If one was to study the growth of the suburbs of the GTA, the city of Vaughan could easily be a case study in how to become a boomtown.
Since 1991, the population in GTA suburb has increased 187 per cent, the housing industry is booming, the community is largely well-to-do and diverse.
But if a new report, Measuring What Matters: The Vaughan Community Wellbeing Report 2015, is any indication: there are warning signs on the horizon.
Among them: housing affordability, hidden poverty, high commuting times, poor air quality, and lack of engagement in the local community.
“These are emerging signs that we cannot afford to ignore, because things might get worse,” said Isabel Araya, the executive director of Vaughan Community Health Centre, one of the groups involved in the study. “Because we are growing so fast, this is the time to make big changes and plan ahead,” she said.
The new report, being released Tuesday, takes an in-depth look at the quality of life in the city, and stacks it up to the province and the country using the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW).
The CIW is a measurement tool, which compiles quantitative data (from Statistics Canada, reports from social service organizations, and regional and city reports) and groups it into eight quality of life categories such as environment, time use and education. The goal is to create a measurement tool that allows people and politicians to see the “big picture” and create policy to address the gaps.
In 2013, Vaughan was one of six pilot areas selected to participate in a provincial initiative — and the first in the GTA.
A municipality, however large or small, can use the CIW as a framework for gathering local information to see how things are going, and what needs improvement
said long-time educator Charles Pascal, a professor at OISE at the University of Toronto, who was one of the key players in developing the CIW, when he was executive director of the Atkinson Charitable Foundation. “It’s extremely powerful, because the less you have this independent data rich information, it’s business as usual,” he said. “And governments don’t realize the work that needs to be done in their own backyards,” he said.
Among the findings in the report:
- Vaughan residents spend a lot of time driving rather than transit, and feel the lifestyle has a negative impact on their health
- A staggering number of people own their homes, but spend more than a third of their income on their housing costs
- Because people spend so much time working, they have less time to get involved in their community or little desire to engage in local politics.
With this data, we can see that because so many new people are coming into this community, and because of the time crunch, they have difficulty creating roots in the community
said Araya. “It takes a while for them to do that,” she said.
The report has four policy recommendations for consideration: increasing affordable housing, increase access to affordable public transportation, encouraging policies which improve air quality, and finding ways to promote the local economy.
Araya says the good thing is that both the city and York Region have plans to address most of the recommendations in the next few years. And, that the report has allowed local social service providers, who were involved in the report, to mobilize. Araya says the Vaughan Community Wellbeing Coalition will work loosely to keep pressure on the policy makers to bring about change.
“Our hope is that this report is just the beginning, to keep the health of the city on track,” she said.