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Building Civic Engagement in Rexdale: Rexdale Lab’s 100 in 1 Day Intervention

Spring is always a fun season for urbanists in Toronto. It starts off with Jane’s Walk (first weekend of May), continues with Doors Open (last weekend of May) and then it rolls into 100 in 1 Day (first Saturday in June). We love attending all of these festivals and being a part of the growing urban and civic movement in our city.

As the newest addition to the urbanist mix, 100 in 1 day has already developed into quite a popular festival – held at 134 sites in Toronto this year alone! 100 in 1 Day actually started in Bogota, Colombia with an idea to inspire 100 different community-inspired interventions in one day to demonstrate what is possible when people just take action. The roaring success of the first festival in 2012 caught on in other cities and it is now held in places like Santiago and Cape Town. Canada signed on in 2014 and is now held in 4 cities – Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax and Hamilton.

IMG_20150606_150601For this year’s festival on Jun 6th, the Salomeh Ahmadi and Tameka Francis from Rexdale Lab invited us to be a part of their intervention – a civic engagement workshop to inspire more Rexdale residents to get involved. For those who might not be familiar with Rexdale, it is a neighbourhood in northwest Toronto that was part of the old City of Etobicoke. A primarily suburban area, the neighbourhood is very spread out and not overly pedestrian-friendly. On past visits to the community, we heard that there is a sense of disconnection and isolation among residents due to lacking community services, poor transit and a dearth of community spaces. Definitely not the most ideal conditions for citizen involvement.

Over the past several months, a citizen led movement has been trying to spark community action to make Rexdale a better place. Called the Rexdale Lab, it is a change lab project that is designed to incubate community-led projects and get people involved. As part of 100 in 1 Day, the Lab held a 1 day workshop on increasing civic engagement and ideating on strategies to achieve this. Our role was to demonstrate how design thinking could be used in building civic engagement projects – something which we were more than happy to be a part of!

Our afternoon session began with a quick overview of what design thinking is and how the process supports program and policy creation. Our Associate Caitlin Cassie then ran an empathy mapping exercise to decipher what Rexdale residents might be seeing, saying, thinking and doing around civic engagement – points which were then themed. The participants then broke out into discussion tables to better hone in on the practical issues to be solved and coming up with How Might We (HMW) questions to frame them. Chris Duff from Inspired Initiatives then led an ideation workshop to craft some ideas for the HMW questions.

IMG_20150606_152519Themes that surfaced focused on creating more spaces for connection and engagement and how to involve more youth in civic issues. Participants were excited about making more connections between the diverse cultures in Rexdale, creating connection spaces in unused buildings, developing local transport options (like a local car share program), igniting community assets and capital already in place and creating more safe spaces. Participants left the session quite jazzed about the possibilities on what could happen.

Rexdale Lab will be posting a final report about the day and we’re really excited to see what comes out of it. Citizen-led community projects definitely need to be better fostered and developed in Toronto and we congratulate Salomeh and Tameka on seeing the need and kickstarting this process in Rexdale. We look forward to staying involved with this process and really want to thank the Lab for inviting us to share in this!

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