Social Media Connecting Neighbours and Neighbourhoods

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Toronto’s rapid development has lead to an unprecedented amount of urban growth and renewal both in the inner city, as well as in Toronto’s suburbs. This growth has resulted in new communities popping up almost overnight in areas such as CityPlace, Liberty Village or the West Don Lands (currently undergoing redevelopment). Many critics have been speaking about the lack of a true community feeling within these new developments. Areas such as CityPlace have been called bland, soulless, a vertical suburb.

Today’s communities are increasingly connected to the internet and social media. Social media has broad appeal among younger generations and millennials and it just so happens to be the largest demographic in these new neighbourhoods.

So what does this all mean for these neighbourhoods? One look at the CityPlace Toronto Facebook group, or Liberty Village Residents’ Association Facebook groups provides an answer. As Todd Hoffley, President of the Liberty Village Residents’ Association puts it, their Facebook residents’ group is the largest in the city with nearly 4000 members. CityPlace with nearly 3000 members isn’t too far behind. These groups are increasingly becoming major outlets for information sharing between neighbours. Everything from borrowing cell phone chargers, movies, parking spots, sharing event information or traffic disruptions, or even promoting events like the Liberty Village Farmers’ Market and CityPlace’s Urban Market and Cityfest can be found on these groups. A sort of online ‘neighbourhood watch’ has developed, where the community tackles issues like broken street lights, reporting graffiti, or even cleaning up garbage and dog waste.

Could our idea of what defines a community be holding us back from viewing these neighbourhoods as true communities? Vicki Trottier of the Fort York Neighbourhood Association believes this to be the case. “Every day, people pose questions or post a pet peeve, and neighbours weigh in. Conversations can be lively or controversial, just as they are when neighbours meet face to face.” Trottier doesn’t believe that social media will replace face to face communication within communities, but agrees that it makes the process of meeting neighbours much easier. “When people meet in person, it is often a matter of putting a face to a name that is familiar from the online community.” Events put on by each community group provide the opportunity for these residents to meet face to face on a regular basis. From game nights in Liberty Village to pub nights in CityPlace or even community planning meetings at Fort York, there are plenty of opportunities where residents can meet each other in person.

Only time will tell if these new communities will change the opinions of their critics. For the time being, these groups are showing that while these communities may not feel like traditional communities on the ground, they are well connected and alive online. Translating this online activity into action on the ground is a challenge; however, judging by the interest in events such as games nights, run clubs, yoga in the park, pub nights and even development application meetings, these communities are finding different ways to engage neighbours. So far, it seems to be working just fine.

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