During the 1950’s, at the height of the cold war there was a mantra: “Do you know your three neighbours?” They meant your next door neighbours on both sides and the neighbour across the street. Knowing your neighbours was part of ‘civil defence’; the shared responsibility that citizens had for their neighbours. I remember as Minister of State for Public Health, we used that mantra to communicate the need to build caring relationships that would enable us to help the vulnerable in ice storms or pandemics or other disasters. I remember in opposition as the critic for Seniors’ issues, remarking that there were stickers on doors to ‘Save my pets’ but never ‘Save my granny’. The anonymity and sometimes isolation of our urban citizens worried me and still does. How would we know who needs our help? Do we know who are vulnerable neighbours? Who is on oxygen or getting Meals-on-Wheels? Which neighbours would need help if we were told to evacuate?
This year’s fires and floods have been sobering for so many regions in Canada. We in Toronto-St. Paul’s have suffered through power outages during a heat wave and an ice storm. Each time we have been amazed by what Jane Jacobs called ‘neighbourliness’; neighbours helping neighbours. The strong vibrant neighbourhoods that are the hallmark of St. Paul’s responded in exemplary ways.
In the winter, as we chatted with our Youth Council, I expressed my concerns that we in St. Paul’s need to deal with the changing demographics. Although we still have our beautiful leafy streets and well-kept homes of all shapes and sizes, we now have the challenge of more and more people living alone and more and more living alone in the high rise towers.
The recent statistics for St. Paul’s are quite stunning. Our riding is relatively young. Average age is 43. About 12% under 15. Almost 70% between 15 and 64 years. Less than 20% over 65. But a truly wonderful 75 centenarians – 70 women and 5 men! For over 107,000 people, we have approximately 54,000 households. Only nine thousand live in a single detached dwelling, 27,495 live in apartment buildings over 5 storeys high and 11,580 in lower rise buildings. That’s 75% of us in apartments. For our small riding of 13 sq km, we have a population density over 8,000 per sq km. By contrast, my friend Bob Nault’s riding of Kenora, spreads over 300,000 sq km with a population density of 0.2 per sq km.
And a startling 44% of Toronto-St. Paul’s residents are living alone. The Canadian average is 28.2%.
So, how do deal with this new potentially isolating reality in our cities? Our city councillors are doing an amazing job ‘persuading’ developers that they have a responsibility to add ‘community value’ to what and how they are building. Places like Brentwood Towers are exemplary in the care they take to be a ‘neighbourhood’. At their annual garage sale you can feel the ‘neighbourliness’ and sense of family.
I often say that our country will only be as great as the individual neighbourhoods of which it is comprised. This year, The Prime Minister was clear: the 150th Anniversary of Confederation was to be celebrated in all the neighbourhoods in Canada. He didn’t want just one big party on Parliament Hill. Heritage Canada has provided some special Canada 150 pins to be given out in each riding across the country. In Toronto-St. Paul’s we would like use them to recognize the contribution to nation-building of our great neighbours. We would like you to think of someone who is always working to make your neighbourhood better – someone whose ‘neighbourliness’ is contagious.
Please send me an email at email@example.com to nominate them by October 15. As in the past with the Jubilee medals, we will put together a small jury composed of recipients of the Order of Canada. Great neighbours are really nation-builders. Great neighbourhoods are important as they are the foundation for the next 150 years. This year we celebrate the great neighbours who will ensure that our great country will continue to flourish with the best diversity and inclusion and neighbourliness.