Invest in Communities
Our communities are where we find meaning and a sense of self in relation to others and the world around us.
Fostering a sense of community helps to weave threads of connection between individuals, drawing out points of commonality, as well as enabling recognition and understanding of the ways in which we are unique, along with the skills, insights, and experiences we are able to offer.
Strong community celebrates diversity, and government can play a role in providing space, funding, facilitation, and by proactively engaging with community members.
Prioritize Equity & Inclusion
The first lens that must be applied to community engagement is equity and inclusiveness.
Who is most affected by an upcoming decision?
How can governments actively seek out feedback from the most marginalized residents whose participation is made difficult by several barriers such as transportation, time, access to internet/computer, money and child care?
If governments do not actively seek out these voices then all decisions will be skewed towards those that were most capable and least restrained to provide their input.
This leads to a cycle where marginalized voices are left out, decisions are made without recognizing impact on those lives since they were never heard from, their future participation and engagement is reduced even more and the cycle continues to repeat.
We must disrupt this cycle to ensure Black, Indigenous and other marginalized voices are included.
The first past the post system is well known to disenfranchise voters. By switching to a more representative system, such as Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) many jurisdictions have seen an increase in voter turnout, as well as more diverse representation and political engagement.
Build Social Cohesion
Municipalities have a duty to connect with the people they represent.
Moreover, a municipality that intentionally connects the organizations, neighbourhoods and communities together can be a much stronger and resilient municipality.
Fostering conversations and connections can be something as simple as a portal on a webpage for people to connect with each other, a mailing list or an app.
It can also support these connections by providing free space to community groups to strengthen their voice and connection with others.
This is known as social cohesion and it makes a big impact in a community.
Improve Local Food Access
There are a lot of rules that govern how land is used in a municipality.
Sometimes for a good reason.
Other times there are antiquated bylaws that prevent household food security, such as bylaws banning backyard chickens, large gardens and permaculture.
In urban areas, there is rarely areas zoned for agriculture and so having farms close to a city is even more difficult.
Other problems come from bylaws that don’t allow farms to wash and package their food on site.
These barriers are unnecessary and make it even harder to promote and connect people with local food.
Improve Food Security
Food security issues are real across Simcoe County and it is not an issue experienced evenly by residents.
12% of households in Simcoe Muskoka are food insecure and 1 in 6 children live in a household that is food insecure.
Families of colour are more likely to fall into these categories.
Improving a household’s ability to meet its needs can be partially addressed by supporting community gardening and backyard sharing programs.
It is necessary to ensure that efforts are not limited to backyard gardening since the households that require such support are also unlikely to have backyards or personal green space to grow enough food to support their needs.
Community organizations such as the Urban Pantry and Good Food Box work towards filling this gap.
Support Community Agriculture
The local agricultural community is beyond large industrial farms.
Providing space for local producers at farmer’s markets that is easily accessible and working with farmer’s markets to accept credits given to households that are food insecure are two ways we can improve how local food gets to our most vulnerable.
Kickstarting food sharing apps or some way for people to connect those in need with excess produce can go a long way to boosting local food security.
Subsidizing Community Supported Agriculture shares (where people can buy a share in a local farm) and encouraging urban agriculture diversifies where our food comes which makes it a more resilient system.
Supporting gardens and greenhouses in schools allows children to learn gardening skills and the food shares can be given directly to the most vulnerable families in those communities.
The changes aren’t radical, but for too long the solutions have been neglected.
Choose Equitable Urban Design
The built environment can establish and enforce inequality.
Sprawl, for example, due to it being spread out, requires the use of a car to access most amenities. For those unable to afford a car, or barely able to afford a car, this either excludes them from being able to be equal participants in the life of the community, or it requires that they make difficult decisions in order to maintain their ownership of or access to a vehicle.
Of course, looking at this from the opposite point of view, we see that this exclusivity is, for many, considered a feature rather than a drawback. Indeed, suburbs were, in large part, founded on what has come to be known as “white flight,” and this dynamic persists today.
We believe that any support of this exclusivity is a seriously damaging and problematic position to take.
Municipalities, in order to build strong and resilient communities must recognize the inequalities that lay at the heart of reliance on cars and the utilization of distance to exclude.
Inequalities also arise in differing mobility capabilities, in safe access to space, in access to social services, as well as in where and how often scarce municipal funds are spent on building and maintaining infrastructure. In this last regard there are trade-offs that are made between building and maintaining roads versus providing social services, etc.
Prioritize Accessible Infrastructure
Sedentary lifestyles are one determinant of health.
Municipalities can build in a way that encourages people to move in their community.
Unfortunately, most of Canada’s communities are car-dependent which discourages active transport.
Further, narrow sidewalks and car laden streets without separated bike lanes make it unsafe for people to walk and bike in their neighbourhoods.
Communities of colour and poor neighbourhoods are even less likely to have bike lanes, trails, green space and pristine infrastructure.
People with mobility issues or disabilities find that short cross walks, low lighting, sparse amount of benches, broken and cracked sidewalks and uneven paths make it even harder to be active in their community.
So, municipalities need to not only invest in infrastructure that is for people but also accessible for all people regardless of ability, race and income.
Limiting community involvement and employment options based on whether you own a car is inequitable to those who cannot afford to drive, unable to drive or prefer to chose more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.
One large reason for why this inequity exists is because sprawling development patterns draw homes and businesses farther away from each other.
Health services and medical support may be concentrated in a city centre which could be a long distance drive for the newest subdivisions that are being built.
These subdivisions rarely have long term employment opportuntiies outside of the building phase, few services or connection to transit systems.
What this means is that we are building communities that intentionally segregate our population between those that have the means to drive (age, ability, income) and those that do not.
The most practical and beneficial way to grow is to invest new housing into communities that already exist, have employment opportunities, connect to transit and services that people can walk to.
We can provide a range of housing types (duplexes, townhouses, retirement villages, apartments, small condos etc.) with a range of pricing that allows people of all ages and ability to choose housing that is best suited to their needs and income.
Building this way also means that we make use of existing investments such as roads, sewers, street lights, sidewalks which are expensive to build and maintain.
This is a large cost savings for local governments. And these savings can then be invested into those existing communities to provide more green space, supportive services, repair existing infrastructure and other community improvements.
Spreading housing over a large area drains municipal finances and costs existing communities in the long run.
Increase Access to Quality Transit
Transit may be a choice for some, but for others it is the only affordable means that they have to get to work, school and meet daily needs.
The most straight forward way to increase ridership is to make it more reliable and accessible to residents.
One way to do that without much investment (compared to subways and rail) is to increase bus service.
One study found that every 10 per cent increase in kilometres of bus service was associated with an 8.27-per-cent increase in ridership.
Further, if the schedule runs reliably every 10 minutes, ridership will also increase because it comes often enough to not have to schedule.
Most importantly, though, we must ensure that the transit service absolutely connects our most vulnerable communities with essential services and key employment areas.
Further, integrating our transit system with active transportation networks (trails, walking paths) and facilitating bike use to augment transit (e.g. bike stands at terminals and bike carriers on busses) reduces barriers to ridership.
Retro-fit Our Community Design
Renovating existing structures takes advantage of embedded carbon while minimizing the need for additional carbon expenditure.
Much of our existing building stock predates the climate extremes we are now experiencing as well as the new technologies that have been developed in response.
The government should invest in new projects and infrastructure that meet the highest degree of energy efficiency, increasing resiliency against both energy supply disruptions and financial shocks, while working toward reducing carbon emissions.
Ontario architects have created buildings that have reduced total operating costs by more than 70 per cent, and greenhouse gas emissions by greater than 90 per cent, at no net increase in capital/construction budgets, as evidenced by projects among the 2020 OAA Design Excellence Award finalists.