Research, Reviews, & Updates

The ESPC provides research, reviews, and updates on a range of social issues

Living Green: Communities that Sustain

Book by Jennifer Fosket and Laura Mamo, 2009
Reviewed in July 2009 Research Update

All too often, ‘going green’ is used as a catch-all term for activities like recycling, using cloth grocery bags, and switching to energy efficient lightbulbs. Don’t get me wrong – these are great activities, but in this book, authors Jennifer Foskett and Laura Mamo illustrate how communities across North America are engaging in much more holistic, people-centred, and socially just practices of ‘going green’.

Living Green: Communities that Sustain tells the stories of how we can create communities that are both socially and environmentally sustainable.  It includes a number of case studies of different sustainable living designs, including homes and communities that are based on a number of different concepts of sustainability, such as:

  • Ecovillages such as LA Ecovillage, where residents share common facilities and a commitment to living in harmony with the environment. Some interesting features of the community include ‘car retraining’ sessions, community meals on the street, community gardens, and a bike kitchen.
  • Elder cohousing (for more on this, see the review on The Senior Cohousing Handbook)

  • Aging in community designs such as Chez Soi in Montreal. The formerly tight knit community of young families – and the buildings – had disintegrated over the decades. It became a difficult and isolating place to live for the primarily senior residents. Renovations to some of the buildings preserved the positive aspects and improved on others. Common spaces such as kitchens, gardens, and a breezeway allow community members to rebuild relationships and support one another.
  • Co-operative housing
  • Mixed-supportive green housing such as the Folsom/Dore apartments in San Francisco. The mixed income building includes a minimum of 20 units for individuals who have been chronically homeless, 20 units for individuals and families at risk of homelessness and a number of market-rate units. Everybody shares a number of common areas (including meeting spaces, day rooms and computer room) and greenspaces and gardens, all in an environmentally designed building and grounds.
  • Green nuclear family homes and neighbourhoods.

There are countless ideas and designs in sustainable living; this book highlights the benefits that residents experience from living in communion with others, but also notes the difficulties and challenges that creating community can pose. Unlike many books on green housing that simply focus on the physical elements of sustainability – water conservation, alternative energies, recycled materials, etc. – this book is unique in its discussion of the social features that make our communities sustainable: diversity, support, inclusion, solidarity, equality. Living Green is a useful resource for anybody involved in building  sustainable communities, or simply interested in learning more.

Caregiver Community Consultation - A Report on the Findings

Report by Alberta Disabilities Forum, 2008
Reviewed by Jaylene Ellard in February 2009 Research Update

“We have taken over the care of our 40 year old brain-injured son because the agency’s care was not adequate due to insufficiently trained staff and inconsistent care.  We are trying to find our own program and treatment, but are really having to search for resources.”
 - Quote from Caregiver Community Consultation

The Alberta Disabilities Forum along with Alberta Seniors and Community Services compiled a report based on twenty –three consultations with caregivers and persons who use caregivers’ services in fifteen communities across the province.  The report identifies some of the challenges and ideas for solutions in all communities involved.  It is noted that the geographic location is not a determining factor on issues, but slight differences are revealed in comparing smaller centers to larger ones in regards to such matters as public transportation.

A number of themes are addressed with the three key challenges categorized as: “finding and retaining well qualified, professional caregivers; finding suitable respite services; and coping financially”.  Each theme includes a list of comprehensive challenges and solutions identified by community members.  The report is a quick and interesting read infused with abundant ideas for solutions on the various noted challenges; a great beginning to sow the seed for change with anyone involved in the disability community. 

The Dynamics of Child Poverty in Sweden

Report by Matthew Lindquist and Gabriella Sjogren Lindquist, Swedish Institute for Social Research, 2008.
Reviewed by Cheryl Melney in February 2009 Research Update

Sweden is well-known internationally for being a forerunner in progressive and comprehensive social policy. That is why you might find it interesting to read this evaluation of child poverty in Sweden published by Stockholm University. In this paper, authors Matthew J. Lindquist and Gabriella Sjogren Lindquist acknowledge Sweden’s success in combating child poverty, but also attempt to turn a critical eye towards Swedish child poverty intervention programs.

The authors question the reasons for Sweden’s low levels of child poverty. They examine three different approaches to combating child poverty: low unemployment and higher low-end wages; Sweden’s progressive tax system; and a variety of government transfers. Through their research, the authors find that child poverty is being addressed most significantly by government financial transfers to parents. The authors agree that this is not ideal, and that Sweden needs to further develop the other two approaches to fighting child poverty. They also find that child poverty is the most prevalent when children are in their earliest years, due to several reasons which the authors go on to explain. The writers suggest that this trend indicates the needs to focus anti-poverty strategies especially at young children. 

This paper is important to Canadians working on child poverty issues for several reasons. It notes that, compared to many European countries, Canada and the United States have the highest numbers of children living in poverty. Despite many commitments and initiatives from Canada’s social policy leaders and creators, Canada still lags behind peer countries when it comes to addressing child poverty issues. 

This report shows us some good examples of how to address child poverty through government transfers. One very interesting Swedish policy harmonizes child support payments so that regardless of their former spouse’s income, all single parents receive the same amount of monthly child support. Low incomes families with children can apply for housing subsidies, and daycare is also heavily subsidized. The writers offer many more examples of Sweden’s government transfers within the paper. It also shows us some shortfalls about relying solely on government transfers, and gives ideas about other ways to fight child poverty. Lastly, this paper highlights different risk factors that often increase the likelihood of child poverty, and gives some suggestion to how these can be addressed. If you are interested in child poverty issues in Canada, this paper will be of interest to you.


The Child Care Transition: a league of early childhood education and care

The Child Care Transition: a league of early childhood education and care in economically advanced countries

Report by UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2008.
Reviewed in February 2009 Research Update

This report card, the eighth in a series of reports and indicators on children’s well-being in rich countries, compares the performance of 25 OECD countries in providing high quality, universal, and accessible early childhood care.

As our economy and society continue to evolve and change, more and more young children are becoming reliant upon out-of-home early childhood education and care. The evidence is unequivocal – high quality services for young children are hugely beneficial and reach well into their later years. It is in this context that the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre set out to compare services and standards across 25 economically advanced countries.

Ten benchmarks are outlined in the report, a set of internationally applicable minimum standards – directed, for the most part, towards actions that governments can take to improve early childhood education and care within their country. The benchmarks are, in short:

  • A minimum entitlement to paid parental leave of one year at least 50% of salary, and at least 2 weeks specifically reserved for fathers.
  • A national plan with priority for disadvantaged children that would include, at the very least, a national plan for the organization and financing of early childhood services.
  • A minimum level of child care provision – subsidized and regulated child care services available to at least 25% of children under three.
  • A minimum level of access for four year olds, defined as the participation in 15 hrs per week (or more) of publicly subsidized and accredited early education services by at least 80% of four year olds.
  • At least 80% of staff have completed at least an induction course; pay and working conditions should begin to move towards those of the wider teaching and social care sectors.
  • At least 50% of staff have completed at least 3 years of tertiary education with a recognized credential in early childhood studies or a related field.
  • Minimum staff-to children ratios – for preschool children, this should be no less than 1:15.
  • A minimum level of public funding, 1% of GDP, for early childhood education and care.
  • A low level of child poverty, which should be less than 10%.
  • Universal outreach to ensure that disadvantaged families reap the benefits of early childhood education and care. Benchmarks used to evaluate this include the rate of infant mortality, rate of low birth weight babies, and the immunization rate for 12 to 23 month olds for preventable childhood diseases.

Unfortunately, Canada lags behind most other OECD countries; most of the 25 countries compared have met 5 or more benchmarks. Canada ranks last (tied with Ireland) and has only met 1 benchmark: at least 50% of staff have a recognized tertiary education. We have a long way to go to ensuring the best possible start for young Canadians. The report puts it well, “it is clear that if the movement towards out-of-home child care is to fulfil its potential for benefit rather than harm, then the level of debate and investment in availability, quality and equity will have to be increased not marginally but substantially”.

For child care advocates and those working with youth and children, this report will be most useful. Not only does it demonstrate how and why early childhood services and care work, but it clearly illustrates that our current government response to the needs of children is lacking when compared to the efforts in our peer countries.

Let’s continue to work together to encourage them to do better!

Conceptualizing Optimum Homeless Shelter Service Delivery

Conceptualizing Optimum Homeless Shelter Service Delivery: The Interconnection between Programming, Community, and the Built Environment

Article by Jennifer L. Robinson and Stephen W. Baron;Published in the Canadian Journal of Urban Research (CJUR), Summer 2007. Volume 16, Issue 1; p 53-75. A copy of the journal is available in the ESPC Resource Library.

Article Reviewed by Anette Kinley in October 2008 Research Update


When it comes to homeless shelters, the interconnected factors of service delivery characteristics, community relationships and physical environment are crucial to success. The results of this Calgary-based study show that all three factors need to be considered when planning the development or expansion of homeless shelters.

The first factor, service delivery characteristics, includes elements such as: breadth of programming, effective management and attention to client dignity and safety. In terms of community relationships, some elements that help to ensure success include: correcting misperceptions about homelessness and shelters, increasing community involvement in the shelter (fostering a sense of ownership), and developing a role for shelters in the local economy.

Finally, elements of the physical environment that have an impact on shelter success include: good architectural 'fit' of the shelter in the community, smaller shelter size/client volume, accessibility of location and proximity to other services, and limited impact on public use of the surrounding area.

The three factors are inextricably interconnected. If, for example, the physical space around the shelter is not orderly or well-maintained, the community�s perception of the shelter is more likely to be negative, and will prevent community engagement and relationship-building.

While the article brings to light many important factors to be considered in shelter planning, it does not fully explore some of the issues discussed. In particular, the conflict between the goals of 1) increasing public awareness and understanding of homelessness and 2) increasing the public�s sense of comfort and safety. While the article states that the first goal is furthered by the visibility of homelessness, it recommends concealing the unpleasant aspects of homelessness to achieve the second goal. The failure of the authors to explore such contradictions leaves a number of crucial questions left unanswered.

The article is based on the results of a study conducted from 2006 to 2008 to inform the redevelopment of a homeless shelter in Calgary. The study involved interviews with 50 North American and UK experts in homeless services and urban planning and design.

The Summer 2007 edition of the CJUR features numerous other articles on the topic of homelessness. Articles offer insight into: street youth, health, public opinion, long-term research and causes of homelessness.