How Our Low-Income Neighbourhood is Helping To Raise My Daughter
By Debbie King
PHOTO © RAWPIXEL/123RF
Nov 14, 2017
Based on stats and figures alone, I am raising my daughter in a troubled Toronto neighbourhood.
A 2011 demographic survey shows Parkdale is one of the neediest neighbourhoods in the city, with 30 per cent of households earning less than $20,000 per year. At the time of the survey, Parkdale also boasted a 13 per cent unemployment rate, in staggering contrast to the city's 6 per cent rate. But, looking beyond the cold, hard figures, I say that these precious city blocks — an eclectic mosaic of lives past and present — are full of timeless treasures. Stroll our streets and alongside the lack of wealth, you’ll find a generous community with families like mine raising children who are rich in experience.
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For families, it’s a sweet spot of schools, libraries, parks, cultural centres, social services, small businesses and diversity. It's situated well out of earshot from the downtown core, but we still have a view of the glint of city lights. We’re a healthy walk away from the tranquility of the lakeside, and a stone’s throw from the rush of trendy, blogged-about strips. And even though the neighbourhood has beautiful green spaces and colourful, painted alleys, life isn’t always pretty. Homelessness, addiction and poor mental health are ever-present and highly visible.
Some families eventually leave, but many are bound by financial realities that leave them with few — and often no — other housing options. Some of us who choose to stay appreciate having sincere conversations about affordable housing, gentrification, mental health, multiculturalism and community safety.
While I’m often caught off-guard and struggle to produce satisfactory answers, I love that my eight-year-old daughter asks questions about rent strikes ("What's a rent strike? Why does it cost money just to live somewhere?"), store closures ("Why does every store have to close? It's not fair.") and school funding ("You know how they took the money away from school? Are we getting it back now?"). I adore that she gives change to those who ask, and doesn’t fear the familiar neighbours who dress wildly and sing aloud in the streets.
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Our highly engaged community comes together to assist with basic needs and speak out against injustice. We also enjoy the history and everyday cultural currency of our neighbourhood. I’m so thankful my daughter has been enriched by wonderful community-building experiences like these ones, in her own backyard. Each cost nothing, but give so much:
Community Gardening: In the spring and summer seasons, my daughter planted vegetables, herbs and flowers in community garden plots coordinated by local parents, and green living organizations. Pulling carrots from the dirt, she questioned why people go hungry, when there is food growing all around.
Storytelling by Rita Cox: We’ve had the honour of meeting Canadian icon, community activist and storyteller, Rita Cox. Her Black & Caribbean Heritage collection, which includes over 16,000 materials, can be found through four of the city’s public libraries, including our own. While listening to Ms. Cox tell stories of Anansi in the park, my daughter recognized the inflection in her accent and connection to our own culture.
Park Clean-ups and Pizza Parties: We prefer our public parks be filled with play and laughter, not trash and inebriation. As a close-knit group of neighbours, we join forces to clean up and host pizza parties for all to attend. It’s great to see our children coming together with shovels, rakes and cheese slices to share!
Memorial Gatherings: Our community recently mourned the death of a father killed in a traffic collision. After passing the street corner shrine en route to and from school, my daughter asked to attend and light a candle in his memory. There on a chilly fall evening, we were warmed by the love and spirit of our caring village.
Character is abundant in our community. In particular, lifelong residents are known for their distinct blend of maturity, authenticity, compassion and charm. Whether we choose to stay or eventually call a new place home, I know my daughter is richer for this experience.