Tobah: Neighborhood projects pay dividends in terms of engagement and belonging

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Earlier this month, the City of London announced the results of its neighborhood decision-making programme. This annual program allows community members to come up with ideas to improve their neighborhoods. Many of the ideas submitted included improving playground equipment, inserting park benches on trails, and planting pollinator gardens.

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City staff reviewed and edited the submissions before a public vote. This year, nearly 10,000 Londoners voted on 78 proposed projects, 24 of which received funding to be completed by the end of 2023. Winning ideas included a community food pantry, bat houses and the tree planting with nearly $250,000 allocated in total. The goal of the program is to facilitate a sense of belonging and enhance community agency.

When I first heard about the program, I was touched by the idea of ​​the city investing in and facilitating community decision-making. No idea was too small to come up with. I met program staff at community gatherings promoting the program and saw digital advertisements on my social media, a clear product of a multi-pronged engagement strategy. Some of the online advertisements were even in Arabic.

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Former program staff member Mohamed AbuGazia says publicity material for the neighborhood decision-making program was created in English, French, Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish, Hindi and Gujarati. Team members hired for the project also spoke these languages, encouraging engagement from a wide range of Londoners.

Program staff have created videos in these languages ​​to answer questions about who can participate, clarifying that a person only needs to reside in the city and does not need to have permanent residency or Canadian citizenship. This message, coupled with linguistic diversity, was a clear attempt to remove barriers to participation for all Londoners, defining community beyond legal status to include all with whom we share space.

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It’s clear that strategies to engage Londoners have paid off with the highest turnout to date for the Neighborhood Decision-Making Scheme. Additionally, one winning project included a small free library of Arabic books in North West London.

Reading the submissions, it’s easy to tell that behind every initiative was an individual who wanted to improve their neighborhood, caring about everyone we share that environment with. Bat houses provide shelter for bats during the day, pollinator gardens help attract diverse ecosystems, community meals and pantries help provide for the most vulnerable people in our communities, and benches and bike racks enhance common areas.

Not only are the ideas innovative, but the program is a great example of what we need more of: low-barrier, creative opportunities to facilitate community connections. The program’s engagement strategy also demonstrates that there are many ways to break down barriers and ensure that everyone feels rightfully welcomed into the community development process and truly represents our city.

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Audre Lorde once said that without community there is no liberation. We need each other. The recipe for a safe and thriving community is our neighbors, our friends, and those who reside in this city with us.

I believe there is a desire for more opportunities to come together in new ways. The neighborhood decision-making program is just one example of this appetite for community connections and care. And as we continue to face challenges as a city, whether it’s the changing conditions of the pandemic or climate change, it’s worth remembering that we are capable of investing in each other. each other and take care of each other.

Selma Tobah is a Community Development Officer at the London Inter-Community Health Center and has been active in several Muslim community organizations in the city.


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