Posts tagged ‘Community Development’

January 8, 2010

Toronto Community Partnership Strategy: Priority Neighbourhood Areas revised

What if we could measure the quality of a neighbourhood — systematically assess what’s missing and what’s in place? How could we use that information to ensure each community was strengthened?

Over the past year, City of Toronto staff and invited community members have worked to develop such a tool: that is the Community Partnership Strategy (CSP) [as described, a year ago, in one of the first posts on this blog]. The new strategy, if adopted when presented in the spring to Council, will allow all of the city’s 140 social planning neighbourhoods to be assessed across a range of domains so that priorities for supporting each neighbourhood can be set.

The City of Toronto set out to develop such a tool because, as Chris Brillinger, Director of Social Policy, explained at the end of November during cross-city consultations, “One weak neighbourhood affects us all.”

And more bluntly, he explained, the CSP will help to address when enough is enough, a question raised by Council members who push back at the seemingly continual call for additional community funding. The adoption of the CSP will allow a more systematic response to that question.

Community agencies are interested in the development of this new strategy because of the way the focus on Priority Neighbourhood Areas (PNAs) has funnelled funding into the 13 city areas since 2005. The PNAs created a rush to funding, as agencies followed the dollars and moved into these admittedly under-served areas. Brillinger reassured the crowd about the scope of this exercise, “Moving services from one part of the city to another is not on.”

As a place-based intervention, the PNAs made sense, leveraging scarce resources to address complex problems. As a long term strategy, PNAs are a recipe for starving the rest of the city — and other areas with high needs.

Under the proposed strategy, “focus neighbourhoods” would be identified according to marginalization of the neighbourhood and its residents, the [lack of] structures in place to support them, and the availability and capacity of local services.

The overall strength of the system would be assessed on the following areas:

  • Community Organizations
  • Community Space
  • Connectedness
  • Reach
  • Adaptability
  • Resources

(In future posts, I’ll look more at each of these areas in more depth.)

By looking at the strengths and weaknesses of every neighbourhood, the new CSP will allow a broader analysis of needs across the city. So, for instance, the areas with the highest unemployment rates or the poorest access to food can be identified, or the top ten neighbourhoods deserving youth programming can be threshed out from the top ten requiring additional seniors’ services. Each of these maps may be different,  but they will allow more targeted programming to be delivered where it’s needed.

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November 1, 2009

Mixed picture on mixed income: Moving in on poor neighbourhoods

Early one morning this week, I drove a neighbour (and, of course, friend) to a downtown hospital for a medical test.

We were distracted from the quiet between us by the car radio. CBC’s Metro Morning was broadcasting from Regent Park, the downtown neighbourhood with a scope of need that is almost double any other part of the city. We zoomed right through it, along Shuter Street.

Metro Morning was exploring the community’s revitalization. The first stage was underway, and 1 Cole Place, the new condominiums, were opening. The morning’s interviews demonstrated the deep history and vitality of the neighbourhood and, also, the new interest that has been sparked in the community.

As I drove back home alone, I decided to stop the car and go watch the broadcast from Nelson Mandela Park school.

Host Andy Barrie was the efforts to create a mixed income neighbourhood in Regent Park. He was interviewing a young University of Toronto doctoral student and Trudeau scholarship winner, Martine August, and long-time resident and community organizer, Sandra Costain, about the impact of the looming arrival of higher income residents (and their homes).

It was a sobering interview, one which just whet my appetite. August cited studies from her literature review, and Costain concurred from experience, but they both painted a gloomy picture:

  • People segregate themselves according to their separate identities. In 14 studies August looked at, interactions between higher-income newcomers and lower-income residents show that interactions don’t occur.
  • Very often when people of higher incomes do move into a poorer neighbourhood and exercise their political muscle, it’s to push social services, which low income people need, out.
  • Community programs which were universal, free to local (low-income) residents begin to require documentation of need, fees introduced, and stigma grows.

What was left unsaid in the short interview is what might mitigate these colonizing forces.

For instance, in his work in school, Clyde Hertzman found that children from poor families did better when in a mixed income school. He attributed that to the “sharp elbows of the middle class,” which act to protect a full range of services.  By extension then, those who buy homes in a poor area need to see further than their property values, but to a common good.

Discussing this electronically with Brian Eng at the Wellesley Institute afterwards, he said that this tendency of mixed income neighbourhoods to push out poor people further underscores the importance of community development.

Eng gave the example of the co-ops around the St. Lawrence Market as a good example of a mixed income community that works. In fact, commentators on CBC’s website, gave the example of the Woodsworth Coop, in the same area, that has monthly business meetings to discuss community business, shared common task (such as cleaning) and regular celebrations with food.

Where opportunities for interactions are created and fostered, stronger communities emerge, a place with, as one American social justice organization called for Better Neighbourhoods, Same Neighbours.

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October 23, 2009

"Are there limits to gentrification? Evidence from Vancouver"

Gentrification is fifty years old this year, UBC professor and Canada Research Chair in Geography David Ley explained to a University of Toronto audience earlier this week. Or at least the word “gentrification” is.

Although attributed to sociologist Ruth Glass first in 1964, the term can be found in an unpublished paper of hers five years earlier. Glass’ definition still holds up well, Ley explained. Gentrification is the movement of middle income households into lower income or working-class neighbourhoods.

Ley was speaking a Cities Centre hosted lecture entitled “Are there limits to gentrification? Evidence from Vancouver.” Reflecting back on the decades of work he has done on Vancouver neighbourhoods, Ley made the following points, some new, some old.

Shifts in the housing and labour markets are linked

While the labour marker and the housing market have been “commonly partitioned in academia,” they are coupled.

Citing the historical shifts in Cabbagetown, Ley read off a list of occupations from the 1960s and then a few decades afterwards. Physicians replaced Punch Press Operators. Teachers replaced transit workers. Higher income occupations replaced working class occupations. (It’s similar to the process I have described in my own neighbourhood in an earlier post.)

“Clearly a social change was going on,” said Ley.

The growth in the managerial and professional class occurred at the same time as the closure of factories were disappearing from Canada’s 5 largest metropolitan areas.  Almost as an aside, Ley pointed out the unrecognized role good quality public sector jobs has played in generating this shift. [One can’t help thinking how this links to Richard Florida’s idea of the creative classes.)

So, as the labour market shifted, the housing markets were likely to follow.

Industrial transition is the meta-narrative in the story of gentrification.

Gentrification plays out differently in different places because of the varied conditions. Urban areas with a stronger industrial base, such as Winnipeg and Windsor, will be less likely to face gentrification than post-industrial cities, such as Toronto. During the 1970s and 80s, for example, Toronto gained 60,000 of these higher status jobs while 75,000 jobs were lost in other parts of the economy.

The movement of artists predicts gentrification

The presence of artists other “pre-professionals” (with a lot of cultural capital, but little economic capital) signals a neighbourhoods in transition.

Ley described artists as modern magicians, transforming the material world of disinvested neighbourhoods, creating cachet.  Young professionals, eager to pick up such cultural capital, soon follow, driving prices up. So artists are continually shunted along out of the secure neighbourhoods into other working class, and often non-English -speaking, ones.

“So where they were in 1971, they are gone. And where they weren’t, they are in 1991,” Ley said. “Their concentration leads to their own elimination.”

The middle class then begins to move in, once terra incognito is proven. In Toronto, we saw movement along Bloor Street as this occurred. In Vancouver, the growth was along Main Street.

So what kinds of neighbourhoods has gentrification favoured?

Ley’s study of Vancouver neighbourhoods since the 1970s found these patterns:

  1. Gentrification typically occurs in areas adjacent to other high status areas.
  2. It also typically occurs close to environmental amenities, such as waterfronts and parks, where Ley remarked wryly, physiques can be admired.
  3. Gentrification occurs overwhelmingly in areas which are Anglo-Canadian (British stock).
  4. Gentrification occurs in areas where rents are above average.

This is the founding pattern. Ley said wryly that he missed the opportunity in the 970s to become a millionaire when he had the predictive model to see where gentrification would spread. Instead, Ley said, he had only the deep moral satisfaction that he had had the insight, if not the wit, to invest.

“However, once the market is ‘proven,’ a much more eclectic, experimental phase follows,” Ley explained, “and areas likely to gentrify become much harder to predict.”

Some neighbourhoods resist gentrification

People have been talking about the imminent gentrification of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Grandview Woodland for 35 years, Ley explained. It has many heritage buildings, walkable, close to water and some tree-lined streets, all indicators in the earlier model of a place ripe for gentrification. And yet, they remain, some of the poorest census tracts in Canada.

Attempts at gentrification are regularly made by hopeful arrivals. Condo marketers have played off this grittiness, advertising, “Be bold or move to the suburbs.” But, as one local business owner said to Ley, “these people just wash through.”

So how have these neighbourhoods resisted persistent attempts to move them upscale?

Ley’s short answer: A complex local sense of place which is unfriendly to gentrification

Ley’s longer answer:

  • Proximate to an industrial waterfront, where one nearby resident said the rendering plant had made him a vegetarian.
  • A challenging street scene that creates unpredictable encounters in public space.
  • Local politics are highly tolerant of existing diversity and hostile to capitalism in general. For instance, when Starbucks opened on Commercial Drive, their windows were smashed repeatedly.

Neighbourhoods “in decline” are where poor people are housed, yet, Ley cautioned later, governments need to be cautious about intervening there, as improvements may lead to displacements.

Gentrifiers can triumph through persistent incrementalism

“There is clear evidence gentrifiers are trying to change their externalities,” Ley said as he flipped a transparency onto the overhead.

The graph showed the number of complaints about the smell emanating from the local rendering plant. A wave of complaints in the 1990s lead to  changes. Then, in 2005, the complaints sky-rocketed, doubling, even when additional changes were made.

Ley flipped another transparency onto the overhead: An excerpt from the Globe & Mail’s real estate section, Done Deal. A five bedroom house with a two bedroom rental unit in Grandview Woodland.

  • 1996 – Selling price, $277,000
  • 2001 – Selling price, $428,000
  • 2006 – Selling price $920,000
  • 2009 – Asked $899,000; Selling price – $1,015,000

It is one of the dichotomies of the private market, Ley explained, later in answer to a question from the audience. “The bottom line is if we have a free-market in land, than those with the most money will outbid others and hold the land.”

Recognizing the right to the city for poor people

The Downtown Eastside has held gentrification at bay, mainly, Ley says because 40% of housing in the neighbourhoods is non-market. The City has sustained affordable housing units, and neighbourhood residents and organizations have a “poor people’s turf” legitimate.

The local ethos is preservation, public investment and revitalization without displacement. It is a grudging recognition of a right to the city for poor people.

Government regulation and policy is central

In the past century, Ley explains, neo-liberal policies have encouraged the spread of gentrification and the displacement of poor people because of the lack of investments it has made in affordable housing. Escalating levels of public debt will work against the revival of a welfare state that will create new housing.

The current push for sustainable housing and improved “eco-densities” will further aggravate the problem of affordable housing and further prime the inequality that is running the poor out of Canadian cities, Ley explained.

Although newer developments purport to improve densities, building taller buildings, the units are large and use more expensive materials, leaving those with low incomes displaced form the areas being “renewed.” Indeed these taller buildings often have fewer people in them then low-rises they replaced.

Gentrification cannot be benign

Strictly speaking, if higher-end housing units are built as infill or on brownfield, displacement of the poor is not an issue.

However, Ley explained in response to an audience question, the argument shifts then to the effects beyond the building unit itself, such as whether other middle income households are then drawn to the area. Housing co-ops, for instance, have been argued to prime neighbourhoods for gentrification. One social housing service provider explained to Ley that they want their housing to be “gritty” so that it doesn’t generate these external effects.

Finally, approached afterwards on the topic of mixed neighbourhoods, Ley explained that social mixing is usually just a transitional stage, on the way to complete gentrification.

The audience would have stayed longer to flesh out the lecture further, but another class arrived, this time to face an exam.

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October 17, 2009

Toronto's emotional map running hot & cold

Kevin Stolarick, Richard Florida’s “stats guy” at the Martin Prosperity Institute has been up to a bit of mischievous mapping in his spare time.

Using data from a UC Berkeley psychologist who publishes the Big Five Personality Test , Stolarick has mapped out the major emotional of characteristics of Toronto residents by neighbourhood (probably Forward Sortation Areas – the first three digits of a postal code).

The Toronto Star published the maps today: Toronto the Good – and bad and sad and mellow and … .

It’s a relief to see some maps that break the traditional “U” and “O” deprivation patterns. West-enders are extroverted, east-enders are neurotic. Suburban areas tend to be more agreeable, while those along the subway lines are less so. Most of the city is the conscientious type. Those closer to the lake tend to be more open to new experiences.

Now, because the survey is web-based, Stolarick says the sample is probably skewed towards the young (and tech-savvy), but it certainly is a bit of fun!

July 7, 2009

A distinction between houses and homes

WoodGreen is hosting a South African delegation from a sister community agency this month, and the discussions are rich. There is much we share in common, but much also to learn from each other.

For instance, today, we watched a documentary on the Tent City residents. Over lunch, a guest confessed that he kept thinking how, in South Africa, 4 million people face this same tenuous housing situation. He complimented the sturdiness of the erected structures, but agreed that Canadian winters were a motivation for additional reinforcement. We also talked about the good work of people like Josie Adler, who recently visited Toronto and spoke to the Toronto Neighbourhood Research Network, and who works to make Hillbrow a Neighbourhood reclaiming community, building by hijacked building.

The most valuable story around community–building was how entire neighbourhoods, for 40—50,000 people had sprung up in the 1990’s building spree, with a only single school or community centre to serve new residents. As a Minister of Housing described it afterwards, government had concentrated mistakenly on building houses, rather than homes. To fix this, the Ministry of Housing was given a broader mandate and renamed the Ministry of Human Settlement.

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. 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.


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 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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April 24, 2009

City Planner Robert Moses to Jane Jacobs and her cohorts upon the defeat of lower midtown Manhattan expressway

“There is nobody against this – NOBODY, NOBODY, NOBODY, but a bunch of … a bunch of MOTHERS!”

April 11, 2009

Crime: Targeting the few "bad apples"

The police division in which Riverdale and the Beach lies has the second highest Break & Enter rate in the City. Only the downtown core/entertainment area outranked Division 55 during this period (January  – October 2008). (See Toronto Police Service data and the Toronto Star crime maps for the source of this analysis. Another interesting website, allowing individuals to pool their collective knowledge is the Spotcrime website.)

So these high stats make one of the stories buried in the 2005 annual police report all the more interesting.

The Division’s Major Crime Unit developed a program to track serial offenders, out on bail for Break and Enter and other major crimes.

Through the program, police met with offenders and their sureties as they were released from jail and then tracked their bail conditions, making regular follow-up visits weekly.

A regular, rotating list of the Top 15 offenders was maintained. Police found, by tracking these few people, they were able to drop the break-in rate by 38%.

The pattern is reminiscent of the one described by Malcolm Gladwell when he wrote in the New Yorker about Million Dollar Murray, a homeless man who in the final years of his life absorbed a large portion of health, social and police services. Gladwell makes the compelling argument that the most effective use resources is not when they are spread across a population, but when they concentrated on the most needy.

It’s a focused tactic that runs counter-intuitively to our Canadian sense of fairness and universalism; however it’s one now seen in the Province of Ontario’s  poverty reduction strategies, the City of Toronto‘s and United Way‘s Strong Neighbourhood Strategies, and TDSB’s Model Schools for Inner Cities. Each of these strategies brings additional resources to those identified as most in need.

At worst, this tactic prioritizes the vulnerable. As best, it just may work.

March 16, 2009

A New Community Crisis Response Model: Changing the impulse for fight-or-flight towards tend-n-befriend

Everyone knows about the impulse, when cornered, to fight or flight. However a UCLA psychoneuroimmunological research team has developed a theory which says that some of us, mainly women, react to stress with a response they call “tend and befriend.” That is our first impulse is to protect the vulnerable and then to gather with others in protective and supportive clusters until the danger has passed. The research team, headed by Dr. Shelley Taylor, has tied this to levels of oxytocin and other hormones which effect our response.

When we feel threatened, rather than retreating into our homes, and locking the doors (or moving straight out of the neighbourhood), instead, we can gather together and build community amongst ourselves.  These more pro-social actions, linking ourselves to each other, are a positive and, according to Taylor and her colleagues, natural response to threat.

The power of this idea lies in how it can be applied to community development and the provision of an alternate model for community organizers in their response to crime, fear and disorder in a neighbourhood. Their work should turn to strengthening of the social ties between neighbourhood residents.

Taylor’s theory underscores Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earl’s ideas on collective efficacy: the ability and belief  of a community to bring about positive change. But more about their ideas another day.

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