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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Facebook Friday: Welcome to the neighbourhood

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As the name suggests, every Friday Spacing profiles Facebook groups that are using the social network to articulate their experiences and share information about Toronto.

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Every neighbourhood in Toronto has a unique social fingerprint — a history, culture, and business network — that reflects the lives and experiences of its residents. It is therefore not surprising that the diversity of these communities is represented by a variety of existing Facebook groups.

One interesting theme that emerged in my searching was how lower-income neighbourhoods are using Facebook to discuss the hardships facing their communities and the social actions and networks that are being established. Jane and Finch, for example, offers a detailed history of the neighbourhood, how it developed in response to rapid urban growth, and how improper development in the 1960s resulted in a lacking social infrastructure; as a result, more than 40 years later, the neighbourhood continues to struggle to sustain community life. Many of the discussions in this group subsequently centre around local initiative and offer links to social networks for local residents. The Community Safety Secretariat (CSS), for example, is using the group to recruit local youth to become members of the Youth Safety Work Group; a forum designed to bring youth voices and perspectives to the various CSS initiatives. United Republic of Regent Park is another group that is benefiting from the political potential of Facebook. This group is designed to offer statistics and community profiles; in doing so, members are able to demonstrate the challenges facing the neighbourhood and how local residents (in their opinion) are facing more obstacles and challenges than in other Toronto communities.

There are also those active community groups, such as Active 18 Community Association, that are focusing moreso on current development in their areas. Members consist primarily of local residents and business owners from Ward 18 (the Queen West Triangle) who are in favor of community growth as long as it is thoughtful, creative, and respects the needs of the people in the neighbourhood. The Facebook group is an extension of the larger Active 18 citizens and business-owners association that believes that “all development should take into consideration the fabric, history, and current demography of the neighbourhood and, further, that planning policies should take into consideration the development of the area as a whole.”

Other groups, however, such as The Distillery, are simply celebrating the history of Toronto’s neighbourhoods without such political and/or social undertones. By comparing The Distillery District to New York’s infamous Soho, group members are trying to associate the area with creative thinking and expression while simultaneously promoting local arts, culture, and entertainment. St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Crew, Little Italy College St. Toronto, Annex!, Ronces Is The Shit, and Bloor West Hooligans also fall into this category. They are offering members a way to discuss and debate local hot spots, where to buy the best groceries, and why (or why not) their area is so great.

Much like the neighbourhoods they represent, each of these Facebook groups offers a different approach to and opinion of local culture and politics and how they fit into the larger Toronto schema. Each community (and group) is therefore important to creating a cohesive image of our city and is offering Torontonians, both from and outside these communities, a way to connect to the other cultures and peoples with which they coexist.

photo by Nikki Pea