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.

A white resident’s dilemma: gentrification or segregation?

“Are there limits to gentrification? Evidence from Vancouver”

 

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