Shift the Conversation: Community Vitality
Community vitality looks at the social relationships that foster individual and collective wellbeing. A vital community is inclusive, safe, nurtures a sense of belonging, and is able to adapt and thrive in the changing world. The neighbourhood one lives in affects the quality of life for individuals and families.
It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a community to create a vibrant, safe, accessible park. When communities come together to improve collective sense of belonging, safety, social cohesion, trust and participation, they nurture community vitality.
In 2011, Centretown Community Health Centre responded to a call-out from 8-80 Cities, a Toronto-based charitable organization that aims to promote urban parks as accessible and safe spaces for everyone aged 8 to 80. Dundonalds Park was one of eight parks chosen in Ontario to participate in a community engagement and research process.
The area surrounding Dundonalds Park was in serious need for an outdoor community space. The park used to sit largely unused, except for the occasional passerby or person waiting for the Beer Store to open. With the majority of the area comprised of high-rise apartments, there is little green space or recreational facilities. In addition, the area is demographically diverse, including seniors, people living with addictions and wealthy homeowners.
A partnership led by the Centretown CHC was established between the CHC, 80-80 Cities, social housing and settlement agencies and the Ottawa police to begin extensive community consultation with local residents, youth, seniors, local businesses, community organizations, and city agencies. In doing so, they were able to mobilize the community to take ownership over the park.
Like many CHCs in Ontario, Centretown values community participation and innovative programming. By creating an online interactive calendar, any community member or organization can schedule an activity in the park. As of 2013, there are 17 businesses and 13 community members and organizations facilitating over 35 different types of programs in the park.
One of the most successful elements to the revitalization of Dundonalds Park has been bringing the diverse community together. From the get-go the residents who live close to the park were clear that they did not want to displace anyone who had been using the park, including homeless individuals or those living with addictions. Instead, a variety of programs and activities, such as picnics and fairs, targeting different populations coexist and often collaborate to foster new connections and relationships between community members who otherwise may not have been in contact.
One community member interviewed by Bruce Deachman of the Ottawa Citizen (July 10, 2013) explained the contagious energy of Dundonalds Park. She said, “I love this park… Nothing comes close in terms of the eclectic variety of people, and so much happens here. There’s a friendliness that happens here.”
By building active, positive relationships between community members, local businesses, organizations, and government agencies, Dundonalds Park is a reminder of how a vibrant, safe space can improve community vitality and ultimately improve collective wellbeing.