Weston to remain a priority neighbourhood

For better or for worse, Weston will remain a “priority neighbourhood” when City Council votes next week. The designation dings our reputation but brings in pots of money for infrastructure, outreach, and youth.

The city’s Community Development Committee approved a report on Monday that renames priority neighbourhoods “neighbourhood improvement areas” and re-evaluates Toronto’s communities according to new criteria. Weston and Mount Dennis are in good company—almost a quarter of the city’s 140 neighbourhoods are now improvement areas.

The new criteria measure economic opportunity, social development, health, political engagement, and physical surroundings; and they confirm what you already know: rich people live downtown and north of the city. Less rich people don’t.

Weston benefits from this report, though—and in unexpected ways. Oddly, the city split Weston into two parts: Weston and Pelmo. The division is unnatural but works to our advantage: Weston qualifies for improvement funding because it is not pulled up by Pelmo, which scores higher.

Toronto neighbourhoods were given grades between 0 and 100. The cutoff for neighbourhood funding is 43.

Our neighbourhoods’ final grades were:

  • 26 for Mount Dennis, the third lowest in the city
  • 36 for Weston
  • 54 for Pelmo

Weston got particularly low marks in:

  • High school and postsecondary graduation rates
  • Social assistance rates
  • Premature mortality

Pelmo Park, bizarrely, gets a red card for walkability. It gets another for post-secondary graduation rates.

Mount Dennis gets red cards for

  • Unemployment
  • Social assistance rates
  • High school and post secondary graduation
  • Municipal voting
  • Meeting places
  • Walkability, bizarrely
  • Preventable hospitalizations

Now, dear reader, before you rend your garments and gnash teeth, ask yourself whether these things matter to you. These are not indicators of how nice a neighbourhood is. That Weston has a high diabetes rate doesn’t make me or you any more likely to get diabetes, nor does it make a bit of difference to walking your dog, having a barbeque, or raising your kids.

Also, the criteria are stacked against us and all suburbs. Walkability, for instance, is measured by how close you are to commercial areas, not how nice your neighbourhood is to actually walk in. Social assistance rates, too, are higher in the burbs because poor people find it hard to pay rent downtown, where housing is scarce and rents are high.

Nor should some other criteria be interpreted as Weston’s failings. I think that WMD is poor because poor people live here, not because we have all become poor. Sure, we don’t have Kodak or CCM, but Toronto is a short train ride away. It’s easy to have a high-paying job and live in Weston.

Our neighbourhoods are poor for another reason—because they are nice places for poor people to live. And I’m going to wager that post secondary graduation rates are likely to be lower where there are poor people and new immigrants who may find it hard to pay for school. That’s a failing, to be sure, but it’s not Weston’s failing.

Finally, some very important things were not considered. There are no marks for good transit or commute times, even in the measurements of infrastructure. Nor are marks deducted for crime—which would have punished downtown, where assaults and robberies are most common.

Happily, there are no grades for restaurants and coffee shops either, probably the only area where Weston has long and truly failed.

I’m sure many people will see our label as a mark. I, for one, don’t. Our label will entitle us to redistributed money from downtown, for which we should be happy, and grateful, not ashamed.

Sullivan picks up the slack left by the city.

Mike Sullivan says he went to his councillor for help; got nowhere and ended up doing the job himself.

After the latest storm to hit York South-Weston, a political one may be brewing. While out canvassing on march 14, Sullivan observed that the only working sidewalk under the Lawrence Avenue rail bridge was in a dangerous condition. Federal Member of Parliament Mike Sullivan is the opposition deputy critic for persons with disabilities and thought that even with the stretched resources of the city, after two days, something should have been done. According to Sullivan, he left a message with his councillor Frances Nunziata and after waiting a few hours with no action, Sullivan and his assistant Branden Valente did the job themselves. Sullivan described the process in the video below and is openly critical of the level of service given to York South-Weston which is a Priority Neighbourhood. While there’s no love lost between the two representatives, Sullivan’s action will resonate with those who feel that York South-Weston has been neglected for years.

Infrastructure strikes again.

Weston has had two ‘once in a lifetime’ storm events this year. All indicators point to more of  the same. Weston is an older part of the city and the neglect of its infrastructure is painfully evident. The recent ice storm is still wreaking havoc in Toronto and Weston seems to have lost more than its fair share of power. Luckily our natural gas and water supplies are buried safely underground and have remained intact through all of this. Some homeowners with gas fireplaces have been able to heat their homes throughout this crisis and survive with emergency lighting.

Imagine if our gas supply was carried on overhead pipes. Apparently, Toronto Hydro can imagine this but can’t seem to understand that most civilized parts of the world have put their hydro lines underground.

In spite of Toronto Hydro having a huge number of people on the sunshine list, money spent on infrastructure has not been as forthcoming. We have become blind to the fact that most of our electrical supply is above ground. Not only is it vulnerable, it’s unsightly and ruins boulevard trees that have to be kept clear of power lines. The cost of an underground network has always been trotted out as the reason for our current (or lack of current) sorry state. Mississauga suffered minimal inconvenience in this latest storm precisely because most of their power lines are buried. Not only are overhead wires ugly as sin and reminiscent of the third world, they’re expensive to maintain and subject to calamitous and dangerous failure. Lives been put at risk, holiday celebrations have been disrupted, businesses have suffered during their biggest sales period and tonnes of food have been wasted thanks to powerless refrigerators and freezers.

If Toronto Hydro had instituted a policy of burying a percentage of its lines each year, along with ensuring all new homes had buried wiring, we would not have suffered this huge disruption. Again, we have been seduced by our own short-sighted desire for lower taxes and utility bills. Couple this with a failure on the part of Ontario governments of all three parties to oversee competent management of our electrical supply.

Of course, the rich haven’t suffered in all of this. Their generators are humming away merrily. It’s the poor and middle classes who bear the brunt of these events. The lower taxes and enormous salaries that supposedly attract business and competent leadership have done neither and have left us in a sorry state.

Once again, Toronto is in the news for the same reason – a failure of vision and leadership. Merry friggin’ Christmas.