Partnering with neighbourhood houses to recognize inequities in South Vancouver neighbourhoods

October 06, 2021

This blog is authored by SFU Faculty of Health Sciences Postdoctoral Fellow, Caislin Firth, Master of Urban Studies student, Farina Fassihi and Meg Holden, Professor and Director of Urban Studies. They are participants of CERi's Community-Engaged Research Funding Program.

Our research team from SFU Urban Studies and Health Sciences partnered with staff from the South Vancouver and Marpole Neighbourhood Houses to make a case for equity in access to services and amenities in Killarney, Victoria-Fraserview, Sunset and Marpole neighbourhoods in Vancouver.

Neighbourhood houses are keystone gathering and connecting places where neighbours with diverse backgrounds, interests, needs and contributions can come together and grow. Since 1977, the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House (SVNH) has been opening doors for residents in the south-east quadrant of Vancouver.

Staff at the neighbourhood house see everyday the ways in which residents’ needs are not being met, and as they work to build the bridges, make the connections, and meet the needs that come their way, they can’t help but notice that the neighbourhoods of South Vancouver are falling behind, in some ways, and missing out on the kinds of services and amenities that other residents rely on elsewhere in the city.

They also noticed that the residents of South Vancouver lacked a strong sense of shared neighbourhood identity. Knowing the importance of a sense of shared identity to community development and building capacity for neighbourhood leadership, SVNH sought out CERi partnership to put a research lens on some of the things they saw holding their neighbourhoods back.

Caislin Firth, Farina Fassihi and Meg Holden teamed up with the South Vancouver and Marpole Neighbourhood Houses to conduct a neighbourhood equity study that dug into the data to clearly show the inequities that exist in crucial service areas in South Vancouver neighbourhoods, and worked with the neighbourhood house staff and residents to encapsulate and communicate the stories of the difference that these inequities make.

What was your favourite part of working on the neighbourhood equity project?

Caislin Firth (CF): Our monthly meetings with our SVNH partners, being able to take the time to listen and reflect on the work we were doing. It was crucial for us to understand what data were needed to tell the stories of barriers faced by community members living in South Vancouver.

With that came some complex challenges of working with data from different funding sources and agencies that already existed, creating data through exploration/research and sifting through many city council meeting agendas, and documenting when data didn’t exist. Doing this kind of ‘data inventory’, guided by community perspectives, was crucial to identifying which inequities could be measured.

Farina Fassihi (FF): This project resulted in a range of products that will help different groups with different perspectives on neighbourhood equity and the existing needs in South Vancouver and Marpole. The comprehensive documentation of this project is a written report including every detail of the research and data collection phases.

This report should provide a clear picture of the four neighbourhoods for City staff and leaders, and we hope it will create discussions about the existing gaps and possible solutions to bridge those gaps. We also prepared a set of data sheets, which will be useful to the neighbourhood house staff, as well as residents of South Vancouver and Marpole.

These data sheets will inform a better understanding of the community profile as well as the existing social infrastructure needs, which we are hoping will inspire advocacy efforts. Additionally, I appreciated the opportunity to interview community members and advocates. These interviews strengthened the presented data points by capturing the everyday life and struggles of residents, all of which are valuable and necessary information to report on inequities.

Meg Holden (MH): Active debate and healthy rivalry between urban neighbourhoods is not a bad thing, but a crucial part of expanding the arena for action to improve our cities and make them better homes for more of us who share them. Our partners at the neighbourhood houses demonstrated this, that their aim is to lift up neighbourhood voices in their areas without diminishing the voices of any other neighbourhood.

There is no such thing as a liveable city from north to south, east to west, and across all the groups and people who share the city. The work of neighbourhood houses is so complex. Boiling some of the key dimensions of inequity down to figures that can be used by staff and residents in their work was a fulfilling piece of action research.

Why do you think this work on neighbourhood equity in South Vancouver neighbourhoods is important?

CF: This project is important because roughly 20% of the city live in South Vancouver neighbourhoods, yet it is clear that the City does not invest in the people living there, to the same level, as people living in other neighbourhoods. Our work hopefully will support conversations with city planners and elected officials about how amenities and support for community building can be tailored to better meet the needs of people living in South Vancouver.

FF: This project was an effort to extract data and information about South Vancouver and Marpole neighbourhoods, specifically through researching and exploring City documents and reports. Therefore, it points to a need for such neighbourhood-level data to exist within the municipal data and information platforms. We hope our research highlights the value of disaggregated data for local leaders and advocates in recognizing the existing inequities at the neighbourhood level that require intervention.

MH: Urban neighbourhoods that work for residents across all their dimensions of difference are the best chance cities are likely to get to show how urban living can be done well, that is, without discriminating against or diminishing the value and worth of some in the process of offering opportunities to others. South Vancouver neighbourhoods offer some of Vancouver’s best kept secrets of what it takes to make a good life in this city. To build our city on a better foundation for equity in our diversity moving forward, we need to pay attention to and respect the differences that work and listen to what residents need to level the playing field.

Staff from the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House shared some of their views on the value that the CERi partnership brought:

ZE: Working with the SFU team was a dream come true. We knew that there was an issue of systemic inequity in South Vancouver but didn’t have all the tools available to dig into the data to prove it. Our collaborative project provided everything we need to articulate the issue and start to create meaningful change to benefit community members living across South Vancouver.

MR: The SFU Urban studies team opened up a LOUD voice from our community, stating only the facts, analyzing it, and drawing out the differences.

Were there any unintended benefits of this project?

MH:  Yes! Both the SFU team and the SVNH have brought new participants into the project and moved into a new and exciting phase of engagement: a citizen science project to engage neighbourhood youth in collecting street-level data on how they connect in South Vancouver, and what other services and amenities they need to make their neighbourhoods stronger. Stay tuned!

ZE: I had never worked with a university group on a project like this before. It was an awesome experience and I can’t wait until the next opportunity to collaborate comes up!

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