Archive for September, 2009

September 30, 2009

Right to the City

This flyer came across my desk (well my computer) for an upcoming seminar. Cities Centres at the University of Toronto, The Wellesley Institute and Rooftops Canada are bringing Ana Sugranyes, the General Secretary of Habitat International Coalition to speak on the topic: Right to the City! Lessons from Chile’s social housing experience. An estimable guest, to be sure, but a bit of a dry topic — unless one is one of those dedicated souls who maintains a keen interest in diverse worldly affairs.

But one of the phrases popped out at me: Right to the city.

It’s been chortling around in leftist circles for a little while, spreading across equator and creeping north now into the United States and Vancouver. Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman has profiled the topic. Right to the City chapters have erupted throughout U.S. cities, on three coast. Vancouverites have united under the same rallying call in their anti-Olympics advocacy.

The concept of Right to the city holds that, as inhabitants of the same urban space, we are all equal participants. The movement has become a way to capture the wide range of interests (of women, low-income people, immigrants, people of colour and all other diversities under one banner. It frames how we live together in these urban spaces.

Right to the city has been more eloquently described:

The question of what kind of city of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanisation. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.
David Harvey, The Right to the City

The Wellesley Institute has a notable record of identifying and acting on issues ahead of the curve, as examples their work on community-based research, social determinants of health, housing and inclusive zoning. Cities Centres and Rooftops are also no slouches.

So, if they’re bringing Right to the City to Toronto, it’s probably time to pay attention.

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September 24, 2009

Crime hotspots across Toronto neighbourhoods

(October 29, 2012 Update: CBC release of police crime data by type and neighbourhood)

Today, Stats Can released a hot product: a report on crime in Toronto.  Even though we are one of the safer metropolitan areas on the continent, Neighbourhood Characteristics and the Distribution of Police-reported Crime in the City of Toronto is sure to draw some attention.

Produced by Mathieu Charron at the Canadian Centre for Crime Statistics, the report looks at the location of reported crimes and the characteristics of the neighbourhoods in which they occurred.

The data, drawn from Statistic Canada’s Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR)  “reflect reported crime that has been substantiated by police.” 106,175 incidents were clustered and mapped across the city.

The reports differentiates between violent crime and property crime, finding different correlations. The pattern shows that low-income and nearby neighbourhoods are more likely to suffer spillover effects.

Dividing crimes into violent and property ones, the report found:

  • Neighbourhoods with higher violent crime rates tend to have less access to resources. Education level of residents was one of the best predictors of such access.These neighbourhoods also tended to be “densely populated and have a higher percentage of residents living in multi-unit dwellings” (the tall towers which are the focus of the Mayor’s renewal efforts.) These neighbourhoods are also more likely to have more children, more single-parent families, more renters, and more people of colour.
  • Property crime (theft, break & enter) is concentrated around shopping centres, both large and small, in commercial districts, and in neighbourhoods around these places. Areas with high levels of education or a high portion of manufacturing and office jobs were less likely to report property crime.

Criminologists recognize the spatial patterns of crime. Crime comes in hot spots around the city. Mapping out various criminal activities, the report’s spatial crime patterns follow the same deprivation “U” which marks less privileged areas of the city. Densely populated cores, transportation and shopping hubs, which all draw large numbers of people, tended to report higher crime rates.

The report does not rank or rate specific neighbourhoods, however it did describe “some hot spots…Danforth, downtown east side, and the intersections of Lawrence and Morningside, Jane and Finch, and Jane and Eglinton.”

Here, for those who like the gory details, is what I could see on the maps. The highest levels of crime clustered in the following places:

  • Breaking & Entering: Downsview, Bridle Path, Lawrence Park,Don Mills
  • Drug offense: Jane-Finch, York, Dufferin Grove, Parkdale, New Toronto/Mimico, Trinity-Bellwoods, Regent Park, Greenwood- Woodbine, Crescent Town, Birchcliff, Cliffcrest, Scarborough Village, Kingston-Gallow, Woburn.
  • Major Assault: Jane-Finch, Jane-401, York, Downtown west & east, Lawrence-Kingston Road.
  • Minor Assault: Rexdale, Jane-FinchDownsview, Jane-401, Dufferin-Bloor, Parkdale, Don River-Gerrard, Danforth, Kingston Road, Woburn, Malvern
  • Mischief:  Riverdale, Cabbage Town, York, Morningside/Highland Creek.
  • Motor Vehicle Theft: Etobicoke, Scarborough (where car ownership rates are higher)
  • Robbery: Rexdale, Jane-Finch, Jane-Sheperd, York, Danforth, Woburn
  • Sexual Assault: Rexdale, Jane-Finch, Jane-401, High Park, Bloor-Danforth, Kingston Road
  • Theft: Dispersed along waterfront and main roads
  • Theft from Motor Vehicle: Pearson Airport, Willowdale, High Park, Downtown (west & east), Riverdale, University of Toronto, Scarborough

In contrast, the city’s financial district and the north end of Yonge Street were identified as areas with lower rates of violence. In essence, the central neighbourhoods of the city are higher-income and safer areas, while neighbourhoods with poor physical infrastructure and social resources were more likely to have higher levels of police involvement.

So, the final word probably best belongs to Canadian housing activist Michael Shapcott who wryly noted in his Twitter feed about the study, “Plenty of crime in rich, white neighbourhoods (fraud, tax cheating, ‘white collar’), it just doesn’t get policed/reported.”

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September 24, 2009

Happy Blogday, Belonging Community!

A year ago, I started this blog with the classic rookie mistake of naming my blog differently than the URL. Despite my zeal outweighing my wisdom, I knew that interesting ideas were worth sharing and that others might be interested in some of the same issues I am.

The blog began as an exploration of the idea of how we live together in urban communities and the structures and institutions within them that shape our lives.

Author Dionne Brand once described Toronto as “a city that has never happened before.” It’s a favourite quote of mine and what I set out to explore in each post.

Since then I’ve published 58 posts (and drafted another 30). Readership has built to an average 18 hits a day and a total of 3,600 through the year.

The top ten most popular posts have been:

Title Views
Toronto swimming pools: Class in session 220 More stats
The TDSB’s Learning Opportunity Index 193 More stats
Ethnic enclaves in Toronto, 2001 – 2006 119 More stats
Toronto Police Services Board ordered to 103 More stats
A white resident’s dilemma: gentrificati 98 More stats
Crime and social cohesion in Toronto nei 95 More stats
Roots of Violence report 91 More stats
Ontario School Information Finder 89 More stats
2006 Toronto demographics 88 More stats
Mapping tools add new dimensions to soci 78 More stats

I’ve had a lot of fun sharing what I have learned, whether at community meetings, the release of new research reports, or thoughts “from my front porch.” (And I have stayed up way too late!)

Thanks for a good year!

September 12, 2009

Defining race (and racism) in the TDSB Learning Opportunity Index

The Learning Opportunities Index (LOI) is one of the Toronto District School Board’s key tools for directing resources to the neediest students in the system. Therefore, it’s vital that the index measure deprivation accurately and reliably.

The newly modified LOI dropped less predictive measures of student performance, such as average income, housing type, and immigration status and now includes variables which are better able to measure poverty. Of the new variables, the most powerful are “families on social assistance” and families in the bottom income quartile (as measured by the LIM).

Trustees bite the bullet

So, even though some schools shifted down the ranking and would now potentially lose resources, Trustees (or most of them) bit the bullet and voted to adopt the new instrument.

Still there were some misgivings.

For instance, in terms of external challenges, critical race scholars in the U.S.A. have shown race and poverty have separate effects on student achievement. That, even when income and other demographic characteristics are controlled for, students of different racial identities perform differently within the American school system. This finding has been used, reasonably, as the basis for the creation of Africentric and other race-based schools.

When the new LOI removed the variable of immigration status — often conflated with race in the Canadian context —, the TDSB faced the problem that race, in any form, had been excised. The LOI faced the critique it had been homogenized, to the detriment of its mission of accurately measuring external challenges, and to the detriment, especially, of black students.

So the Board asked the LOI review committee (of which I am a member) to also examine how and whether race should be included in the LOI.

A question for policy wonks or for research geeks

Given the range of views on the question, perhaps the task is really better suited for politicians and policy wonks than for statisticians and research geeks.

However, the review committee has begun its review. We will look at the broader literature, and we will test the utility and strength of any new race-based variable within the Toronto context.

A problem of definition

The first problem has been trying to figure out how to approach the problem.

For instance, producing an accurate description of the term”race” is tricky because race is a social, rather than a biological construction. Its definition and boundaries are blurry and ever–changing. Statistics Canada doesn’t even use the term, but instead says “visible minority” — a bare truth in Toronto — for anyone who has a heritage other than white.

Yet, within the Toronto context, when we compare the performance of “visible minority” students against that of their white peers, there are only subtle differences, sometimes in favour of students of colour. “Visible minority” status alone is not correlated to students’ academic performance. And, that’s a relief. In fact, it’s as it should be.

However, others remind us, we know there are differences between some racial groups.

So we have to explore the term further. Some advocates have been quite clear, we need to stop skirting the issue and name the problem of academic underachievement as one of Black and Aboriginal students, and a few other historically–disadvantaged groups. If we are prepared to do that, academic interventions can be better targetted.

Reliable school–level data

So, if this is the next step, to look at particular racial groups, can we get reliable school-level data? (School–level data is needed to calculate the LOI so that each school can be accurately assessed and ranked in comparison to the others.)

The school board census is the obvious answer. Among its many questions, the TDSB’s student/parent census asked respondents to identify their racial background. However, this won’t work for the LOI.

While useful at a system– or even ward–level, the census data won’t allow reliable comparisons at the school level. For example, some schools had a high non-response rate (students wrote in “Martian” as their answer to the question of their racial background, and various classes never even did the census). The census also happened long enough ago that it no longer supplies a current picture of the Board’s students.

Ranking and weighting races

Ethnic origin might be another usable category from Statistics Canada data, and one which may give more subtlety to the analysis.

Board research has shown that groups of students born in various parts of the world perform differently. Should we parse, weight and rank the value of my children’s English⁄Celtic heritage against their Chinese heritage? (As the discussion unfolds, one can’t help but feel like the evolutionary psychologist University of Western Ontario professor, Philippe Rushton wading into the world of measuring head size to explain intelligence.)

What are we trying to measure? And where does ethnicity blend into culture or language?

And, in the end, does the Board have the stomach to rank one ethnic group against another in the allocation of scarce resources?

Fixed identities

This exercise is different from research which shows different outcomes for students who have already gone through the education system. In this exercise, we are saying that because a student comes from a specific racial background, a priori,  we will award additional resources. We are pre-judging their performance.

The awkwardness of this is that a student’s racial background is different from all the other measures currently used within the LOI because race is fixed. All the other measures, such as parental marital status, education level, and income, can be changed, even re-mediated through social policy and individual effort.

Measuring racism rather than race

Perhaps then, more accurately, this quest to measure the impact of race should be more fittingly seen as a quest to measure racism. We should be measuring the disadvantage which led to the poor environment which created the external challenge some students face. Those who argue for reparations would argue for such.

So, then, the questions becomes, how to measure this.

Use a geographic lens

There is no general “measure of racism” which we can easily access to measure how Toronto students are doing in school. So this is where geography can help. We may well be looking for a measure of concentrated disadvantage or a measure of a neighbourhood peer effect.

Racism creates the inequitable conditions whereby students of colour are more likely live in poor neighbourhoods with low levels of education, fractured families, and little access to good jobs — all variables now included in the LOI and which make it a strong measure of external challenge.

Neighbourhoods may well be the key driver in a student’s performance. And it’s a premise which has some credence.

In 2005, Robert Sampson at Harvard (one of my favourite researchers), investigated the connection between race and violence; he found that the main differences between different racial groups’ levels of violence were explained by demographics and neighbourhood conditions. He recommended that interventions which “improved neighbourhood conditions and support families” would be the most effective way to reduce violence.

Sampson also found that neighbourhood distress was inversely related to the number of workers in professional occupations and the proportion of married parents. Higher levels of recent immigrants also had a dampening effect on violence. Tom Carter, at the University of Winnipeg, has cited research supporting similar conclusions in his studies on the inner city.

In effect, what looked like racial differences were actually problems rooted in poverty and deprivation.

Furthermore, an American study found that while racial segregation has been declining, educational segregation has increased. So neighbourhoods are more divided along, arguably, class lines than racial ones. (I don’t know of a similar study in a Canadian urban centre.)

More to thresh out

In the end, what seemed like an easy question may have a complex answer.

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September 11, 2009

Homeless students

It must be September. The headlines are filled with stories about school and students.

On the Labour Day week-end, both the New York Times and the Toronto Star must have thought they would keep with the economic temper of the times and published front page stories about homeless students.

Although children in shelters are perennial, research on the topic in Canada is sparse. Social Planning Toronto produced one of the only Canadian research studies on the topic. The report, Lost in the Shuffle, made concrete recommendations for school boards, schools, shelters and parents. Published in 2007, its findings still stand a read.

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