Knowledge is king. And with it, a local organization aims to improve the quality of life for Niagarans.
Niagara Connects released its Living in Niagara-2014 report Tuesday at the annual Niagara Community Foundation leaders breakfast at the Holiday Inn and Suites Parkway Conference Centre.
Niagara Connects executive director Mary Wiley gave the keynote address at the event attended by upwards of 500 people.
“Niagara Connects belongs to the community,” Wiley said in her address. “You’re a shareholder, so to speak, in Niagara Connects. The whole idea is about evidence-informed planning.”
The data and information collected is shared with “community expert opinion leaders” in 12 Living in Niagara sectors for their input, with the aim of affecting positive change in those sectors, Wiley said.
“So when we marry the data and information up with what people working in the sector know, we gain very powerful knowledge and wisdom to inform our decision making.”
Living in Niagara reports, which are released every three years, offer a “snapshot of quality of life in Niagara.”
The 2014 report focuses on 12 Niagara sectors: Arts, culture and heritage; belonging, volunteering, giving and leadership; crime safety and security; economic development, poverty and prosperity; environment; health and wellness; housing and shelter; learning and education, people getting started in Niagara; recreation and sports; transportation and mobility; work and employment.
“Those 12 sectors are aligned with how we live our lives here in Niagara,” Wiley said.
Findings in the report are encapsulated in a 44-page booklet that was distributed to breakfast attendees. In the booklet, each of the 12 sectors is rated on a scale from one to five, with three broken up into 3A and 3B. A score of one indicates the sector is “in dire need of corrective action” and five “we’re doing great — Niagara is a leader.”
The environment sector scored lowest with a one rating based on indicators such as air quality, climate change, land-use planning, waste management and water quality and quantity. The report references data from the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority that notes “most of Niagara’s watersheds have poor or impaired water quality.”
Housing and shelter, and work and employment were rated at Level 2 — “of concern, needs attention.”
The report notes the number of households on a wait list for Niagara Region affordable housing has climbed from just over 4,000 in 2002 to 6,000 in 2013, but gives kudos to the Region for its 10-year housing and homelessness action plan that aims to eliminate homelessness by 2023.
Indicators that influenced the work and employment rating included average income, employment rates, places where people do their work and commute to work, employment services, labour force estimates and workplace injuries.
The remaining sectors scored ratings of 3A (“a little progress is being made”) and 3B (“a lot of progress is being made”).
The gathering of information that eventually comprised the report was led by approximately 60 community expert opinion leaders who volunteered their time and shared their data and knowledge, Niagara Connects’ staff of researchers and knowledge brokers and the Gestalt Collective, “a group of knowledge brokers who helped use to build and guide the evolution of Niagara Knowledge Exchange,” Wiley said.
The exchange is a website for “people to access and exchange news and ideas on Niagara-focused planning, collaboration, learning, innovation and community action.”
Niagara Connects also partnered with Brock University, where a group of researchers helped guide the research process for the report and helped dig up the data.
The report is “a combination of data and information, plus that frontline knowledge, and this leads to very, very powerful information,” Wiley said.
Use of the report is wide-ranging, Wiley said, noting people refer to it to plan community action, to write proposals and grant applications and for research related to their work.
“Educators have told us they use it to help their students learn more about life in Niagara and about local issues,” Wiley said. “People use it as an advocacy tool — it’s been known to make its way to Queen’s Park during Niagara Week, when the Region goes to Queen’s Park to talk about issues of importance to the people of Niagara.”
The Niagara Community Foundation makes use of the information contained within Living in Niagara reports, executive director Liz Palmieri said.
“We use the data in the report to inform our grant-making priorities,” she said.
The foundation, which issues grants via its endowment fund, contributes $15,000 annually towards Niagara Connects programs.
“The work of Niagara Connects aligns with the foundation’s charitable purposes,” Palmieri said.
To read the complete report, go to the Niagara Connects website at www.niagaraconnects.ca.
Main themes from the Living in Niagara-2014 report, one each from the 12 Living in Niagara sectors, from a total of 57 suggested action steps:
1. Arts Culture and Heritage in Niagara: Build upon the knowledge gathered for the Niagara Culture Plan that shows the $595.2 million economic impact of Arts and Culture in Niagara.
2. Belonging, Volunteering, Giving and Leadership in Niagara: Keep building momentum to engage people of all ages in Niagara to ensure a more inclusive society.
3. Crime, Safety and Security in Niagara: Strengthen our understanding of how crimes, crime rates, and incidence of child abuse and domestic violence in Niagara relate to poverty and its root causes, homelessness, and overall economic conditions.
4. Economic Development, Poverty and Prosperity in Niagara: Strengthen our understanding of shared value between business, economic development and for-social-profit players in Niagara, to inform a contemporary, collective approach to socio-economic planning
5. (The) Environment in Niagara: Increase Niagara’s resiliency in the face of effects of climate change by engaging citizens in practical actions they can take to conserve water and energy, protect water quality, and contribute to biodiversity.
6. Health and Wellness in Niagara: Focus on system level changes to delivery of health care.
7. Housing and Shelter in Niagara: Support implementation of the Niagara Region Housing and Homelessness Action Plan.
8. Learning and Education in Niagara: Continue to illuminate the impact of mental illness on learning for students in Niagara
9. People Getting Started in Niagara: Advocate to maintain adequate child care funding to ensure the Niagara-wide community is not impacted by a necessity for waitlists for subsidized child care.
10. Recreation and Sports in Niagara: Gather comprehensive evidence on the current and potential economic impact of sport tourism for Niagara.
11. Transportation and Mobility in Niagara: Increase our knowledge about how students, tourists, and people going to work utilize transit in Niagara, as important context for transit’s value to the region.
12. Work and Employment in Niagara: Deepen our understanding about the quality of jobs available in Niagara, and how that relates to underemployment of our people and the strength of our economy.