Community Benefits is coming to an infrastructure project near you

The greatest long-term benefit for equity seekers, racialized residents and historically disadvantaged groups is most often only realized in finding a sustainable long-term job. Infrastructure improvements often coincide with a temporary disruption to our lives. The community benefits movement, led by Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), aims to directly improve the lives of those impacted and reduce the negative impacts of large infrastructure projects in our communities.

We may be experiencing something of a renaissance in community engagement. Communities are finding their voices and we have the technology to both express and hear those voices. The status quo is no longer accepted without scrutiny. Eyes are being opened to blind-spots.

The community benefits movement has been in the vanguard of this sea change. Ten years ago, the movement was in its infancy, many still believing in the “trickle down” theory; it was believed that without any community participation, benefits would automatically be distributed meaningfully and fairly throughout communities impacted by large infrastructure projects. We now know better and communities are organizing themselves around Community Benefits Agreements (CBA’s) that offer guarantees in terms of what was previously only promised.

The proposed redevelopment at Woodbine Racetrack is a massive project that the community has been engaged in for more than 10 years. Woodbine is an excellent example of how a community coming together around a single issue can engender real change. TCBN, standing in solidarity with Community Organizing for Responsible Development (CORD), is seeking to start negotiations with Great Canadian Gaming for a comprehensive agreement for community benefits from the huge expansion of this Toronto entertainment complex. Rosemarie Powell, Executive Director of TCBN says of the negotiations, “The decision to bring a casino into their neighbourhood was not made by the residents of Rexdale. Yet, they will forever be impacted by its legacy, whether it be positive or negative. The community simply wants to make sure they have some control over their shared destiny.”

TCBN learned a lot from the Eglinton Crosstown project; it showed that with a commitment from the three levels of government along with a string of vibrant communities, we can achieve a type of city building that not only improves our surroundings but also works to build the public trust. Improving on the Eglinton model in other projects with real targets for jobs, apprenticeships and social procurement is a step in the right direction.

 

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