About me:

I have lived in the east-end for more than twenty -five years, from when my eldest had just learned to walk. Much of what I know about good neighbourhoods, I learned from: my neighbours Daryl & June, on whose porch I sat on through many long summer nights; the local Ladies Potluck where we bickered about who was “in” and who was out; the Mums’ group which has been meeting for more than two decades of beer and rye humour; and our local school council, always hovering around a membership of twelve or thirteen – a coven, I said; from my neighbours at the top of the street, who live in social housing, and the ones at the bottom, who don’t and who are therefore underhoused; and now from the new families who are arriving, toddlers in tow.

I was lucky enough to arrive as a researcher at United Way Toronto (UWT) just after Poverty by Postal Code was published, and as the Strong Neighbourhood Taskforce was forming its recommendation. My team was charged with developing a neighbourhood strategy for United Way. There I able to guide the development of a neighbourhood vitality index; to write twelve drafts (!) of the program guidelines for the resident engagement strategy Action for Neighbourhood Change; and to set up a knowledge resource clearinghouse. Using Stats Can data, I also produced DA-level demographic profiles for UWT’s work in the Priority Neighbourhood Areas, did the mapping and GIS analysis for Losing Ground, and the original research for a chapter in that report on payday lenders and their spread into poor neighbourhoods. Finally, I was lucky enough to be involved with several amazing member agencies, as their staff partner, and to shepherd two and a half grant rounds of agency-led social research projects, fabulous work that ranged from looking at children’s and youth’s resiliency to the working conditions of front-line community service workers.

I have been involved in Jane’s Walks since their inception in Toronto. In its first year with a group led by Susan Fletcher at Applegrove Community Centre; in the second year, my dear friend, neighbour and teacher Cynthia Brouse and I led a brave group of thirty through a downpour; and in the third year, I am thankful to my neighbour Doug Fyfe, a historian, who led a crowd of nearly two hundred with me through our back streets. In the fourth, Doug and I did a reprise and, ambitiously, I offered a second walk called Neighbourhoods 101. In 2011, I offered a simpler walk mischievously titled Braggarts, Laggards, Grumps and Petty Despots: The pain of uncivil neighbours. And in 2012, I teamed up with doctoral student Martine August to offer A Walk on the Radical Side: Gentrification and other downsides of being a desirable neighbourhood. In 2013, I think I finally got talked out. But I returned 2016, after some scares in the neighbourhood because of some shooting deaths, to talk about crime.

I am a board member of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Association where I get to talk about affordable housing, mixed income neighbourhoods and bed bugs. Prior to that, I was a board member of Social Planning Toronto and a former member research advisory committee of the now-defunct Centre for Urban Health Initiatives. I am active in the Toronto Neighbourhood Research Network, Toronto Neighbourhood Centres and the Toronto Community Based Research Network. I also sat as an advisory member on the development of Wellbeing Toronto.

I completed graduate work at OISE/UT in the Higher Education Group, Department of Theory and Policy Studies, but never finished my doctoral thesis (looking at how equity policies and academic freedom were framed within Toronto universities). Instead, I was compelled into the world of parent activism, as the provincial government made severe cuts to the education system just as my children were entering it. So instead I switched to applied learning and spent years data-crunching and producing reports with People for Education and then the Toronto Parent Network.

I also spent more than a decade as a parent volunteer at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), first as a member and then co-chair (with Trustee Wynne among others) and chair of the then-called Community Equity Reference Group and now-named Equity Policy Advisory Committee, and then as member and co-chair of the TDSB’s Inner City Advisory Committee, which established Model Schools across the City. I also enjoyed being one of the two parents on the Board’s working committee and its research sub-committee to review the Learning Opportunity Index, which ranks schools according to the “neediness” of their students. Data geeks that we are, we still meet for the occasional reprisal.

After starting as Manager, Planning & Research, I now have the pleasure of working as Director, Research & Public Policy at WoodGreen Community Services, a large multi-service agency, in my own neighbourhood. There, I work on a wide range of issues, from precarious employment to empty storefronts to community hubs. I also co-lead a Local Immigration Partnership (LIP) quadrant team, oversee evaluation, and lead a few strategic initiatives. It is at WoodGreen that all my learnings have come together, and where I happily sit, if I’m not at home on my porch.

All of the content generated for this blog is my own personal work and should not be seen as a reflection of the opinions of any of my professional or personal associations. The faults, whatever they may be, are all mine.

Please note comments which are racist, sexist, homophobic, discriminatory or simply name-calling will be edited and/or not published. We should be neighbourly here.



Diane Dyson



8 Responses to “About me:”

  1. You are very inspiring! Keep it up!


  2. Thanks for the links. I reciprocated and will work to add your blog to my regular reading list.




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