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And the winner of our community vote is...

Food destination and meaningful consultation tied for second place in our community vote for Scarborough Discourse.

Given the current political climate, it’s easy to get cynical about voting these days. Even if you want to perform your civic duty, the choice isn’t always clear — and you never quite know how an election will turn out. During our community vote process, however, there was an obvious frontrunner from the get-go. But before I announce the winner, here’s a refresher on the topics that were up for consideration:

  • Food destination: Scarborough may be known for its many different types of delicious cuisine, but there’s a complex history of hardship behind this reputation.
  • Housing affordability: Soaring rental and property prices aren’t just a downtown Toronto issue. How is the housing crisis affecting Scarborough residents and what does it look like in the suburbs?
  • Meaningful consultation: In a sprawling, diverse suburb where hospital closures and transit debates loom large, how can decision-makers ensure they take into account all Scarborough residents’ perspectives?   
  • Overlooked green spaces: The complex and long-standing connections that residents new and old share with Scarborough’s natural landscape, despite the stereotype that the suburb is nothing but strip malls and asphalt.

Many of you commented on the importance of food, consultation and green spaces, which captured 21 per cent, 21 per cent and 13 per cent of the vote, respectively. But it was clear that housing affordability, which captured 45 per cent of the total, was top of mind. From soaring rental and property prices to the relationship between gentrification and homelessness, many of you shared the reasons behind your vote via email or in our Scarborough Discourse Facebook group.

While analyzing your community interviews to determine the topics for our vote last week, my colleague Anita Li and I brainstormed potential story ideas for each topic (inspired by my many conversations with Scarborough residents over the past few months).

Here are some ideas that we might look into for our upcoming series on housing affordability:

  • Illegal rooming houses: Community organizations such as Voices of Scarborough and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, as well as local social policy consultant John Stapleton, have raised concerns about unregulated rooming houses in different pockets of the suburb; they range from safety issues to the exploitation of vulnerable populations. They argue that legalizing rooming houses will also address problems, such as lack of affordable housing in the community.
  • The state of community housing: A couple of you raised questions via email and in our community interviews about the capacity and conditions of Toronto Community Housing (TCH) buildings and shelters in Scarborough.

Have more story ideas for housing affordability? Please email me your suggestions.

Spotlight

A self-taught photographer, Sanjeev Kuganesapillai started taking street shots when a friend introduced him to Instagram in 2012.

Sanjeev Kuganesapillai, a Malvern native and self-taught photographer, loved two things about growing up in his neighbourhood: the food and the people. In fact, he’s still friends with many of his schoolmates at Tom Longboat Junior Public School near Finch Avenue East and Tapscott Road, and occasionally meets them for the odd reunion.

Sanjeev, 33, also stays connected to the food scene in Scarborough. Growing up around so many diverse food options taught him about other cultures outside of his own Sri Lankan Tamil community. “My parents actually owned a store. We had a grocery store and we had a take-out store, so I grew up eating a lot of my own cultural food,” he says.

But, Sanjeev adds, “going up a little north to Midland and Finch, and checking out all the Chinese cuisine that’s there, or going to Mona’s and having roti and Caribbean food — no matter where I went, I was able to find different foods I can connect with, and people that I can connect with it.”

Real talk

The topic of food insecurity came up several times this week in our Scarborough Discourse Facebook group. According to the 2018 Toronto Child and Family Poverty Report, Scarborough-Guildwood is one of three Toronto wards with the highest rate of childhood poverty for children under 18. The numbers get worse when considering children under 6: Scarborough-Guildwood, Scarborough Centre and Scarborough Southwest all appear on that list (see page 14).

These high poverty rates, combined with the long distances some Scarborough residents must travel to get to a grocery store, limit people’s food choices. And if you’re living on social assistance, you can barely afford the so-called welfare diet, local social policy consultant John Stapleton argued in an article titled, “What’s the true cost of food when you’re poor?”

The welfare diet, also known as the Tsubouchi diet, came about in 1995. Ontario’s then-social services minister David Tsubouchi produced a sample diet to show that people could get sustenance while on social assistance. At the time, critics ridiculed it for including pasta but no sauce, and bread but no butter. Today, that same diet — which is meant to last a month — costs about $168.

In response, Scarborough Discourse member Amanda Cain said there are negative physical consequences to being on this diet:

Have you experienced food insecurity in Scarborough? And have you ever been on the welfare diet? Please email me.

Call for submissions

Good neighbourhood planning and design plays a big part in building healthy communities. That’s why the Institute for New Suburbanism wants to profile examples of excellent suburban planning, design and construction. They’re inviting architects, planners and developers to submit examples of their work. Five winners will be chosen to showcase their work at the annual Birkdale Arts Festival. Submission deadline is May 21. For more information, visit the Institute for New Suburbanism website.

Let’s meet up.

  • May 11. Ride for the Rouge. This annual event raises money to support programs and services offered at the Rouge Valley Conservation Centre. It’s also a great opportunity to bike or hike along the trails and surrounding area. You must register to participate. Rouge Valley Conservation Centre. Registration at 9 a.m., bike/hike at 10 a.m.
  • May 11-12. Mother’s Day Victorian Tea Party. On Sunday, treat your mom to this tea party, which will offer a variety of teas, sandwiches and scones baked over a hearth. Build up your appetite by playing Victorian-era games, participating in a scavenger hunt or trying your hand at croquet. Scarborough Museum. 12 to 5 p.m.

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