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Community Panel: 'do, learn, do'

The Metcalf Foundation hosted an event at the CSI Annex site recently to celebrate the work of the Thorncliffe Park Women's Committee in establishing place making and micro-businesses in its community. It even published a booklet The Power of Civic Action about this group.

During the event, Howard Tam, one of the panelists, said one of his main recommendations to people involved in community initiatives is "do, learn, do", his version of "just do it".

One of the times the audience applauded spontaneously was when it learned that the Women's Committee took advantage of the City strike a few years ago to establish its bazaar, when there were no enforcement officers or permit officers to prevent it. (The other time spontaneous applause broke out was for the suggestion that some of the $1B police budget go to such things as place making instead, to make communities safer).

This raises the question of the place of government compliance initiatives in community micro-business and place-making initiatives. Most people understand that a degree of standards must be enforced (for example to support food safety), but many argue that the degree of compliance enforced is often excessive.

There are three examples I can think of supporting the notion that compliance is often excessive.

  1. The success of Dufferin Grove Park (I have some personal history with that as webmaster for a number of years), can be largely attributed to the fact that during its heyday it was essentially operated as a worker collective. When the city imposed a 'compliance initiative' recently to counter this, programming degraded, and costs went up substantially.

  2. One of the interesting things about the Uber ride-hailing service in Toronto is that it shows that the level of regulation imposed on the taxi industry over the past years really wasn't all that helpful. Uber now provides thousands of Toronto drivers the opportunity to establish their own micro-business, with a relatively low entry barrier. The ride-hailing business seems to be doing very well without a taxi-style regulatory regimen, thanks very much.

  3. I need to research this, but I was recently told that in northern Europe there is a much smaller civil society sector than in North America for the simple reason that it's not needed as much (see here for an example). Instead government staff there are empowered to explore civic action initiatives that staff here are constrained from pursuing.