Let’s Work It Out, Brampton.
Bramptonians are ready and willing to put in the work of making a long term commitment to their city, but they’d like to see some reciprocation.
On April 6, 2016, young Bramptonians gathered to discuss ideals for their city and, not surprisingly, the general consensus was that their relationship to city politics, Brampton’s social welfare, and its economic state could stand to see some improvement.
With that, we have the title for our summary report: Let’s work it out Brampton. Similar (but also completely different) to the idea of breaking up with cities that has taken root across the country, you want for your relationship with Brampton to work, even though Toronto has been courting you. In addition to our next community conversation (more from us about that soon!) we’re looking for more ways to chat and create a buzz online. Will you help us by writing relationship tweets and letters to Brampton with the hashtag #letsworkitoutbrampton?
If Brampton was your partner, how would you feel about your relationship? What can Brampton do to encourage you to stay and hearten those fluttering feelings of civic pride?
To discover more about the opinions of your neighbors, check out the report back on Brampton’s first ever Community Conversation below.
Report back on Community Conversation
April 6, 2016
ABOUT SHERIDAN’S COMMUNITY WORKER PROGRAM
Sheridan’s Community worker program is a two year diploma program for those who are interested in building stronger communities. Graduates have the ability to critically engage in participatory global/local community building through innovative and transformative problem solving to mobilize and create vibrant communities rooted in social justice.
LAB B is the only coworking space in Brampton. Their mission is to develop and sustain the creative economy that currently exists in the city. LAB B has been a heavyweight in maintaining the youth climate in Brampton since 2014
On April 6, 2016 twenty-five community leaders, youth and changemakers engaged in a community conversation at LAB B about building a vibrant Brampton for youth. This summary report collates some of the highlights and themes of the community conversation in order to cultivate and harness the ideas and energy for change. The facilitators recorded the conversation and engaged in open coding in order to develop themes of the conversation. While the individual voices of the participants are really important, we elected to record the experiences and analysis of participants anonymously and sought overarching trends to help inform how we can improve the vitality of Brampton.
When community leaders from LAB B, staff and graduates from Sheridan’s Community Worker program began discussing possible collaborations in December 2015, there was a strong synergy between the community worker program’s grassroots approach and LAB B’s creative community building approach. After a couple of dialogue sessions, we collectively decided that a ‘community conversation’ would help galvanize LAB-B’s base of changemakers. The goal of the ‘community conversation’ was to discuss opportunities, challenges, and barriers impacting Brampton’s vibrancy for youth. The main themes and trends that emerge from our discussion will be represented at a research cafe on April 15 at Sheridan College and published online to share and build on. We set out to have a different “outside of the box” community conversation about building a better city for youth.
HOW WE DID IT
Sheridan’s Community Worker faculty Abigail Salole, and Community Worker students Holly Vukobrat and Vin Bharadwaj facilitated the community conversation. We wanted to build the conversation from the premise of possibility and curiosity. The session began with two participants reading an excerpt from Margaret Wheatley’s “Turning to one another” (see sidebar).
Sidebar: “There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about. Ask: “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking. Notice what you care about. Assume that many others share your dreams. Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. Talk to people you know. Talk to people you don’t know. Talk to people you never talk to. Be intrigued by the differences you hear. Expect to be surprised. Treasure curiosity more than certainty. Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible. Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something. Know that creative solutions come from new connections. Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know. Real listening always brings people closer together. Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world. Rely on human goodness. Stay together”
Next, participants were asked to consider the strengths and challenges of living in Brampton for youth. The focus questions were: What does Brampton do really well for youth? What challenges does Brampton face for youth?
Participants wrote these strengths and challenges on sticky notes and shared with other participants as a way to start the conversation. Using strengths and challenges as a way to foster conversation, the next activity involved participants building a shared understanding of a collective context in small groups. Here, participants were asked to use these strengths and challenges as a base to build an understanding of political factors, economic factors, social and cultural factors that inform how youth experience Brampton. In addition, in order to seek novelty and participants were asked to consider the elephant in the room for youth in Brampton. We wanted to invite participants to consider those subjects that are widely known but not often talked about. The findings of this collective context were shared with the entire group.
In a storyboard activity, participants were asked to brainstorm the story of the ‘Vibrant City of Brampton for Youth’. Here, participants were asked to consider the ideal future state of Brampton by sketching an ideal vibrant future uses markers and paper provided. Building from the Storyboard conversation, participants were asked to consider the next possible exciting step that everyone in this room could participate in and support that would lead to the vibrant city of Brampton. Groups consider what steps participants could take to get there. Groups were asked to select 1–2 actions from each cluster and then record action items on a piece of paper which clarifies “In order to / We must” worksheet by filling out the “We must” column. Facilitators collected worksheets and sticky notes and chatted further after the structured session.
COLLECTIVE CONTEXT: WHERE ARE WE AT?
When we were mapping the current context in Brampton, there was a contradictory sense that there was a great deal of enthusiasm and hope for building a more vibrant Brampton for youth while recognizing the very real structural hindrances and challenges for doing so. There were two broad themes from this discussion.
- LACK OF INTERACTIVE CITY DESIGN
The importance of space was a common theme throughout the ‘community conversation’. There were a number of layers to the importance of how space and community design structured the youth experience in Brampton. First, Brampton’s land-use structure is what many have come to know as “typically suburban.” There are mostly designs for single-family residential neighbourhoods that are demarcated from places of employment and consumption. This land use structure is most amenable to transportation based on car travel and perpetuates ‘bedroom communities’ where people return home from work to sleep. Pedestrian, public transit and biking options are limited.
Second, there is a shortage of spaces that are designed for interaction between community members. Indeed, there was a strong sense in this conversation that spaces are mostly limited to commercial spaces where the focus is on consumption (and therefore excludes people without money) and/or social services (which were also described as limited). There was some discussion about why spaces like the library or community centers were not seen as viable collective spaces. Some reasons that were discussed were quality of programming, lack of awareness of programming, the low status level that that these collective spaces have with residents. One participant described that a shortage of third spaces (spaces that are neither home nor work spaces) contributes the lack of interaction in community. Of course, there were exceptions to the shortage of collective spaces — LAB-B was an obvious exception pointed out by many participants. Third, Brampton’s proximity to Toronto means that, there is a strong pull towards more vibrant night life and community events outside of Brampton.
The importance of space as a salient consideration for the youth experience in Brampton might seem contradictory to the increasing role of online interaction in connecting people. Indeed, people frequently connect with people across time and space and, therefore, social networks or “community” cannot be assumed based on geography. Despite this increasing fluidity, geographical boundaries and identities remain important. One participant lamented how many online meeting apps and interfaces are not successful in Brampton because the numbers of users are insufficient for these applications to have the intended utility. The concern about the lack of these interactive spaces is even more profound in Brampton because it perpetuates ethnic silos which some participants suggest could be challenged by more inter-ethnic/cultural cross pollination. Indeed, racism and NIMBYISM (‘Not In My Back-Yard mentality) were two negative social phenomenon in Brampton that were identified as being perpetuated by a segmented and circumscribed youth population.
- LACK OF MEANINGFUL YOUTH CENTERED CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AND OPPORTUNITY
While many participants described a number of exciting initiatives that are ‘community building’ initiatives and a promise of burgeoning creative initiatives and industries, participants discussed a dearth of youth centered civic engagement from all three levels of government. Specifically, there is a lack of social infrastructure for youth to access politicians and decision making. In simple terms, participants discussed youth disenfranchisement from meaningful decisions that ran as a theme throughout the conversation.
Participants unanimously expressed that there are a lack of initiatives or pathways to meaningful civic engagement in Brampton from government. The reasons offered for this lack of engagement included blatant disregard for youth civic engagement, youth not being represented in government, youth not having cultural capital and decision makers not knowing how to engage young people.
Participants discussed how there were few opportunities for youth to engage in meaningful dialogue with political representatives. While a number of initiatives like student voting programs in schools were mentioned, participants found these programs were often empty gestures and politicians did not have the motivation to meaningfully engage youth which helps to contribute to youth disengagement. Participants were unanimously disappointed by the decision from Brampton City Council to vote against the Hurontario-Main LRT, a light rail line, and cited this decision as evidence that the city was not considering the youth demographic, and focusing instead on the ‘elite’ Bramptonians, to inform important city decisions.
Without a more visible and concerted effort to curtail youth disenfranchisement, participants spoke with concern about the high youth unemployment rate, high levels of precarious work, increasing income inequality, service allocation and funding issues (for health and social services) and limited government investment in start-ups as particularly concerning realities for youth in Brampton. The more marginalized young people are (those who are marginalized by racism, mental health issues, poverty and other sources of oppression) the more likely to bear the brunt of these social problems.
The voices from the community conversation echo and bring to life the concerns depicted in many research reports. While many performance measures for youth in Brampton (and Peel) are generally positive, averages and aggregate information can hide the experiences of the most marginalized in Brampton. For example, the Social Planning Council of Peel (2015) described that many Black youth in Peel feel unwanted, devalued and socially isolated.
Income inequality, poverty and precarious work are also important issues that have been identified by other research. For example, the Neighborhood Change Research Partnership (May 2013) examined long-term neighbourhood change trends in parts of the “905 region” of the Toronto census metropolitan area (CMA). Over the period of study (1980–2010) Brampton has increased the number of low and very low-income census tracts from 3.4% to 65.2%. Low and very low-income is defined as less than 40% of the average individual income of the Toronto CMA for the year being considered. This report also demonstrated how middle-income census tracts have decreased from 86% in 1980 to 49% in 2010.
TOWARDS A YOUTH CENTERED VIBRANT BRAMPTON
Just as participants had keen insights on the strengths, challenges and barriers to building a vibrant Brampton for youth, participants also had strong visions and commitments for change. Indeed, there was a strong sentiment that there is a “rising tide” of creative initiatives within Brampton that could (and should) be cultivated for enhanced city vibrancy. While there are many push and pull factors that draw some youth away Brampton, there was also a strong sense of commitment from Brampton’s youth leaders and adult allies to build a stronger community.
Some common elements for change for participants included:
- Increased interactivity: A vibrant Brampton would include Brampton residents working together to solve community problems, collective decision making, increased third spaces that build community through entertainment, recreation and public placemaking.
- A concerted effort on behalf of government, civil society and third spaces to engage youth in meaningful authentic ways in order to co-create art-based, culture, entrepreneurship and post-secondary opportunities in Brampton.
- A strong downtown Brampton that is strongly connected to residents through a strong public transit system including an LRT.
- A concerted strategic direction to brand Brampton and develop made-in-Brampton solutions and approaches to city and neighbourhood building.
- Revitalization of democracy on local issues including but especially local representation, city planning, public transit and post-secondary opportunities through people-powered change.
Many participants are already engaged in initiatives which strengthen Brampton. Participants describe a need for more community conversations where citizen-led initiatives can take root and Brampton residents can support issues and cultivate inspired social change.
Plans for the next community conversation are already in motion. This group will continue to grapple with some of the important questions and issues we started in the first community conversation. For example:
- How can we build local solutions for change while recognizing the role that social infrastructure and networkers have for democratic participation? That is, neighborhoods exist in a social context how can we build local solutions that are centered within that social context?
- How are can we build creative innovative solutions for a more vibrant Brampton that are inclusive? Can we address pressing social problems like poverty and racism while trying to cultivate Brampton’s creativity and innovation?
Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership (May 2014). Accessed from Neighbourhoodchange.ca
Social Planning Council of Peel (2015). The Black Community in Peel Summary: Research Findings from Four Report. Accessed online from: http://www.unitedwaypeel.org/faces/images/summary-sm.pdf