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.

Nunziata Slammed in James’ Column

Royson James writes socially themed editorials in the Toronto Star. In today’s column he slams (among others) Frances Nunziata for stating that Priority Neighbourhood status is hampering positive change in Weston-Mount Dennis because the negative label drives away business. She’s quoted in the column as saying that Priority Neighbourhood Status increases insurance rates and puts developers off from even opening up a coffee shop.

Snake oil salesmen are more cuddly than these suburban city councillors who masquerade as caretakers of Toronto’s neediest of city wards. And a lot more truthful….

Councillor Frances Nunziata declared that Weston-Mount Dennis can do so much better without the “priority neighbourhood” label council has attached to it, a label that has attracted millions of dollars of added community services.

Now, she says, developers don’t even want to bring a coffee shop into the neighbourhood. Besides, insurance rates shot up when insurers, apparently, found out — from the label, no doubt — that this was a part of town with social challenges.

In other words, change the name and the developers will come. Ha!

These comments along with the councillor’s repeated objections to liquor licence applications in Weston make us wonder (again) about the councillor’s vision for Weston’s commercial district. Would she like to replicate Bloor West Village along Weston Road and Jane Street? Is this a trial balloon to explore axing the Priority Neighbourhood Program? Perhaps our councillor would care to shed some light on this topic.