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
- 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.