Urban Communities and Neighbourhoods: Identifying Issues and Needs

Location of Willowdale Neighbourhood

Located in the district of North York, Willowdale is a small neighbourhood in Toronto that has begun as a postal village. The neighbourhood is categorized as a federal district and had been represented in the Canadian House of Commons since the year 1979. The formal representation of Willowdale makes the region and official neighbourhood in Toronto.

 The neighbourhood is a lively cosmopolitan centre characterized by attractive office towers, customized residential buildings, a shopping mall, educational complexes, and a world class recreational and arts centres. The neighbourhood also hosts a number of schools, some of which have reported a commendable academic performance. The continuous improvements in the infrastructural development of the region have contributed to the expansion of the neighbourhood. Currently, Willowdale has a population of about 41000 people indicating a 6% percent increase since 2001. The reduced rates of unemployment and increased value of household income are indicators of enhanced economic growth. Even though the neighbourhood shows an increasing economic growth, its social performance is left wanting. The attachment to the community among the residents is low. Promoting a sense of community attachment within the neighbourhood is important to instilling a sense of security and identity.

Political, Social, and Environmental Boundaries

As of the year 1987, the boundaries of Willowdale were defined by Bathurst Street, Finch Avenue, Steeles Avenue, Yonge Street, and Leslie street. These boundaries were, however, redefined in 1996 to become a part of North York district and later part of the city of Toronto in 2003. The western branch of River Don also makes the western environmental boundary of yhe neighbourhood. While the population of the neighbour is increasing yearly, a significant change in the geographical boundaries of the region has not been observed. Thus, there is a chance of witnessing a densely populated neighbourhood.

Construction of artistic identity is evident in Willowdale. The neighbourhood consists of individuals who congregate and demonstrate their artistic prowess in different settings. The schools are known for producing highly skilled artists that are involved in design within the neighbourhood. It is worth noting that artists are attracted to towns or neighbourhoods that have witnessed some form of gentrification. While the renovations being undertaken in the neighbourhood have influenced the development of the artistic identity, the presence of many artists in the neighbourhood has also promoted further renovations. Most residents of the neighbourhood thus embrace this artistic identity.

The Type of Community Identified in the Neighbourhood

Willowdale is characterized by different communities grouped together based on their interests and activities in the neighbourhood. The most notable faith-based community is a group of Christians attending different churches in the neighbourhood. Mostly, the Christians are Protestants of Anglican, Baptist, and Presbyterian denominations. Besides instilling a sense of morality in the population, the faith-based community has played a significant role in contributing towards the infrastructural development of the region (Sites, Chaskin & Parks, 2007). During my observations, I learned that most churches in the region are modern buildings showcasing the improvements in Willowdale’s infrastructural growth and development.

            The business community of the neighbourhood consists mostly of private entrepreneurs. Willowdale economy is more of a capitalism system since it is dominated by people whose goals are to accumulate massive wealth from their activities. The construction of high rise offices and condominium buildings in this neighbourhood has contributed to the enhanced structural development of the region as well as accumulation of wealth by the business community. Being overly dependent on a capitalist system, the activities within Willowdale are controlled by the business community.

            Despite relying mostly on the business community, the charity and non-profit organizations present in Willowdale also contribute towards its growth. Most of the charity organizations are church-based and focused on addressing challenges within the neighbourhood. Organizations such as Christian fellowship of India, Jewish Institute, and Bayview Community Services are focused on provision of educational, home care, and empowerment services to the residences. As observed, most of the roles of these charity organizations do not translate to direct economic gains but contribute towards the growth of individuals that will consequently impact the performance of the economy.

Community Infrastructural Development

            Different forms of buildings are present in the Willowdale neighbourhood. Tall buildings are evident both in the residential and commercial settings. The continuous development of condominium buildings has enhanced the accessibility or rental houses in the region. However, as August (2016) reports, such development lowers the prices of the houses due to the reduction in the demand. The neighbourhood is likely to witness more construction leading to enhanced affordability of the houses for business and home rentals.

            Churches are other significant structural developments in Willowdale. The many churches present in the locality are architecturally modern, enhancing the structural appearance of the neighbourhood. Different public shared buildings and recreational facilities are also evident in the neighbourhood. Restaurants, bars, and the library are some of the public centres observed in the locality. The neighbourhood also has educational centres including high schools and colleges. Hospital centres are also present in the neighbourhood.

Perception on the Nature of the Neighbourhood

            While Willowdale has almost all of the social amenities typical in any North American setting, the absence of green recreational facilities is worrying. Climate change and the desire to conserve the environment is a critical matter of concern in the current times. Most nations are focused on lowering the effects of their industrial activities on the environment through control of carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. Setting aside a conservation space or a recreational facility designed to protect the environment is important to the attainment of environmental sustainability. The presence of a smoke-free zone is not enough to make the neighbourhood a major player in the control of global warming. More recreational centers are thus needed to ensure the neighbourhood is involved in the conservation of the environment.

Issues and Concerns of the Neighbourhood

            The constant increase in the population of Wellowdale is a significant issue of concern. The increasing number of buildings being erected provides an opportunity for more people to move into the neighbourhood. Since the expansion of the boundaries is unlikely to happen, new inhabitants will turn the neighbourhood into a densely populated area. Already, congestion is witnessed on the major streets of the town, justifying the reports of overpopulation in the region.

            The absence of green recreational centres is a major challenge. Besides affecting the ability of the neighbourhood to address the climate change issue, the problem is also affecting the attachment of the people to the community. According to Mahmoudi Farahani (2016), such recreational centres provide an opportunity for the residents to interact and identify with the community. Moreover, promoting conservation of the environment through designated conservation centres encourages participation in environmental protection activities. Thus, the absence of such activities or places in the neighbourhood affects the interactions and identification with the community.

            The majority of the charity organizations focus on addressing religion-related challenges. Minimal attention is paid to addressing other issues of social concern such as poverty, illnesses or environmental sustainability of the region. The absence of such community-based organizations also affects the emotional attachment to the community exhibited by the residents (Manzo & Perkins, 2006). These organizations are needed to bring together the residents and enhance their participation in various activities, most of which will contribute towards improving their connection with the community.

Proposed Solutions

Controlling the movement of people into the neighbourhood is an approach that can be implemented to reduce the number of immigrants. Government incentives such as campaigns on responsible parenting and education on the same can assist in controlling the population. Moreover, the government should focus on conservation of more land and availing green recreational facilities in the neighbourhood. Besides focusing on religion alone, the community-based organization should be supported and encouraged to handle issues of social concern. This can be achieved by the government lowering their licences and offering tax subsidies for organizations that tackle more than one issue in the neighbourhood.

The Importance of Research to Understanding Urban Communities            A sense of community is hard to manufacture and even harder to preserve in the current globalized world. After all, many people spend more time on the Internet than they do communicating with their neighbours. Still, the very necessity of living together and interacting in public spaces necessitates a certain level of attachment to the place where one lives. Moreover, a given area can be more or less conductive to the development of genuine connection among its residents. This paper explores the elements necessary for attachement to form using the example of Willowdale, a small neighbourhood of Toronto. My observations of Willowdale show that such factors as infrastructure, economic growth, charitable organizations, and public spaces are all essential to the development of a community. As described in this paper, Willowdale is a thriving urban neighbourhood. It is currently experiencing a period of economic and cultural growth. The educational, artistic, and charitable organizations of the locality bring people together and reinforce their feelings of attachment. However, the lack of green public spaces prevents inhabitants from interacting and fully committing to the place where they live. Additionally, such challenges as increasing population may soon shift the status quo with unexpected results.

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