The places in which we live, work, and play affect our health. Neighbourhoods that have options for active transportation like walking and cycling, opportunities for physical activity like recreation centres, green spaces to be active and socialize in, and places to access healthy and nutritious food, tend to have greater opportunities for good health.
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But not every neighbourhood in Toronto incorporates these health-promoting features. Neighbourhoods that are better off tend to have more opportunities for good health than poorer neighbourhoods. Lower income neighbourhoods are more likely to lack opportunities for physical activity and have fewer green spaces and places to buy good food than neighbourhoods that are better off. As a result, people living in lower income neighbourhoods have fewer opportunities for good health.
Many of the challenges that Toronto faces in improving its built environment require leadership at various levels of government. There are, however, many improvements that can occur within communities, if they are supported to take leadership roles.
To facilitate these kinds of partnerships, we need dedicated staff that bridge the gaps between decision makers and communities. Community animators – people who support community leaders and act as catalysts, relationship-builders, supporters, and mentors for local projects and initiatives – are a proven way to bring ideas and neighbourhoods together and to make improvements to the built environment.
A new Wellesley Institute report sets out how the City of Toronto can make progress in its upcoming Budget to support community-led initiatives to make improvements to the built environment. We urge City Council to:
- Establish a new built environment community leadership development program;
- Ensure stable funding of at least $735,000 per annum to allow to program to employ nine animators, including a mix of regional and specialist animators, to coordinate the community leadership development program;
- Consider providing funding that would allow the built environment community leadership development program to employ additional specialist animators to work with communities and populations with unique needs, such as immigrant-receiving communities and neighbourhoods that lack access to green spaces.
The built environment has significant impacts on our health and the health of Toronto’s communities. Ensuring equitable access to spaces for physical activity, active transportation, and green spaces can have positive health impacts for communities across the city. Fostering community leadership is one critical tool in enabling communities to identify and lead projects in their own neighbourhoods that improve the built environment and residents’ health. Having dedicated staff to support community leadership has proved to be successful in Toronto, and Council should ensure that this model is supported in the long-term.