By Paul Bocking (Originally Published in January 2013 Issue of Bluffs Advocate)
On a cool Friday evening in early December, 50 local residents and high school students crowded into a Guyanese restaurant on Victoria Park Avenue south of Eglinton to launch West Scarborough Community Action. Motivated by concerns ranging from problems with local rental housing and bed bugs, to the frequency of buses on local TTC routes and the availability of good jobs for students, the group was brought together through a shared interest in engaging with their neighbours through grassroots community organizing.
As participants arrived, they were encouraged to write their responses to questions on the wall assessing the status of local public services, “what’s working well in our community”, and “what are current issues and problems.” As these questions were considered, a group of students from Birchmount Park Collegiate presented a poem on the highlights and challenges of living in our community. After sharing dinner together, discussions continued with participants presenting ideas for future projects and campaigns to address identified concerns.
A consensus emerged that our community needs more public infrastructure and services. Unsurprisingly, transit was a key issue, with proposals to increase bus frequency, add bike lanes and cancel the proposed 5 cent fare increase. More free or low cost facilities where local groups can hold events or meetings was also recommended. While our community has schools, libraries and community centres, rising municipal rental and user fees mean many of these locations are inaccessible for groups with minimal or no budget. Participants shared a belief that our community would also benefit from more frequent forums for dialogue on the direction of politics in our city, province and nation. Town hall-style public meetings featuring elected officials as well as local critics would be a start. High school students urged Toronto to hire more youth workers and to create more summer job opportunities. Better access to affordable organic produce- especially for people living in high rises, an initiative already present in some neighbourhoods downtown, was also popular.