“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.

“Are there limits to gentrification? Evidence from Vancouver”, 2009 blog post on David Ley

Mixed picture on mixed income: Moving in on poor neighbourhoods, 2009 blog post

Maarten Van Ham on Twitter

Armine Yalnizyan on Twitter

Neighbourhood Change and Building Inclusive Communities from within, Community University Research Alliance program

An Audio Recortding and PDFs of the presenters’ papers will be available at Neighbourhood Change.

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