Growing Healthy Towers

Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) is bringing together stakeholders and tower residents to collectively support healthy built environments in two low-income tower communities and make positive changes on social determinants of health.


About the Growing Healthy Towers Initiative

With funding from Public Health Agency of Canada’s Promoting Health Equity: Intersectoral Action on Social Determinants of Health Program, TRCA is leading Growing Healthy Towers: Transformative Partnerships for a Healthy Built Environment.

MP Shafqat Ali announces Public Health Agency of Canada support for TRCA Growing Healthy Towers program
Shafqat Ali, Member of Parliament for Brampton Centre (sixth from left) joins TRCA Board member and City of Brampton Regional Councillor Rowena Santos (seventh from left), along with TRCA staff, community members, and partners to announce the Public Health Agency of Canada’s support for TRCA’s Growing Healthy Towers initiative.

The goal of the Growing Healthy Towers is to collectively address built environments in low-income tower communities in Knightsbridge, Bramalea and Rexdale, Toronto, where community health and built environment priorities intersect.

The initiative brings together more than 20 organizations across two regions and 12 sectors, including City of Brampton and City of Toronto, local public health units, municipal, private and public housing sector partners, and community organizations working on the ground in these neighbourhoods.

Activities include brokering cross-sectoral partnerships, promoting resident engagement, and co-designing projects to pursue outdoor greening, urban agriculture, and healthy living initiatives within the towers and with the rest of the neighbourhood.

This work will help solidify partnerships to set the stage for the ongoing work needed to continue impactful action on complex intersectoral issues.

balconies on residential tower in Rexdale

Partnerships and collective action will increase equitable access to built and natural environments, food security, healthy behaviours, social inclusion, and employment.

Interventions — which will be determined with residents and multi-sectoral stakeholders — will include new infrastructure (built and natural), community programming, and upstream solutions that address the root causes of health and well being.

TRCA is working closely with local organizations including Ecosource and Rexdale Community Hub to engage residents and deliver healthy built environment projects.

Community Garden and shade structure at Knightsbridge Kings Cross apartments in Bramalea
The new “Three Towers” Community Garden and shade structure installed by CAPREIT at the Knightsbridge Kings Cross apartments in Bramalea, Brampton. Supported by Bramalea SNAP, Ecosource is working with the garden club volunteers to operate the garden.

Growing Healthy Towers supports a Resident Champion initiative that includes recruitment and training of 20 tower residents to work with TRCA and community partners to:

  • Help plan and deliver engagement in their own community
  • Advise on local experiences and help co-design solutions
  • Build local leadership and long-term involvement

participants in the Growing Healthy Towers resident champion initiative
Bramalea SNAP Resident Champions, 2022.

This initiative supports the tower revitalization recommendations and cross-cutting partnerships developed by Sustainable Neighbourhood Action Plans currently underway in Bramalea SNAP and Rexdale SNAP.

Healthy Built Environment Solutions

The healthy built environment solutions identified and explored in this project include a broad range of initiatives in and around the tower communities. The solutions include:

  • Projects, programs, and policies related to physical built infrastructure and urban form
  • Building amenities
  • Parks, greenspace and nature
  • Social networks
  • Community programming
  • Recommendations for further upstream solutions

These solutions include work that is currently underway in one or both communities, along with opportunities to expand or strengthen this work across the neighbourhood or to introduce new initiatives and new sectors.

In the true spirit of collective impact, these solutions go well beyond what one organization or sector can address.

Bramalea SNAP residents participating in a hands-on urban agriculture skills training activity

Integrated, multi-sectoral healthy built environment solutions should strive to:

  • Build on the existing programs and go beyond business as usual
  • Respond to the community and climate priorities and resident interests
  • Be designed and delivered in collaboration with local residents and with partners from across sectors
  • Aim to address as many social determinants of health and as possible

Linkages and solutions between tower properties, in the surrounding neighbourhood and the broader community, are also an important consideration.

Co-design of Selected Solutions with Local Partners

Four innovative, intersectoral healthy built environment solutions were further scoped and co-designed by TRCA and community stakeholders over the course of the project:

Green Champions Plus+ Program, Rexdale

The Green Champions Plus+ program will be designed to leverage the City of Toronto’s existing Green Champions Program, along with TRCA SNAP’s Participant to Leader model.

By combining these two programs, this initiative will be designed to identify, foster, and develop resident leaders into influential community representatives and advocates.

Leaders can help facilitate meaningful engagement with residents in their tower community, influence local action on climate change and social determinants of health, and support tower residents in addressing top-of-mind themes.

Black Creek SNAP neighbourhood residents pose in front of a mural
SNAP neighbourhood resident event

Source: TRCA, San Romanoway Towers, Black Creek SNAP

Potential Partners:

  • City of Toronto Housing Secretariat (lead)
  • Rexdale Community Hub
  • TRCA
  • Property owners/managers/superintendents
  • Local businesses/service providers


Urban Agriculture Plus+ Strategy, Rexdale

This project involves the development of an urban agriculture strategy for the Rexdale SNAP neighbourhood that will identify both existing and proposed initiatives, as well as recognize key stakeholders who are leading or involved in this work.

The strategy will also include a feasibility assessment that will help guide decision making with regard to the distribution of implementation funding as it becomes available.

greenhouse at Zawadi Farm in Rexdale
Source: TRCA, Zawadi Farm, Rexdale.
Kipling Towers Community Garden
Source: TRCA, Kipling Towers Community Garden.

Potential Partners:

  • TRCA (lead)
  • Greater Toronto Airports Authority (funder)
  • City of Toronto
  • Rexdale Community Hub
  • Rexdale Food Access Committee


Urban Agriculture Skills Training Plus+ Programming, Knightsbridge

Leveraging local interest in urban agriculture and the need to improve access to healthy, low-cost food in the Knightsbridge community, TRCA will collaborate with partners from different sectors to support the development of hands-on local skills training activities and programming related to urban agriculture for Knightsbridge residents.

The key objective of this initiative is to increase urban food growing knowledge and skills, and to support learning and links to several other areas, including nutrition and health, environmental sustainability, and locally relevant social and cultural aspects of growing food.

Bramalea SNAP residents participating in a hands-on urban agriculture skills training activity
Bramalea SNAP residents participating in a hands-on urban agriculture skills training activity, co-hosted with Black Youth Farming Collective and Ecosource in 2023.

Potential Partners:

  • TRCA (lead)
  • Ecosource
  • Black Youth Farming Collective
  • Local school boards and schools
  • Brampton Public Library, Chinguacousy Branch
  • Wellfort Community Health Services (TBC)


BCN Reinvigoration & Capacity Building, Knightsbridge

This initiative involves a collective effort to reinvigorate and build capacity of the Bramalea Community Network (BCN) to support local goals and community resilience in Bramalea, including Knightsbridge.

Established in 2008, the BCN is a network of organizations that are based in or provide services and programs in Bramalea. The future of the BCN is uncertain as it faces limited local leadership, declining attendance at meetings, and low awareness amongst residents.

This initiative will support capacity building of the BCN to increase local resident involvement, leadership and agency, effectiveness at achieving its mandate, and ensure long-term sustainability.

Potential Partners:

  • TRCA (Co-lead)
  • Region of Peel
  • United Way
  • City of Brampton
  • BCN member organizations (40 members from across multiple sectors)
  • Resident Champions (broader community)


Quick Win Projects

The Growing Healthy Towers project included two quick-win projects led by local NGOs:

Healthy Recipe Sharing at Three Towers Community Garden
  • Who (Project Partners): Ecosource, TRCA, CAPREIT, Three Towers Garden Volunteer Gardeners
  • When: March to August 2023
  • Where: Three Towers Community Garden located on the CAPREIT Property, Knightsbridge, Bramalea

As part of this initiative, Ecosource compiled the recipes shared by garden volunteers into the Three Towers Community Garden Recipe Book.

Select the thumbnail image below to view and download the recipe book.

cover of Three Towers Community Garden Recipe Book


Spring into Native Plants Workshop, Rexdale
  • Who (Project Partners): TRCA, Rexdale Community Hub, North Etobicoke Residents Council
  • When: March 15, 2023, 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
  • Where: Rexdale Community Hub, Rexdale

Spring into Native Plants workshop in Rexdale


Read the Project Report Executive Summary

English   |   Francais

TRCA Growing Healthy Towers report - executive summary


Thank you to Collaborators!

This initiative represents a collective impact effort across many organizations. Resident engagement, quick start projects, and co-design of healthy built environment solutions have involved TRCA, Rexdale Community Hub, Ecosource, CAPREIT, City of Brampton, Region of Peel, City of Toronto, residents, and many other organizations.

A special thank you to the Resident Champions who volunteered their time and energy into resident engagement activities, participation in meetings, and workshops. Also, to tower owners/operators, such as CAPREIT, that provide the physical space and supportive infrastructure for community projects at the towers.

Thank you to local organizations working in Rexdale and Knightsbridge, Bramalea that have provided insights to this project, explored collaboration opportunities, and continue to make positive change in these communities.

SNAP neighbourhood residents take part in community planting event

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

Knowledge generated is intended for all public and private stakeholders that may have an influence on creating healthy built environments and supportive programming in the community.

This includes all levels of government, agencies and institutions, non-government organizations, community groups, community leaders and residents.

The Importance of Partnership Brokering

Extensive stakeholder engagement and relationship building with potential partners is required to support intersectoral collaborations.

For this project, it included building on existing relationships and networks, embracing a broad view to identifying new/non-traditional partners from a variety of sectors.

The stakeholder scan for the two neighbourhoods was extensive and included the identification of 100+ organizations or individuals in each neighbourhood, representing stakeholders from across 13-plus sectors.

The team held dozens of one-on-one meetings with new organizations learning about programs and objectives, exploring any shared interests in the tower community.

Partnership development requires significant time commitment, nurturing of ongoing relationships, and is not something that can be quickly accommodated.

Several concrete collaborations and partnerships have come out of this broad engagement and further nurtured through this project. However, further stakeholder engagement and partnership development must continue in support of the healthy built environment solutions identified.

Creative, multi-sector workshop forums have been an effective way to engage many stakeholders and offered space for cross-sector brainstorming and conceptual co-design.

They brought diverse partners together, breaking down silos, providing inspiration for creative thinking, and identifying parallels between programs, projects and policies and the social determinants of health.

At the same time, not all stakeholders attended these forums, and further one-on-one engagement was (and continues to be) required.

SNAP neighbourhood residents take part in multi-sector workshop forum

Funding for partnership brokerage is required to support the engagement described above, and the co-design process to further identify and scope integrated projects and programs.

Funding for specific projects or programs is often available or may involve existing programs, however funding to support broader stakeholder engagement and early scoping is underfunded.

Public Health Agency of Canada’s Intersectoral Action Fund is a step in the right direction; however additional investment at multiple government levels is required.


The Opportunity for Intersectoral Action

Intersectoral action is required in older tower communities to create a healthy built environment.

Based on the complexity of intersecting climate and community health priorities, review of best practices, and stakeholder engagement, there is a clear need for multi-agency collaboration.

The plethora of healthy built environment solutions identified through this project illustrates the need for action from many organizations. In their article that explores urban green space interventions, Hunter et al. provide the following:

Urban green space – and urban planning in general – cannot be seen in isolation from other local government priorities such as transport and housing. It must be framed holistically and viewed as a complex system in which the interplay between physical, economic, social and natural ecosystems affects health, behaviours and communities. The growing diversity of our towns and cities is transforming how urban green space is required and negotiated for health, wellbeing, social and environmental benefits. (2019, p. 18)1

There is interest in multi-sectoral partnerships to address the social determinants of health in these communities.

Many of the stakeholders engaged expressed interest in collaborating on these critical issues, in a targeted manner. Many organizations are already engaging in collaborative work and partnerships, but more needs to be done.

They shared the view that collaboration around tower communities provides a tremendous opportunity to make positive change by working closely with residents, building on community assets, helping address impacts associated with climate, physical environment, and community health.

Residents were also very interested in integrated, multi-objective projects that have been identified through this project.

Backbone organizations are fundamental in coordinating collaborations and local action.

As outlined above, a backbone or lead organization is needed to lead multi-stakeholder stakeholder engagement, bring stakeholders together to facilitate the co-design process, help guide the implementation planning, and support ongoing work as required.

residential tower community

1 Hunter, R. F., Cleland, C., Cleary, A., Droomers, M., Wheeler, B. W., Sinnett, D., Nieuwenhuijsen, M. J., & Braubach, M. (2019). Environmental, health, wellbeing, social and equity effects of urban green space interventions: A meta-narrative evidence synthesis. Environment International, 130, 104923.


Neighbourhood Approach

Taking a neighbourhood-scale approach provided important insights into potential partners, healthy built environment trends and opportunities.

In both case study neighbourhoods, the tower community is made up of dozens of towers, some more isolated and some in clusters.

Building on locally led initiatives and existing neighbourhood SNAP action plans in both communities, this project considered relevant trends and solutions for individual properties, between properties, and within the broader neighbourhood and community (i.e., shared programming, park improvements, pedestrian paths, and crossings, etc.).

The neighbourhood lens is critical in understanding resident experiences and engaging local organizations and stakeholders in partnerships and local solutions.

Centering the project around two case study neighbourhoods has provided the space for meaningful engagement with residents, incorporation of a range of perspectives from local to regional scale, tangible recommendations for healthy built environment solutions, and the initial co-design with community partners.

This advances community transformation work that is already underway in these neighbourhoods.


Engagement, Leadership Development & Ongoing Involvement

Engaging residents on their top-of-mind interests and experiences is a critical part of the solution.

As part of this work, top-of-mind interests included building conditions, maintenance, and affordability, food security, employment, lack of social interaction and programming, changing climate, community park and pedestrian realm improvements and accessibility, and physical and mental health awareness and amenities.

Residents and partners also recognized the positive assets present in these highly urban neighbourhoods, including proximity to shopping, transit, and local creek/river, active resident leaders, local collaborations, interest in urban agriculture, among many others.

SNAP neighbourhood residents take part in engagement session

Deep resident engagement, leadership, and ongoing involvement is critical in identifying solutions that will work in the community and build long term involvement.

Engagement approaches should be informed by/work with local networks and residents, take a multi-faceted and “go to them” approach, and ideally include hands-on demonstrations and experiences, support resident leadership, and consider barriers to participation (i.e. childcare, language, social identity, etc.).

The Resident Champion initiative undertaken by TRCA and local NGOs as part of this project was an excellent example of deep resident engagement, with a long-term view.

Resident Champions should be paid a stipend for their time and effort. Hiring residents as part of the project/program on a full-time basis would provide the greatest benefit.

Facilitation of deep engagement takes dedicated staff, ongoing effort, and resources, but results in well-supported projects with tremendous community co-benefits (i.e., social cohesion, local leadership, high civic engagement).

Funding for partnerships with local community or non-government organizations is required to successfully deliver on community engagement and programming objectives.

Local organizations are already a trusted group working in the community, understanding local interests and the best ways to communicate.

Building on existing relationships developed through the SNAPs underway in these neighbourhoods, TRCA partnered with the Rexdale Hub and Ecosource for this project.

These organizations were part of the project proposal to Public Health Agency of Canada and received funding to undertake the work, as part of an agreement with TRCA.


A Range of Solutions with Measurable Co-benefits

The range of healthy built environment solutions identified through this project illustrates the need for a variety of complementary solutions including built projects, community programs, and supportive planning and housing policy.

The range includes employment mentorship and skills training programs, park updates and pedestrian realm improvements, urban agriculture strategies, housing condition improvements, strengthened local planning tables organizations and enhanced communications between tenants and tower management.

In the true spirit of collective impact, these solutions go well beyond what one organization or sector can address. This summary is meant to act as a springboard for continued engagement and collective action in the communities.

Notwithstanding the list of high impact and quick projects identified by stakeholders for growing healthy towers, several healthy built environment solutions stood out as having notably positive impacts across many SDH.

These include:

  • Community building through open space transformation, art, and programming
  • Community resilience planning
  • Community celebrations that foster a sense of belonging and connections
  • Employment and training programs
  • Mentorship and skill development programs
  • Policies for improving worker’s rights and labour conditions
  • Food programming and sharing
  • Creating spaces to gather that are accessible, attractive, welcoming and safe

The evaluation indicators identified in this project, combined with SNAP’s socio-economic and sustainability frameworks, provide a guide to tracking impact and building support for intersectoral healthy built environment initiatives in tower communities.

Further enhanced and expanded through this project, this framework is nested within a comprehensive set of environmental and socio-economic indicators monitored as part of SNAP neighbourhood action plans currently underway.

SNAP neighbourhood residents take part in planning workshop
tower residents take part in SNAP neighbourhood event
SNAP neighbourhood residents take part in community planting event


Bringing Together Top-Down & Bottom-Up Solutions

The solutions identified through this project focus on neighbourhood-centered action. However, they need to be supported by significant policy changes at all levels of government.

Given the complex nature of social determinants of health, significant policy change is required, as well as local action within the towers and surrounding neighbourhoods.

Local solutions will make positive change on several critical fronts and are expected to have a positive impact on creating a high-quality physical built and natural environment, improved access to food, increased healthy behaviours, social inclusion, and employable skills building opportunities.

Stakeholders also indicated they are likely to have positive impacts on many additional social determinants of health as well, including income and social status, education and literacy, race and racism, culture, childhood experiences, and access to health services.

Housing affordability and standards need to be addressed on a broader scale, and consideration given to intersectoral solutions.

As outlined above, availability of affordable and good quality rental units was top of mind for many tower tenants engaged.

This project included housing-related discussions as well as healthy built environment solutions focused on the buildings and their surrounding neighbourhoods. However, it does not address the issues of affordability or building standards in an extensive manner.

Residents called for more assistance to help cover the cost of rent, and more funding to help with building improvements. Stakeholders suggested improved building standards.

Solutions to these issues should be explored among all levels of government, public and private sector housing providers and managers, housing advocates, and the tenant resident community.

Intersectoral discussions and new creative partnerships solutions should be considered as part of these ongoing conversations.


Need for Further Work & Continued Collective Action

Ongoing work is required by TRCA and other organizations to continue engagement, co-design, and advancement on the range of solutions.

The following is a quote from a Brampton Knightsbridge resident: “The work of one organization can enhance the work of another. Many ideas can be generated simply through ongoing conversation opportunities such as this meeting.”

residential tower residents celebrate the achievements realized through the SNAP growing healthy towers program


Contact Information

Got questions? Contact:

Justyna Braithwaite (Bramalea SNAP)
Project Manager, SNAP Projects


Adriana Gomez (Rexdale SNAP)
Senior Program Manager, Sustainable Neighbourhoods

(437) 880-2408

Financial contribution from Public Health Agency of Canada

Avec le financement de Agence de la sante publique du Canada