April 14, 2010- Social groups doing work to resuscitate inner city: researcher

Social groups doing work to resuscitate inner city: researcher
Rather than public or private groups, the organizations that do the heavy lifting in improving conditions in Saskatoon's core neighbourhoods need support to carry out their work, a social researcher says.

"The crisis in the core neighbourhoods has been decades in the making and it will take decades to turn things around," said Mitch Diamantopoulos, co-author of Growing Pains: Social Enterprise in Saskatoon's Core Neighbourhoods.

The 71-page report, published in 2007 and co-authored by Isobel Findlay, was discussed at a lunch-time session organized by the Community University Institute for Social Research.

Updating the report with recent events, Diamantopoulos told a small crowd of academics and community workers that government and private efforts to fix social problems in the inner city have failed and that emerging social enterprises are doing much of the difficult work.

"The crisis in the core is not simply a grab-bag of isolated and discreet problems that require isolated and discreet solutions," said Diamantopoulos during Tuesday's talk at the University of Saskatchewan.

Two-thirds of aboriginals live under the poverty line in Saskatoon, said Diamantopoulos, adding the infant mortality rate is five times higher in the inner city compared to the rest of Saskatoon.

To improve the lives of inner-city residents, social enterprises need more financial and community support, said Diamantopoulos, also the head of the University of Regina's journalism department.

Social enterprises include non-profits, co-ops, church groups and charities -- groups such as Quint Development Corp., which helps residents find and eventually own their own homes, and the Child Hunger and Education Program.

These enterprises, usually autonomous from governments, make up a city's social economy.

As residents and investment flee the inner city to Saskatoon's suburbs, residents in the core neighbourhoods are left with fewer development opportunities and community services, said Diamantopoulos.

"It's a pattern familiar across North America, and in Saskatoon we're not so special," he said. "We have a hollowing out of central neighbourhoods in Saskatoon as capital fled (to the suburbs) -- jobs, people and services have followed."

Social enterprises have to improve, too, said Diamantopoulos. To better serve the community, social enterprises should work more closely together and, as shown in other cities, unify politically to influence government decisions, said Diamantopoulos.

Competition among the social enterprises for scare funding undermines the stability of the groups, he said.

Provincial and federal governments must provide more long-term funding because short-term funding inhibits growth, added Diamantopoulos.

"Community economic development requires long-range vision and commitment. Short-term, impatient funding creates anxiety and . . . drives burnout across the sector."

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