Toronto Neighbourhood Centres

Connecting the Power of People to the Power of Place

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Documenting the impact of residents and local community organizations working together to make a difference.

The power of place

People care about the places where they live and are affected by the conditions they experience there. Things like housing quality, transit connections, recreation opportunities, walkability to local services, schools and businesses, as well as a sense of safety and security, are all part of people’s experiences of where they live.

The power of people

Neighbourhoods are one important place where people can work together to make change. Residents can make important local improvements together, and attract additional resources and investment to their communities. This is good in and of itself. But as importantly, residents can build upon these collective achievements and support calls for system-wide changes that improve conditions for others as well.

We are calling this way of working Neighbouhood Collective Agency - a dynamic capacity that can respond to community conditions on multiple levels. It strengthens the optimism, pride, belonging, and connection that are eroded by inequality; it brings neighbours together to improve their immediate local conditions of daily life; and it is a powerful force for demanding larger-scale systems change. We define neighbourhood collective agency as: Residents’ desire and capacity to work together to improve daily life and promote equity and social justice in their neighbourhood.

Community-based organizations contribute to system change

To achieve justice, equity, and opportunity for all will require things like more affordable housing, a labour market that provides better jobs and employment security, improved income support programs, reduced discrimination, and improved access for all to health and social services. Neighbourhood collective agency has the potential to generate widespread demand for systemic changes needed to reach these goals.

Local economies and community stewardship 

Community organizations are a part of the movement to reshape our economies based on principles of local stewardship, and community control of shared assets. Community-based organizations are committed to improving local conditions. This is an explicit part of their mission statements, and a strong motivation for the dedicated people who work and volunteer in them. Many organizations have realized that, even though they deliver important services each day that improve the lives of many residents, conditions in their neighbourhoods are worsening. Now, more than ever, we need to find creative ways to build an economy that provides opportunities for more people, and that is environmentally sustainable.

Local Action Matters 

Neighbourhoods, and the community-based organizations that serve them, are at a crossroads. Economic changes and austerity policies are causing increased inequality, polarization, and segregation within and between neighbourhoods. Residents must juggle multiple responsibilities under intensifying pressures and with access to fewer resources and supports. With the retreat of governments from ensuring adequate income security and services, community-based organizations are left holding the bag, trying to meet the basic needs of their communities with unpredictable and insufficient funding.

In the long run, efforts to address inequality and exclusion in our society will be difficult to sustain without intentional practices and dedicated resources focused on supporting residents’ desire and capacity to work together to improve daily life and promote equity and social justice.