I’m working towards a neighbourhood of neighbours

Saving old Leaside

My mantra is typically “I’m all about place” (you’ll likely know that already). But that does not mean I can’t be about people too. What does that mean?

Recently I attended the release of the Toronto Vital Signs Report 2023 by the Toronto (Community) Foundation. At one level this was a downer – on almost every measure the community trends in Toronto are going in the “wrong” direction. The Foundation reports: “The pandemic has accelerated a long-standing decline in friends and family networks, donations, and volunteering. Civic engagement and connection are foundational elements to create a healthy, happy and resilient community. However, people are seeing friends less often, participating less in groups and in activities, while also donating and volunteering at lower rates than before the pandemic, which, in many cases, was already lower than in past decades. These shifts not only compromise the quality of individual lives, but also pose a challenge to the broader social fabric, threatening our collective ability to collaborate, innovate, and face adversities together.”

This is important, and concerning. Fortunately, the Foundation does not leave it there, but proposes action to address the decline. They say: “Let’s focus on the problem that underlies them all – restoring the connection between us and our city.” Their call is to join them in committing to just ONE act of civic optimism over the 150 days from November 15, 2023 to April, 2024, and to inspire others by sharing it on their map and social media, with the goal to enhance neighbourly connections. “Toronto is grappling with many crises, yet research shows that strong social connections boost our wellbeing and enable us to tackle issues together.” (Read more of the report: https://torontofoundation.ca/powerofus.)

To encourage participation, the Foundation has partnered with Volunteer Toronto to create a micro-grant program, with applications closing on Jan. 15, 2024 (https://info.volunteertoronto.ca/powerofus), to provide up to $1,000 to resident-led groups, grassroots organizations, and informal collectives across the City of Toronto towards projects that help build social connections and increase civic participation. The funded initiatives seek to create opportunities to activate neighbourhoods, animate public spaces, or bridge connections between people, to increase a sense of belonging in our communities and address the growing challenge of social isolation.

So, how does this relate to Leaside? Leaside still seems to be a pretty well-connected place. There are a variety of social networks here based on themes, ranging from sport (for example, Leaside Curling Club, Wildcats Girls Hockey), pastimes and hobbies (Leaside Bridge Club, Leaside Garden Society), civic engagement (Leaside Residents Association), history (Leaside Heritage Preservation Society, East York Historical Society) to church groups, which, apart from worship services and choirs, maintain an array of social justice activities, such as pastoral care (featured in Leaside Life’s December issue) and refugee resettlement.

So, sure, Leaside offers lots of opportunities for connections, but the question is – what are we doing about it? – have we bounced back from the pandemic, and are we once again engaging in community activities? But are they the same old, same old activities, or have we explored new ones? 

Speaking for myself and what I’m doing to rise to the Toronto Foundation challenge? Let me offer a couple of activities I am doing now, beyond my civic engagement “day job.” I now register for (and attend) pilates/yoga classes run by the City Recreation Department at Trace Manes Community Centre. And I have joined the chancel choir at Leaside United Church. Apart from the physical benefits of exercise classes, and singing, there are also social and mental health benefits of such activities. I write this in the afterglow happiness of two amazing shared Carols by Candlelight services, with the combined choirs of Leaside United Church and Northlea United Church on December 3 and 10th respectively. Being part of making joyful music provides an incredible lift to the soul.  

Back to the collective. How will Leaside rise to the Toronto Foundation challenge? How about an event in 2024 to bring many of the groups together to celebrate and discuss how social connections might be improved? How about linking in the residents of Leaside East, the fast-growing tower community south of Eglinton east of Laird? This is just one idea. I’d welcome others.

So, while Leaside is definitely a Neighbourhood, we can be more – a Neighbourhood of Neighbours!


About Geoff Kettel 221 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Residents Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), member of the Toronto Preservation Board and Past Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.