The Sustainable Neighbourhood Action Program, a project of Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and nine partner municipalities (City of Toronto, Regional Municipality of Peel, City of Brampton, City of Mississauga, Town of Caledon, Regional Municipality of York, City of Richmond Hill, City of Markham, and City of Vaughan), received an honourable mention in FCM’s 2020 Sustainable Communities Awards.
Cities and communities across Canada face challenges in retrofitting aging infrastructure and mitigating the effects of climate change. The Sustainable Neighbourhood Action Program (SNAP) is a program that helps communities accelerate sustainable urban renewal and climate action through projects tailored to neighbourhoods’ needs and circumstances.
Collaborative approach brings municipal governments and stakeholders together
Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and its nine participating partner municipalities saw a need for innovative approaches to expedite municipal infrastructure renewal, sustainability and climate action plans. The program helps local governments achieve high-level municipal plans and objectives by implementing retrofit projects customized for a particular neighbourhood, such as initiatives aimed at managing stormwater, restoring urban forest, and reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. SNAP involves collaboration between TRCA, municipal government representatives and a broad range of local stakeholders. By consulting with local stakeholders, the process benefits from local knowledge, helps build relationships and empowers communities to find innovative solutions that achieve shared goals.
Significant environmental benefits realized through SNAP programs
There are currently eight SNAP initiatives in various stages throughout TRCA jurisdiction that, together, have resulted in over 10,000 trees and shrubs being planted, eight significant green infrastructure projects including bioswales, stormwater ponds and wetlands and 32 green infrastructure, urban agriculture, energy, water and waste initiatives in multi-dwelling residential and commercial properties. In addition to their primary goals, these projects also improve air quality, help address urban heat islands and increase groundwater infiltration by reducing hard surfaces and increasing vegetation and tree cover.
Focus on local interests generates social, economic benefits
SNAP projects generate a variety of social benefits, such as fostering social connections and a sense of belonging, providing skills training and increasing residents’ access to healthy food options through urban agriculture. Economic benefits vary by project. For example, better stormwater management reduces the risk of basement flooding, home energy and water retrofits lower utility bills and local food production cuts grocery bills. Moreover, the SNAP program enables delivery of multiple municipal objectives with limited public budgets, through strategies such as cost-sharing arrangements, finding innovative funding sources and leveraging planned capital projects.
SNAP team working on implementing many lessons learned
Over its 10 years, the SNAP process has exposed a number of valuable lessons, many of which come down to the need for collaboration, cooperation and coordination. To address a need for supportive municipal policy to rationalize diverse program delivery, SNAP developed a screening tool to evaluate neighbourhood investments and program development. The project team has observed and documented successful tactics for overcoming barriers, such as inter-departmental silos, procurement policies that limit public-private partnerships and misalignment of short-term funding cycles with long-term goals. The program has also refined its socio-economic metrics framework to better evaluate and report co-benefits and multi-year tracking. In response to the tendency to address present day problems with short-term solutions, SNAP is tracking the success of social innovation tactics to inspire future-ready solutions.