Archive for ‘Gentrification’

March 26, 2013

Crime & Difference: What I want to say to our new local Toronto Police superintendent

English: The neighbourhood of Danforth Village...

English: The neighbourhood of Danforth Village in Toronto, Canada, looking east down Milverton Boulevard at its intersection with Woodmount Avenue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Toronto crime” is the the top search term that lands people on my blog, a blog about neighbourhoods and how we live together in community. However, as Mazlow’s hierarchy of need describes and, as our new local police superintendent must know, safety is the basis of all else.

Crime, and the threat of it, is why we pack high school auditoriums and why we write worried letters-to-the-editor. Whether our reaction is to lock ourselves behind double-deadbolted doors or to set up Neighbourhood Watches, these  are the ways we seek to protect ourselves and that which we love.

Last summer I attended a nearby community meeting with the local crime prevention officer. The attendees, many of my better-off neighbours, fretted about activity in the back alleyways, apparent drug activity at some homes, and people with substance abuse problems wandering by on neighbourhood sidewalks. None of these made the neighbourhood very family-friendly, so this focus wasn’t unfounded.

This is a neighbourhood where a substantial number of its residents have had some involvement with the criminal justice system, and the local police station has shown that targeting the few “bad apples” can drive down crime. Combing through a map of incarcerated individuals from a 2009 Toronto Star investigation, I found this part of the east end ranked on par with a few of the city’s better-known priority neighbourhood areas (see More below).

My own son, like many of my friends’ sons, had been mugged. It’s almost a neighbourhood rite of passage, disrupted once when a group of young men broke with orthodoxy and confronted a local mother demanding she turn over cash. For my son, though, it ended well. Older boys intervened and one of them, recognizing the aggressors, talked them into returning the stolen money. (Honour among thieves, indeed! I loved this story, when I finally heard it, because of the two degrees of separation and the power of social networks and social norms.)

I sat listening for a while, sympathetic to these women, protective too of their broods.

But now my son, the teenager I love, has grown. He is taller than me with a bristly haircut, a loping walk, and arms he’ll flex at the merest provocation. He looks, admittedly, a bit scary to some. And, as a mixed-race kid, he doesn’t carry the skin privilege I do.

Were they talking about him? A few assured me afterwards they didn’t mean him, of course, that they knew he was a good kid. But that’s small comfort. He has already been stopped by the Police, and I know the police won’t be asking my neighbours to vouch for him.

So our crime prevention meeting abruptly became nerve-wracking. Suddenly we weren’t talking about criminal activity. We were talking about how people looked, or dressed, or ambled around the neighbourhood. We were ready to call the police when someone, muttering to themselves or holding “too much” cash, walked by our porch. This, in a former working class neighbourhood, still with a group home, a rooming house, public housing, and scattered supportive units for people with mental health challenges?

Were we talking about enforcement over community-building? To sanction over supports?

Perhaps if we are scared enough, I heard.

This is the nub of the challenge our new superintendent will face: the tensions that arise among those who are different from each other, among those who do not have an easy understanding of each other and a code of behaviour to smooth things over.

It will take a sharp mind and a good heart to negotiate these waters, but I’m sure she’s up for the job of catching criminals, of resolving local disputes, and, as they say, of knowing the difference between the two.

December 14, 2012

Research fatigue and other lessons from Toronto’s Regent Park.

“Research Park – er, I mean Regent Park…”

It was a telling slip in one resident’s lament about the degree of academic surveillance taking place in Regent Park, the low-income Toronto neighbourhood where public housing has been torn down and is being rebuilt as a mixed income community. Thousands of new condo and townhouse owners will be living alongside the original low-income tenants in the next decade.

It is a living lab, a natural social experiment that is too tempting for a city with three universities and several more within driving distance of it.

Professors, grad students and undergrad class projects have taken their toll on Regent Park residents, creating a research fatigue, just as the second and largest phase of the redevelopment at Regent Park is underway.

(See More below to see a short list of the research projects I know.)

“If another researcher knocks on my door again, I won’t be very polite when I answer it,” declared one resident.

Another long-time resident was puzzled by the attention, saying

Our neighbourhood is just like every other one. There are all kinds of people. It’s not related to income or our location. It’s just that we’re living in a fish bowl.”

However, a recent panel at University Toronto drew a packed house of academics, residents, community service providers and advocates. The interest in undeniable. Even the residents in attendance at Regent Park Research Panel: New Findings from the Field were active in the debate afterwards. The speakers, all graduate students, have spent long stretches in the community and so spoke with an authenticity generally welcomed by the audience.

Each spoke in turn on their area of study.

Ryan James, York University

Youth, Stigma, and Security in 1970s Regent Park

James, an Anthropology doctoral student with ties to the community, described a history of Childhood in Regent Park. One of the powerful points in his narrative was the vulnerability of local children and youth.

One young women explained, “Being poor almost meant that you have a target on your back for sexual predators.”

Gordon Stuckless of Maple Leaf Gardens notoriety was remembered in the community.

When the community rose up in defence of its children, a vein of  “virulent homophobia” also erupted. This died down though, James explained, when gay rights activists held counter-demonstrations protesting that homosexuality did not equal pedophilia.

Sharon Kelly, University of Toronto

Navigating the road back home: The return of Regent Park Phase I residents

The next speaker, Sharon Kelly, also a doctoral student in Anthropology, embedded herself within the project unit which managed the moves required by residents as the redevelopment occurred.

“It was a place of hope,” she explained, decorated in bright colours and with fresh flowers, where residents, assigned by random draw, pored over floor plans to choose their new units. Higher floor or lower? North, south, east or west? Early project phase or later? In Regent Park or nearby? They lingered, ranking their first, second and third choices.

However, Kelly explained the site office was also a place of distrust, where residents worried about favouritism or grew weary of delays or frustrated their choices were not available. Some of the tensions were very real. Long-time residents were upset that a random draw meant that their length of tenure was not recognized. Or families and seniors, who were not able to meet shorter moving times, sometimes lost out to others who were more nimble.

Staff were sympathetic, but argued that the lottery system ensured impartiality, especially given the difficulty of evaluating and comparing competing needs. It was emotionally draining work, Kelly explained, and staff were forced to make decisions fast in order to keep up with the construction schedule.

A swap board was created so that tenants could negotiate changes among themselves. While well-intentioned but, Kelly did not hear of any viable trades made this way. What it did offer however was a sense of control that tenants welcomed.

When asked what some of the challenges, Kelly explained the biggest issue regarding complex work of resident relocation was the deceptively simple issue of communication.  Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) was cognizant of this, she said, and, for instance, when they needed to contact residents, they knocked on doors instead of mailing letters.

The work goes on, as three more phases have to be completed.

Martine August, Planning, University of Toronto

From isolation to inclusion? Tenant experiences in Regent Park’s Phase II

The final speaker was Martine August, a doctoral student in Planning, working with Alan Walks to take a critical look at gentrification and mixed income neighbourhoods.

August began with a brief description of the development plans for Regent Park. Begun in 2002, the revitalization of the neighbourhood was set to happen in five phases through a Public Private partnership. Capital would be raised through the sale of private market, newly-built housing stock.

The first phase is now completed, and residents have returned to new homes. Once complete, only 19-20% of the housing will be Rent Geared to Income (RGI), down significantly from the original neighbourhood. While the overall number of low-income residents will stay approximately the same, as higher income people move in, their density will be decreased.

Arguments for why this is good, August explained, is that there is “presumed need to deconcentrate poor people” because they are isolated from good role models. The concentration of need, the argument goes, leads to negative outcomes; Cause and effect are being mixed, she argues. (Professor Jim Dunn’s work, see below, is also finding that the “role model” argument is based on weak evidence.)

In the public’s mind, mixed income neighbourhoods have emerged as an ideal without the supporting evidence.

At best, these arguments are offensive, August explains. At worst, it is used to justify gentrification, leading to the removal of homeless and other marginalized people. This framing re-stigmatizes poor people (in a similar way to how public housing was originally and purposefully built to be unattractive).

Discussions of renewal and mixed neighbourhoods “use the language of balance in service of exclusion,” August argues. It is an academic argument she wants to test.

To explore this further, August interviewed 32 households before they moved out (pre-phase 2) and 50 households who have moved back from phase 1.

Residents were enthusiastic about several things in Regent Park: central location, availability of services, walkablility, easy access to public transit, number of local ethnic grocery stores, parks, and places of worship.  Residents described the benefits of living downtown and the vibrancy of the neighbourhood (all themes which are part of the marketing campaign for the new condos).

Residents also described the strong social ties and community connections they had with other tenants. “This doesn’t match the story of social isolation which is told about poor neighbourhoods,” August explained. Newcomers found each other, people borrowed from each other,  kept care of each other’s children, celebrated together, were there for crisis support. Community members also were proud of their political activism, describing Regent Park as a place which hit above its weight because of the concentration of people together.

So, contrary to stereotypes, Regent Park is well-located, well-connected, well-served.

“Not that weren’t real problems,” August said. “First, being the state of repairs and maintenance of the buildings, pests, broken appliances, plaster crumbling, and poor common areas. And it’s not clear that redevelopment will improve this. Already residents are telling of problems in their units, falling glass, broken shelves, buckling floor boards. TCHC has a $6m cut to their repair budget”.

Drug activity is still reported, according to August, but the tenants tend to take the attitude that “but if you don’t bother them, then they won’t bother you.” Tenants also recognize that solving this issue is not simply a matter of getting “the bad guys out.”  Brothers and sons are swept up in the crackdown, and the problem usually just shifts to a new location.

New design and new condos haven’t stopped these old problems.

Residents also report that stigma still an issue. although many resist the stereotypes. Something as simple as clothing reinforces class divisions within the new community.

Each new condo tower has achieved higher prices than one before.

August argues that if the purpose is to solve social problems, a market driven approach may not be the best way to address the issues.

English: As part of the redevelopment of Regen...

As part of the redevelopment of Regent Park from a social housing development to mixed-income neighbourhood, four of the five apartment towers designed by Peter Dickinson are being demolished (one will be preserved for historical reasons). Constructed in 1958, the collection of Regent Park towers won a Silver Medal by the Massey Medals for Architecture in 1961. This is an image of the second tower being demolished. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However the market forces are pressing forward. The number of condos have now gone from around 3000 to 5400 without much discussion.

This will have impact on many levels, including the political presence of tenants as gentrification shifts to the local demographics to more middle-class concerns. At this point, residents associations, like RPNI (see below), represent tenants. Condo associations are also emerging. There may be opportunities to bridge among these associations.When asked, August recounted a telling story from the Don Mount (now Rivertowne) re-development across the river from Regent Park. That smaller community has also undergone a “renewal” that mixes income groups into a single housing project. Low-income tenants there report that people in market-rent housing have been really dominating community meetings, focusing on issues such as safety and policing, noise and garbage collection. Tenants feel targeted in their own neighbourhood.

When Regent Park condo owners heard about local youth being targeted by police, they organized an information session for youth, to learn their rights. This “rights-based” approach, in contrast to “keep-your-head-down” approach, highlights the very different frame of experience that middle-income and low-income people use.

The evening ended with the promise to continue the discussion, finding opportunities to bring these findings to the people of Regent Park.

“Good people live there,” one tenant said in conclusion.

July 5, 2012

“Addressing Urban Injustice: The Growing Gap and What to do about it”

On a panel Wednesday night at Innis College, academic luminaries such as UBC’s David Ley, CCPA economist Armine Yalnizyan and architect Ken Greenberg were given a few minutes each to address social and spatial segregation in cities. The speed at which they whipped through their presentations made for some Tweet-able moment. (“I’m not against mixed-income communities; it’s just how we get there,” said University of Illinois Professor Janet Smith at a session earlier in the day.)

David Ley described the process of gentrification within Vancouver and found that while the socio-spatial trends are not as sharp as in Toronto, the racialization of low-income tracts will mirrors Toronto’s own growing pattern of

segregation.

Montreal Professor Damaris Rose plunged straight to the question of why the gaps are growing. Research literature describes four causes, she explained:

  • Increased desire of high income people to live in an exclusive community. This means that spatial segregation can occur without any change in the shape of the labour market.
  • The diminished capacity of low-income people to live in non-poor areas because of factors such as discrimination or the rising costs that occur with gentrification.
  • The polarization of the labour market because of the effects of globalization

These trends matter, she explained, because the growing isolation means that affluent people may be less invested in the broader public goods. Low-income people are left in poverty either in a declining environment or, alternately, within a more affluent community. Each of these brings problems.

Netherlands Professor Maarten Van Ham, given the task of describing the situation in Europe in his allotted eight minutes, presented the strongest narrative thread, connecting inequality to ethnic segregation to social unrest. He described the rounds of riots Europe has faced, from the 2001 Bradford riots which come called the end of multiculturalism in the U.K., to the riots in the banlieus of Paris in 2005 tied to youth alienation and unemployment, to the 2011 London Riots to which commentators attributed causes such as poor parenting, the austerity measures of previous years and concentrated poverty.

Even in one of the vaunted Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, 70% of immigrant children grow up to live in the same types of disadvantaged neighbourhoods as where their parents settled. This research, Van Ham explained, has been reproduced by Patrick Sharkey at NYU looking at African-Americans.

cabrini green demolitionCity planners responses has been the creation of mixed income neighbourhoods, literally blowing up buildings and creating home ownership for middle income households. Not surprisingly, Van Ham explained, indicators of social deprivation improved. Poor people had been moved out. [This gave rise to an advocacy campaign in the United States calling for "Better Neighbourhoods, Same Neighbours."] Poor people may choose to leave, but often, they do not want to, Van Ham explained. Social networks are destroyed and their option is another poor community.

Where, then, next? he asked. The policy responses to the crises include the well-critiqued Big Society in the U.K. which ostensibly “helps citizens to help themselves,” and an emphasis on Social Innovation, an amorphous term at best.

Van Ham tried to end on a positive note, describing initiatives such as the U.K.’s Locality, which supports community-based organizations. We’re safe for the next decade he predicted as few governments will make the investment to do major urban restructuring.

Chicago-based Professor Janet Smith, in the spirit of the date July 4th, described acts of rebellion and organization which had changed Chicago’s landscape. Actively community organization at the local and city levels have been key to addressing the issues of control and control, she explained.

As discussant, Armine Yalnizyan underscored the weakness of relying on a “doing it for ourselves” model within the wider libertarian sentiments of the time in which people’s own sense of self-preservation has them fighting those with just a little more than them rather than the power-brokers who are reaping the rewards of economic growth. When knowledge is power, the fight in Quebec is much more than about a few hundred dollars of tuition, she said, and raising it is stupid.

Architect Ken Greenberg rounded off the panel discussion. Looking at spatial segregation, he quipped, urban suburbs are the “hand-me-downs” of the upper income groups, leaving them behind to those with less housing choice.

April 20, 2012

Gentrification signifiers: A story of one neighbourhood

When two grandmothers stopped on my street recently to tell me their adult children had bought a nearby house, I didn’t tell them why the young family who lived there was moving out. They had moved in with high hopes to this freshly-painted and pot-lighted house, ignoring the “as is” in the stipulations. The house had undergone a quick flip from a man who bought it after a house fire burned out the tenants who lived there. The house attached to them had also suffered fire damage, but those tenants, renting rooms, stayed on in a more deteriorated house.

And then last summer, it got bad. A man with a violent criminal history moved in — and took over. We neighbours sat on our porches and watched the drug deals and solicitation. It had happened before on the street. The normal knock-and-run behaviour of drug buyers played out on the sidewalks where kids pedaled past on their bikes, part of the ballet that Jane Jacobs described. But this time was scarier.

Physical fights became the norm, and the local men became protective, taking to long smokes on the ends of their porches. The police raided the house almost weekly through those hot months. By-law officers arrived and three days carting refuse away. The landlord, a former neighbour, was rumoured to be incapacitated, unable to intervene or maintain control. Then, too late, a woman died of an overdose. The house was padlocked and put up for sale.

I couldn’t tell this to the cheery women I met. But I recognized their story — their children had got “such a good deal”! But I did recognize this stage of gentrification – the grown children had moved eastward, having rented in Kensington Market – and had  been not able to afford a home closer to the downtown core.

When neighbourhoods shift from working class neighbourhoods to higher income ones, several signs and stages are notable.

Neighbourhood Market

Neighbourhood Market (Photo credit: omegaforest)

First arrivals were people like me, my partner and new baby. We had some family connections to the community, but while comfortable here, we were no longer working class. Higher education had boosted out prospects. But our arrival acted as a signal, that the neighbourhood was “safe.”

Others like us soon came, and the occupations of my neighbours switched from taxi drivers, mill workers, and train conductors, to book editors, teachers, and non-profit workers. Single women thronged to the neighbourhood’s small houses, and young families used the low housing prices as a launching pad until they could afford a larger place. Homes which had housed multiple children (and sometimes a couple of families) were converted to single households. Population density dropped, and racial diversity paled. As housing prices rose, residents told each other this neighbourhood was “arriving.” (One elderly neighbour, disbelieving the rising house prices, chortled to me, “Diane, we’re quarter millionaires,” as housing prices rose over $200,000 for a 12.5 feet wide lots.)

Next come the speculators. Housing flips are common in the neighbourhood now. Another couple, lured by granite counter tops and a street-front entrance, all at the price of a condo, has moved in across from us, but lawsuits have ensued as the rotted timber by the new drywall been discovered. Our neighbourhood had become a bit of a destination point.

As a critical mass of newcomers builds, another sign emerges: residents’ associations. Their focus is often on remnant parts of the neighbourhood: ‘common’ concerns such as traffic flow, garbage, run-down properties (like the ones up above), and most often the desire to “clean up” the neighbourhood. Every couple of years, these small citizen efforts have emerged. GECO (eerily echoing Michael “Greed is Good” Douglas’ character in Wall Street) is the most recent incarnation, springing out of some of the sentiments expressed in the comments section of BlogTO’s recent article, What ails Little India?.

One of GECO’s members explained to me she thought it was important to have “more diversity” in the neighbourhood commercial strip, that there are “too many sari shops.” Toronto Life described this more diplomatically as “new businesses…revitalizing a dreary stretch of empty storefronts, noodle houses, laundro­mats and hair salons.” Others explain they hope for a Starbucks or “nice” set of restaurants like nearby (upper-income) neighbourhoods have. After all, they say to me, they have paid a lot of money for their homes and they want the neighbourhood to look good. A neighbourhood blog cooed “A few more cool shops on gerrard (sic) and even the Queen Street hipsters will allow us Northerners to be part of Leslieville.” Academics have described this as commercial gentrification. In fact, some have described how Toronto’s “ethnic neighbourhoods” can act as a branding mechanism, in the same way artists do, attracting others and driving up housing prices. It’s a familiar process to those who know Little Italy or Greektown, where many of the original ethnic stores are closing and residents have moved on.

But tolerance for social difference is limited. Another long-time resident, one of the original working-class residents who’d watched these changes with more good humour than me, reported one of new neighbours were discomfited to learn a gay (!) couple lived next door. So he explained to the new couple that good people lived up and down our street. But the revanchist sentiment has grown.

The final stage of gentrification is when the higher income folk arrive, when the place has been made “clean” and “safe.” Cleanliness is defined by such amenities as granite rocks and Japanese maples in the front garden and new windows adorning the home. Safety is not the definition of old, of neighbours knowing when a new neighbourhood child has gotten a tooth or who can be depended upon to hold a spare key for nearby neighbours. Safety is more about beaming spotlights and alarm codes. This final stage concentrates wealth to the point that some researchers call it super-gentrification.

More and more of the neighbourhoods in the old City of Toronto are undergoing this transition. Affordable housing stock is disappearing. The latest move by Toronto Community Housing to sell off single family units means the touted of ideal of mixed-income neighbourhoods will be further away. New developments aggravate the problem, filled with homes all in the same high price range, inclusive zoning not yet a practice. Driven by individual choice, we are losing a common good.

As income inequality is carved into our housing structures, our neighbourhoods suffer. Those who work in neighbourhood shops, filling our coffee orders, or the education assistant in our children’s grade school, won’t live in our neighbourhood, won’t be our neighbours. Our children won’t know difference. This is not Toronto, our motto “Diversity, our strength.”

September 23, 2010

The "right" to choose your neighbours becomes an election issue

Just as the Annual YIMBY (Yes In My BackYard) festival is being organized for October 16 at the Drake hotel, Nimbyism is being re-visited in the Beach municipal election. Both events seem to be about having policy-makers listen to residents, but the difference lies in the inclusive lense that is used. Debates about what occur in a community often spill over into who will live in a neighbourhood, whether they be students or those living with life challenges.

A friend in the Beach tells the story of a church building which moved through three different applications to convert to affordable housing, each time being denied because those living nearby raised concerns about the proposed new mothers, or seniors or other populations who were to be sited there. The current controversy, about a new building opening on Gerrard at Woodbine, has convinced me to attend tonight’s All Candidate meeting as a case study of the tension between service-providers, policy-makers and local residents.

The HomeComing Community Choice Coalition circulated the following letter:

Thursday evening, September 23, there is an all candidates meeting in Ward 32 (Beaches) and one candidate is calling on voters to come use their voices based on their “right to be angry about the location of supportive housing at 1908 Gerrard Street East”. (at Woodbine)

In November 2007, neighbours heard that a private developer intended to build an apartment building on the site – and planned to rent the apartments to people living with mental illness under an agreement with Houselink Community Homes.  The development was zoned for the intended use, so there was no need for public consultation.  A number of area residents spoke against the development at the Affordable Housing Committee meeting dealing with the funding for the development.  As a result, City staff were directed to host a public open house with the local community in consultation with the office of the local Councillor Sandra Bussin.

At the public open house a number of concerns were voiced, many of which were related to the approval process and lack of consultation.  Other concerns were related to the people intended to live in the development:

  • that the area was overly represented with social housing
  • the impact of the housing on the community in terms of safety and security
  • whether there would be sufficient support provided to the tenants
  • the perceived lack of support services in the area

Confronted by a number of angry residents, Councillor Bussin stood her ground and defended both the process and the right of people to live in communities of their choice.  At the subsequent Council meeting to approve funding for the project, Councillor Bussin expressed her shame at the behaviour of her constituents.  Almost all of the Councillors present also rose to speak in support of funding for the project and to denounce those who would exclude people from the community based on a disability.

Now almost three years later, the building is ready for occupancy.  Graffiti calling Councillor Bussin a traitor was painted on hoardings at the building a year ago and recently similar graffiti attacking Bussin has been painted on the building itself.

Finally, within the past few days, a leaflet has appeared apparently from Martin Gladstone, a candidate for City Councillor, calling the process flawed and accusing Councillor Bussin of working against her constituents and shutting them down (attached).

While HomeComing Community Choice Coalition does not endorse any candidate for public office, we are concerned that this Councillor is being targeted for standing up for the rights of people to live in communities of their choice.  We have often affirmed that people do not have to ask the permission of their neighbours to live in a community and the neighbours do not have a right to be informed or consulted before new housing is built, if the only issue is the disability of the people who live there.

We will be at the meeting Thursday evening and hope that others will be there as well to say thank you to Councillor Sandra Bussin for standing up in the face of angry residents to say to the new Houselink tenants: “Yes in My Back Yard!”

HomeComing Community Choice Coalition

“We promote the rights of people with mental
illness to live in the neighbourhood of their choice.”

Postscript: So when the issue came to the floor tonight, Sandra Bussin’s hecklers called out, “It’s the process! Process!”  They knew, at least, it would not have looked well to be seen as picking on people living with mental illness.

September 6, 2010

NIMBY – hear the middle-class roar

They came with their hairy dogs, determined looks on their faces and helmeted children scootering ahead of the adults holding picket signs. The people of the Beach and Birchcliffe had come to protect the Quarry.

A former dump, at one point, the Quarry is roughly 50 undeveloped acres southeast of the Main subway station. Environmentalists sing the praises of the wildlife. However, the area was zoned in the 1960s for highrise development, and the developers are exercising their legal rights. So, the community was out to defend it.

I happened on the protest by chance, with a friend. We had to stop. The banners said “Save our neighbourhood” and “1960s planning is bad planning.”

The proposed 7 twenty-story buildings would provide 1,455 units of housing, at a density 7 times what the surrounding area is now with its detached, single-family homes.

“Affordable housing!” I whooped. No one took up the call.

It’s hard to know what to think about these kind of events.

People were rising to the defense of the community, but against whom? The developer. Yes, probably. The newcomers (interlopers) – new renters or condo buyers.  Perhaps some of them.

It was easy to see what we were against, but what were we fighting for? About every person here probably has a different reason, my wiser friend explained.

It reminded me of other protests I’ve seen. The outrage against the possible arrival of big box store in South Riverdale pitched local residents against each other, often split along ethnic and income lines. The Salvation Army and Seaton House faced fierce community meetings when they moved to house homeless men in other neighbourhoods, even if only temporarily such as on Pape Avenue. (The Sally Ann, bless its soul, has a webpage on the topic of NIMBY-ism.)

These debates too often deteriorate into a debate about who is moving in, or they erupt, under a more politically correct guise, such as “Social services should not be concentrated here. We have our fair share already.”

Another recent example close to home was the call from near-by residents to have Felstead park’s playground equipment upgraded – something already on the schedule, but not soon enough for their liking. They too used the blind that as a mixed income neighbourhood, they had been ignored to the benefit of richer neighbourhoods near-by. However, as a gentrifying neighbourhood, the press was on.

Or more recently, neighbours to the south of here, feeling protective of their “own,” confronted members of a church congregation for bringing their faith to the streets, unfortunately by a fire hydrant where a gay couple live. This well-meaning crowd ended up as a “Was my face red…” front-page story in the Toronto Star.

Within the past year, another of my neighbours closed down his family restaurant when he heard an apartment building next door to him was being built to provide supportive housing to people with mental health problems. More plain in his prejudices, he refused to stay near “crazy” people.

Examples from other parts of the city include the conversion of the “Entertainment District” to a residential area and almost any neighbourhood where condos have been built close to a slaughterhouse or other industrial area. If the City of Toronto mapped out where building orders occur, they are in concentrated in the areas with higher and mixed-incomes – the gentrified and the gentrifying areas of the city.

What under lies all these is fear. People don’t want to lose what they have. When people (re-)act from a fearful place, any larger vision gets lost.

But the reality that the neighbourhoods with the highest complaints are not the places with the most problems, but rather places with the most privilege. These are the neighbourhoods where the “sharp elbows of the middle class” claim the resources seen to be due to them.

Flawed as the Priority Neighbourhood Areas were, what they did do effectively was to re-focus resources away from the noisiest, squeakiest parts of the city, to areas that hadn’t had any attention for a very long time. This leveling of the playing field probably led to some of the strongest critiques of the mayor, David Miller, that he had let things slide in the areas where, frankly, people are more likely to vote.

Instead, the Strong Neighbourhood strategy has evened some things out. The new Community Partnership Strategy is also building an evidence base so that neighbourhood comparisons can be done more accurately.

These strategies show we are a more generous city than these other NIMBY stories tell about us. When given a chance, we can dream of a common good.

But, until we Torontonians see our backyard as the entire city, inequality will continue to split neighbourhoods, into “good” and “bad’ places to live, into places where we fight each other.

July 14, 2010

Racialized poverty & academic performance: A tentative exploration of the latent effects of social capital on educational achievement

The power of a strong research report is the way it changes our civil discourse. In Toronto, Poverty by Postal Code, the Strong Neighbourhoods Taskforce Report, MISWAA, and University of Toronto/St. Christopher House research reports on neighbourhood change have all played a robust part in recent public policy discussions. Such reports re-frame the way we think about our city and each other.

So, when the TDSB’s Inner City Advisory Committee (ICAC) asked the board’s research staff to do a comparative analysis tracking students’ academic achievement patterns against the Neighbourhood Change CURA’s “Three Cities” report, it seemed like a good idea. The Three Cities report had splashed over the front pages of our daily newspapers and underscored the growing inequality and geographic separations within our city. ICAC expected the results would provide further insight into schools in low-income neighbourhoods.

On first analysis, however, the results were disappointing.

Several measures of educational achievement were tested, including:

  • EQAO Grade 3 Math scores
  • EQAO Grade 6 Math scores
  • Grade 9 science results
  • Grade 9-10 Academic program
  • Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT)
  • Access to Ontario post-secondary institute

Yet, the correlation between the “Three Cities” and students’ academic performance was weak — likely for two reasons: first, the Neighbourhood Change/Three Cities analysis used average incomes in its comparisons of neighbourhoods, a known, weaker predictor of academic performance; and, secondly, almost half of the TDSB’s highest-need schools are actually located outside the areas identified as the “third city” or lowest-income areas.

Nevertheless, the school board’s researcher charged with the task, Dr. Rob Brown, persevered in his analysis.

The “three cities,” described by Dr. Hulchanski et. al., break down into further categories. For instance, high income areas are comprised of Elite neighbourhoods which were rich and have remained rich and Gentrifying neighbourhoods which have become high-income in recent decades.

Poor areas of the city break out into four main areas:

  • Youngest suburbs (Lower density, homeowners, larger families, white-collar jobs, high visible minority population, higher Chinese population)
  • Older suburbs (Lower density, more seniors, lower education levels, higher White population)
  • Renters (Immigrant reception areas, highest density, apartment towers, high levels of education, low incomes, more South Asian)
  • Lowest incomes (Highrise rental and social housing, low incomes, lower education, manual labour jobs, higher Black population, more single parents)

So, when Brown looked to see whether academic achievement tracked with these categories, the patterns were more interesting. What he found gives new insight into some of the debates at the school board around race and poverty.

Predictably, the highest performing students were almost consistently the students who lived in the Elite neighbourhoods. However, in two instances they were beaten, in Grade 3 Math and Grade 9 Science — both times by students, in the “third city,” from the Youngest Suburbs. In fact, in all but two of the measures, students in the Youngest Suburbs also out-performed the Gentrifying group of students in “city one”: Taking academic program in Grade 9-10, and the OSSLT.

University admissions tracked a similar path. 53% of Elite students confirmed attendance at an Ontario university, followed by 49% of students in the Youngest Suburbs. These two groups were also the most likely to have applied to post-secondary education. Students in every other neighbourhood type lagged behind in the 33% – 36% range, except for high school students in the Lowest-income neighbourhoods, where only 25% confirmed university attendance (and where 57% did not apply to any level of higher education).

In comparison, students from the other parts of the “third city,” Older Suburbs and Renters, were often within a few percentage points of each other and approaching, or occasionally surpassing, the performance of middle-income students in “city two.” The lowest academic performers were the Lowest Income, except in the case of Grade 3 math, where they beat the Gentrifying neighbourhoods.

So, the analysis shows that while income, or the lack there-of, can be an important predictor of students’ academic performance, it is not a determinant. While Brown himself doesn’t speculate, the interesting part of this work is to imagine what protective factors might be helping some low-income students to compete.

A perfunctory analysis might note that the distinguishing factors between the different “cities” are the racial and ethnic compositions of them. Buttressing the weight of this is the first release of the TDSB’s Student Census which made headlines when it was published because of the analysis which how students of various ethno-cultural backgrounds were performing in school. But that initial report stopped there at these correlations, ipso facto, not looking to control other factors, such as poverty, lone parent status, low education levels and other risk factors found in each of these neighbourhoods.

I would argue a deeper, more nuanced picture emerges from Brown’s ICAC study, one which outlines the structuralist nature of educational achievement. Because the neighbourhood categories were more homogenous, it was possible to examine some of the complex interplays of income and race and, more importantly, the social capital students were able to access.

Within the context of the City of Toronto, these factors play out along a racial dimension, in other places, they may play out along other lines of identity, of accent or class or another form of “othering.” We need to think though the root cause of the barriers. For instance, racism, rather than race, per se, may be a barrier, but so is limited access to social and economic capital or access to strong, supportive social networks. Race, ethnicity and culture are the shorthand for a much more complex picture, which encapsulates access to resources and opportunities, individual and systemic racism, community expectations and a wide range of other social determinants.

So, for instance, students in the Youngest Suburbs were part of a cultural heritage that holds scholarship in esteem, where white-collar jobs were more common, and where family structures were wider. In contrast, students in the Lowest Income neighbourhoods were more likely to live in low-quality (rental, crowded) housing, with poorer job prospects, fewer family supports, and fewer role models who had attended higher education. Students in the Youngest Suburbs and the Renters have also more likely been exposed to a second language, which can improve learning.

These apparent racial divisions are the evidence of deeper divides within the city. They represent the unequal division and distribution of resources among us. These racial divides allow the easy concentration of resources within family, kinship, and friendship networks, encasing the economic and social capital that families and neighbourhoods bring to bear on its own young. The result is that those with the fewest resources are least likely to apply to university, whereas those who still have a strong sense of aspiration, positive supports, and role models are more likely to have better outcomes.

This peer effect is underscored by the work of David Harding at the University of Michigan. He found that “disadvantaged neighborhoods exhibit greater heterogeneity in college goals and that adolescents in more heterogeneous neighborhoods are more likely to change educational goals over time and are less likely to act in concert.” Essentially, more kids in richer neighbourhoods attend university because they are expected to do so.

What Brown’s research underscores is that poverty is about more than income. It’s about the inoculative supports which many lack.

February 5, 2010

Majora Carter on "greening the ghetto" and gentrification

Majora Carter came to attention of many on TEDtalks. Explaining her connection to her community, she provided a strong voice about reclaiming the Bronx.

Last spring, she made a splash here in Toronto, making the rounds of City Hall, university circuit, and the media. People came to hear how she and her neighbours rebuilt their community so that their environments were healthier and the local economy supported the aspirations of those who lived in these low-income communities of colour.

This week, Travis Smiley interviewed Carter in a radio bit called Greening Harlem.

Like Jane Jacobs, another New Yorker before her, Carter calls for gentrification and the creation of mixed-income neighbourhoods. The riches change the neighbourhoods where she lives and works. It’s an unidealized perspective on a tough issue in urban neighbourhoods.

Explaining the importance of environmentalism and connection to the land in an urban environment, Carter explained straighforwardly, “If you drink…if you eat food, if you walk and breathe, you are an environmentalist.”

If you haven’t heard this Black woman speak, seen what’s she’s done, take a moment.

November 1, 2009

Mixed picture on mixed income: Moving in on poor neighbourhoods

Early one morning this week, I drove a neighbour (and, of course, friend) to a downtown hospital for a medical test.

We were distracted from the quiet between us by the car radio. CBC’s Metro Morning was broadcasting from Regent Park, the downtown neighbourhood with a scope of need that is almost double any other part of the city. We zoomed right through it, along Shuter Street.

Metro Morning was exploring the community’s revitalization. The first stage was underway, and 1 Cole Place, the new condominiums, were opening. The morning’s interviews demonstrated the deep history and vitality of the neighbourhood and, also, the new interest that has been sparked in the community.

As I drove back home alone, I decided to stop the car and go watch the broadcast from Nelson Mandela Park school.

Host Andy Barrie was the efforts to create a mixed income neighbourhood in Regent Park. He was interviewing a young University of Toronto doctoral student and Trudeau scholarship winner, Martine August, and long-time resident and community organizer, Sandra Costain, about the impact of the looming arrival of higher income residents (and their homes).

It was a sobering interview, one which just whet my appetite. August cited studies from her literature review, and Costain concurred from experience, but they both painted a gloomy picture:

  • People segregate themselves according to their separate identities. In 14 studies August looked at, interactions between higher-income newcomers and lower-income residents show that interactions don’t occur.
  • Very often when people of higher incomes do move into a poorer neighbourhood and exercise their political muscle, it’s to push social services, which low income people need, out.
  • Community programs which were universal, free to local (low-income) residents begin to require documentation of need, fees introduced, and stigma grows.

What was left unsaid in the short interview is what might mitigate these colonizing forces.

For instance, in his work in school, Clyde Hertzman found that children from poor families did better when in a mixed income school. He attributed that to the “sharp elbows of the middle class,” which act to protect a full range of services.  By extension then, those who buy homes in a poor area need to see further than their property values, but to a common good.

Discussing this electronically with Brian Eng at the Wellesley Institute afterwards, he said that this tendency of mixed income neighbourhoods to push out poor people further underscores the importance of community development.

Eng gave the example of the co-ops around the St. Lawrence Market as a good example of a mixed income community that works. In fact, commentators on CBC’s website, gave the example of the Woodsworth Coop, in the same area, that has monthly business meetings to discuss community business, shared common task (such as cleaning) and regular celebrations with food.

Where opportunities for interactions are created and fostered, stronger communities emerge, a place with, as one American social justice organization called for Better Neighbourhoods, Same Neighbours.

October 23, 2009

"Are there limits to gentrification? Evidence from Vancouver"

Gentrification is fifty years old this year, UBC professor and Canada Research Chair in Geography David Ley explained to a University of Toronto audience earlier this week. Or at least the word “gentrification” is.

Although attributed to sociologist Ruth Glass first in 1964, the term can be found in an unpublished paper of hers five years earlier. Glass’ definition still holds up well, Ley explained. Gentrification is the movement of middle income households into lower income or working-class neighbourhoods.

Ley was speaking a Cities Centre hosted lecture entitled “Are there limits to gentrification? Evidence from Vancouver.” Reflecting back on the decades of work he has done on Vancouver neighbourhoods, Ley made the following points, some new, some old.

Shifts in the housing and labour markets are linked

While the labour marker and the housing market have been “commonly partitioned in academia,” they are coupled.

Citing the historical shifts in Cabbagetown, Ley read off a list of occupations from the 1960s and then a few decades afterwards. Physicians replaced Punch Press Operators. Teachers replaced transit workers. Higher income occupations replaced working class occupations. (It’s similar to the process I have described in my own neighbourhood in an earlier post.)

“Clearly a social change was going on,” said Ley.

The growth in the managerial and professional class occurred at the same time as the closure of factories were disappearing from Canada’s 5 largest metropolitan areas.  Almost as an aside, Ley pointed out the unrecognized role good quality public sector jobs has played in generating this shift. [One can’t help thinking how this links to Richard Florida’s idea of the creative classes.)

So, as the labour market shifted, the housing markets were likely to follow.

Industrial transition is the meta-narrative in the story of gentrification.

Gentrification plays out differently in different places because of the varied conditions. Urban areas with a stronger industrial base, such as Winnipeg and Windsor, will be less likely to face gentrification than post-industrial cities, such as Toronto. During the 1970s and 80s, for example, Toronto gained 60,000 of these higher status jobs while 75,000 jobs were lost in other parts of the economy.

The movement of artists predicts gentrification

The presence of artists other “pre-professionals” (with a lot of cultural capital, but little economic capital) signals a neighbourhoods in transition.

Ley described artists as modern magicians, transforming the material world of disinvested neighbourhoods, creating cachet.  Young professionals, eager to pick up such cultural capital, soon follow, driving prices up. So artists are continually shunted along out of the secure neighbourhoods into other working class, and often non-English -speaking, ones.

“So where they were in 1971, they are gone. And where they weren’t, they are in 1991,” Ley said. “Their concentration leads to their own elimination.”

The middle class then begins to move in, once terra incognito is proven. In Toronto, we saw movement along Bloor Street as this occurred. In Vancouver, the growth was along Main Street.

So what kinds of neighbourhoods has gentrification favoured?

Ley’s study of Vancouver neighbourhoods since the 1970s found these patterns:

  1. Gentrification typically occurs in areas adjacent to other high status areas.
  2. It also typically occurs close to environmental amenities, such as waterfronts and parks, where Ley remarked wryly, physiques can be admired.
  3. Gentrification occurs overwhelmingly in areas which are Anglo-Canadian (British stock).
  4. Gentrification occurs in areas where rents are above average.

This is the founding pattern. Ley said wryly that he missed the opportunity in the 970s to become a millionaire when he had the predictive model to see where gentrification would spread. Instead, Ley said, he had only the deep moral satisfaction that he had had the insight, if not the wit, to invest.

“However, once the market is ‘proven,’ a much more eclectic, experimental phase follows,” Ley explained, “and areas likely to gentrify become much harder to predict.”

Some neighbourhoods resist gentrification

People have been talking about the imminent gentrification of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Grandview Woodland for 35 years, Ley explained. It has many heritage buildings, walkable, close to water and some tree-lined streets, all indicators in the earlier model of a place ripe for gentrification. And yet, they remain, some of the poorest census tracts in Canada.

Attempts at gentrification are regularly made by hopeful arrivals. Condo marketers have played off this grittiness, advertising, “Be bold or move to the suburbs.” But, as one local business owner said to Ley, “these people just wash through.”

So how have these neighbourhoods resisted persistent attempts to move them upscale?

Ley’s short answer: A complex local sense of place which is unfriendly to gentrification

Ley’s longer answer:

  • Proximate to an industrial waterfront, where one nearby resident said the rendering plant had made him a vegetarian.
  • A challenging street scene that creates unpredictable encounters in public space.
  • Local politics are highly tolerant of existing diversity and hostile to capitalism in general. For instance, when Starbucks opened on Commercial Drive, their windows were smashed repeatedly.

Neighbourhoods “in decline” are where poor people are housed, yet, Ley cautioned later, governments need to be cautious about intervening there, as improvements may lead to displacements.

Gentrifiers can triumph through persistent incrementalism

“There is clear evidence gentrifiers are trying to change their externalities,” Ley said as he flipped a transparency onto the overhead.

The graph showed the number of complaints about the smell emanating from the local rendering plant. A wave of complaints in the 1990s lead to  changes. Then, in 2005, the complaints sky-rocketed, doubling, even when additional changes were made.

Ley flipped another transparency onto the overhead: An excerpt from the Globe & Mail’s real estate section, Done Deal. A five bedroom house with a two bedroom rental unit in Grandview Woodland.

  • 1996 – Selling price, $277,000
  • 2001 – Selling price, $428,000
  • 2006 – Selling price $920,000
  • 2009 – Asked $899,000; Selling price – $1,015,000

It is one of the dichotomies of the private market, Ley explained, later in answer to a question from the audience. “The bottom line is if we have a free-market in land, than those with the most money will outbid others and hold the land.”

Recognizing the right to the city for poor people

The Downtown Eastside has held gentrification at bay, mainly, Ley says because 40% of housing in the neighbourhoods is non-market. The City has sustained affordable housing units, and neighbourhood residents and organizations have a “poor people’s turf” legitimate.

The local ethos is preservation, public investment and revitalization without displacement. It is a grudging recognition of a right to the city for poor people.

Government regulation and policy is central

In the past century, Ley explains, neo-liberal policies have encouraged the spread of gentrification and the displacement of poor people because of the lack of investments it has made in affordable housing. Escalating levels of public debt will work against the revival of a welfare state that will create new housing.

The current push for sustainable housing and improved “eco-densities” will further aggravate the problem of affordable housing and further prime the inequality that is running the poor out of Canadian cities, Ley explained.

Although newer developments purport to improve densities, building taller buildings, the units are large and use more expensive materials, leaving those with low incomes displaced form the areas being “renewed.” Indeed these taller buildings often have fewer people in them then low-rises they replaced.

Gentrification cannot be benign

Strictly speaking, if higher-end housing units are built as infill or on brownfield, displacement of the poor is not an issue.

However, Ley explained in response to an audience question, the argument shifts then to the effects beyond the building unit itself, such as whether other middle income households are then drawn to the area. Housing co-ops, for instance, have been argued to prime neighbourhoods for gentrification. One social housing service provider explained to Ley that they want their housing to be “gritty” so that it doesn’t generate these external effects.

Finally, approached afterwards on the topic of mixed neighbourhoods, Ley explained that social mixing is usually just a transitional stage, on the way to complete gentrification.

The audience would have stayed longer to flesh out the lecture further, but another class arrived, this time to face an exam.

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