Obtaining “youth-friendly” designation for East Scarborough

Students in the UTSC City Studies program are helping the East Scarborough community reach “youth-friendly” status as part of the Youth Friendly Communities program.

Youth Friendly Communities is run by Play Works—a non-profit organization recognizing Ontario communities that meet the needs of youth through various activities such as recreation, arts, drama, sports, and dance. Communities that meet a minimum of 10 out of 16 criteria are distinguished with a “youth-friendly” designation.

Since the summer of 2012, Dr. Ahmed Allahwala of UTSC’s Department of Human Geography has been partnering with the Boys and Girls Club of East Scarborough and other community groups to help East Scarborough get recognized as “youth friendly” through Play Works. Dr. Allahwala has guided students in two iterations of the course “CITC01 Urban Communities and Neighbourhoods Case Study: East Scarborough”. Students in the course assess if East Scarborough meets Play Works’ criteria, such as:

  • The community is dedicated to youth play
  • Youth have access to facilities of play
  • The community commits funding to youth play
  • The community celebrates and recognizes youth
  • Youth play is inclusive

Using a variety of community-based research methods and tools, students are tasked to document what is available for youth in East Scarborough and how accessible spaces and programs are. For instance, are there transit options to get youth from point A to point B? Where do youth feel welcome? Where don’t youth feel welcome? Students also explore policy-oriented questions linked to funding. How are youth-oriented programs in East Scarborough funded? Is funding precarious? Are there alternative funding opportunities for the community to access?

According to Dr. Allahwala, the main advantage of this kind of teaching and learning is that students produce work that is immediately used by the community partner. He said, “I want students to have an impact on the community. I require students to do community-based research and action-oriented research. In order to have an impact and to have the course be more relevant, beyond just writing papers, students work with an actual community partner. Students have realized how important their work is for ongoing community development initiatives.”

The initiative has led to the creation of LIFT (Let’s Inspire for Today), a community-based committee of youth with the mandate to give young people a platform to share their voice with their communities through advocacy, leadership and empowerment.

The next step for the partnership between students and the East Scarborough community includes preparing the application to acquire “youth-friendly” status for East Scarborough.

If you are interested in getting involved in LIFT or learn more about community-based research opportunities in City Studies please contact Dr. Ahmed Allahwala (aallahwala@utsc.utoronto.ca).