The Black Creek Sustainable Neighbourhood Retrofit Action Plan (SNAP) is an initiative launched by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and developed in collaboration with Black Creek residents to transform the neighbourhood into a green, self-sufficient and healthy community. SNAPs are innovative pilot programmes led by TRCA, which aims to accelerate the implementation of environmental improvements and urban renewal at the neighbourhood scale with locally tailored solutions. There are currently five SNAP neighbourhoods in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), each featuring unique initiatives to inspire residents, businesses and governments to take action. Before each SNAP is designed, the TRCA conducts a technical analysis as well as a very careful social analysis in order to understand the physical and societal characteristics of the area. Around 5 years ago Black Creek neighbourhood wherein the TRCA office had been located for many years, was selected as a SNAP area. The reasons behind this selection were multi-fold: The neighbourhood had a history of flooding; much of the neighbourhood had been built in the 1960s and 70s so it did not meet current energy and water conservation standards; it was one of Toronto’s Priority Neighbourhoods, so issues such as lack of access to employment, income, safety and food security were highly pertinent to residents in the area.
The primary goals of the initiative are both environmental and social. The integrated Action Plan of the Black Creek SNAP addresses local needs for improved environmental health, climate change adaptation, enhanced food security by increasing local food production opportunities, and greater job skills training and employment. One of the main components of the Black Creek SNAP is the ‘Harvest The Rain’ programme, which is essentially a residential renovation programme that focuses upon retrofitting single-family homes in the Black Creek area to be more sustainable. This is achieved through adopting retrofit measures as well as behavioural changes within households. Harvest The Rain programme offers a range of events and activities such as garden tours of demonstration homes (wherein volunteer homes in the area open their doors and their back yards to the rest of the community), community barbeques and gatherings, referring clients to other service providers in the community urban agricultural events and programmes, beautification and creation of public amenities, and creating balcony gardens in high-rise apartment buildings.
While Black Creek SNAP programme may seem very technical (focusing on environmental aspects of sustainability) at first glance, evidences for its tremendous social impact upon the community are not hard to trace. Our respondent highlighted the importance of this social aspect:
“The beauty of this programme – that is not normally done, is that we also do a very careful social analysis to try to understand who lives in the community and what their motives are, their barriers, their culture. And then we decide on programmes that aim at achieving our environmental and social objectives, but are customised for the specific characteristics of that particular community.”
In the Jane-Finch neighbourhood, as our respondents explained, there is a divide between single-family home-owners (who are more established) and apartment building tenants (many of whom are in transition and thereby remain in the area for only short periods). SNAP has impacted social cohesion in the community by bridging this gap. Earlier in the report it was mentioned that the presence of a large immigrant population many of whom have a background in agriculture has resulted in high appreciation and demand for fresh local produce in the neighbourhood. On the one hand many of the tenants in the high-rise apartment buildings do not have access to land on which they can grow; on the other hand, there are a number of single-family with back gardens which are not used by the homeowners (many of them are elderly or lack agricultural knowledge and tools). Harvest The Rain programme has tapped into this resource by starting collaborations between high-rises and homes wherein homeowners open their gardens to their neighbours for farming. The programme also addresses employment issues in the area by focusing on local job creation and hiring from the community.
The target audience of the Black Creek SNAP programme is the entire Jane-Finch community. Other stakeholders involved in the initiative include a range of local landowners and community organisations. The Black Creek SNAP receives funding from multiple sources, namely the City (around 25%), private foundations and corporations (such as the Royal Bank). The project is led by TRCA in collaboration with City of Toronto, JFCFC, and Black Creek Conservation Project.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
One of the ways in which the Black Creek SNAP addresses diversity is via facilitating cultural and knowledge exchange through the Harvest the Rain programme. Connecting the residential towers to the single-family homes has enabled a great deal of inter-generational, inter-ethnic and cross-cultural interactions among community members.
“Some of the main goals of the programme have been connecting different generations and different cultures. Skills sharing, donating harvest, etc. There are so many different points of contact and reasons for people to be able to connect.”
explained one respondent. Our observation is that the diversity of the neighbourhood is very well recognized within the programme and the understanding of the concept is generally positive, as there is a lot of focus upon the existing potentials (regarding interest, knowledge and skills) in the community. Age, ethnicity, and culture are the main categories of diversity highlighted within the project.
Main factors influencing success or failure
The Black Creek SNAP is still a relatively new programme. While it is difficult to measure the degree of its success or failure with regards to its primary long-term goal of promoting sustainability in the area, there are a few characteristics that can be highlighted as factors contributing to or limiting its positive impact upon the community. In terms of external factors that contribute to the positive impact our respondents highlighted that the initiative is run by a very well-established organisation which has enabled the programme to enjoy stable funding and access to a rich collaborative resource. Involvement of the residents is one of the internal success factors for the Black Creek SNAP. There is great attention paid to developing and implementing the plans in cooperation with community residents. Given the organisation, scale and target of the Black Creek SNAP, it is very common for programmes as such to be designed and delivered in a top-down manner. However the conducting of the social analysis together with hiring of staff and mediators from the community has allowed the programme to tap into valuable resources in the neighbourhood and address issues that are of high importance to local residents.
In terms of external negative factors there is a high number of organisations active in the area whose actions are overlapping and uncoordinated and that limits and complicates collaborations within a large-scale project such as SNAP. Furthermore, whereas there is a secured budget for the programme, funding is nonetheless very limited which undermines the future expansion of the programme (especially with regards to its social components). Some of the internal negative factors are as follows; firstly, there is a high number of temporary or transitioning households in the neighbourhood who are less established in the community, thus it is difficult to get them involved. Secondly, the gang structures and turfs in Jane-Finch make it difficult to connect different parts of the community and create a coherent programme for the whole area. Limited accessibility to residential towers also hinders the impact and feasibility of the programme.
The Black Creek SNAP provides unique insights into how larger-scaled traditionally more top-down projects can be tailored to local realities and bottom-up needs. The initiative has created encounters and recognition among diverse households, and to a limited extent also contributed to the redistribution of limited resources, particularly via initiating collaborations between single-family homeowners and high-rise residents in Harvest the Rain. Perhaps the most innovative and fundamental component of this initiative is the understanding that achieving sustainability in the community requires setting and working towards not just environmental but also social goals. There are many ways in which the initiative aspires to grow in the future (size, outreach, and tools) but there also remains a great commitment among staff to continue to involve the community in designing long and short-term plans as the project develops through time.
Website: Black Creek Snap
 Toronto Hydro, Black Creek Clean Energy Coalition, Afri-Can FoodBasket, ACORN, San Romano Way Revitalization, Association, Yorkwoods Library, Driftwood Community Centre, LINC Centre, Reaching Up Homework Club.