Last week, the Toronto Foundation and Environics released the Toronto Social Capital Study, a benchmarking report assessing the city’s social capital levels. The study employs social capital concepts (such as social trust and civic connections) to provide a useful lens on the quality of personal and community life in Toronto. The study is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in understanding how social capital varies across the population in terms of socio-demographic and geographical strata.
As outlined in the study “Social capital” is the term used to describe the vibrancy of social networks and the extent to which there is trust and reciprocity within a community and among individuals. It is the essential “lubricant” that makes it possible for societies to function, and for people to get along peacefully even when they have little in common. There is ample empirical evidence showing that high levels of such reciprocity, trust and connection are not simply “feel good” notions, but key ingredients to making communities productive, healthy and safe. “
The Social Capital Study surveyed just over 3,200 residents and measured responses on four dimensions:
- Social Trust, the sense of trust Torontonians have in one another and city institutions;
- Social Networks, the strength of residents’ informal and formal relationships;
- Civic Connection, the extent to which people are civically engaged; and
- Neighbourhood Support, how citizens see their neighbourhoods as supporting the type of life and environment they want for themselves.
The study results provide insight into social capital as experienced by residents across 26 neighbourhood clusters.
How is Toronto doing on social capital?
We might be richer than we think. Overall, the social capital level of people and communities in Toronto appears positive but this is not uniform: “Toronto, as a whole, shows relatively high levels of social capital in terms of social trust, social networks, civic connection and neighbourhood support.” The study shows that the majority of people surveyed trust other people (including those different from themselves), have a sense of belonging to their community, have family and friends they can rely on, give back to the community, and are interested in politics. An article by the Toronto Star’s social justice reporter, Laurie Monsebraaten, provides a good overview of the study and its main findings.
What are the social capital levels in our neighbourhood?
The study mapped the distribution of social capital levels across the city in 26 neighbourhood areas. Bloor West Village and several neighbourhoods east of the Humber River were grouped into one clustered neighbourhood area referred to as High Park-West-Junction-Parkdale. The High Park-West-Junction-Parkdale neighbourhood area showed social capital levels well above the city-wide average for the social capital dimensions of Civic Connection and Social Trust. This area was near the average on social capital levels for Social Networks and Neighbourhood Support.
In our last update, we informed the community that a much improved proposal had been submitted by the Developer in late April, which has now become public information. Fortunately, most of BWVRA’s concerns with the previous proposals had been satisfactorily addressed in this latest submission with the exception of these two issues:
- Minimizing potential traffic impacts on the neighbourhood
- Resolving neighbourhood concerns about excessive wind impacts and pedestrian safety at the corner of Riverview Gardens & Bloor Street
With regard to potential traffic impacts, the main concern has been about the very large overall amount of retail space being proposed (approx. 5,000 sq. m.), and the Developer’s unwillingness to accept any restrictions on individual store sizes. We had asked for a limit of 1,750 square meters, as recommended in the recently completed Avenue study, which is a little bit larger than the No-Frills store in the Village but much smaller than a typical Loblaws, Metro or Sobeys. The main issue with a high-volume “big-box” store at this location is the potential impact from excessive traffic, it would be almost certain to generate, on the local street network that is already stretched to its limit.
The second issue about wind impacts and pedestrian safety mainly relates to the proposed removal of the more heavily used sidewalk beside the building on the Riverview Gardens frontage and the proposed retention of the sidewalk next to the road, which is considered unsafe by many local residents.
In any case, these two remaining issues were not considered deal breakers and our Board was anticipating that the third Pre-hearing Conference on June 28th would set the stage for the Mediation sessions scheduled for September 4 & 5. However, much to our surprise and that of the other three Parties, at the Pre-hearing Conference, it was announced that City Council, at its meeting two days earlier and on the recommendation of Planning Staff, made the decision to accept the Developer’s latest proposal.
In addition, the lawyer for the Developer also informed the Pre-hearing that his client was no longer interested in participating in Mediation sessions with the remaining four Parties. As Mediation is voluntary and all Parties must agree to participate, regretfully, this decision effectively put an end to the opportunity for us to participate in a Mediated Settlement.
Under these circumstances, as the only path forward, the four Parties have been given until August 17th to either also settle on the current proposal or present their outstanding issues to the Developer along with the names of the expert witnesses they will call upon should the Appeal proceed to a Contested Hearing.
But there is good news on our two remaining issues!
- On the question of Traffic impacts, in its recent comments on the Developer’s up-dated traffic study, City Traffic staff has been especially critical of the consultant’s findings. In particular, it was noted that there has been no recognition or assessment of the potential additional traffic that may be generated by retail stores in the development, and the capacity of the local street network to accommodate it. After reviewing the staff Memorandum, our Board is satisfied that the City has the traffic issue in hand and the proposed development will not be allowed proceed until staff is satisfied that there will be no significant impact on the local streets.
- With respect to the Riverview Gardens frontage, at the same time as Council agreed to settle with the Developer, Councillor Doucette was able to have a motion passed directing staff to consult with the community during the Site Plan review process, in order to arrive at an acceptable design for that corner.
In view of the very substantial progress on these issues, at a meeting on July 20th our Board made the decision to also accept the current proposal, however, we will retain our standing as a Party to the proceedings, just in case any or all of the other Parties do not agree to settle by the target date of August 17th, which could then lead to a Contested Hearing.
Boarders have been redrawn at Council. So do you think High Park is in the west end or east end?
Parts of our village are immersed in school traffic (kids, parents and cars) ten months of the year. This update suggests that coming 2019, pilot programs will begin towards increasing the safety of surrounding streets.
Generally speaking, our neighbourhood is a walkers’ paradise. But surprisingly, a publicly available scoring system can add nuance from one street to the next; even from one house number to the next. You can learn more here and see how many steps you have to go.
Could be. Click here for the City of Toronto study.
Bloor West Village is a special place but remains within a big city. The Canadian Urban Institute is a non-profit applied research organization dedicated to achieving healthy urban development. We’ve added a link to their web site, on the right. Check it out to see interesting stories and media about the broader urban community we’re part of.
…as the song lyrics go. Our BWVRA signs are starting to appear everywhere and they’re going fast. If you support our involvement with the Humber Theatre development, show it by getting sign. Just email us at email@example.com with your address. Thank you.
The Bloor West Village Residents’ Association is a group of resident volunteers committed to fostering a well-balanced and liveable community, both now and into the future. Our neighbourhood is currently facing an urgent challenge with a proposed development on the site of the Humber Theatre.
The Theatre sits on a landmark site with most of the stores now empty and windows papered over, awaiting development. Renewal of this block is urgently needed and the BWVRA supports responsible re-development that respects the existing scale and character of the immediate neighbourhood.
Jane Jacobs has inspired more than one generation to take action in defence of the neighbourhoods they value. If you missed the screening of Citizen Jane at the Revue Cinema, here’s a link to a review on Variety: http://variety.com/2016/film/reviews/citizen-jane-review-doc-nyc-1201916211/