On a windy, damp Monday evening, the cafeteria at Monarch Park CI was host to about two dozen service agency staff and concerned residents, for the second of eight city-wide ‘community conversations’ about the Priority Neighbourhoods plan.
The first major change is rebranding. The Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy 2020 will take community input and other data to determine where the next round of funding will be concentrated, in what will now be called Neighbourhood Improvement Areas.
Denise Campbell, Director of Community Resources for Toronto’s Social Development, Finance and Administration division, summed up the reason for the original program, which provided additional resources to 13 residential areas across Toronto.
“These neighbourhoods were receiving a number of challenges that were particularly affecting young people,” she said.
Campbell also explained that while officials are not 100 per cent set on the new name, the old one – ‘Priority Neighbourhoods’ – is history.
“There were concerns that the name stigmatized residents who lived in those neighbourhoods,” she said.
The people gathered in the cafeteria on Oct. 7 were given five ‘key’ cards naming various factors indicating strong neighbourhoods, and asked to discuss their relative importance. The keys are based on the World Health Organization’s Urban Health Equity Assessment and Response Tool, which has been used around the world to measure and assess health inequities in urban environments.
The keys are physical surroundings, healthy lives, economic opportunities, social development and participation in decision making. Small groups formed at the meeting were asked to discuss the importance of each key, whether any other factors should be considered and what city council should do for areas not included in the new Neighbourhood Improvement Areas.
There are 140 neighbourhoods under consideration for the new strategy, including the original 13. Campbell emphasized that even if those areas aren’t included in the new plan, funding will be tapered off to allow programs to be phased out, rather than suddenly cut off.
Ward 31 Councillor Janet Davis said at the meeting that the school boards and provincial and federal governments need to be involved in the process as well, particularly from a funding standpoint.
Jamie Robinson, Team Lead for Neighbourhoods with United Way Toronto, was on hand to take part in the discussion. He said representatives from a number of United Way member agencies are also taking part in the consultation process, as many of those groups will be tasked with implementing projects and initiatives as the strategy plays out.
“We were there with the city and the original neighbourhoods,” he said. “It’s critical that it’s shared, and critical to us that we have input.”
To have a say on which neighbourhoods should be the focus of the Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy 2020, visit Toronto.ca and take the survey before the Nov. 8 deadline.