Community Hubs

What is a “Community Hub”? The term is being used in different ways, in different places. From the British “Pub is the Hub”, to schools, neighborhoods, and neighborhood plazas, they are all steps toward the creation of more livable communities. The only way we can make our cities and communities more healthy, livable, creative (and economically viable) is to throw out the single-function zoning precepts, and overlap functions. bringing diverse people and agendas together.

Pub is the Hub

Britain has created an innovative program to bring together rural community members in the “Pub is the Hub” program. The local pub has traditionally been the heart of every village. This program encourages pub owners, licensees, local authorities and community members to work together to provide much needed services such as a post office or grocery store within village pubs. The program has allowed for the creation of successful public/private partnerships, and strengthens a rural community development program. Their 2011 report concluded that “Pub is The Hub schemes are effective in building sustainable communities, supporting health and well-being, contributing to environmental priorities and encouraging a prosperous local economy”.

Schools as Community Hubs

In Toledo, United Way announced earlier this year a Schools as Community Hubs initiative in partnership with Toledo Public Schools, the Toledo Federation of Teachers and the Toledo Association of Administrative Personnel. The entire neighborhood will benefit outside of normal schools hours with out-of-school activities, adult education, medical, mental health and dental services, social services and economic development. In this way, the multi-functional school helps knit together kids, their families, and their neighbors.

Roy Strickland, Director of Urban Design at University of Michigan is one of the original proponents of the idea. He advocates integrating planning and design of schools and communities and transforming schools into multi-functional resources. Projects across the country demonstrate that “urban schools can break from the traditional model of the self-enclosed building and integrate themselves with their surroundings, providing both students and communities new opportunities for learning, recreation and socialization.” He also believes the integration should work two ways, transforming the city into a place for learning.

Following a symposium on Schools as Community Hubs, the Toronto District School Board created the Model Schools for Inner City Initiative to utilize K-12 schools as multi-functional “Community Hubs” that serve everyone. Under resourced neighborhoods receive priority with day care, health care, and housing services. Ontario Ministry of Education developed a similar program, which opens up school space to other agencies during the summer months and after school.

Edmonton Catholic Schools followed with a three year “Schools as Community Hubs” project, coordinated by the Edmonton Council for Safe Communities, with support from the City. They see the school as a place that provides support and community connection during out of school time, evenings and weekends for at risk youth, children and families.

Service centers as Community Hubs

The United Way of Toronto, Canada is constructing what they call “Community Hubs” in low-income suburban neighborhoods that lack social services. These buildings will include basic health care centers, social services, vending space for local craftsmen and other important necessities, as defined by the community. United Way is putting around $1 million dollars into each project and the greater Toronto community is supplying $150,000 to maintain operating costs. Eight community hubs have been developed thus far and five more are in the planning stages.

Neighborhood Axes as Community Hubs

The City of Portland is working towards ensuring that each neighborhood in the city becomes a “Twenty Minute Neighborhood” with a “Community Hub” at its center. The “Hub” should be a vibrant center of community life providing services residents need every day, transit, shopping, quality food, school, parks and social activities, within a convenient, safe and pedestrian-oriented neighborhood.

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability involved extensive community participation to conduct a primary analysis of existing communities, identifying key areas that have the greatest number of development barriers where redevelopment is most needed. Even though no finalized draft has been released yet, the newest master plan of the city of Portland emphasizes the need for well-planned community design. “Community design is important because the design of buildings, streets and other public spaces make a difference in whether or not your community is walkable, children have safe places to play, neighbors and friends have places to congregate and businesses are easily accessible.” (Portland Plan Draft)

Neighborhood Plaza as Community Hub

IMCL emphasizes that a Community Hub is the focal point of the community, a place that brings together all ethnic, income and age groups, and enhances social cohesion and civic engagement. To be fully inclusive and open to all it therefore needs to be a public place, a neighborhood plaza, square, or section of a main street where residents of all ages come together for diverse reasons, to shop, meet friends, for neighborhood festivals, markets, and special events – a place where children have the opportunity to become integrated into community life.

The Community Hub may serve a community of 10-15,000 people within a 20 minute walking radius. Clustered around the Hub in a compact, mixed-use urban fabric are all the services, shops, schools, restaurants, and businesses needed on a daily basis. To facilitate access, the neighborhood’s main street and adjacent streets must be pedestrian and transit oriented and bike-friendly.

The Community Hub is the "Heart" of the neighborhood, a vibrant place for everyone to gather, a place where people necessarily do gather because that is where they need to go for so many reasons, and they linger there, meet friends, and make new friends because it is a beautiful, inviting place for all.