Put ‘neighbour’ back into neighbourhoods during the pandemic

Community Kick-Off Meeting - Summer 2017 (c) Brampton Focus Community Media

Peel Region is an attractive destination for Canadians who want to raise a family. The region contains two of the top ten largest municipalities in the country and doesn’t have the level of crimes that smaller cities in the country experience. You can find people here from every part of the world, and you can taste their cuisine in authentic local restaurants. Yet ask the average resident and they will not highlight their local neighbourhood as a reason why they like living here. We wave when we see each other on the driveway or complain on Facebook when the snow hasn’t been cleared fast enough. What else are most of us doing as neighbours?

Residents like living here because their home is a bit more affordable than Toronto, the schools are good, and there are many parks and trails for recreation. In Brampton, their list of concerns is much longer and includes the cost of car insurance, the lack of arts and cultural amenities, not enough access to healthcare, increasing cost of living, traffic, the lack of things to do for young people, and the increase of guns, gangs and violent crime. Did I miss anything?

Fixing many of our issues in the region will take time because we’ve built out much of our cities around cars. The trend towards densification is taking root in downtown Mississauga with condo developments and a new LRT. In Brampton, more high-rise developments and townhomes are being built rather than a singular focus on multi-garage single-family homes. And there is a push to get more jobs in the city so that residents don’t have to leave everyday.

Will anything really change though in our current neighbourhoods when the structural changes are fixed in a decade or two, or three? When public transit is a viable alternative to personal cars, will we love where we live any more or less? Probably not, and it certainly won’t help those of us who won’t be here that far into the future. What residents need right now is a connection to other people where they live. If you grew up in the bad part of town or a mansion on a hillside, it is the teachers, shop owners and friends that you remember. Neighbourhood are about people and what we do for each other.

The pandemic is forcing all of us to spend a lot more time at home. It is an opportunity for those with a yard to get to know our neighbours a little more by having a longer conversation from over the fence. More and more residents are going online, joining Facebook and Whatsapp groups, participating in live tele-townhalls, checking on each other and volunteering to help however they can.

The Neighbourhood Watch Brampton (NWBrampton.ca) program is working to make our neighbourhoods safer by supporting neighbours and community groups that see the value in connecting people together, keeping residents educated and engaged with what is happening in their community, and fostering pride in our city. Does this holistic view towards community safety work? Will getting to know your neighbours help to stop violent crime or stop a thief from breaking into your car? It is the same question we can ask of our police departments. Does having more police officers reduce crime rates?  Or do cities with high crime rates require more investigators and police officers?

What the pandemic is teaching us is that we are all in this together. We pay taxes that are then allocated to services and social programs. How much to whom is the ultimate decision of policy makers and politicians. Tens of billions of dollars are being allocated right now by government without the benefit of thorough economic analysis, public consultation and debate. How effective these policy decisions are comes down to implementation, honesty of those claiming the benefit, and the buy-in of people like you and me. The same goes for our neighbourhoods. How effective our neighbourhoods are comes down to what people on each street do to help make it better. Do we participate in spring cleanups, or do we watch others do the work. Do we help to organize a social event in a nearby park, or do we complain about not getting an invitation? Do we ignore physical distancing rules and give bylaw officers a hard time, or do we stay at home as much as possible?

There are pockets across the city that have gotten it right and where neighbours are helping neighbours. We need a lot more and we need residents to step up and help residents on their local streets get connected and informed. If where you live doesn’t have established community groups that focus on the immediate area where you live, then think about starting something. Whether you are a young student, or a senior that has lived in the city for decades, now is the time to step up and be counted. The Neighbourhood Watch Brampton program will support you and even help get a community website setup (bneighbours.ca) for you so that you can be effective even during a pandemic. We’ll share data with you on local crime statistics and get Peel Police and local leaders to participate in community events (including virtual events).

The Neighbourhood Watch Brampton program is free. Join at https://nwbrampton.ca/join-now and you will get immediate access to online crime prevention training videos to get started.

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