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Semantics or Stigma
A Toronto councillor wants to end the city's practice of identifying "priority neighbourhoods" as part of its strategy to enhance supports for struggling communities.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti wants to stop the designation of priority communities. He says its time to review the Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy inaugurated under Mayor David Miller.

Crisanti believes the term ‘priority community’  has negative connotations and that the people of Jamestown in Ward 1-Etobicoke North, which he represents, want to get rid of it. Today he’s appearing before the Community Development and Recreation Committee as it finalizes a deal on the property that will house a new community hub as part of the Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy. He’ll argue for an end to using the designation.

“I have tremendous support certainly from the people in my community who are in a priority neighbourhood to get away from that negative stigma.” Crisanti said.

The priority neighbourhood system was developed in 2004 to help the city identify and address the needs of the inner suburbs, where social services were often lacking.
The city identifies 13 such neighbourhoods: Malvern, Jane-Finch, Jamestown, Kingston-Galloway, Victoria Village, Dorset Park, Eglinton East, Scarborough Village, Black Creek, Westminster-Branson, Crescent Town, Steeles-L’Amoreaux and Kennedy Park.

Crisanti says the city doesn’t need labels to respond to the needs of the community.
“We can be just as responsive if more responsive with a more positive approach to helping our communities,” he said. “You don’t shade them in on a map. You don’t fence them off. You don’t say that you’re a special need community.”

Susan McIsaac, the president and CEO of United Way Toronto, says she hasn’t heard from Crisanti, but she’s surprised and disappointed that people feel that way. United Way was a partner in designating priority neighbourhoods and continues to work to deliver services.

“Residents and youth feel the results are tangible,” she says. “They feel their neighbourhood is worthy of investment, of the attention of leadership. I’m surprised when people say ‘we don’t want to them to be stigmatized.’ I’ve never heard ‘I feel stigmatized.’”

McIsaac said the geographic designation of neighbourhoods has helped her agency respond in times of crisis. During the so-called “summer of the gun,” United Way was able to put together initiatives that got financial support from the province — thanks to the Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy.

Reconsidering the Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy could have very serious implications. During the 2010 mayoral campaign, Mayor Rob Ford said the initiatives needed to be reviewed before he considered funding them.

“I haven’t seen the benefits from these initiatives,” he said in a debate hosted by the Toronto Star. “As you know, I coach football in a priority neighbourhood and I haven’t seen the benefits. I wouldn’t commit to anything . . . If we aren’t seeing results.”
McIsaac said these views don’t reflect her meetings with the mayor. She says he’s supportive of the United Way and priority neighbourhood initiatives.

“I found him very positive. I did not ask him to commit to long-term funding so I don’t know his position on that.”


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