Community wealth creation is a new way of developing local economies by strengthening community infrastructure. One of CSI’s focus areas, this community-centred approach to economic development aims to place control and ownership into the hands of local residents and in doing so, build neighbourhood economic autonomy, sustainability, and wealth.
And while the strategy might be new, its core tenets are ancient. People need people. Trust does not happen overnight. Community is built through organic, everyday interactions. We know this. The Centre for Social Innovation Institute’s “Every One Every Day: TO” initiative operationalizes it.
What’s going on in the Neighbourhood?
Modelled after the London, England initiative of the same name, Every One Every Day: TO provides resources, tools, and the environment to empower neighbourhoods to flourish. More specifically, its latest initiative, “Our Neighbourhood Project”, put community into practice in Regent Park at a time when people were forced to fragment.
In October of last year, over one hundred residents in Regent Park signed up to spend time together. Phase One of the project involved thirty workshops spanning six weeks in which participants connected while learning how to cook a meal, paint a mural, plant a tree, explore social entrepreneurship, and teach each other new skills.
Planting trees had residents planting roots. As one participant explored, “This is the first thing I have ever planted! I’m so excited to nurture it, and watch it grow, so I can give back to the community. I learned so much walking around the park and getting to know the species and history of the trees. I want to be part of that. Like a legacy. It feels good to know I’m contributing.”
When asked why they signed up for the program, one resident said, “I’d like to get to know folks in the neighbourhood and contribute to a community feeling here! I’ve just moved to the neighbourhood myself.” Another participant remarked, “I think this is a great way to meet with neighbours in a safe setting. I don’t have to feel pressured because of finances to register in my own community […] and I feel having a variety of interesting topics helps me [connect] with individuals through those similar topics.”
Why Community Wealth?
Our Senior Program Manager of Community Strategy, Projects and Partnerships, Denise Soueidan-O’Leary, explains, “Community Wealth projects like the Parkdale People’s Economy in Toronto and others from across the globe have shown that it is a viable and actionable approach to improve quality of life, build sustainable and equitable economic development, and empower more autonomous and resilient communities.” In other communities and cities, community wealth can look like cooperative ownership, land trusts, or local business development.
We need innovative solutions. Toronto’s increasing income inequality is being exacerbated by the financialization of housing, precarious work, a shifting economy and underfunded social programs and services. These socioeconomic inequalities are starkly evident in the Regent Park neighbourhood.
While everyday action cannot replace systems-level change, the “Our Neighbourhood Project” was an experiment in neighbourhood participation as a small step towards building community infrastructure, a foundational element of Community Wealth. One participant remarked on the importance of these neighbourhood connections: “I am new to the city but the pandemic has made me realize how important local communities are – and how their importance will only continue to grow. Strengthening those bonds, especially in Regent Park where there is a mix of community housing and new build condos feels important to continue to bring people together and erase any divisions.”
When confronted with complex issues, simple everyday actions can appear inconsequential, even superficial. The Every One Every Day: TO initiative is a reminder not to overlook the ripple effect of being the friendly neighbour, and the power of a neighbourhood social ecosystem. CSI has been that neighbour in Regent Park for eight years now, operating a launch pad, community hub and coworking space for social mission driven businesses, among other initiatives (open mics and potlucks included!). And we have no plans of stopping now.
A working group of Regent Park residents, community agencies, city staff, anchor institutions and local businesses have come together to explore the feasibility of using Community Wealth as a new strategy for building an equitable and inclusive neighbourhood economy. This is an ongoing project with a final report on phase one due in June 2021. Stay tuned!
Also in the works: CSI is building a community map that will include information about local businesses, available services, social events, pollinator garden locations and much more. The community will be able to access and update this map on an ongoing basis as a community resource.
When it’s safe to do so, CSI will open the Community Living Room in the Daniel’s Spectrum Building. The Community Living Room will be a meeting place for residents and friends to gather in an open access space to connect, dream and build neighbourhood solutions together. Let me set the scene: imagine a place to grab a coffee, buy a locally made snack from a neighbour’s new food business, receive access to entrepreneurship training, and learn how your community is building after-school programs, butterfly gardens, a cooperatively-owned business, or how the Sustainable Development Goals are shifting school programs.
CSI has spent eight years building deep relationships in the Regent Park community, now it’s time to leverage those relationships to build a stronger, more resilient, sustainable local economy. We look forward to telling you all about it soon!