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First-Ever Toronto Social Capital Study Released

New insights on social trust, social networks, civic connection, and neighbourhood support
TORONTO, Nov. 6, 2018 /CNW/ - Today, Toronto Foundation and the Environics Institute for Survey Research, released the Toronto Social Capital Study, a benchmarking report assessing the city's social capital levels. The study's key findings, as well as the announcement of nine resident-led projects to strengthen social capital and urban resilience at the neighbourhood level, were shared with the audience of over 400 city builders and philanthropists. A PDF of the Toronto Social Capital Study is available at https://torontofoundation.ca/vitalsigns/. Watch the Toronto Social Capital Study video that describes the importance of social capital in building a resilient city here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tegt16Fkzc

The study found that Toronto's social capital levels appear to be solid, and have been mostly stable over the past five years, based on comparable research conducted by Statistics Canada. At the same time, data shows that a substantial number of the city's residents are reporting lower levels of social capital. This shows up most clearly among Torontonians who are isolated from their neighbours, those with low incomes and financial insecurity, residents in their late 20s facing the challenges of establishing themselves, and in some cases racialized minorities.
"Social capital is critical to a good quality of life, a healthy population, safe streets, and economic prosperity," said Sharon Avery, President & CEO, Toronto Foundation. "While some residents are experiencing high levels of social capital, we cannot ignore the very real differences in our experiences of it. The Toronto Social Capital Study will be a valuable tool for city builders and philanthropists to understand how to best invest in communities and help people reach the full potential they see for themselves. Together, with the support of those working across sectors and neighbourhoods, we can build a more resilient Toronto."
Social capital is an important driver of life satisfaction and resilience, and is often described as the essential "lubricant" that binds people together as a city. The Toronto Social Capital Study measured residents' responses city-wide, across four dimensions:
• Social Trust, the sense of trust Torontonians have in one another and city institutions;
• Social Networks, the strength of residents' informal and formal relationships;
• Civic Connection, the extent to which people are civically engaged; and
• Neighbourhood Support, how citizens see their neighbourhoods as supporting the type of life and environment they want for themselves.
The findings of the Toronto Social Capital Study do not portray a single story and are in large measure defined by how social capital is experienced within groups that may be defined by who people are, where they live, and the circumstances of their lives. The strength of social capital varies by such characteristics as age, household income, race or culture, neighbourhood area, and whether or not people know their neighbours.
• Toronto as a whole appears to have solid levels of social capital and this has remained notably steady since 2013, on most measures.
• Knowing one's neighbours is one of the most significant factors impacting who does and does not have higher levels of social capital.
• Given the diversity of the city's population, connecting with people who are different from oneself is an important component of strong social capital (in this case defined as "bridging capital"). Study results show that significant proportions of Torontonians report at least half of their recent friend contacts are with those who are different from them (in terms of mother tongue, age, sex, education level, and/or ethnic background). It is also notable that such contact has increased over the past five years and is especially widespread among the city's younger residents.
• Across generations, residents aged 65 and older have the strongest levels of social capital. While social isolation is an issue for many seniors, especially those living alone, the study reveals that Torontonians of this generation have the highest levels of social capital on most dimensions. In contrast, residents aged 25 to 29 exhibit the lowest levels, likely due to life stage and the particular challenges young adults in Toronto face with respect to employment and housing affordability.
• Social capital differs across the city's largest ethno-cultural populations, but not in a uniform way. In some cases there are few differences, while in others they are significant. In particular, the city's Chinese community as a whole exhibits lower levels of social capital on many dimensions, such as engagement with other people in groups beyond their family and friendship networks. The reasons for this are not clear, and may be related to a vulnerability (e.g. social isolation, an unsupportive neighbourhood), or may reflect choices based on cultural background and/or social interactions from a historical perspective.
• Residents are more likely than not to express confidence in the various local institutions serving their community. This is most likely to be the case for the police, neighbourhood associations and local businesses, in comparison to the media and local government. However, it should be noted that this confidence has declined in the past five years, especially in the police, the school system, and the justice system and courts. In this instance, trust is lowest among Torontonians who are struggling financially, and/or who identify as Black.
• While much is said about declining voter turnout, the study indicates that Torontonians' political engagement has strengthened over the past five years, and their volunteer participation and charitable giving has remained stable over the same time period.
• The city's Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (NIAs) as a group have social capital levels comparable to the rest of the city on many measures; they are lower in some cases but also higher, notably in residents' sense of social agency. Residents in NIAs are more likely than Torontonians in other areas to believe that people working together as a group can make a big difference in solving local problems.
• Social capital is strikingly similar across generations living in Canada. On most dimensions, immigrants and first-generation Canadians have social capital levels similar to those for residents whose families have been in Canada for several generations.
• While most residents have people they can rely on, 6% of Torontonians report having no close family members they can rely on to call for help or talk about what's on their mind, and a similar proportion say they have no close friends. While this is a small percentage of the total population, it is a sizeable number of adult residents (over 100,000) who lack this essential form of social support. Furthermore, those least likely to have no close friends or family, include those with the lowest levels of education and income, and those that live in the downtown core.
The Toronto Social Capital Study is the first study of its kind in Canada. Its insights are intended to provide city builders and community leaders with data, which may inform policies and philanthropic investments that can improve the quality of life for the city's residents. Allocating resources to address the vulnerabilities experienced by specific groups or neighbourhoods, as well as investment focused at building public confidence in local institutions and promoting active engagement among all residents in civic and political life, are a few of the ways that social capital can be supported in the city.
The event also saw the announcement of nine projects selected to receive Toronto Foundation Resilience Builder Grants aimed at strengthening social capital and urban resilience at the neighbourhood level. These one-time grants of up to $25,000 foster resident-led initiatives that build mutual support among neighbours, share knowledge and help neighbours develop skills, and build new relationships and expand networks of support. The organizations that will champion Resilience Builder Grant projects are: Agincourt Community Services Association, Black Creek Community Health Centre, Boys & Girls Club of East Scarborough, East Scarborough Storefront, North York Community House, Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre, Rexdale Community Health Centre, Scadding Court Community Centre, and The Neighbourhood Organization.
The Toronto Social Capital Study is a partnership of leading civic organizations. The research was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, in partnership with Toronto Foundation, as well as TAS Design Build, Community Foundations of Canada/Canadian Heritage, United Way Greater Toronto, MLSE Foundation, Ontario Trillium Foundation, and the Wellesley Institute. Additional support has been provided by the National Institute on Ageing, Environics Analytics, CanadaHelps, and the City of Toronto and Toronto Public Health. Project partners have provided quotes on the value and importance of social capital that can be found in the background section of the press release.
About Toronto Foundation
Established in 1981, Toronto Foundation is one of 191 Community Foundations in Canada. We pool philanthropic dollars and facilitate charitable donations for maximum community impact. Our individual, family and organizational Funds number more than 500 and we administer more than $400 million in assets. Through strategic granting, thought leadership and convening, we engage in city building, mobilizing people and resources to increase the quality of life in Toronto. The Toronto Social Capital Study is a part of the Toronto's Vital Signs program. Visit www.torontofoundation.ca and follow @TorontoFdn and #TOSocialCapital
About Environics Institute for Survey Research
The Environics Institute for Survey Research is a non-profit public interest research organization that conducts relevant and original public opinion and social research on important issues of public policy and social change. It is through such research that organizations and individuals can better understand Canada today, how it has been changing, and where it may be heading. https://www.environicsinstitute.org.
Quotes from project partners on the value and importance of social capital, along with organization descriptions of project partners and Resilient Builder Grant recipients, can be found in the background section of the press release here: https://torontofoundation.ca/media/

SOURCE Toronto Foundation

Liz Kohn    11/6/2018


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