Residents see local amenities and services as central to community vitality
Many interviewees cited local amenities and services as what they like most about their neighbourhoods. Many mentioned parks and green spaces, in line with our survey findings. However, interviewees also often mentioned abundant grocery stores, diverse restaurants, and key community assets such as community centres and libraries.
In contrast to the image of the inner suburbs as defined as lacking in contrast to downtown, many interviewees saw their communities as offering a vibrant set of amenities and services suited to their preferences and desires. Residents often pointed to a few assets in particular as having created important hubs for the local community. These included the Albion Library, Rexdale Community Centre, and the YMCA, as well as retail clusters in Scarborough Town Centre or Albion Mall. Comments like this illustrate how key social institutions contribute to the feeling of being more deeply connected to a strong neighbourhood community.
Many residents believe that youth and mental health services would improve their neighbourhoods
Given our study’s focus on neighbourhood health, our interviews explicitly probed respondents regarding health care services. In line with the survey, a number of interviewees indicated that they traveled outside of their neighbourhood to visit their family doctors. Many suggested this was grounded in the trust they had previously established with their doctors. At the same time, dissatisfaction with long wait times and dated medical technology and/or equipment at their local hospitals are also key reasons why residents decide to travel out of their area or city for urgent and non-urgent hospital visits. That said, a number of residents did value having nearby medical services. Mental health services in particular were frequently highlighted as a missing piece of community infrastructure. Walk-in clinics were also seen as a valued local service.
Given the great importance residents attach to local amenities and services, it is no wonder that when asked about what would most improve their neighbourhood, many pointed to additions or improvements in this area. Youth services and after school programs were among the most commonly cited, often in connection with their mental health benefits. Others wished for more opportunities for personal growth and enrichment across the life course, highlighting a need for services and programs that reflect the diversity of the communities they live in. Where these programs exist, residents would like to see more investment and offerings or an expansion of services to be more inclusive and accessible, such as pre- and post-natal programs, sewing classes for seniors, social clubs for women, and art programs for youth.
In sum, amenities and services are crucial to our respondents’ experience of and priorities for their neighbourhoods. They value access to everyday amenities such as grocery stores, shops, and restaurants, as well as the community-building aspects of key assets such as libraries and community centres. A concentration of these types of amenities and services, both commercial retail and non-profit government hubs and centres, provides social infrastructure that promotes a sense of community and supports a more walkable and convenient neighbourhood. While most residents appreciated the assets already available in their neighbourhoods, they also noted significant gaps and barriers to accessing and learning about them, as well as opportunities for improving them.