Research Summary #2
December 6, 2001

City of Kitchener and the Social Planning Council

Kitchener is located in south central Ontario, the largest of three cities in the Region of Waterloo with a population of 178,420 (1996 Census). A twin to the City of Waterloo with a combined population of 256,370, Kitchener has a German heritage that is still prominent in both culture and language. Kitchener, however, has a proportionately greater concentration of social needs and social services than other municipalities in the Region. It has a lower average income, more new Canadians, lower education levels, higher unemployment, and more single parent families than the City of Waterloo or the Region as a whole. Kitchener is also a high settlement area for newcomers to Canada.

In general, Kitchener has more community facilities and social services located within its boundaries than its municipal neighbours. However, most of these services view their mandates as Kitchener-Waterloo or region-wide rather than as specific to the Kitchener community alone.

The Social Planning Council of Kitchener-Waterloo (SPCKW) was incorporated in 1967 as a community based research, planning, and development organization to anticipate and respond to community and social needs in Kitchener-Waterloo and the surrounding area. Over the years, the Social Planning Council assisted with the creation of a range of current community programs, many of which are now independent agencies. Funding cuts and restructuring since the mid-1990s has led the SPCKW to focus on a range of information for referral, planning, and community development purposes.

In 1998, strategic planning resulted in a revised SPCKW mission to link services and people for the well being of the community through research and data management, community information, and community building activities. Work has been done to strengthen the partnership base, build technical capacity and also strengthn core funding for the organization. SPCKW has established that community participation is an essential element of its mission and sees this social capital research informs that purpose.

Kitchener Season of Celebration and Festival of Neighbourhoods

Since 1994, local communities in Kitchener have registered neighbourhood events conducted during the spring-summer in order to get recognition for local volunteer action and to qualify for an annual draw for a $10,000 local capital improvement project from the City of Kitchener. The recognition of local events from street parties to community environment days is considered a Season of Celebration. The draw is made each September at a Festival of Neighbourhhoods celebration held at City Hall, where local event organizers and participants are encouraged to celebrate community spirit with an afternoon of festivities.

The Season/Festival was inspired by a group of community leaders in 1994, who felt it was time to celebrate the everyday and the ordinary in neighbourhoods and the spirit of community that existed in so many parts of Kitchener but was not clearly recognized. Although the current SPCKW Executive Director was one of the founding leaders of the Season/Festival (before she came to the SPCKW), the SPCKW is only one community supporter for the Season/Festival and has no particular lead role in it. The SPCKW is interested in understanding the social capital dimensions of the Season/Festival, however, in order to determine what its future role might be in it and what other ways that it may help the people of Kitchener capitalize on the strong community spirit that exists at the neighbourhood level.

Research Process

The research for this case study was conducted from late June through August 2001. Documentation on the Season/Festival over its seven year history was reviewed. A lifeline analysis was conducted with some of the present and previous community leadership for the Season/Festival. A participant interview instrument was designed and 26 interviews with key informants on the Season/Festival were conducted personally or by telephone with the aid of a student researcher during July-August. The student research assistant, under the guidance of the researcher, analyzed some of the historical information available on the Season/Festival (e.g. registration records of local communities since 1994 in the Season and Festival Day participation).

The Participant “Bonding” Survey and Social Network Index Survey first used in the Halton Food for Thought case study and was adapted appropriately for use with local participants in the Season/Festival. The student research assistant administered the Participant “Bonding” Survey to 41 community participants (all local Kitchener residents). A session was arranged in one of the neighbourhoods for the researcher to work with local residents to complete and submit the Social Network Index Survey. In addition, the researcher visited several communities where local events were being organized and also attended the Festival of Neighbourhoods Day on September 30, 2001. He participated in the event as one of three judges for the Community Spirit Award, which involved interviewing about twenty local organizers about their registered neighbourhood event.

Lifeline Analysis: Community Capacity-Building Process

A “lifeline analysis” of the Kitchener Season of Celebration and Festival of Neighbourhoods identified four main phases in the development of the Season/Festival since 1994.

Pre-Festival Development, 1992-93

In the early 1990s, there was growing concern in Kitchener with the deterioration of the downtown area physically, economically and socially. Several visioning conferences were conducted in 1991 and 1993 that fostered a commitment to revitalizing the downtown (e.g. addressing a crack cocaine drug problem, issues of street safety and upgrading the physical environment, encouraging local business development). Downtown neighbourhood associations, which the SPCKW had been influential in initiating in the 1970s, were active in these processes and began an informal network that met regularly for a number of years.

Origin and Initiation of the Festival, 1994

A small number of people involved in and connected to the issue of downtown revitalization with roots in several neighbourhood associations came together in February 1994 to discuss another approach to revitalizing their City. The idea for a “season” and “festival day” emerged from these discussions — to encourage people to take leadership in their neighbourhoods. It was recognized that many local events were already being organized in neighbourhoods, especially during the spring-summer seasons. Encouraging more to do so, and publicly recognizing the whole experience with an annual festival in the fall seemed to be a simple but direct way to build connections among both people and neigbourhoods. The effort would be citizen-driven but require City support and cooperation.

In June 1994, a steering committee of local citizen leaders appealed to City Council for its sponsorship of a “Season of Celebration” and a “Festival of Neighbourhoods”. City administrative support was sought to promote recognition of neighbourhood-based events from June through September by registering them. Participating neighbourhoods would qualify for a draw on Festival Day for a capital grant from the City. The grant-winning community would plan together with City officials for a local capital project or improvement amounting up to $10,000. City Council approved the proposal and the allocation of $150,000 over ten years, including $10,000 for an annual capital grant as well as $5,000 annually to the Organizing Committee for planning the Season and Festival activities.

Festival Development and Growth, 1994-98

Although organizing the Season/Festival got off to a late start in 1994, eighteen neighbourhoods registered their local events with the City (e.g. picnics, street parties and barbeques, Canada Day celebrations, etc.) and participated in the Festival. The Festival drew between 300 and 500 Kitchener residents down to the civic square festivities. With some additional leadership in 1995, especially a new group called K-W Good Neighbours Council, participation increased to 30 registered local events and the involvement of an estimated 20,000 local residents in the events. Twenty-three neighbourhoods participated the Festival Day, although overall resident participation was estimated at about the same level as the preceding year (300-500).

Participation peaked in 1996 in both the local activities of the Season of Celebration (44 registered neighbourhoods and 30,000 participants) and the Festival of Neighbourhoods.

Other notable developments during this period of the Festival’s growth as an annual event were:

The annual capital grant proved to be both rewarding and challenging. Neighbourhood award winners and City officials had to work out a planning process for determining the use the capital grant, which had not been done before. Many community members and City officials had not worked together in such a collaborative way before. To increase the recognition given to the neighbourhood events, a Good Neighbours package was put together by the Good Neighbours Council with thank you material for all volunteers who had worked in neighbourhood events.

In 1998, a plaque was obtained to record the grant winners and their projects for eventual display in City Hall. In addition, two awards were introduced – one for Artistic Merit of the floats and one for Community Spirit displayed in the neighbourhood events. In 2000, the SPCKW began sponsoring the Community Spirit Award. Although the annual Festival was highly valued, responsibility for the organization and coordination always fell to the same limited group of local volunteers. Burn-out was a growing concern, especially as these leaders began to assume other priorities in their personal and professional lives.

Festival Evaluation and Restructuring Initiatives, 1999-2001

Given concerns about ongoing leadership and organization of the Festival, an evaluation of the Festival was done in 1999. Organizing and participating in the neighbourhood events were rated very positively by survey respondents. The draw for the capital grant was also very highly valued. Despite expressed frustrations with the burdens of organization, responsibilities falling to the same small group of leaders, and the difficulty of getting greater participation, the general conclusion was that the community remained committed to the vision of the Festival of Neighbourhoods. There was a growing concern that all the organizing participants are committed to the Festival and its purposes, but there is not a clear sense of shared ownership in making it all happen.

There are also other issues emerging in the larger environment in this period. Municipal restructuring, regionalization, and amalgamation are seen as threats to maintaining a sense of the local neighbourhood and community in Kitchener.

Applying the Community Capacity-Building Process Framework

The SPNO has developed a Community-Capacity Building Process framework for the analysis of its case studies that follows the following sequence:

Assessment of capacity — determination of the potential for capacity development and viability of community initiatives.

Project capacity — ability to develop a leadership group to undertake the community initiative.

Partnership capacity — ability to extend or expand the community initiative by increasing participation of organizational partners to sponsor, lead, or resource the development.

Sustainability — ability for the initiative to continue through the commitment of the ongoing support of community, system, and/or institutional processes and structures.

Applying this framework to the development of the Kitchener Season of Celebration and Festival of Neighbourhoods using the information garnered from the lifeline analysis shows a process inspired by local volunteer leadership and energy but stalled because of the lack of resources and organizational base out of which to do the annual planning and organizing.

The Season and Festival were inspired by a small group of local citizens who convinced the City to make a ten year commitment of very limited resources for organizing costs, plus the annual capital improvement prize.

The founding leadership group gave impetus to the idea in its growth years from 1994-98, building local neighbourhood participation and community interest.

Attempts to create a more constant organizational structure or to formalize organizational partnership for the annual planning and conduct of the Season/Festival have not proved successful.

In terms of sustainability, the existing strong community and organizational support for the annual Festival would need to become vested in some shared organizational ownership for the event rather than resting with a committed group of volunteer individuals that still depends heavily on several of the original founding leaders.

Analysis: Social Capital Measures

A Participant “Bonding” Survey was designed for the social capital research in Kitchener in order to measure the social capital evident in or associated with the Season/Festival. Forty-one (41) local residents in four different neighbourhoods completed the survey.

Measuring Sense of Community Membership

Almost 90% of the responses of these residents were positive and strongly positive to six questions about the sense of community membership they experienced from participating in the local even. The respondents felt especially strongly that the neighbourhood event:

  • Contributed to building community spirit;
  • Created a sense of responsibility to the whole neighbourhood; and,
  • Had a very clear purpose.

There was still strongly positive but slightly less certainty among some respondents about:

  • The equality of participation in the local event,
  • The interest among people about what others have to say, and,
  • Knowing neighbours better because of the local event.

When the response from the four neighbourhoods is compared on the sense of community membership, one downtown community that has experienced some tensions in recent years shows slightly weaker than the three suburban communities, especially on the measures about participation as equals and community interest in what others have to say.

Measuring a Sense of Reciprocity and Caring

Over 90% of the response was positive and very positive to four questions that measure the strength of reciprocal and caring relationships associated with the local event. This indicates a strong sense of closeness within the neighbourhoods and recognition of mutual benefit from participation in the local event. All four communities show strongly on this measure, although the downtown community is slightly less strong again than the others.

Measuring Social Network Strength in One Community

The respondents from an older suburban neighbourhood, completed a second questionnaire (Social Network Index, SNI) that inquires about the relationships among people in the local event. Twelve respondents (seven men and five women, ranging from 18 years old to 81) identified a total of 130 relationships that they associated with the local event. The annual event was a street party that had been held in the neighbourhood for the last seven years. Twenty-three of these relationships were formed through involvement in the event, which indicates that the annual local event does help people in this local community to get acquainted with new neighbours.

Half of the 130 relationships involved socializing other than in the local event itself, showing a tightly knit local neighbourhood. This is further reflected in the high “trust” levels reported by respondents, identifying 40% of the relationships as people to whom they would trust a “personal secret.” There is, though, a bit more reserve about “sharing private or personal feelings” in these relationships (25%).

For the five people who identified 23 new relationships made through the local event there is less socializing or sharing of personal and private feelings. Still though, the “personal trust” measure is almost the same for this sub-group of relationships as for the whole community, suggesting a very strong community culture in this regard.

The full Kitchener case study reports the above findings in detail using tabular and graphic formats.

Analysis: Connecting and Linking Strategies

The SPNO also wishes to learn from its case study research about what connecting and linking strategies are used and under what conditions they are employed to facilitate the formation of social capital.

Specifically, this research is searching for examples and learning related to the following three strategies of social capital formation as discussed in the literature: bonding strategies that build trust and cooperation among individuals and groups within communities. Bridging strategies that break down barriers across groups and communities and enable collaborative action on shared objectives. Scaling-up strategies that connect communities in collective action for policy and systems level social change and development.


The Participant “Bonding” Survey and Social Network Index data reported earlier in the analysis of social capital measures suggest that strong bonding occurs at the local neighbourhood level among the local groups that participate in the Season/Festival.

Key informants to this research indicated that the primary benefit of the Season/Festival activity was at the neighbourhood level, among local participants interacting with each other. This is consistent with previous participant evaluations of the Season/Festival. One interesting feature of the Season/Festival is its “consciousness raising” on the issue of neighbourhood and “neighbourliness”. Residents who participate in the festival have been asked to think about what makes a “good neighbour” and to nominate local people whom they believe reflect “good neighbour” characteristics.


The Festival of Neighbourhoods was designed to recognize local neighbourhood activity and to connect this local activity and the people involved with each other through an annual celebration at City Hall. The level of participation of local neighbourhoods and local people in the Festival suggests some success in at least creating the opportunity for bridging.

About two-thirds of the local neighbourhood events registered annually since 1995 have been new (i.e. not registered in the previous year). Ninety-eight different local communities account for the 221 total registered events over the seven-year history of the Season of Celebration up to the year 2000. Two-thirds of these local events (63) registered only once during this period.

A core of 15 to 20 neighbourhood groups participates in the Season/Festival regularly and new neighbourhoods register every year. This shows the Season/Festival’s continuing interest and appeal across communities in Kitchener. If retention and stronger cross-community connections are issues, the base for more intentional bridging strategies has been set in the first seven years of the Season/Festival.

There is a good mix of formal organizational and informal neighbourhood sponsorship of local events. The split is about 50-50, showing that the Season/Festival accommodates and appeals to local people even if they are not formally organized in order to participate.

Between 80% and 90% of registered neighbourhoods participated in Festival Day from 1995 through 2000, with the exception of 1998 (73%). Except for two years, about a third or more of these neighbourhoods were new neighbourhoods at the Festival, indicating that it does create the opportunity for cross-neighbourhood connections annually at the City Hall celebration.

Key informants interviewed for this research held mixed views on the Festival’s bridging function. Most acknowledge that the primary benefits of the Season/Festival seem to occur at the local neighbourhood level, with secondary benefits on Festival Day. Most indicated that a major reason for participation in the Festival is the chance to win the $10,000 capital grant for a local improvement.

Respondents to an evaluation in 1999 and the key informants for this study share the view that the Festival of Neighbourhoods has a great deal of “community building capacity” that has not yet been realized. Realizing this capacity requires more resources, a broader leadership group to relieve the few who have carried it to date, and organizational or infrastructure support for planning and conducting the annual Festival event.


Among key informants, especially those involved in an organizing capacity, there is awareness that the Festival of Neighbourhoods in particular connects local communities to the larger City of Kitchener by:

  • humanizing the City to local residents,
  • helping the City to get a better appreciation for local neighbourhoods and vice versa, 
  • recognizing and respecting the role of volunteers in City life, and,
  • showing the City that communities have ideas and know what kind of local improvements are needed (via planning for use of the capital grant).

Key informants feel that the Festival has helped produce some greater flexibility in the way that various City departments work with local people.

Although the Festival has served to demystify City Hall and City processes somewhat for community people, there was not a strong feeling at all among key informants that the Festival has contributed to a larger “civic consciousness” and sense of citizen identification with the City of Kitchener, which was one of its expressed purposes.

All seven local capital improvement projects serve as material evidence at the local level of the Festival and all are highly valued by residents in the neighbourhoods in which they are located. Significantly, in terms of larger impact, one of the local improvements is actually a portable skateboard park that one local community used its capital grant to create for use on a scheduled basis in communities throughout the City.

Further “scaling-up” potential would seem to depend on stronger cross-community bridging and shaping a civic consciousness in the larger public mind about the connection between vibrant active neighbourhoods and the overall quality of life of residents in the City of Kitchener.

Organizational and Practice Perspectives for Social Planning

SPCKW has been connected to the Season of Celebration and Festival of Neighbourhoods over the years, but not as the principal organizational sponsor. Yet, when asked which organizations were primarily responsible for organizing the Festival of Neighbourhoods, SPCKW was identified by several key informants interviewed for this study, probably because its current Executive Director is one the four original founders of the Season/Festival.

SPCKW sees this case study research on the social capital aspects of the Season/Festival and the potential for the further development of social capital as helpful to the determination of its own future role in the Season/Festival.

Community Capacity-Building Framework

Although seven years old, the Season/Festival initiative seems to be stalled between the Project and Partnership stages of community capacity-building. Certain members of the founding community leadership group for the initiative remain perceived as the key inspirational leaders. Community “ownership” for the annual Season/Festival remains unclear.

The strategic choices for the SPCKW are:

To assume an “official” community leadership role in the organization and coordination of the Season/Festival and becoming a lead partner with the City to continue and to improve this initiative (the City might be expected to contribute additional resource support as part of its partnership contribution)

To coordinate and provide infrastructure support to a broad-based community leadership group that would take the lead responsibility for the initiative (e.g. a joint project of the neighbourhood associations in Kitchener-Waterloo that have started to meet together since 1999, since neighbourhood association sponsored events constitute the core participating communities in the Season/Festival).

To continue to provide facilitative support to the Steering Committee as one of a number of community partners but not assume any additional leadership on the Season/Festival.

Measuring the Social Capital Formation Potential:

The social capital research in this report indicates that:

  • Kitchener has many community-spirited residents with strong bonds to the neighbours in their own local communities, 
  • Many neighbourhood groups have become more aware through the Season/Festival of the activities and community spirit of other neighbourhoods in Kitchener, and,
  • Strong cross-community connections or a larger civic consciousness have not yet emerged from the Season/Festival, but the potential for such developments is recognized by many community leaders.

A strong stock of social capital exists at the neighbourhood level in Kitchener. Given this knowledge and with respect to its own program,

SPCKW is in a position to decide:

  • whether this base of social capital has potential for development into a resource for addressing other cross-community or citywide issues;
  • whether certain neighbourhoods might recognize a shared interest in addressing specific issues of common concern with SPCKW’s support for which their existing social capital stock could be mobilized; and, 
  • whether the Festival of Neighbourhoods, as it is or as it may be redesigned, has the potential to help local communities make stronger connections on issues of shared and/or civic concern.

Connecting and Linking Strategies:

The social capital research on this particular initiative (Season/Festival) suggests that bridging strategies would seem to be the major opportunity for further social capital development in Kitchener. The SPCKW’s decisions about its future relationship to the Season/Festival should probably consider its capacity and preparedness to design and implement bridging strategies (cross-community relationship-building).

December 6, 2001