Toronto is the most multi-cultural city in the world with 51 percent of Torontonians born outside of Canada. “We know that diversity is part of Toronto’s strength but we also know that it needs to be nurtured,” says Rahul Bhardwaj, President and CEO of the Toronto Foundation. “People need to feel connected to their communities.”

Insights like this come out of the annual Toronto Vital Signs Report, published every year by Toronto Foundation. The Report provides a snapshot on the quality of life in Toronto.

A diminished sense of belonging

“Toronto has been recognized around the world for its high quality of life,” says Bhardwaj, “and that’s great but we want people to have their eyes wide open when it comes to issues that are threatening our city.”

One of the findings that Bhardwaj and his team point to in this year’s Report is a diminished sense of belonging amongst residents, especially millennials.

“It’s very difficult to start a conversation about what issues threaten a city in a neighbourhood where people are isolated from each other,” says Calvin Kangara, Coordinator of Resident Leadership, East Scarborough Storefront. Kangara has worked tirelessly to build communities in both the GTA and his native Nairobi and has worked with Toronto Foundation on an initiative called ‘Playing for Keeps’ that has now connected more than 30,000 residents in neighbourhoods across the city using the power of play.

“An engaged community, a community where people are involved, is a community that has a great foundation upon which that conversation can take place,” adds Kangara.

Creating pathways to becoming stronger Torontonians

Sport and play can be catalysts in closing the gap between isolated residents. When this happens, social capital is created — the relationships between people that build support systems and bring out the best in everyone.

“Playing together is a great way to get people to break the ice and start talking to each other,” says Kangara. “It’s very natural for people playing together to engage with each other and it doesn’t take that much time, space or even money to organize.”

“When people feel like they belong they feel more ownership, they feel more opportunity, they feel better supported and healthier.”

“There’s a moment when you’re playing for a team or involved in a group activity that you feel a strong sense of belonging,” says Bhardwaj. “It’s those moments that forge strong bonds between people and if you do it on a grand enough scale then you’re creating pathways to becoming stronger Torontonians and better Canadians.”

“There’s something about playing together that makes you set aside your judgments,” says Robyn Connelly, Director of Community Relations at Toronto Pearson and one of more than 30 organizations across different sectors that form the ‘Playing for Keeps’ partnership. “Playing together builds a different level of trust and belonging”, Connelly adds.

Creating a model city

“People want to talk to each other and feel connected,” says Kangara. “Sometimes the only thing stopping them is that the appropriate opportunity hasn’t yet been provided.”

“When people feel like they belong they feel more ownership, they feel more opportunity, they feel better supported and healthier,” says Connelly. Strong partnerships like those behind ‘Playing For Keeps’ help mirror what we need to see in our communities.

“We’ve got something special going on in Toronto,” says Bhardwaj. “In many ways, the world needs Toronto to succeed because we are getting a lot of things right that other cities are struggling with. But we are not perfect and we have a long way to go. We need to be deliberate about creating a model city.”