Over the past two decades, in the City of Toronto, we have come to understand the increasingly geographic nature of poverty. Research, including United Way Toronto’s Poverty by Postal Code (2004) and Vertical Poverty (2011) and David Hulchanski’s Three Cities (2010; 2015), has demonstrated that inner suburban communities like Kingston Galloway/Orton Park (KGO) have become home to many people whose choices are limited by poverty.
What it looks like, is a community where almost 30% of people live below the Low Income Cut Off (see Kingston Galloway/Orton Park community for more details). The challenges faced by the people living in KGO go beyond the fundamental and very real challenges of living in poverty; the community itself provides additional challenges like:
- Poor transit options
- Few economic opportunities
- A built form that fosters isolation
And yet, KGO, like all communities, holds tremendous potential. The residents of KGO have skills, passions and talents; the organizations run meaningful programs; the institutions and businesses hold knowledge, ideas and resources. The Storefront’s goal is to unlock this potential so that the community itself offers a network of support, resources and opportunities for the people who live here.
In the late 1990’s when The Storefront was born (see Storefront History), the social sector was fighting for survival. Funding trends encouraged neighbourhood organizations to take a deficit based approach to their work: people have deficits which prevent them from participating in society, the social sector’s role is to support people to find solutions to these individual deficits in the form of social service provision. While this approach does offer critical social service support for the people who needed it most, it also led to a fragmented system of service silos.
The Storefront has, since its inception sought to do community work differently. Instead of a deficit-based approach to community change, The Storefront takes an asset-based approach which has come to be known as the Connected Community Approach (CCA).
At The Storefront we leverage what is good in the community for the benefit of the community; we connect ideas, resources, opportunities and passion; we bring opportunity and resources and connect them to local initiatives. Our role, is that of a Community Backbone Organization: a connector, communicator and convenor
Why does The Storefront and our approach matter? The KGO community faces many challenges. It also holds many opportunities and much potential. The Storefront and our Connected Community Approach is a catalyst for breaking down silos, helping people and organizations in and around the KGO work better together. We are as aware of the community’s strengths and aspirations as we are of its challenges. We work together with everyone to ensure that we leverage community resources, talents, ideas and passion. We help the whole community operate in concert instead of in isolation. This means more opportunities are available and more potential can be realized by and for the people of this community.
Want to learn more about the Storefront’s approach? Please download our Theory of Change.
In the first decade of the 21st century, the City of Toronto, United Way and others began to pay close attention to inner suburban communities.
Under Mayor David Miller, and in the wake of significant gang activity, the City identified specific communities for focus in 2003 under the Mayor’s safety plan. The focus was specifically to increase safety initiatives and help youth to feel less disenfranchised. Kingston-Galloway, located in the East Scarborough Community of West Hill was one of those communities.
In 2004 the City of Toronto and United Way launched the Strong Neighbourhoods strategy which originally identified 9 communities, later expanded to 13 to include the 4 from the Mayor’s safety strategy. These communities were labelled “priority neighbourhoods”
A key feature of the City’s Strong Neighbourhood strategy was the advent of Neighbourhood Action Partnership tables (NAPs) which drew together City departments (mandatory participation), non-profit organizations and resident groups.
It was in the first few meetings that organizations in East Scarborough identified the disconnect between Kingston-Galloway and neighbouring Orton Park as a source of tension among residents, and especially youth. The NAP team advocated with the City to expand the boundaries of the City’s focus to include Kingston-Galloway and Orton Park; and the Kingston-Galloway/Orton Park (KGO) community was born (insert map here)
Organizations and resident groups spent the next several years building a shared community identity as the KGO community.
In 2012 a tragedy struck the community. 23 young people were shot and 2 killed on Danzig Street just east of Morningside. The KGO community boundaries show Morningside as its eastern boundary. As a result, the City treated the follow up to the tragedy as an incident outside of their “priority neighbourhood” designation and did not call together the NAP table to respond. However, The Storefront, who co-chaired the NAP table, did convene the NAP players and, after an initial disconnect, unified the City and local organization/resident response into a co-ordinated plan.
As a result of the debrief from the Danzig incident, the KGO NAP table decided that the KGO boundaries needed to be porous. Shortly after Danzig, a smaller subset of the NAP table began local strategy meetings (NAP had become primarily information sharing). This group was known as Cross Community Organizing (CCO). It was CCO that established a 1.5 km “buffer zone” around KGO. This buffer zone, allowed CCO to address issues slightly outside of the KGO boundary and also to adjust for organizations’ catchment areas which did not fall neatly into the priority neighbourhood designation.
During this time, residents, and particularly the resident group Residents Rising, took up the branding and promoting of the KGO community, devising a KGO motto and events celebrating the community. The strengthening resident leadership in KGO was, in part, a result of the infusion of investment through United Way’s Action for Neighbourhood Change initiative (ANC), although Residents Rising predated ANC by three years. When ANC first rolled out in KGO, there was a strong push by UW for The Storefront to use ANC to focus on one small community within KGO. Local residents (especially Residents Rising) and organizations, hosted a series of meetings with UW to advocate for a comprehensive KGO wide resident leadership strategy based on The Storefront’s approach to community development (later branded the Connected Community Approach). United Way agreed to allow KGO to experiment with this approach.
By this time, the City and UW each had their own specific approach to building Strong Neighbourhoods. They used the same “priority neighbourhood” designation, but rolled their strategies out separately.
In 2015, the City reassessed their strategy and relaunched it under Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods 2020. A key feature of this relaunch was a systematic approach to defining communities in need of investment. To do this they introduced the Urban Heart Index which measured community health along 13 criteria.
For this reassessment, the City abandoned self identified neighbourhoods in favour of the social planning boundaries established in 2000. CCO requested that The Storefront advocate to have the boundaries redefined to include KGO, which The Storefront did. While the staff at the City’s Social Development Finance and Administration department fully recognize the benefits of KGO as a neighbourhood designation, they are committed to using the social planning boundaries across the city; the main reason for this was that data on community health had been accumulated over time using these boundaries. The City did, however, commit to continuing to provide KGO specific data for the community.
Using the social planning neighbourhood boundaries, the City designated 31 Neighbourhood Improvement Areas: KGO straddles two, Woburn and West Hill (insert map here). The challenges for CCO (and The Storefront) are a) that Kingston-Galloway lands in West Hill and Orton Park lands in Woburn so aligning our work with one neighbourhood again divides Kingston-Galloway and Orton Park b) if we align our work with both neighbourhoods the geographic scope is significantly increased, diluting both the efficacy of a place based approach, and the resources, specifically around community development and resident/youth leadership and c) an enormous amount of energy has been expended by residents and organizations alike in branding KGO and building a sense of identity around it, using a top down approach to redefining neighbourhood boundaries would be detrimental to the sense of agency and control by local residents and grassroots groups.
In 2018, CCO members, resident groups and The Storefront continue to organize around the neighbourhood boundary of KGO (with a 1.5 km buffer). The complexities of place, who decides on what the place boundaries are, and the optimal size for place based community organizing continue to be subjects of discussion by the various players invested in the success of this East Scarborough community.