Abstract: "There Are More White People Now": Young People's Perspective on a Major Social Housing Redevelopment (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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"There Are More White People Now": Young People's Perspective on a Major Social Housing Redevelopment

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Lin Fang, PhD, Associate professor, University of Toronto, ON, Canada
Maria Al-Raes, Research Assistant, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Yu Lung, PhD Student, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Catherine Hu, Research Assistant, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background and Purpose: Regent Park, Canada’s first and largest social housing community, is currently undergoing a multi-year revitalization project. The relationship to neighborhood serves as an essential context for youth development, and this is especially true for young people living with limited resources. Multiple studies document that neighborhood plays a salient role for young people regarding their school readiness, academic achievement, occupational aspirations, and engagement with risk behaviors. Understanding young people's perspectives on their neighborhood is critical to inform design and delivery of programs and services that promote positive youth and neighborhood development. Using arts-based, community-based participatory research (CBPR) approaches, this study aims to (1) understand how young people define their neighborhood and community; (2) explore young people’s relationship to their neighborhood; and (3) promote programs and services that can further meet young people’s needs for positive youth and neighborhood development.

Methods: Following community-based participatory research (CBPR) principles, the research team and our community collaborator co-identified the research questions and decided on the investigation approaches, including photovoice and community mapping. The project team recruited and trained three youth leaders, who then co-facilitated 7 weekly sessions on issue identification, photography training, photovoice and mapping exercises, and group discussions with six young people aged 12-18 years (three females; three males), with the assistance of the research team. We used SHOWeD method to assist participants to describe the photos and unpack their meanings. Community mapping allowed participants to identify the "hotspots" (places they liked, disliked; spent the most time and places that are memorable). Thematic analysis of the photos and maps in collaboration with participants and analysis of the field notes revealed preliminary findings.

Results: Participants have taken 858 photos to date. Emergent themes include strong community, gentrification, and things we want. Participants have a complex understanding of their neighborhood and community in the context of mass restructuring. Preliminary findings indicate that participants perceive their neighborhood as a home and family environment. While participants emphasized their supportive and diverse community, youth identified neighborhood problems, including local placemarks disappearing as a result of urban redevelopment and negative or biased representations of their neighborhood in the media. While some participants appreciated the new buildings and other developments, others were ambivalent, commenting on the design of the new blocks ("they all look the same") and the changing demographics ("there are more white people"). Participants shared that they would like to see changes that benefit the existing community, such as more job opportunities for local youth.

Conclusions and Implications: Initial findings suggest that youth hold intricate and nuanced place-based knowledges. Our study shows that young people negotiate between abstract and geographical definitions of neighborhood and have a keen awareness of the implications of revitalization. Future studies should continue to unpack young people's understanding of urban neighborhood change in the context of community redevelopment.