Community Hub Responses to COVID-19: Lessons for Creating More Equitable, Low-Carbon and Resilient Neighbourhoods

In this new blog series, our Climate Campaigner Michael Polanyi is sharing stories and exploring some of the lessons that can be learned from community hubs about our city’s emergency response and how to build more resilient, low-carbon and equitable neighbourhoods. 

COVID-19 has caused hardship and great loss for many Toronto residents. How can we learn from this crisis - so that, moving forward, we build a city that is more resilient to future shocks? That is a question we’ve been asking community organizations who are partners in our “Accelerating Neighbourhood Climate Solutions Through Community Hubs Project” project

Over the last year, the Toronto Environmental Alliance has convened an Advisory Group on community hubs and climate action to make recommendations on community hubs' role in shaping and contributing to the implementation of Toronto’s TransformTO climate action strategy. Members of the Advisory Group include multi-agency community hubs, faith-based hubs, community centres, and civil society organizations. These community hubs are spaces to gather, create and build local networks, respond to local priorities, or access services and resources like health services, food programming, or newcomer supports.

When COVID-19 hit, many of these community organizations reached out to partners and residents in the neighbourhoods they serve to quickly learn what supports were needed. They responded rapidly, delivering food to seniors who couldn’t get out to shop, helping cash-strapped residents access government benefits, providing tablets and internet access to isolated newcomers, providing online counseling, and supporting people at risk of domestic violence - and much more.

Community Hubs and community-based organizations responded quickly because of their local knowledge and strong and trusting relationships with residents, along with their partnerships with local agencies, funders, and government leaders. Some hubs with physical space have been able to transform this asset to support different forms of emergency response.

In the coming weeks, we’re sharing stories of community hubs’ central role in the COVID-19 response. These stories are important, because they show how Hubs can play a key role, more generally, in building a more equitable, resilient and low-carbon city. 

To kick off our series, we are spotlighting how the Scarborough Cycles Hub at AccessPoint pivoted its bike repair hub to meet an emerging need for safe transportation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Image of a person in personal protective equipment fixing a bicycle.

Walking, cycling, and other forms of low-carbon, active transportation have become even more critical during COVID-19. When most community bike repair hubs closed and more people became reliant on cycling, the Scarborough Cycles Bike Hub at AccessPoint on Danforth was able to keep its doors open. This locally-centred program works with diverse residents to remove barriers to help them start cycling safely and equips them with the tools and skills to keep cycling.

The community bike hub provided a vital resource to help local residents ensure they had the tools they needed to get around for work, essential shopping and more, while safely physically distancing. Scarborough Cycles also provided emergency bike repair kits, with instructions that enabled residents to complete simple repairs by themselves.

"We found that many of our previous clients who had been using our bike hub had acquired many of the skills and tools they needed for maintaining their bikes. During the first few weeks, about 80% of the people coming to the hub were new. We also had people coming to the hub from as far as Cabbagetown by foot because we were the only bicycle repair space open."

Launched in 2015, Scarborough Cycles is now a program of Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services in partnership with the City of Toronto’s Solid Waste Management Services Division. Read more about Scarborough Cycles on their website

Lessons from Scarborough Cycles on COVID-19 and Building a More Resilient and Low-Carbon City

Scarborough Cycles is just one example of positive action to improve affordable and healthy mobility options in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like cities around the world, Toronto City Council has accelerated the construction of new protected bike lanes, including the completion of a 15-km east-west Bloor-Danforth bike lane. This is an important step forward in implementing the Council’s commitment to reduce transportation emissions and transform Toronto into a zero-emission city.

Thank you to The Atmospheric Fund and City of Toronto for their support.