Understanding Toronto’s Inner Suburbs

Toronto’s inner suburbs are home to some of Canada’s most dynamic communities. Perhaps the most general contribution of Community Voices is to highlight and codify the great diversity of lifestyles, experiences, and aspirations these communities contain. Far from bland homogeny, Toronto’s inner suburbs are not one community with a singular voice, but an array of overlapping voices and communities. Recognizing this range of voices and taking their needs and aspirations seriously, rather than lumping together all those who live “beyond the core,” would be an ideal outcome of this study for policy-makers.

Community Voices reaffirms some existing knowledge about Toronto’s inner suburban communities that is too easily forgotten or ignored. For example, in line with findings dating back at least to the 1960s (Fonberg and Schellenberg, 2019; Michelson, 1968), residents displayed a clear preference for single family dwellings and home ownership, though they also preferred neighbourhoods that mix multiple types of built form. Similarly, as in past research, we found low levels of confidence in City Hall and City Councillors and the highest levels of trust in police (Toronto Foundation, 2018). While these attitudes are certainly not set in stone, they offer an important reminder to policy-makers and advocates about the existing experiences, priorities and attitudes of local residents.

Just as important is the value our respondents placed on local amenities and services, such as parks and green spaces, community centres, libraries, restaurants, and grocery stores. Many residents held these sorts of amenities and services — rather than an abstract notion of “community” or government-created administrative boundaries — at the centre of their very definition of their neighbourhoods. They served both as a point of pride (especially parks, nearby shops and restaurants, and libraries), and as a target for improvement, especially community and youth centres and mental health services. While much policy discourse has highlighted the amenity preferences of highly educated technology, media, and cultural professionals (Florida, 2003; Glaeser, Kolko, and Saez, 2001), working class and immigrant communities benefit from rich and distinctive amenities. They too value opportunities for interaction, and the experiences and  supports an amenity rich scene provides, which, as some research suggests, can generate local economic growth, neighbourhood identity, and increased political efficacy (Small, 2004; Wherry, 2011; Silver and Clark, 2019).