T.O. turns out to be pretty neigh­bourly

But al­ways room to im­prove, sug­gests ground­break­ing study mea­sur­ing city’s ‘so­cial cap­i­tal’

StarMetro Toronto - - COVER STORY - Lau­rie Mon­se­braaten SO­CIAL JUS­TICE RE­PORTER

How many close friends or rel­a­tives could you call in an emer­gency?

If you lost your wal­let, would you trust some­one in your neigh­bour­hood to give it back?

The an­swers to these ques­tions are part of what re­searchers call “so­cial cap­i­tal,” a key in­gre­di­ent to a good qual­ity of life, a healthy pop­u­la­tion, safe streets and eco­nomic pros­per­ity.

Toronto — a city of more than 2.8 mil­lion peo­ple where 51 per cent of res­i­dents are vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties — ex­hibits re­mark­ably high lev­els of so­cial cap­i­tal, ac­cord­ing to a ground­break­ing re­port be­ing re­leased Tues­day.

And sur­pris­ingly, the re­search shows ro­bust so­cial cap­i­tal among some groups where it was not ex­pected, in­clud­ing first­gen­er­a­tion Cana­di­ans and se­niors liv­ing alone and in high­rise build­ings, says the re­port by the non-profit Toronto Foun­da­tion and En­vi­ron­ics In­sti­tute for Sur­vey Re­search.

“In con­trast to some of the re­search ev­i­dence for U.S. cities, this study found no ev­i­dence in Toronto that in­creas­ing eth­nic di­ver­sity is linked to lower lev­els of so­cial cap­i­tal,” says the re­port, the first com­pre­hen­sive look at the is­sue in a Cana­dian city.

So­cial cap­i­tal is the “lu­bri­cant” that drives so­cial net­works, de­ter­mines trust and makes it pos­si­ble for peo­ple who may have lit­tle in com­mon to live peace­fully with each other, says the re­port. This kind of mu­tual sup­port, trust and con­nec­tion are not sim­ply “feel good” no­tions, but as im­por­tant as eco­nomic cap­i­tal, it says.

“So­cial cap­i­tal is ab­so­lutely crit­i­cal to our lives, to our hap­pi­ness, to our well-be­ing, to pro­gress­ing in so­ci­ety,” said Sharon Avery, pres­i­dent and CEO of the foun­da­tion. “And while there is clearly some­thing to cel­e­brate Refugees from the east­ern Euro­pean coun­try of Ge­or­gia, Ana Bar­bakadze and her son Daniel, 15 months, have no close friends or rel­a­tives in the city to lean on. The Toronto Foun­da­tion’s Sharon Avery, says these are the kind of neigh­bours we need to help. Nancy Li’s or­ga­ni­za­tion helps im­mi­grant chil­dren and grand­chil­dren get es­tab­lished.

(in the Toronto re­sults), I don’t want us to cel­e­brate and walk away.”

For ex­am­ple, the re­search shows just 6 per cent of Toron­to­ni­ans don’t have a close friend or Mar­i­lyn Can­cel­lara, 73, is wid­owed, but has a wide so­cial cir­cle through vol­un­teer work.

rel­a­tive. But that still rep­re­sents 100,000 res­i­dents, Avery noted. “That’s the pop­u­la­tion of Pick­er­ing and not some­thing we can ig­nore.” To lead the way, the foun­da­tion is us­ing the re­search to make grants of up to $25,000 each to nine res­i­dent-led projects aimed at strength­en­ing so­cial cap­i­tal and ur­ban re­silience in neigh­bour­hoods across the city.

The re­port ex­am­ined found peo­ple in Toronto gen­er­ally trust oth­ers, in­clud­ing those who are dif­fer­ent from them­selves, feel a sense of be­long­ing to their com­mu­nity, have fam­ily and friends they can rely on, give back to the com­mu­nity and are in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics.

How­ever, the re­search found a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of res­i­dents with low lev­els of so­cial cap­i­tal, in­clud­ing those who are iso­lated from their neigh­bours, liv­ing on low in­comes, res­i­dents in their late 20s strug­gling to get es­tab­lished, and in some cases, racial­ized mi­nori­ties.


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