Follow Toronto’s new report card on social inequity
TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Toronto’s has a new report card on social inequity. City council should respond by designating 31 districts as neighbourhood improvement areas.
Mar 10 2014. Editorial
Call it a report card for social inequity. A new way of assessing Toronto’s neighbourhoods — measuring everything from health levels to election turnouts — has identified 31 local districts in need of major assistance.
That’s up from the 22 that had already been deemed a “priority” for social action from among Toronto’s 140 neighbourhoods. And it’s certain to be controversial because several troubled areas, including Malvern, have dropped from the tally of those in need of the most help.
Concern is understandable, but it’s important that city council accept the proposed new assessment system and fully support its verdicts.
This new scientific way of measuring deprivation represents the best available evidence on inequity in this city. To ignore its findings — through bureaucratic inertia or for the sake of election-year political gain — would amount to abandoning the interests of Torontonians who are most in need. A great many of them have suffered neglect for far too long.
Toronto’s community development committee meets next Monday and is to consider adopting the new strategy. Councillors shouldn’t hesitate to do so, along with officially designating 31 districts as “neighbourhood improvement areas.” (This term replaces the old “priority neighbourhood” label.)
That would make these areas eligible for special assistance and targeted infrastructure work. And help wouldn’t just come from the municipality: being designated makes the districts the focus of federal and provincial assistance, as well as private sector involvement.
All that can make a big difference. Over its eight-year history, the old priority neighbourhoods program reached more than 50,000 young people, and 38,000 other residents, through 1,200 education programs, skills development sessions and other community initiatives. In addition, more than 50 infrastructure projects were undertaken, including seven parks, 11 new playgrounds and recreation facilities, and 10 community “hubs.”
Former priority neighbourhoods, like Malvern, no longer deemed at the front of the line for such aid won’t simply be cut off. City council approved an extra $300,000 in this year’s operating budget to help such districts transition from the old priority program. And an extra $12 million was set aside for Toronto’s expanded neighbourhood improvement areas. All this makes good sense.
What’s planned is a bold shift in direction. The city’s former priority program was instituted in 2005 in the wake of Toronto’s deadly “summer of the gun” and its main aim was to enhance community safety. The new neighbourhood improvement initiative has a more ambitious goal: reducing inequity —including “unnecessary, unfair, and unjust differences” in areas such as health, public safety, income and sharing in the democratic process.
Those social indicators, and more, have been tracked using an innovative new assessment system developed by scientists at St. Michael’s Hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health. After combing through a variety of data bases and analyzing the result, they’ve assigned each of Toronto’s 140 neighbourhoods a specific point-score for equity. The result is akin to a report card, with each district assigned a mark out of a possible 100.
A score of 42.89 was set as a cut-off, below which a neighbourhood was deemed to face “serious inequities that require immediate attention.” For the record, the lowest scoring of the 31 areas in need of help was Black Creek, in Toronto’s northwest, with just 21.38 points. In contrast, leafy Lawrence Park North, at Yonge St. and Lawrence Ave., scored highest with 92.05 points.
Malvern registered precisely one full point above the cut-off and efforts are afoot to maintain its priority status. But two other neighbourhoods missed the cut by even less than that. A line must be drawn somewhere. The entire point of this equity program is to dispassionately channel resources to those most in need of help. New data effectively points the way to a better city — and it’s important to follow where it leads.
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