Community Quality of Life in Low-Income Neighborhoods: Findings from Two Contrasting Communities in Toronto, Canada

By Raphael, Dennis; Renwick, Rebecca et al. | Journal of the Community Development Society, July 2001 | Go to article overview

Community Quality of Life in Low-Income Neighborhoods: Findings from Two Contrasting Communities in Toronto, Canada


Raphael, Dennis, Renwick, Rebecca, Brown, Ivan, Phillips, Sherry, Sehdev, Hersh, Steinmetz, Brenda, Journal of the Community Development Society


ABSTRACT

An inquiry into community quality of life was carried out in a framework that recognizes the role that community structures play in individual health and well-being. Through use of focus groups and key informant interviews, community members, service providers, and elected representatives in a housing-geared-to-income Toronto community considered aspects of their community that affect quality of life. Findings about the importance of access to amenities, caring and concerned people, community agencies, low-cost housing, and public transportation were similar to those obtained in another Toronto community. Differences between these communities were apparent and related to the physical and demographic make-up of the community and the presence of community agencies and services. The relationship of these findings to the social determinants of health and social capital literature was considered, as were implications for community developers.

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OVERVIEW AND PURPOSE

There is increasing interest in the role that community structures play in promoting health and well-being among citizens (Boutilier, Cleverly, & Labonte, 2000; Raphael, 1999; Robert, 1999). These community structures may involve local services (Acheson, 1998); the presence of affordable housing, healthy food, and public transportation (Marmot & Wilkinson, 1999; Wilkinson & Marmot, 1998); community activities that support quality of life (Renwick & Brown, 1996); or the sense of social cohesion that exists among community members (Wilkinson, 1996). Attention is also being paid to how political decision-making supports or hinders the establishment and maintenance of these health-enhancing community structures (Coburn, 2000; de Leeuw, 2000; Teeple, 2000). Much of this interest, including the research reported here, has been driven by theoretical work on the social determinants of health as well as the importance of lay perceptions of these social determinants of health.

The World Health Organization (WHO, 1986) defines health as the ability to have and reach goals, meet personal needs, and cope with everyday life. Health is supported by the presence of supportive environments. The WHO framework emphasizes the social or non-medical determinants of health. The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (WHO, 1986) outlines peace, shelter, education, food, income, a sound environment, and social justice as necessary for health. More recently, a WHO task force identified social determinants of health of social status, stress, social exclusion, social support, unemployment, food, and transport (Marmot & Wilkinson, 1999; Wilkinson & Marmot, 1998). A concern with these social determinants of health informed the conduct of the study and provided a template against which findings could be considered.

Another guiding theme in this research was the view that community quality of life would best be understood by seeing it through the eyes of community members by using a naturalistic approach (Bryman, 1988; Lincoln, 1994; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Community quality of life is seen as consisting primarily of the understandings and meanings individuals assign to community features. Such an approach is consistent with recent developments in public health (Raphael & Bryant, 2000) and community development (Park, 1993). More detailed rationales for the community quality of life approach are available (Raphael et al., 1999; Raphael et al., 2001).

The community quality of life approach, therefore, is a process by which community features that influence well-being can be identified with the objective of improving them. This paper illustrates the approach by presenting detailed findings from a study of one low-income community. It then considers whether these factors were common to those identified in another Toronto low-income community. Finally, it explores the value of the approach for community developers. …

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