border for the lecture and book tour, Saunders began with “the Arrival City at the centre of the Arab Revolutions,” the neighbourhood of Bulaq in Cairo. It’s a place, he said, most people from Cairo would avoid. This was, though, the first neighbourhood into Tahrir Square for the rebellion against Mubarek. It had a history of such movements. Bulaq was a neighbourhood which, cut off from opportunities in the main parts of the city, had developed its own middle class, one which collided with the established Cairo middle class. It was, Saunders explained, a place of thwarted ambitions.

These receiver communities are found in the west, and the east, and the south, Saunder explained, like the French banlieux today at the edge of the capital; South Central Los Angeles, where the Hispanic residents have settled and invested in their new neighbourhoods; and Dhaka”s “place of the fallen” where the city’s “housecleaners, servants and prostitutes,” who serve the middle class, live. There are more, he said, like the “arrived overnight” neighbourhoods of Turkey, Brazilian favelas, and the neighbourhoods in Iran which fomented the 1979 rebellion. Saunders even described the historical neighbourhoods of 1789 Paris, where French villagers had settled, pushed there from the subsistence farming they had left behind, tipped quickly into early support of the French Revolution.

Receiver communities vary in their stability, but the trend of migration to urban areas is international.

Citing Professor Ronald Skeldon‘s work, Saunders explained how migration from rural to urban areas evolves from a rural family with an urban income source inevitably, although not always linearly, towards an urban family with rural roots. Education, he explained, is a key to this transformation.

It’s a mistake to see these places as static, as places which support a vital settlement function, Saunders said.

The state, Saunders explains, began to invest in these neighbourhoods after 1848 and into the 20th century. However, their role as places of transition is misunderstood, governments may interrupt or even damage their core functions.

We must think of these places as sets of functions rather than simply as locations, as places which, if they work well

  • foster networks, and act
  • as rural development support systems
  • as integration mechanisms,
  • as urban entry platforms,
  • as a social mobility channels, for the creation and distribution of social capital.

Within Toronto, Saunders has profiled Thorncliffe Park, but Parkdale, Crescent Town, Rexdale, or Scarborough Village could also all stand in. At one point, Kensington Market, or the Danforth, or Little Italy all served these functions, providing a landing place for city newcomers and now where social mobility has transformed them into desirable neighbourhoods. They are places where newcomers are able to get a foothold, and if it function correctly, connect to the rest of our city.

The drive for success is something North Americans, as the children of immigrants understand.

Saunders cited an example of how people from the same Turkish villages settled in Berlin and London and Istanbul with very different outcomes, because each of these areas offered different possibilities for integration. Understanding these complex dynamics can be challenging. Unlike the simplicity offered in a Millennial Village, it is harder to track the educational outcomes or the impact of remittances.

If an arrival city fails, isolation occurs.Rebellion bubbles up, informal economies thrive, and, as things worsen, crime, gangs and poverty emerge out of the “impediments to the natural ambitions” of these places. Protective conservatism can emerge, explaining how some immigrant communities are more conservative than the source villages from which residents emigrated. In another example, Saunders showed the audience pictures of a Dutch neighbourhood. Immigrants had settled here away from the city core, in low-rise apartments, where “it was easier to communicate with North Africa than with other Amsterdam residents.”

“It was a bottom rung, without the next two rungs,” Saunders said. So the grassy verges were converted, and the bottom floors of apartment buildings became retail and industrial working spaces. Densities were increased. It looked a lot like Spadina Avenue or New York’s Lower East Side, he explained. Regulations were pushed aside, and now they have become places where the rungs are visible, places which are succeeding. This Dutch neighbourhood has even created its own community police force, which includes a truancy patrol, unheard-of in laxer parts of the city.

Saunders warns that we are doing arrival cities wrong around the world. We need to do a few things to make sure these places work, he said:

  1. Start with the physical structures. As Jane Jacobs said, get planners and government out of the way of residents. Link these centres to other places. Transit is key to accesing the main city’s labour market, customers, and educational opportunities. Street lighting and home addresses raise property values (something residents monitor, he said, as closely as your average Torontonian obsesses over house values).
  2. Removing “bureaucratic” barriers is also key. Requirements for licensing hinder the emergence of small businesses. (The recent GTA Summit Alliance heard that 19 separate licenses and permits are required in Toronto to open a bakery.) Bureaucratic racism also hurts these communities. Black American settlements in northern states, for instance, had highways landed in the middle of their arrival cities.
  3. Citizenship barriers must also be lowered, not simply at the national level, but within the city. Postal code racism by employers is well-documented. If a large population of people sees no pathway to full citizenship, than they will see no reason to buy a house, to pay taxes, to send their children to higher education, because they see no future. Instead, newcomers will find a way to survive outside these structures, and sometimes outside the law. Countries, like Canada, have to be “very, very careful,” with reliance on temporary, foreign workers who cannot access full citizenship, Saunders warned.

Saunders concluded saying each of these have to be done in concert. No matter if it seems costly, Saunders said. Building the infrastructure to support them, including such basics as childcare, will save greater expenses later.

Arrival cities have the potential to be the next middle class or to be a continual source of problems.

His analysis and solutions, Saunders acknowledged, would be unsatisfactory to those people seeking a market solution and, also, to those looking to state actors to solve societal problems. It is, probably, why his solutions will work.

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