In Code Red areas, the plan is theirs


Ask David Derbyshire about the phrase “Code Red Neighbourhood” and he’s quick to tell you what he thinks.

“We hate it, ” says Derbyshire, who works as an on-the ground liaison between the city and the McQueston and Ivor Wynne-area neighbourhoods.

“These aren’t bad neighbourhoods.”

The Code Red Neighbourhood moniker has become a shorthand at Hamilton City Hall and beyond for areas of the city that face high poverty levels. It’s based on a groundbreaking Spectator series that showed the strong connection that exists between health and poverty in Hamilton, broken down to the level of neighbourhoods.

But while Derbyshire and his co-workers say the phrase “Code Red Neighbourhood” is loaded with stigma, the city knows the issues raised in the Code Red series need to be addressed head-on.

That’s where the city’s neighbourhood development office, led by Paul Johnson, director of neighbourhood development strategies, comes in. This innovative team combines on-the-ground consultation in neighbourhoods by city employees who can mobilize resources and change policies.

On Monday, the two sides will meet at City Hall. Four groups of community members – residents of Beasley, Keith, McQuesten and Stinson – will be presenting plans to improve their neighbourhoods to council. Their ideas are based on months of community consultation facilitated by the city and several community development workers like Derbyshire.

Johnson came to the city in 2010 as a high-profile recruit from Wesley Urban Ministries, where he worked as the executive director. Council allocated $2 million to the Neighbourhood Development strategy shortly thereafter. So far, $113,110 has been spent on short-term projects, like setting up a community garden, as well as consulting with residents to figure out what’s important to them.

One of the key elements of Johnson’s role is quarterbacking neighbourhood requests to different city departments. Residents may identify a range of issues they’d like to see improved, from a wobbly basketball net (under the purview of public works) to creating a community garden (which falls under the umbrella of emergency and community services).

Johnson’s role, along with Suzanne Brown, the manager of neighbourhood development strategies, is to tap each department for these jobs so neighbourhood requests don’t get lost in the bureaucracy of City Hall. The development of the plans for these four neighbourhoods involved 98 staff from all six city departments, as well as two boards and agencies.

The city also relies on community development workers like Derbyshire to act as mediators between the city and the neighbourhoods. These individuals are employed by various agencies around the city, like the Hamilton Community Foundation, to work on Hamilton’s neighbourhood strategy.

The arrangement means that there’s more co-operation and understanding between residents and the city, said community development worker Brandon Braithwaite.

“It’s no longer us vs. them.”

Community development worker Laura Ryan likes it.

“I appreciate that Paul (Johnson) has challenged city departments in terms of what they can do for neighbourhood development.”

Several of the neighbourhoods talk about the importance of enhancing or expanding their parks. Others talk about the idea of taking urban gardens to the next level into urban farming.

Council won’t be making any decisions on the matter Monday.

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