Sure it feels good and seems like the right thing to do but how do we truly know if what we do makes a difference? What is it we want to change/make better/solve and why? As community developers there is no lack of interesting, cool and exciting community projects to delve into so one must ask the questions. So what? What good for what people? Is this project truly welcoming for all? Is it accessible? Does it bolster community vitality and citizen wellbeing?
Waterloo University with its project, The Canadian Index of Wellbeing, is working to measure what really matters; community vitality.
“Like most countries, Canada lacks a single, national instrument for tracking and reporting on our overall quality of life. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was never designed or intended to be a measure of social progress, or overall quality of life. It fails to capture quality of life in its full breadth of expression. As former US Senator Robert Kennedy once described the American equivalent: “The Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”1
In a time when many cocoon in their homes, spend more times on screens (tv’s, phones, tablets, etc.) than with their families, projects like “5 Wednesdays in July” in Almonte’s Augusta Street Park helps bring neighbours together to celebrate music and art, shared food, friendship, and summer.
So what? So let’s look at this project through the lens of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing as they determine community vitality.
- Percentage reporting participation in organized activities
Well, they have stepped out and come to this event! That’s a good start. Do they participate in other organized activities? It’s hard to say. Some participants live on the fringe of community. They may not have much money, have a disability, are younger or older. Do they feel welcome elsewhere?
- Percentage reporting very or somewhat strong sense of belonging to community
If asked that question at a concert they are apt to say “yes” as these events have a very inclusive sense of community. Does that sense of belonging travel with them? Not sure.
- Percentage who provide unpaid help to others on their own
This category speaks to the numbers of citizens who volunteer their time for others. We’d say we score at the very high end. The manager at the Ultramar station has taken it upon herself to write company grants on behalf of the park. 5 Wednesdays leverages the strengths of many who volunteer to help these events happen. Local musicians to our sound crew, set-up crew to stage crew, service clubs to individual citizens. This party happens because people pitch in! It continues to grow.
- Percentage who feel that most or many people can be trusted
Do the people who attend these events feel safe and trust people? We’re confident they do when they are in attendance. When they leave, we hope they do. It’s a good question to ask.
- Percentage who feel safe walking after dark
This wasn’t always the case at Augusta Street Park. Lots of neighbours have told us the stories of broken glass, fires, late night parties and late night police calls. Now they tell us that the park has transformed into a safe and welcoming family park.
- Percentage with 6 or more close friends
This one we know lots about. Studies show that people with little “social capital,” (that means a network of unpaid friends and neighbours who care about you) live up to 7 years less than people who are connected to their communities, have strong family ties, and people they can count on. “An estimated six million Canadians live in isolation. Social researchers are now calling it a hidden epidemic. This hidden epidemic of loneliness is particularly acute in certain groups like the elderly, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, and the economically disadvantaged.”2
People with disabilities often report that their only friends are in fact paid caregivers. If you are interested in knowing more about this issue speak to someone at Mills Community Support about their “Friends and Fun” project.
This summer we celebrated basketball in Augusta Street Park. July 13 we thanked Jonathan Chang of NBA Canada for their contribution to the refurbishment of the park’s basketball court and hosted Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, and Jim and Beverly Naismith. Jim and Bev sat in the shade of the park and spoke to the assembled children and their parents about Jim’s grandfather Dr. James.
Sure there were stories about the early days of basketball, but there were also many about the depth of character of this great teacher, mentor, leader.
Have we moved the yard sticks for people by hosting 5 Wednesdays in July free concerts in Augusta Park; even a bit? Do people feel more like contributing citizens than simple taxpayers? Do people feel safe and have a stronger sense of community for us having done these events? We think so.
In the words of Dr. James Naismith, “I want to leave the world a better place for me having been here.” It’s all we can ever hope to do.
1 Measuring What Matters; How the Canadian Index of Wellbeing can improve quality of life in Ontario
2 Andre Picard “All the Lonely People.” ww.ucobserver.org/society/2016/06/lonely_people/