StopGap founder wins Jane Jacobs prize
Luke Anderson, of the StopGap Foundation, and Leslie Chudnovsky, of Supporting Our Youth, are this year's prize winners
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The 2016 Jane Jacobs Prize winners were announced on Monday. This recognition, which comes with an award of $9,000 over three years, celebrates people working towards positive, community-fueled change in Toronto.
We caught up with one of this year’s winners, Luke Anderson, executive director of the StopGap Foundation.
Congratulations! Were you surprised to receive this prize?
Luke Anderson: It kind of took me off guard but in a good way. Jane Jacobs is a woman who I draw a lot of inspiration from. Her outlook and the philosophies that she brought into advocacy work for building healthy cities is parallel to my mandate. I was speechless for a few minutes and then it slowly sunk in that this project – originally an experiment in the Junction in 2011 when 13 business owners got a free, brightly-painted ramp – has gained traction and put accessibility on the map in 40 communities, with more than 1,000 ramps across Canada.
How do you intend to use the prize?
My intention is to help fund some of the communities that have ramps on the ground or are getting ramps on the ground. It will help fund a couple days on the road. We have a project in Calgary that is in its first phase, so I would like to be part of that. In a nutshell, I see this money really helping move the project even further.
Do you feel an affinity to Jane Jacobs?
Yes. Her intention was to make this world a better place by making sure our communities are safe and friendly for everyone. The key idea here is “for everyone,” and that’s really speaking our language. She also had a philosophy about eyes on the street, that is, making sure buildings are oriented in such a way that allows vision between the inside and outside. In my mind, this is akin to our philosophy of educating people to change the way they see things in their communities: We recognize people for what they can’t do and not what we can do. As soon as we remove those blinders, we can see people’s abilities. A little change in perspective, a shift in a way we position our buildings to support everybody, is a neat comparison.
What do you think is the secret to creating vibrant neighbourhoods?
Many hands make light work. We’re able to achieve our awareness-raising success through volunteers and building material donations from participating retailers. There’s a ton of amazing people out there that are keen to volunteer their time and help support something that they’re passionate about. We’ve been able to connect that desire with our need and it makes a difference. The secret is to bring change about in a fun way that stimulates engagement. We want to take people to an understanding that a barrier free amenity can benefit all of us.
What are Toronto’s biggest challenges moving forward?
Our current building codes and bylaws are getting in the way of creating a fully barrier-free city by 2025 (as set out in the provincial Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act). We’ve got some serious barriers to overcome before we can get there, especially with the way the legislation is written. It’s a great goal, but without this project and other advocates really spreading the word and getting accessibility on the radar, we’re not going to make it in time. As Ontarians, we have this tremendous opportunity to be trailblazers. We can’t stop.
We also need a shift in the way that we see people with disabilities. It’s an attitudinal change to realize that it’s not us that have disability, it’s the places that we live, work and play in that are disabled.