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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

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Community groups finding collaboration a great way to strengthen neighbourhoods

Toronto neighbourhood associations are finding rewards in reaching across borders with the common purpose of solving urban issues.

Gathering on the West Toronto Rail Path, from left, Bruce Gavin Ward, Liz Sutherland, Donna Cowan and Suhail Barot got together to develop a road safety program.
TARA WALTON / TORONTO STAR Order this photo
Gathering on the West Toronto Rail Path, from left, Bruce Gavin Ward, Liz Sutherland, Donna Cowan and Suhail Barot got together to develop a road safety program.
Donna Cowan was appalled at the anger in the streets she witnessed when she started commuting on her electric bicycle a couple of summers ago.
“It wasn’t car against bike only, it was car against car, bike against bike, walker against bike, everywhere,” she said.
So Cowan did what she’s grown accustomed to doing since the neighbourhood association she leads, DIGIN, launched a little more than a decade ago: she reached out to other local groups.
More and more neighbourhood associations like DIGIN — which is committed to the cultural, social, environmental and economic vitalization of the Bloor Street West neighbourhood around Bloordale — are breaking down boundaries and working together to strengthen their areas, Cowan said. She believes collaboration is a must if neighbourhood associations want to get anything done.
“Your community doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Just because you have a border to your group doesn’t mean you cross the street and nothing’s happening,” she said.
On Sunday, Cowan, representing DIGIN, met Liz Sutherland of Ward 15 Cycle Toronto; her Ward 18 counterpart, Suhail Barot; and Bruce Gavin Ward, from Friends of West Toronto Rail Path, to work on a street safety initiative aimed at boosting civility and respect among all people who use the road.
People need to come together to improve an area, she said.
DIGIN has had its successes. It was the group’s idea to launch the BIG on Bloor Festival, a bi-annual street festival aimed at getting people in the neighbourhood talking about how to develop their stretch of Bloor.
“It brought together not only community residents’ associations but also social service agencies, the Bloordale Village BIA (Business Improvement Area), the Bloorcourt BIA, councillors, provincial and federal elected officials. From it, people are still talking; other collaborations are still going on. It was quite fruitful,” she said.
Many community groups that neighbour DIGIN subscribe to her group’s email list to keep up to date, Cowan said.