Where politicians and decision makers have failed, they should look to residents for true leadership.
There are people working on the ground every day in Jane and Finch to affect changes in their community. People like Alicia, who took time in between two jobs to participate in the Green Change training sessions. Or Celia, who, exhausted from a long week of school and studying for exams still made time to participate in the ARC School Closure Public Consultations.
Talking with resident leaders and community activists of this priority neighbourhood one quickly senses a spirit of deep frustration and demoralization. To many of them, it seems like the very fabric of their community is constantly being buffeted from left, right and centre – from threats of hospital and schools closures to cuts in social services.
Except for the fact that they live in Jane-Finch, the one thing residents have in common is their willingness to get down and dirty. To them this is real; when bad policies are made, they are usually the first ones to be directly impacted. They can’t afford to sleep on the job and lately there seems to be no rest. The passion and commitment demonstrated by these grassroots leaders are embodied by a quote from Majora Carter, South Bronx environmental and social justice advocate. She says “I believe that you shouldn't have to leave your neighborhood to live in a better one.”
Instead, it is time for real social change. We need to work collectively with the aim of correcting the inequities that were exacerbated as a result of the policies of exclusion inherent in the initial design of priority communities like Jane and Finch; a design which pooled large numbers of low income and racialized people in one concentrated location with little access to necessary social support infrastructures. None of this desired change can be truly achieved without equal distribution of wealth, power and resources.
Since the problem is multi-faceted, there needs to be a comprehensive response in order to achieve systemic change. There are some glimmers of hope, with several large scale public infrastructure investment projects being planned in the Jane-Finch community such as the Light Rapid Transit on Finch Ave., the Spadina-York subway extension and the redevelopment of Shoreham. These investments are being promoted as significant gains for the community as they will mean good jobs, green spaces and business opportunities.
However, repeated experiences have shown that these positive spin-offs do not extend to people who live in the community; instead major contracts are awarded externally with little accountability. Furthermore, these infrastructure developments seem disjointed, with no evidence of an integrated, coordinated approach among the different levels of government implementing these grand schemes. For example, how can school closures be proposed while at the same time planning expansion of public transit infrastructure directly through the neighbourhood to attract new residents?
It is crucial for members of our community to be a part of the decision making process in the development of a community retrofit master plan. This plan should include binding policies and opportunities for residents who live in the community to participate fully in all aspects, socially, environmentally, economically and politically. It must be sustainable to address the needs of our current population but also include enhancements that take into consideration the needs of the future generation.
Residents should continue the pressure to hold decision-makers, politicians and corporations accountable to implementing their demands. A word to the wise, it would be a mistake to continue with the assumption that residents will keep quiet much longer; a movement from the grassroots is building.