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Creating Opportunities for All Communities

We Are Cities is beginning to see shared ideas on how to build more livable cities. The need to provide job opportunities within urban centres, but also within surrounding communities and regions is a consistent message from Canadians. Below is a guest blog written by Anne Gloger, Director of the East Scarborough Storefront, on some of the work the organization is performing to create economic change in inner suburban communities. 

In 2004, United Way Toronto and Canadian Council on Social Development joined forces to produce their iconic publication, Poverty by Postal Code which drew attention to the fact that poverty in our cities is becoming more and more geographically concentrated in the inner suburbs. 

I had already begun my work in the inner suburban community of Kingston Galloway Orton Park (KGO) at the time and witnessed first hand how the geographic isolation, poor infrastructure, and lack of economic opportunities that characterize these "bedroom communities" have had an impact on people's overall wellbeing.

While it's true that poverty is concentrated in the inner suburbs, perhaps more problematic is that wealth is concentrated in elsewhere.

Residents, in KGO have been really clear: we need jobs in our communities.

What does that mean?  For the past three years, the East Scarborough Storefront has been working with funding pioneer the George Cedric Metcalf Foundation to figure out how to build local capacity and leverage local assets to increase economic resiliency and opportunity.  This is vitally important work which is already making a difference and is the foundation for new, innovative economic development projects currently underway.

For example, we have begun working with the Atkinson Foundation and our University of Toronto Scarborough partners to figure out how to harness capital projects of anchor institutions to generate local jobs and training opportunities, a new project with exciting potential.

With the economic development foundation we have laid, and the support of funders, including those mentioned above, and the dedicated work of a myriad of partners, we are beginning strengthen the community economic potential from within.  It's exciting new work which will hopefully attract more resources to really create the economic change that everyone wants to see in KGO.  However, I believe that there is a key element to this strategy that is missing and that would truly tip the scales towards equitable communities: intentional strategies to locate jobs in inner suburban communities.

Now, I'm not an economist, nor am I a politician, or policy maker, but it seems to me with the incentive, planning and financial tools available to governments, couldn't we figure out a way that the concentration of jobs could be redistributed so that we could change the poor planning of the former "bedroom communities" into smart planning of complete communities? 

Thanks to years of community building and the support of several visionary funders, KGO has created multiple innovative approaches to try and compensate for the inherent flaws in the physical neighbourhood.  But without decent ways for people to earn a living, it is just not enough.

I read once that discrimination is like starting on the same path as everyone else, only you are loaded down with a 50 pound backpack while others walk unencumbered.  The 50 pound backpack that is poorly planned neighbourhoods, poor transit and lack of investment could surely be lightened by introducing local decent jobs in the places where people need them most.

For more information on Storefront's economic development activities, please go to:

http://www.thestorefront.org/what-were-working-on/business-incubator/resilient-neighbourhood-economies-initiative/

Other innovative place based economic development initiatives include:

http://www.lawrencecommunityworks.org/site/

http://www.dsni.org/sustainable-and-economic-development

http://community-wealth.org/