The Toronto Foundation, a community foundation focused on pooling philanthropic resources to maximize community impact, released their 2017/18 vital signs report this month. This year’s report, Towards a More Just City, uses an equity lens to reveal the ways that quality of life can be impacted by neighbourhood, income, race, immigration status, gender, sexual identity and age in Toronto. The Toronto Foundation hopes that the equity lens, and the concerns that it highlights, provide a useful roadmap for government, the philanthropic sector, private sector and individual citizens to remove systemic barriers facing some populations in Toronto from full participation in the city.
To better understand the state of equity in Toronto, the Vital Signs report uses disaggregated data to compare subgroups of the population against city wide averages to determine the impact that gender, immigration status, race, income, and location have on quality of life. Where possible, these categories are used to investigate quality of life in terms of ten measures: arts and culture; environment; transportation; wellness; housing; income and wealth; leadership, civic engagement and belonging; learning; safety; and work. For each category, a broad overview of the status of Toronto is provided and then the equity lens is applied to see how different populations are faring.
Lessons from the Report
With nearly 200 data sources used to create the report, Vital Signs provides an impressive insight into the state of life in Toronto. Lessons from the report are important for both practitioners interested in deepening community and poverty reduction.
Regarding community, the report highlights the need to consider the impact of location, financial resources, age, and trust on access to cultural events, health, civic participation and belonging. As an example, location within the city and financial resources were indicators of likelihood of involvement in arts and cultural events. This is important, because these types of activities are correlated with improved health outcomes, a sense of connectedness, and social integration. Additionally, the report highlights the need to consider who makes up political institutions and who doesn’t feel a sense of belonging. Young adults in Toronto, for instance, are significantly less likely to feel a sense of belonging – which is associated with declining community and civic engagement. These lessons are important, because they reinforce the need to consider the impact of financial capacity, diversity, trust and location in community building work.
In terms of poverty reduction, the report highlights the impact of geography, race, education, and gender inequality on poverty and income. For instance, the report highlights that where low-income residents live in Toronto has shifted away from the core to the inner suburbs over the past 40 years. Also, the report highlights that there remain persistent gaps in earnings based on both gender and race and that these measures intersect. Finally, the report highlights how education outcomes are impacted by housing, income, and race and that these measures are often reinforcing; lower educational attainment leads to reduced income and health outcomes, which further impacts educational opportunities. This information demonstrates the need for poverty reduction strategies to consider the impact of location, race, gender and education in programming to make system wide changes.
As the Toronto Foundation points out, there are reasons to be hopeful. For instance, all levels of Government in Ontario are now working with strategies to improve equity and address poverty. To further these strategies and to build deeper communities, it is important that conversations continue to build on good data collection and a lens that assesses the system level changes required to make lasting change.
Toronto Foundation’s Vital Signs Report: Towards a More Just City
Government of Canada: Poverty Reduction Strategy
Government of Ontario: Poverty Reduction Strategy
City of Toronto: Poverty Reduction Strategy
Vibrant Communities: A Compendium of Poverty Reduction Strategies and FrameworksVibrant Communities: TEN: A guide for Cities Reducing Poverty