“A community is like a typewriter when one piece is off or stuck it doesn’t work…” 11 year old Sparroways Community Participant
No community is perfect, every community has its assets and its flaws. There are things that work and things that don’t. Have you ever looked around your community and thought to yourself, “This is what I like about my community. This is what I dislike about it.” Have you ever thought –“If only my community had… it would be so much better”? How would it change? What would be different?
At OJEN we wanted to know what young people who live in “Neighbourhood Improvement Areas” – areas in the city of Toronto – neighbourhoods that are labelled “high risk,” and under heightened police surveillance – thought of their communities, what they wanted for their communities, and how they thought their neighbourhoods could improve or change. So we asked them.
From mind maps to interactive conversations, when we started to include these questions in our dialogue sessions we were surprised to notice that, not only did youth participants share their ideas, frontline staff got involved in the process too. What we heard in each Neighbourhood Improvement Area from the east, central and west ends of the city, the things our participants wanted to see improved or changed were very similar. Their feedback was intense and very inspiring. What the participants wanted to see in their neighbourhoods were things that would make any neighbourhood thrive and it feel like home.
Youth participants wanted things that would make their communities fun, accessible and affordable. Some suggested a grocery store right in the middle of their neighbourhood complex so that their mothers wouldn’t have to walk so far or spend money driving, because “gas is too expensive these days”, a movie theatre, and clean parks (more green spaces) so that they could enjoy recreational activities.
Themes about community change included: “harmony”, “family”, “unity”, “safety”, “peace” and “love”.
From East Scarborough, a 19 year old participant mentioned “access to role models to guide us (youth)”.
From the Sparroways community a 12 year mentioned “getting the lights in the neighbourhood fixed so that people won’t be scared to walk at night…and the swimming pool cleaned so that we can use it.”
From a community in the Rexdale area, a 16 year old participant mentioned “ police have to stop harassing us. Then they would be more respected. I want that for my community because we don’t feel safe with the police around.”
From the Parma Court community a 17 year old mentioned “…I would bring the media to my community and show them how they are unfair …there is violence in other communities too and they make our community look bad while the others look good because rich people live there.”
A 21 year Kingston-Galloway participant noted, “my friends don’t want to come to my community because of the violence they hear about on TV or radio. People from other communities see our community as violent with drugs and gangs …the community needs to come together to change the media’s reporting and everyone else who has these opinions because it is unfair that our community is being portrayed as bad because of some people doing wrong. We need to come together as a whole to stop how our neighbourhoods are being seen as being bad by others.”
It was clear that participants wanted things that would create change and bring the community closer together. Words that seemed to come up most often were ““compassion”, “love”, “unity”, “peace”, “money”, “food”, “safety”, “security” and “happiness”. Participants identified and built on to each other’s comments. “Peace” and someone added “for everyone to feel safe and happy”. “Safe” and someone added “where we can all feel secure.” There were various instances like this where youth and frontline staff related to one another. It is clear to me from this process of engagement that no matter where someone comes from or where they live, that we all still want the same things for our communities: harmonious, safe, connected, friendly communities.
– Enisoné L. Kadiri