There is no shortage of ways Torontonians can improve their communities in 2013, but the first step toward exacting any sort of change is to actually dedicate oneself to making things better.
“The first step is to decide you are going to do it,” said former Trinity-Spadina councillor Joe Pantalone. “We are all stronger when we help each other and the environment we live in.”
Pantalone certainly knows of what he speaks. The longtime councillor had 29 years of experience in municipal politics, including stints as the Ward 19 councillor and a turn as deputy mayor under David Miller.
While he no longer sits on council, he remains active in community issues, staying involved in tree advocacy issues and Waterfront Toronto. Through his experience, Pantalone said he has come to firmly believe, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem”.
From food banks to the abundance of not-for-profits, immigration settlement work, meals on wheels or tree planting, there are countless ways for residents to work together to create a better society, Pantalone said.
Steve Barnes, a policy analyst with the Wellesley Institute downtown, said residents can take small steps to effect change in their communities simply by being aware of their surroundings.
By looking around and finding improvements – large or small – that can be made, it will make all of Toronto a better place.
“There are some well-designed neighbourhoods that have things that enhance health, such as sidewalks, community centres and libraries, and we encourage people to use them,” he said.
“There are other parts of the city, though, that are not as well-designed for these types of things.”
Barnes suggested people look throughout their community for inadequacies or ways that improvements can be made and contact their local councillor to help bring about change.
“Some things can take a while to change, like getting sidewalks to give people better access to transit,” he said. “But even something as stepping outside your building and seeing that the basketball hoop in the park across the street is broken, you can call the city and they’ll come and fix it and make sure kids in the neighbourhood have a place to play.”
Barnes said other issues, such as a lack of trash and recycling receptacles in parks, can also often be remedied with a quick call, but even longer-term improvements should not seem so daunting that residents do not bother to make a call.
“There are some longer-term things, but when councillors hear from a lot of people about one issue, it has a snowball effect,” he said.
On a smaller and more personal scale, Naomi Schafer of the Fairlawn Neighbourhood Centre said people can ensure their communities remain vibrant simply by doing their shopping and dining close to home.
“We’ve seen a lot of small businesses come and go in this community over the past few years, so by shopping and dining locally, people can strengthen their community,” she said.
Shopping within one’s own community can also help bring neighbours closer together as they run into one another while visiting their local haunts.
“We wind up supporting our neighbourhood and supporting our neighbours,” she said. “This is a healthy area and business is evolving, so we want to see the best of these businesses get the support they want.”
– with files from Erin Hatfield