Effective April 12, 2022, Toronto’s social planning neighbourhoods have changed. Please read the Update section below.

Toronto’s 158 social planning neighbourhoods are a microcosm of the city’s inhabitants, cultures and life. The primary purpose of the City-designated social planning neighbourhoods is to help City staff collect data, plan, analyze and forecast City services. While these neighbourhoods may not fully encompass every historical, cultural, ethnic or economic neighbourhood area, they do provide a way for planners and researchers to track information about them over time.

Unlike other geographies like wards or dissemination blocks, the boundaries of these neighbourhoods change very infrequently over time, allowing researchers to perform longitudinal studies to see the changes in each area. Not all people define neighbourhoods the same way, but for the purposes of statistical reporting these neighbourhoods were defined based on Statistics Canada census tracts.

Toronto’s neighbourhoods numbered 140 from the late 1990s to March 2022, when some neighbourhoods were split because of very high population growth. There are now 158 neighbourhoods and the split neighbourhoods are shown on the map and table below:

New 158 social planning neighbourhoods with split lines.

 

To accommodate density growth in 16 of the City’s social planning neighbourhoods, an administrative update is taking effect resulting in a shift from 140 social planning neighbourhoods in Toronto to 158. The social planning neighbourhoods are data sets used by City divisions and agencies, community organizations, institutions and researchers to address social development and planning needs.

Since statistical analysis is more accurate when units of geography and population are more equal or comparable in size and number, 16 high growth neighbourhoods were split into 34 new ones (with the old ones retired).

Summary of Key Points:

  • In the 1990s, at an administrative level, City of Toronto staff developed the social planning neighbourhoods as operational boundaries to collect data and improve planning and analysis.
  • Toronto’s 140 social planning neighbourhoods are data sets used by many City divisions and agencies, such as, Toronto Public Health, City Planning, Children’s Services, Toronto Police Service along with community agencies, private analysts, hospitals, researchers, federal and provincial ministries, universities and residents.
  • The social planning neighbourhoods were created in order to make it easier for the City to collect data on neighbourhoods to address social development and planning needs. For example, they enable the City to collect standard, comparable, reliable poverty statistics from Statistics Canada over many years to implement poverty reduction programs. They are largely used to report demographic information for research and social services planning.
  • The existing neighbourhoods have been unchanged for 25 years. The exercise to update the social planning neighbourhoods is somewhat disruptive to City technical operations and is therefore undertaken infrequently.
  • However, differential population growth over the last 20 years has seen large population increases in parts of the city while other neighbourhoods saw no growth. This has resulted in population discrepancies that make it harder to support effective planning, so the Social Development, Finance and Administration (SDFA) division of the City of Toronto, working with multiple divisions, have worked to update the social planning neighbourhoods.
  • 16 neighbourhoods were split into 34 new ones (with the old ones retired), for a grand total of 158 social planning neighbourhoods in Toronto, from 140 previously.
  • Statistical analysis is more accurate when units of geography and population are more equal or comparable in size and number.

History of Toronto’s Social Planning Neighbourhoods

In the 1990s, at an administrative level, City of Toronto staff developed the social planning neighbourhoods as operational boundaries to collect data and improve planning and analysis. The social planning neighbourhoods were created in order to make it easier for the City to collect data on neighbourhoods to address social development and planning needs. For example, they enable the City to collect standard, comparable, reliable poverty statistics from Statistics Canada over many years to implement poverty reduction programs. They are largely used to report demographic information for research and social services planning.

2022 Updates to the Neighbourhood Boundaries

The existing neighbourhoods have been unchanged for 25 years. The decision to split 16 neighbourhoods was made after the 2016 Census data revealed new neighbourhood population numbers.

Differential population growth over the last 20 years has seen large population increases in parts of the city while other neighbourhoods saw no growth. This has resulted in population discrepancies that make it harder to support effective planning. Statistical analysis is more accurate when units of geography and population are more equal or comparable in size and number.

The Social Development, Finance and Administration (SDFA) division of the City of Toronto, working with multiple divisions, have worked to update the social planning neighbourhoods to enable effective research and planning now and in the future.

Sixteen neighbourhoods were split into 34 new ones (with the old ones retired), for a grand total of 158 social planning neighbourhoods in Toronto, from 140 previously. 124 of the original social planning neighbourhoods will remain the same. Only 16 old social planning neighbourhoods will change and be replaced with 34 new ones; the rest remain the same.

Choosing Neighbourhood Names

Neighbourhood names were created by taking historical information, prominent features, landmarks, or institutions, colloquial names and other socio-cultural information into account, then shortened into a reasonable compound name that can be easily referenced.

Name changes were made in consultation with stakeholders from City Planning, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Toronto Police Service, Economic Development and Culture, Toronto Real Estate Board, and the Ontario Community Health Profiles Partnership in the 2017 to 2019 timeframe, as well as citizen and councillor input in 2021.

The names of neighbourhoods are established for research and analysis purposes and are not the final word on the cultural, historical or colloquial names of Toronto’s neighbourhoods. There are more than 400 historical neighbourhoods and communities in Toronto and most are not their own social planning neighbourhoods.

Not all historical names can be included in the 158 social planning neighbourhoods because it is impossible to do so without altering the boundaries of census tracts from Statistics Canada, which the City cannot do.

Population Equity Among Neighbourhoods

When neighbourhoods do not have roughly equal populations, phenomena being studied (such as poverty) can be “hidden” within the larger population of a neighbourhood. The previous 140 neighbourhoods revealed some neighbourhoods with up to nine times the population of others. This makes it difficult to detect phenomena of interest to the City, to compare neighbourhoods across indicators. Having neighbourhoods with more balanced and similar populations allows for more equitable analysis.

Resident Benefits

This update to the social planning neighbourhoods will have little to no impact on the everyday lives of residents. However, because the social planning neighbourhoods support service planning and research, having an updated set of neighbourhoods allows service planners to be able to detect more accurately, phenomena like poverty, and to make more effective decisions about service provision.

Neighbourhood Street Signs

The cultural and historical aspects of Toronto’s neighbourhoods are addressed in other forms, such as the Wayfinding Study done by Transportation Services and the historical maps available through City Archives. The social planning neighbourhoods are not a replacement for these maps and boundaries, and they serve an entirely different purpose and service.

Old Neighbourhood Names

Neighbourhoods which were updated/split in 2022 have received new names and new numbers starting at #141 to avoid confusion among City divisions and community partners about whether any given map, analysis, database, report or dataset was referring to an old neighbourhood or new neighbourhood with the same name or number. Reusing old names and numbers for new boundaries may also introduce erroneous linkages to old or new data within complex planning systems.

Neighbourhood Split Boundaries

The outer boundaries of neighbourhoods that were split remain the same, while internal lines following census tracts were added to distinguish the new neighbourhoods. This approach allows for the previous neighbourhoods to be compared to new neighbourhoods. In the neighbourhoods in which splits occurred, the split lines also follow Statistic Canada’s census tract lines from the 2016 Census. Total population is the primary variable that determined the neighbourhood splits. Natural features such as parks and rivers are taken into account when forming splits, as these are already included in census tracts.

Neighbourhood Improvement Area (NIA) Changes

Two neighbourhoods with NIA designations have been split:

  • Woburn (137) will become Golfdale-Cedarbrae-Woburn (141) and Woburn North (142)
  • Downsview-Roding-CFB will become Oakdale-Beverley Heights (154) and Downsview (155)

A split of an NIA will not impact service to either neighbourhood. Both new neighbourhoods will remain NIAs.

New Neighbourhood Profiles

Neighbourhood profiles and datasets for the new neighbourhoods will become available when data from the 2021 Census is released in 2022. Statistics Canada will be releasing data from the 2021 Census of population according to their Census Release Schedule. New neighbourhood data will be added to the neighbourhood profiles in the months following each release. Complete 2016 Census data by 158 neighbourhoods will be available in April 2022.

Sourcing

The 140 neighbourhoods should be sourced as: Toronto Social Planning Neighbourhoods v2.0, City of Toronto 1996-2022.

The 158 neighbourhoods should be sourced as: Toronto Social Planning Neighbourhoods v3.0, City of Toronto 2022.

The neighbourhood boundaries were developed by the City of Toronto in the mid-1990s to help government and community agencies with their local planning by providing socio-economic data at a meaningful geographic scale. At the time no boundaries existed to analyse data at the neighbourhood level. The only alternative was to use Statistics Canada census tracts, which are often too small for analysis purposes and not easy for the public to identify with.

Therefore the approach taken was to aggregate census tracts as the building blocks while providing neighbourhoods with a historical identity. Three major assumptions were used before the process began:

  1. Census tracts are the most appropriate building block to use given the availability of data over time
  2. Population is the key variable that determines a neighbourhood, with physiography and income similarity as secondary and optional criteria and
  3. Boundaries must not conform to any existing service or political boundary (unless they fit the criteria set out below), as these are biased and not statistically meaningful for demographic and social planning purposes. Political boundaries are also subject to frequent revision and that vastly complicates temporal comparisons.

Not all people define ‘neighbourhood’ the same way. For the purposes of planning and statistical reporting however, these neighbourhoods were defined based on Statistics Canada census tracts. Census tracts include several city blocks and have on average about 4,000 people. Most service agencies have service areas that are defined by main streets, former municipal boundaries, or natural boundaries such as rivers.

These service areas include several census tracts. It is not uncommon for service areas of community agencies to overlap. Choices about neighbourhood boundaries were made to make the data in the profiles useful to as many users as possible, and are not intended to be definitive statements or judgements about where a neighbourhood starts or ends. The boundaries for these neighbourhoods were developed using the following criteria:

  1. originally based on an Urban Development Services Residential Communities map, based on planning areas in former municipalities, and existing Public Health neighbourhood planning areas;
  2. no neighbourhood be comprised of a single census tract;
  3. minimum neighbourhood population of at least 7,000 to 10,000;
  4. where census tracts were combined to meet criteria 2 or 3 above, they were joined with the most similar adjacent area according to the percentage of the population living in low income households;
  5. respect existing boundaries such as service boundaries of community agencies, natural boundaries (rivers), and man-made boundaries (streets, highways, etc.) as much as possible;
  6. maintain neighbourhood areas small enough for service organizations to combine them to fit within their service area; and
  7. the final number of neighbourhood areas be “manageable” for the purposes of data presentation and reporting.

Input was received by the following stakeholders in the preparation of the final set:

  • Public Health
  • Library
  • Police
  • Parks & Recreation
  • Planning
  • Key Community Agencies across the City of Toronto

The following limitations should be noted when using these boundaries:

  • There may be smaller distinct “communities” within each neighbourhood.
  • Users may consider utilizing more than one “neighbourhood” for service analyses when that service is on the edge of a neighbourhood boundary.
  • The aggregation of Census Tract data up to neighbourhoods is problematic in some areas where suppression exists at the CT level.
  • The boundaries do not coincide with Ward or service boundaries. This was intentional in order to preserve the integrity of the boundaries for purely socio-economic planning purposes.

 

Problem Statement

  • Toronto’s social planning neighbourhoods have very unevenly distributed populations.
  • The existing 140 neighbourhoods were designed in the late 1990s and deployed in 2000.
  • Differential population growth across the City over the last 20-25 years has resulted in some neighbourhoods being vastly more populated than others.
  • Some neighbourhoods have 10 times more people than others.
  • It was decided in 2016 that some kind of redistribution was necessary to balance out the population after the 2016 Census was completed.

Main Goals

  • Split neighbourhoods that have grown immensely to have a more equal population balance between all neighbourhoods.
  • Maintain the historical continuity of existing neighbourhoods (hence splits and not re-creation).
  • Do not change existing neighbourhood boundaries.
  • Use the same methodology as was used to create the original neighbourhoods.
  • Rename and renumber the new neighbourhoods to avoid confusion.
  • Original target date was mid-2019, now moved to Spring 2022.
  • A small group of stakeholders were consulted in 2018-2019.

Methodology

  • Outer boundaries of neighbourhoods will stay the same.
  • All potential splits will follow existing Statistics Canada census tracts as of Census 2016.
  • The time period under consideration is 2001 to 2016.
  • Total population is the primary variable that will determine splits. Physical geography, contiguity, history and income will be secondary considerations after the initial candidates are determined using total population, in cases where population alone is insufficient to make a decision.
  • Calculate Population Ratio (PR: ratio of a neighbourhood’s population to the average (mean) population across all neighbourhoods) for 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016.
  • Neighbourhoods with a PR of >1.50 and with an increasing PR between 2001-2016 should be considered for splitting.
  • Neighbourhood population increases of more than 20.0 percent in the period 2001-2016 should be considered for splitting.
  • Where a split would reduce the new neighbourhood‘s PR below the City average PR or average population, the split should be reconsidered. We do not want new neighbourhoods with tiny populations.
  • Neighbourhoods will be renumbered starting from 141 upwards and will be integers. Old neighbourhoods which are split will have their old numbers deprecated (eg, if neighbourhood #130 is split into #145 & #146, #130 will be deprecated).

Other Considerations

  • Neighbourhood splits should be discussed with City Planning and the City working group before implementation to take into account the development pipeline and population projections.
  • Neighbourhoods should take some historical information into account where possible to determine optimal splits and new neighbourhood names. This is a secondary consideration.
  • Natural features such as parks and rivers should be taken into account when forming new neighbourhood boundaries. This should already be part of good census tract design and is a secondary consideration.
  • No other variables will be used for splitting, as they were not part of the original late-90s methodology and we do not want to renegotiate all the neighbourhood definitions.
  • Perfect equality in neighbourhood population totals is not possible using census tracts, and did not occur even at the time of conception in the late 1990s.
  • We want to minimize neighbourhood splits and subsequent disruption to people who use these boundaries.

Sources:

  • Statistics Canada, 2001/2006/2011/2016 Census;
  • Statistics Canada, 2016 Census long-form, Median Total Income of Households in 2015 ($);
  • City of Toronto, Social Development, Finance & Administration, historical notes and maps on neighbourhood creation, 1996-2006;
  • Historical naming information derived in part from David Dunkelman’s Your Guide to Toronto Neighbourhoods, Maple Tree Publishing, 2007;
  • Residential Communities and Business Improvement Areas map, Urban Development Services, City of Toronto, 2000;
  • City of Toronto, Social Development, Finance & Administration, historical notes on discussions with Councillors on neighbourhood naming and boundaries, 2021;
  • ESRI Canada Inc.’s Community Maps Program;
  • City of Toronto, City Planning, developer pipeline for future population growth estimates;
  • City of Toronto, Economic Development & Culture, Chief Curator, for historical naming recommendations;
  • Google Maps for contemporary and colloquial neighbourhood names and locations.