Are BIAs the key to Toronto's future?
The building blocks of a great city are vibrant communities, thriving neighbourhoods. Many pockets of engagement around the city will make the whole a beautiful place in which to live. As such, City Hall needs to find ways to encourage and support our neighbourhoods -- not simply the well-known communities (Greektown, Chinatown, Little Italy), but the no-name, no-tourist, just-regular-folk variety as well.
My modest proposal: a matching grant program.
Seattle has done it successfully – profoundly successfully, as a matter of fact. They began modestly in 1988 by putting some money aside to help neighbourhoods – but the neighbourhoods were to do the work, unleash their creativity, and take the lead in any project.
If the community got together and came up with an idea to enrich their collective life, and they came up with half the money for the project (or committed to volunteer labour, etc.), then the City matched the proposal.
The initiative and momentum of the projects were clearly in the hands of the community members, but City Hall could come alongside with some much-needed help and financial support. Brilliant! Run-down parks were beautified, murals were painted, garden patches established, sculptures commissioned, and the list goes on. Twenty-two years later, Seattle is still supporting its communities. Why not us?
When I thought about this, I realized that Toronto already has a limited version of the matching grant program in our BIA’s (Business Improvement Areas, of which Toronto has 71). If a BIA takes the initiative to put in park benches, decorative lights, banners, etc., the city will pay for half of the capital cost (and the individual BIA pays the other half). The city’s BIAs and their surrounding residents have been greatly helped by this rather limited matching program.
How much more could this city be enriched through a Seattle-like matching grant program? Imagine the possibilities! Imagine the energy and collaboration that comes when we actively engage in our own neighbourhood – and our politicians are “there” for us and help us in a practical sense. Seattle started small because they weren’t sure they could afford it; 22 years later, they know they can’t afford NOT to do it. Why not us?About Rev. Jim Parker