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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Although attributed to sociologist Ruth Glass first in 1964, the term can be found in an unpublished paper of hers five years earlier.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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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 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.

read more »

July 18, 2009

Mapping jail and university admissions

The results are in from the stellar Toronto Star team again. This week-end, they released two sets of maps, in many ways the obverse of each other:

The latter map is the result of a court order, as described in a previous post and a strong contribution to  the argument for place-based interventions. Our thanks to them.

The maps looking at university admissions also support the work being done by the Toronto District School Board’s researchers who have mapped university applications and other academic indicators by neighbourhood.

These unsettling maps lay how applicants to one of the most prestigious universities in Canada live in different worlds than the the places where people are being jailed. Opportunities are literally mapped out.

The co-incidental (?) and simultaneous release of maps is evocative of the statistic that, in many American inner cities, there are more young men in jail than in college or university.

I’ll look at more of the details in these maps in another post.

June 5, 2009

Crime and social cohesion in Toronto neighbourhoods

Neighbourhood social cohesion has gotten some recent media attention in Toronto.

Presenting recently at 2009 Canadian Association of Geographers, Ryerson professor Sarah Thompson caught the attention of the National Post.

Co-author with Professor Rosemary Gartner, they have been able to map out “The spatial distribution of homicide in Toronto’s neighborhoods, 1988 – 2003” and to do some preliminary analysis on the difference between high homicide and low homicide neighbourhoods.

“Measures of neighborhood-level socio-economic disadvantage and the proportion of residents who were young males were the most consistent correlates of neighbourhood-level homicide counts,” according to their research.

At this point, more analysis is needed, however speculation on other reasons for the differences includes the level of community services available locally and the social cohesion in the neighbourhood.  It’s an exciting start.

United Ways Toronto and Peel are also bringing some attention to the issue of social cohesion. They’ve invited Garland Yates, a Senior Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to speak at their Annual General Meetings. He has been working with the United Way Toronto’s resident engagement project, Action for Neighbourhood Change, for the past three years.

CBC Metro Morning’s Andy Barrie interviewed him this week while he was in town. (The man does not mind getting up early when he travels, three mornings in a row.)

When pushed by Barry to move past the platitudes of “facilitating” and “enabling” and to explain what could be done to strengthen social networks, Yates rose to the challenge, explaining the messy and unorganized ways that social networks function and social cohesion builds:

“First of all…social networks are pretty organic…I remember when growing up my mother and others would do things for each other, like each other’s hair.

“I don’t think it is necessarily about creating [social networks], and we have to be careful, as well, not to overprofessionalize them.

“Where there are natural tendencies of people to relate and interact with each other…that relate to welfare and improvement of the neighbourhood, we ought to just encourage them.

“A kind of simplistic way of putting it is, is that if we have resources we should invest those resources in activities that get people to interact and not necessarily in a program structure.”

CBC Metro Morning, June 3, 2009

Upon reflection, the implications of both these presentations call for further exploration of the role of community agencies in the strengthening of neighbourhoods. Community service agencies formalize the supports that used to have to be provided by social networks, yet, in our complex, densely-populated communities, neither can replace the other.

And speaking of the The National Post, it’s doing some great Toronto-focused profiles of the city:

  • A series since the beginning of May, Peter Kuitenbrouwer’s Walk Across Toronto has focused on the wide range of neighbourhoods outside the downtown (and predictable, as he terms it) city core.
  • A weekly series called Toronto, A to Z, profiling interesting corners of the city. They are up to the letter M now.
  • 95 (and counting) separate profiles entitled My Toronto by “famous” sons and daughters of the city.

read more »

May 31, 2009

Key factors associated with youth delinquency

A Statistics Canada analysis this spring looked at factors associated with delinquent activity among immigrant youth in Canada. Ostensibly, the report was comparing newcomer and Canadian-born youth, but what it found was more about the importance of family and friends.

The report on property-related and violent activities relied on self-reports from the 2006 International Youth Survey.

Youth were asked if they had participated in a series of risky behaviours in the previous 12 months:

  • Property delinquency was measured as youth who had damaged something on purpose (including bus shelter, window or seat), stolen a bicycle or vehicle, stolen from a store, burglary and arson
  • Violent delinquency was measured whether a youth had snatched a purse or bag, carried a weapon, threatened someone with harm, participated in a fight intentionally.

Here’s what the report found:

Rates of both property and violent delinquency vary by generational status within Canada. Native-born youth reported the highest rates of property-related delinquency, while youth who had immigrated to Canada after the age of 5 reported the lowest rates. However, factors other than generational status were found to account for differences across generational groups in rates of property-related and violent delinquency.

Having delinquent peers has the strongest effect on all youth in terms of explaining rates of self-reported delinquency. The odds of reporting property delinquency were more than three and a half times higher for youth who had delinquent peers than for those who did not. Youth who reported having peers involved in delinquent activities were almost three times more likely, as those without, to report violent delinquency.

Relationships with family also play an important role. Youth who reported a good relationship with their mother were less likely to report violent delinquency.

Youth who spent the majority of their time with friends were also more likely to report property  and/or violent delinquency. Youth who were isolated from family or friends reported higher levels of property delinquency.

If youth reporting being a victim, they also were more likely to be involved in delinquent behaviour. Those who had experienced a theft were more likely to report property-related delinquency. They were also more likely, along with those who reported having been hit violently, to report violent delinquent acts.

Finally, schools play a role as well. Youth who aspired to university were less likely to report either type of property or violent activities while youth who skipped school were more likely to do so. Youth who felt that their school was ‘unsafe’ were also more likely to report having committed acts of violent delinquency.

In sum, protective factors for youth included aspirations for university and spending time with family and/or close relationship with mothers. (Recent immigrants were most likely to enjoy these conditions, and therefore were least likely to be involved in delinquent behaviours. Stereotypes, be damned!)

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May 3, 2009

Urban neighbourhoods: The long view

Urban neighbourhoods characterized by poverty, rapid residential turnover, and dilapidated housing suffer disproportionately high rates of infant mortality, crime, mental illness, LBW, TB, physical abuse, and other factors detrimental to children’s well-being (Shaw & Mackay, 1942).

March 16, 2009

A New Community Crisis Response Model: Changing the impulse for fight-or-flight towards tend-n-befriend

Everyone knows about the impulse, when cornered, to fight or flight. However a UCLA psychoneuroimmunological research team has developed a theory which says that some of us, mainly women, react to stress with a response they call “tend and befriend.” That is our first impulse is to protect the vulnerable and then to gather with others in protective and supportive clusters until the danger has passed. The research team, headed by Dr. Shelley Taylor, has tied this to levels of oxytocin and other hormones which effect our response.

When we feel threatened, rather than retreating into our homes, and locking the doors (or moving straight out of the neighbourhood), instead, we can gather together and build community amongst ourselves.  These more pro-social actions, linking ourselves to each other, are a positive and, according to Taylor and her colleagues, natural response to threat.

The power of this idea lies in how it can be applied to community development and the provision of an alternate model for community organizers in their response to crime, fear and disorder in a neighbourhood. Their work should turn to strengthening of the social ties between neighbourhood residents.

Taylor’s theory underscores Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earl’s ideas on collective efficacy: the ability and belief  of a community to bring about positive change. But more about their ideas another day.

March 10, 2009

Five reasons why mixed neighbourhoods are important

Mixed neighbourhoods matter. Without them:

  1. Neighbourhoods become increasingly segregated in multiple ways: income, education, race.
  2. Some neighbourhoods and residents then live in concentrated disadvantage.
  3. Neighbourhoods with less resources have lower levels of resiliency and are less able to weather negative changes.
  4. Negative effects are felt more strongly by less mobile residents, those that are more vulnerable: seniors, children / parents, low-income, and  recent immigrants.
  5. Social problems which cluster together multiply, creating “hot spots” of social disorder, which then, in turn, spill into other neighbourhoods.

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March 5, 2009

Are hospital visitors targeted for parking violations, or are we just negligent roadhogs?

My parents go to the hospital so frequently that the last time I escorted them, they carefully coached me in how to avoid getting a parking ticket. It’s energy well-spent, given the frequency with which parking tickets are handed out around hospitals from York region, to Ottawa, from Newfoundland to Australia.

Whether you are visiting, attending a doctor’s appointment, or rushing there for an emergency, parking tickets are a common part of the hospital experience, along with high parking fees, shortages of spots, and meters which expire in short intervals.

A recent piece in the Toronto Star highlighted how frequently hospitals visitors are stung by the green hornets here in Toronto. The streets around hospital made up half of the top ten sites for parking tickets in 2007. The Ottawa Citizen found similar patterns in their examination of the issue in 2007. The Vancouver Sun also found the same, to a lesser degree.

It’s the sort of thing that drives people crazy, filling Bulletin Boards and other blogs (see here for a hilarious list of the ten worst parking tickets ever issued).

Some places in the world are trying to find a solution. Scotland now offers free parking at most of its hospitals, and Wales is considering the same, while recognizing the complexity of such an endeavor, and wondering how to discourage “freeloaders” without setting up another expensive bureaucratic layer.

Some argue, perhaps fairly, that if you own a car, you need to take responsibility for it. Residents who live near hospitals have to put up with slackers on a daily basis. It must grow tiresome.

However, hospitals are one of the likeliest places in the city where some administrative discretion should be used. People attending hospitals are often ill, or escorting those who are, and they have little control over the sorts of delays they may face once inside.

I have my bias in answer to the question: I remember a sweet and random act of parking kindness  I received at my local hospital once, when I raced, daughter in my arms, son at my side, into the emergency room. When we left, all safe a few hours later, I realized that I had parked by the entrance and not even noticed the meter by my car. But there sat my car ticket-less.

Someone had put some money into the meter.

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