Neighbourhood diversity: Implication for CLT governance

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On January 10th 2013, we hosted a community presentation by a group of students from University of Toronto who conducted a research project to investigate experiences of other Community Land Trusts as well as innovative participatory planning practices from elsewhere. The central question the group tackled is, “how can we structure a CLT to foster democratic decision-making, embody equity and ensure involvement and participation from a broad coalition of community members [in Parkdale-High Park area]?”

[PowerPoint presentation for download]

After providing a broader context of Parkdale and the CLT initiative, the group started their presentation by illustrating a case study of a CLT from Los Angeles, T.R.U.S.T. South LA and highlighting key components of the CLT governance – membership; organizational values & principles; board of directors structure; and (modified) consensus decision-making.

This brief introduction of the South LA case was very informative for participants, because it has been a general challenge of CLT movement in the Canadian context where there is no national (and regional) network of CLTs like US and UK to share experience and expertise of other CLTs.

Based on experiences from other cities and interviews with key informants from Parkdale, the group offered key recommendations for making a CLT governance model in Parkdale democratic and equitable. While more details can be found in the full report, some key points are: the importance of value/mission statement that would guide CLT’s activities and decision-making processes; making the CLT concept concrete and exciting when engaging community members and wider allies; and the accessibility of CLT information in various formats for outreach.

Among many recommendations as well as challenges identified in the study, it is recommended to adopt a ‘1/3 governance model’ for the CLT in Parkdale.  But it has become clear that because of unique neighbourhood diversity and inclusive goals of the CLT in Parkdale, the simple transfer of the model may not be sufficient. The group mentioned that when they interviewed with representatives from other CLTs and asked about how they attempt to ensure the democratic and equitable representation, they answered that a simple 1/3 governance model is sufficient, because those neigbourhood contexts are far less diverse than Parkdale, and tend to be low-income neighbourhoods that have experienced a long period of disinvestment or that have been becoming a frontier of gentrification; in most cases, identifying beneficiaries and stakeholders of CLTs is not so much complicated.

Further, in general, the operation of CLTs requires expertise in various fields such as community development, financing, real estate, project management, municipal governance and law. This is essential but also necessitates a difficult balancing act between democratic representation by community members and expertise of “skilled members”.

The next step for us is, of course, to make the best use of this research and momentum to guide the ongoing conversation about the CLT board development while putting the recommendations into action.


*Great thanks to a wonderful research team of Amy Bath, Daniel Girard, Sean Major, Sheraz Khan, and Stephanie Ireland from University of Toronto Planning Program, and to their project supervisors: Katharine Rankin and Charles Levkoe from University of Toronto, and Leigh McGrath from Urban Strategies, and Rob Howarth from Toronto Neighbourhood Centre; and also to Metcalf Foundation for support of CLT initiative.

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