T.O. turns out to be pretty neighbourly
But always room to improve, suggests groundbreaking study measuring city’s ‘social capital’
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.