Recent Publications

Expressing Vibrancy

Expressing Vibrancy is a research project that looks at neighbourhoods through the lens of culture. The Expressing Vibrancy project arose out of the work of cultural planning, a formal process of identifying and leveraging a community’s cultural assets. Through CoBALT Connects’ own work in cultural planning, a pattern was noted. Within cultural planning documents, the term vibrant appeared over and over again, used to describe the characteristics of cultural planning outcomes. To learn more about thier project, please visit their website at:

Online Ice-Breaker Helps Neighbours Share More than a Postal Code

18 Blocks
Social media platforms connect us with people around the world.  But how do we start a conversation with our neighbours?   Enter 18Blocks – a free, hyper-local, online network designed to help neighbours connect around common interests.  By posting notes with photos, neighbourhood residents, community organizations, and local businesses can reach out to discover one another, or be easily found.  In turn, neighbours can comment publicly or respond privately to the note’s author.  Unlike other social media platforms, a post on 18Blocks is the first step to actually meeting the people in your community: organize a running club, a block party, or a car pool; launch a community garden, or a fundraiser.   Sharing your time, resources and interests with those that live around you helps build stronger connections.  The neighbourhood becomes more than a postal code; it becomes a community.  And community is at the heart of 18 Blocks.   Visit us at

Happy Communities Research Makes Case for Connecting with Your Neighbour

Evidence shows people who think they live in a good community are happier
John Helliwell presenting at at a CIFAR Building Better Lives & Communities symposium. Photo credit: J.P. Moczulski.
Happy Communities Research Makes Case for Connecting with Your Neighbour
Evidence shows people who think they live in a good community are happier
After 15 years of intensive research into what makes for happy lives, John Helliwell is most energized by this theme — the power of the social compared to the material in making people happy.
John is a Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) senior fellow and co-director of the Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being program. He is also co-author of the 2015 World Happiness Report to be released this month.
“The human being is much more pro social — that is, they enjoy giving much more than we think they do,” John says.
Research has shown that natural disasters often end up making people happier than they were before. This is because a disaster provides a chance for people to recognize, polish off, use and hence build their capacities for doing things with and for each other, John says.
“If you put people in an opportunity where they have a chance to give really serious and important help to others, that not only helps the people they’re helping have a better life, but it makes them happier in the process,” he says.
John and his colleagues are keen to see individuals, communities and governments take their research on what makes for happier lives seriously and apply it to their own scenarios. While they don’t suggest that fabricating a natural disaster is the answer, their findings appear to be at the same time more simple and more difficult than might be anticipated. In part, the call is as simple as becoming intentional about connecting with others — getting to know your neighbour.     John with George Akerlof, a CIFAR senior fellow and Nobel laureate. The evidence John and his colleagues have collected reveals that people are happier in communities that are closely related to one another and where residents see family and friends often. This tends to be harder to achieve in larger urban centres than smaller communities, and people may need to step outside of their comfort zones in order to make those connections with others. And it’s not that people have to wait for something big to be done by somebody else, John says. It can be as simple as individuals in their own neighbourhoods and communities reaching out — and throwing a neighbourhood party, for example. The evidence also shows that if people think they live in a good community, they will be happier. When Toronto residents were surveyed on their expectations around whether a wallet they’d lost would be found and returned by a stranger, one in four expected a positive outcome. The survey was followed up with an experiment that entailed dropping 20 wallets around the city. Sixteen of the 20, or 80 per cent, of the wallets were returned. This experience corroborates that the world based on fact is a much better world than the one based on people’s opinions, John says. But of course people’s opinions are formed from their experiences and what they hear, so how could so many be so wrong? For John, the answer comes down largely to the tremendous power of the media. “If people haven’t lost their wallets enough to speak from their own experiences, then they rely on what they read and hear from others,” John says. Much of that hearsay is pessimistic news reports. “People’s willingness to return wallets, to talk to people in elevators, to invite their neighbours to a party, all of those connecting things . . . depend on their view of the community they live in,” John says. “It’s not a scary world, it’s a world of people like you who would benefit from and enjoy more contact, and we’re really shooting ourselves in the foot by thinking not enough good about the communities in which we live.” John’s hope is that this happiness research contributes to changing society’s view of what’s important to well-being. Things that people might otherwise not pay much attention to — such as the need for intentional connectivity and changing the stories we listen to and tell ourselves — are now being proven by science to be critical to well-being. John suggests that those who take this evidence seriously should at least want to be running experiments to see if the theory holds true in their own scenarios. John joins several experts and researchers at an April 21 forum in Vancouver on building happy communities. Hosted by CIFAR, the forum is part of a national series of events on social innovation. The forum will include the release of the first official data on happiness across Canadian communities. This afternoon discussion will be moderated by Al Etmanski and takes place in conjunction with the exhibition Stefan Sagmeister: The Happy Show, which officially opens April 23. To learn more about the April 21 forum, click here. You can comment on this story below, or e-mail michelle(at)

Count Me In

Count Me In is my story of trying to find more togetherness and belonging in a big city, and as a singleton. When I started the book, I was living in the gorgeous coastal town of St. John's, Newfoundland. Togetherness was easy to find, since the place was so small. After a separation saw me move back to Toronto, I asked myself whether I could recreate that small town sense of belonging and inclusion -- only in a very different place and under radically different circumstances. To read moe about Emily and Count Me In, visit her website:

Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude

Lonely is an account of my experiences with long-term loneliness. The main thing I did with this book was break the taboo against talking about loneliness. I was the first person in publishing to talk about my own loneliness, and I didn't skip any of the gritty details. (I'm often asked to recount the story of throwing a chair against my wall in frustration, and yes, this happened.) Read more about Emily White and Lonely here:

Neighbourhood Link Support Services

Neighbours helping neighbours live, work and play through innovative seniors programs, jog-finding opportunities, youth engagement, tailored housing solutions and newcomer integration.  Serving East Toronto since 1975. See website here:

We Have Walked From There to Here and Tomorrow We Will Walk Some More!

In Women magazine, Fall 2014, Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux writes an article about the many things she wants to say to the women in her world. For more, please read the attached article.

Shedding Light on the Indigenous Curriculum Controversy

What it really means to incorporate indigenous knowledge in the curriculum
By Leah Ching The Argus, Lakehead University,, March 17, 2015 Since the announcement of Lakehead’s initiative regarding indigenous knowledge in the curriculum, the lack of public information made available to students has been the cause of a great deal of controversy and criticism. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux spearheaded a special presentation on Tuesday and sought to shed more light on the topic. Generally aimed at faculty, the event proved to be incredibly valuable to attend for students with questions regarding the implementation of Lakehead’s plan. Esquimaux’s presentation outlined the ways in which professors and members of faculties could go about ‘decolonizing’ or ‘indiginizing’ their learning. Realizing that there would be a learning curve, she called for flexibility in teaching and a mutual conversation between faculty and students. She also highlighted that Lakehead is not the only university to implement a program like this, and the idea is nothing new or exclusionary toward students. She highlighted the idea that this was a university-wide decision that has gone through the proper channels of communication and has gone through debate and dialogue at the Senate before implementation. Also important to note is that each faculty will have power in orienting their curriculum and figuring out how this “half credit equivalent” will be fulfilled. For some students, this may mean an elective, but for others the eighteen hours of learning may be worked into courses they are already taking. Esquimaux wanted attendees to grasp the idea that this decision is not one that has been ‘imposed’ on the university in any way. “We’re all treaty people,” she said to attendees. Speaking to the fact that Canada is a product of settler colonialism, she reminded us that university education is often from a fully western perspective. “We have to realize that this conversation is 600 years overdue. We have to look at who’s writing the story to fully be able to understand the conversation that’s being had.” For Esquimaux as well as others in support of this initiative, it comes down to the idea that there are stories to tell that have been suppressed. Through decolonization efforts like this one, the aim is to create intentional bridges between cultures and understand the non-western perspective. A widespread student opinion has been the belief that Indigenous Learning doesn’t pertain to their degree in any way. “There was some resistance from engineers,” said Esquimaux. She followed up by posing the question, “Whose doors are you going to be knocking on in northern communities?” An anonymous female Aboriginal student said, “It’s saddening to see the racist comments popping up on pages like Lakehead Confessions. Our student union strives to create an accepting university culture, but pages condoning the posting of slander without factual information about the initiative doesn’t help much.” Whether students like it or not, the initiative continues to cause heated debate and uncover deep-seated racial issues within the university and the larger city. Finally, quoting a speech by Chief Dan George, Esquimaux called for social integration above all: “Unless there is integration in hearts and minds, you only have a physical presence and the walls are as high as the mountain tops.”

Emerging Action Principles for Designing And Planning Community Change

A Community Science Publication
Community Matters! Decades of scientific research have shown that being part of a supportive, inclusive and capable community promotes mental, physical, and social well-being more than any other factors known to the social and medical sciences. Our publication series, Community Matters: Action Principles, Frameworks, and Strategies, shares what science and practice have taught us about building and strengthening community. The first publication in this series, “Emerging Principles for Designing and Implementing Community Change,” has just been released. Download it at
Community Science

Inspiring Communities Newsletter

#46, March 2015
Theatre, Youth Voice, community learning space, Neighbours Day resources and inspirations... this issue is a can't miss! Read more here: