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Building Connectedness within Communities

Throughout the We Are Cities campaign, we will highlight ideas emerging from roundtable and online conversations. A common idea has already emerged – there is a strong desire to foster connection not only between communities, but also within them. Below is a guest blog written by Anne Gloger, Director of the East Scarborough Storefront, on the importance of building connectedness within communities.

Community matters.  Toronto is often called a city of neighbourhoods.  Neighbourhoods differ dramatically for a wide variety of reasons including geography, design, infrastructure, level of investment, social and cultural norms.  What makes a neighbourhood is a sense of place…a sense that the place in which you live, work or play matters.

In the East Scarborough community of Kingston Galloway/Orton Park (KGO), the East Scarborough Storefront (The Storefront) has brought an intentionality to place making.  KGO's geography is isolating, its design is built around the car, not the person, the level of investment in infrastructure has historically been inadequate…and yet, residents, businesses, academics, social service agencies and others are building a community culture based on the idea of connectedness.

In a connected community, neighbours help one another: they clean up the garbage on the streets, they volunteer their time, their talents and their treasure, they create things that beautify a small corner or building front and they talk to each other, greet each other on the street, respond to each other when things are bad and celebrate together the things that matter.  I would argue that a connected community is all that, but has the potential to be much more.

The connected community we are building in East Scarborough is one where social service providers have the structures, means, opportunity and will to join forces in creating community supports that are meaningful to people, that work together instead of in isolation and that mutually reinforce rather than duplicate.

A truly connected community is one where the leaders and workers in local businesses and institutions understand their role as part of a connected community, leveraging opportunities to hire and procure and actively participate locally.

A connected community is where people in institutions, businesses, daycares, schools, houses and community centres know who to ask and how to find what they are looking for.  Strategic connections support people to influence the things that define their community: its infrastructure, its social supports, its celebrations, its economic and academic opportunities.  A strategically connected community supports its members to influence and change both at the neighbourhood and at broader systems and policy levels. 

The Storefront approach makes a strategically connected community possible.  We focus our efforts on connecting local residents, change makers and those larger scale sector or policy roles to create together the community that will positively support its people, a community where people have the freedom, knowledge and opportunity to make meaningful choices about their own and their community's wellbeing.

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about connecting downtown communities to those in the inner-suburbs and I applaud these sentiments and am delighted to see momentum building in this direction.  However, I would suggest that, as the world gets faster and the pressure of scale permeates decision making discussions, we look at connectedness within our neighbourhoods as well: after all, neighbourhoods are where people live.  Neighbourhoods are human scale, which, at the end of the day is the scale that matters.

For literature on the power of connectedness see: Getting to Maybe by Brenda Zimmerman, Frances Westley, Michael Quinn Patton,  Les Robinson's Changeology: www.greenbooks.co.uk, Connecting to change the World, by Peter Pastrik , Madeleine Taylor and John Cleveland

And the importance and potential of place based strategies at http://www.aspeninstitute.org/sites/default/files/content/docs/pubs/Complexity_and_Community_Change.pdf, www.abcdinstitute.org