A new way to measure which Toronto neighbourhoods are most in need is being welcomed as a "more sophisticated model," for directing attention and funding.
The new measures, to be made public this week in a report to the city's community development and recreation committee, are expected to change the way Toronto's 140 neighbourhoods are evaluated by city staff when they decide where to direct services. It also is likely to set off a lively debate about the city's role in providing social services and what areas of the city are most deserving of extra funding and attention – all against the backdrop of this fall's civic election.
Councillor John Parker said the new tool attempts to more accurately measure the needs of a community in order to identify "priority neighbourhoods" – areas that the city has renamed Neighbourhood Improvement Areas.
There are currently 13 disadvantaged areas that have this designation that brings with it extra services from the city, other levels of government and agencies. Asked if the change will stretch the city's limited budget, he said that will be a question council must address once all the needs have been identified.
"This is all about getting the clearest possible picture of where the needs are and then we will grapple with how to address those needs – as we always do," Mr. Parker said in an interview. "We need to be accurate. We don't want to overlook anyone."
In the case of his Don Valley West ward, Mr. Parker said he has been advised the new system would increase the priority neighbourhoods from one – Flemingdon Park – to two by adding Thorncliffe Park.
As an example of the new approach, Mr. Parker said under the existing system, factors such as single-parent households and education levels are tracked. But in Thorncliffe Park, he said that often recent immigrants have the opposite problem of extended families crowded together. Residents there "have no lack of education," he said, but often struggle to get employment because of the lack of recognition of foreign credentials.
Councillor Joe Mihevc, vice-chair of the city committee that will discuss the new measures next week, said as the city gains access to more tools and resources it makes sense to update its evaluation methods.
"It's becoming a more sophisticated model," he said.
The City of Toronto developed its system of priority areas in 2005 as a way to focus resources where needed.
The designation brings with it millions in extra funding, a factor that is likely to make the report a political hot potato in an election year.
The new measures were developed in conjunction with researchers at St. Michael's Hospital's Centre for Research on Inner City Health and are adapted from work done by the World Health Organization, according to information from the hospital.
The measures look at a number of factors including economic opportunities, civic engagement, walkability and accessibility to green space and healthy food, and population health, says a report from the hospital on the program.