Archive for ‘Diversity’

October 13, 2016

Toronto’s Urban Diversity

European cities are struggling with the increasing diversity of their populations, places which historically grew out of national and ethno-cultural identities.

Divercities is a European Union funded project what is looking at how governance and civic structures can create “social cohesion, social mobility and economic performance in today’s hyper-diversified cities.” They hosted a conference in September at the University of Antwerp  with practitioners, policy-makers and academics.

Over the few days of discussion and debate, they asked some of us about what diversity looks like in our cities. Here below is what I said about Toronto, a place that people held as an ideal when we compared notes. I should have added “There is still work to be done!”

In February there will a larger concluding conference to present the wider findings.

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November 1, 2013

Advocacy lessons from American race politics for Canada

“It is eerie and unsettling to hear the same issues in country after country. It lifts our common challenges in ways that are sobering,”

Angela Glover Blackwell said, after listening to each person’s introduction.

Squeezed into an early morning session, the walls at the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) were lined with people from the non-profit sector and advocacy groups, funders and even a former Cabinet Minister, all concerned with racial equity. The Colour of Poverty/Colour of Change had invited us to hear Blackwell, Founder and CEO at PolicyLink, and Dr. Manuel Pastor, Professor of Sociology and American Studies & Ethnicity, University of Southern California, both speaking at a recent conference in Toronto, and here to share lessons on how to advance the equity policy agenda.

“We need to continue to look for ways to capture the weary, to inspire those with goodness in their heart,” Blackwell explained.

“There is an immediate need to think long-term”

To do this, advocacy efforts must be attached to the issues which are the currency of the times, Blackwell explained. She drew examples from the 60s, 70s through to the present economic crunch. As an example, PolicyLink has shifted its most recent advocacy efforts from the Promise Neighbourhoods of Obama’s early days to an economic inclusion “All-In Nation” economic plan.

“Early on we framed what we’re doing as equity, allowing people to reach their full potential. Equity is the essential thing to do. In the U.S., your address is literally a proxy for your life opportunity:  what kind of schools you will attend, the job you will have, even your life expectancy,” Blackwell continued. “So, for instance, we attached equity to transportation – it is responsible for access to education, health, and jobs. Neighbourhood environments determine obesity. All of this is  connected to equity.”

“So be clear about the goals, but attach that to whichever issue is in currency,” Blackwell said, giving the example of how Policy Link attached the equity agenda to ideas of job preparation and entrepreneurialism after the 2008 crash. “That became the nation’s agenda,” she explained, so we developed America’s Tomorrow.”

In short, Policy Link is successful in pushing for racial equity by working in three steps, Blackwell said. First they begin by talk to People of Colour and advocacy groups about a strong narrative with People of Colour at the centre. Second they look for ways to attach these things to a national agenda. Lastly, they find ways to change the conversation.

Policy Link also works with allies, Blackwell explained, such The Center for American Progress which is “inside the beltway” to set a national agenda. “We’re showing if you just get rid of inequity, a lot of things will move forward,” Blackwell concluded.

Professor Pastor waded in next, offering his advice to those in the room.

“Race matters,” Pastor continued, “so it is important to put it into the conversation. There is a lot of talk about inequality, yes, but we have to answer the lasting legacies of racism.

To get race behind, we have to put race up front.

Pastor cautioned about concentrating only in the past, though. “Frame forward. Focus on 2042 when the majority of the population and the majority of the workforce [in the U.S.A.] will be people of colour. In 2019, the majority of youth will be. In 2012, the majority of births were.”

“Inequity has a dampening economic effect,” Pastor continued, explaining this was being said by many outside ‘the usual suspects,’ pointing to the IMF and the Cleveland Reserve. Both, he said, have stated that the single most dampening effect on the economy is inequality.

“The process of conversation is important,” Pastor continued. “The real problem is disconnection. So we need empathy.

A neighbourhood can be angry enough to burn itself down without being able to channel that.”

A good model of how to do this is the young, undocumented American residents who organized as the DREAMers. They have a forward focus, using others’ successful narrative of “coming out”. They have captured the narrative, the moment and the imagination,” Pastor explained. They are able, he said, to bridge different issues, be forward-looking, use moral & economic arguments, and have a values-driven narrative which successfully shifted the discussion to how Americans were related to each other.

‘Rock the naturalized vote’ is another successful example of visioning forward, Pastor said. 71% of Latinos and 73% of Asian vote went to Obama because wanted to “punish ‘stupid shit’. Immigration was central.

“The Economic Bureau has said that the debt would be reduced $1 trillion over 20 years if immigration was reformed. Does it make sense to pay $36-40 billion ( = one agent every 100 yards) to protect another border while we only spent $150 million on settlement?” Pastor continued.

Successful advocacy efforts must make a two-pronged argument, Pastor explained.

“To make the case for equity, both moral and material arguments are required,” Pastor continued. “Organize your work by addressing both areas, that is

  • Economic – episodic, interest-based
  • Moral – values, sustained, deeply held

“So first, to build the material case, consider framing and data issues. For instance, a California report looked at the number of undocumented Californians. Re-frame it. They are Californians. Half have been here for 10 years+. Immigration reforms help the next generation of Americans.

Pastor offered some other concrete examples of how framing works, such as the idea of developing regional equity profiles for municipal areas highlighting how rental tenancy is higher by people of colour in Fair Housing & Equity Assessment – HUD’s new frame used disaggregated data. Pastor also pointed to the access provided through San Francisco’s place-based initiative Communities of Opportunity.

At the most technical level, data disaggregation is important, Pastor said, because it reveals race neutrality is not real.

Similarly, “Nerd to Nerd” relations are key to laying an evidence base.

Those technical discussions that identify the right geographic focus, or compare the outcomes for various populations, or which match database variables, can open whole new perspectives on complex social problems, to understanding the layers of poverty.

Finally, Pastor said, the moral frame is vital too. Understand the moment, he advised, and consider the strategic target within the universal good, that is targeted universalism. Appeal to the larger value because

As Van Jones reminds us, Martin Luther King didn’t say “I have an issue.”

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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.

read more »

February 1, 2013

Immigrant settlement in urban areas: The importance of city governments

Cities that do integration well, do well, argues a new report, From Policy to Practice: Lessons from Local Leadership on Immigrant Integration.Immigration lines

Given the timing of the impending adoption of the City’s of Toronto’s new immigration strategy, the Toronto Newcomer Initiative (a report with many graphics and colourful pictures), I thought it timely to look at what other substantive work is being done.

Where the academic-driven Welcoming Community Initiative is looking at settlement issues across the province, Cities of Migration has focused strengthening knowledge translation in urban areas across Europe and North America. Its most recent report is a series of paper from various researchers and foundations (including Toronto’s own Myer Siemiatycki). The authors provide numerous examples of how cities in the West are becoming more inclusive.

The authors start with the idea that cities have “a traditional role as places of integration.” They call for a focus on:

Integration as a complex process

  • Increased local and international mobility is the new norm.
  • Migration is often a circular process, with people, capital and cultural exchange moving back and forth across borders.
  • Policy at each level of government can make the environment more or less welcoming.
  • Non-profits and other civic organizations are instrumental in these settlement processes.

The geography of settlement

  • Newcomers move to cities but settle in neighbourhoods. Activities tend to be locally focused, so welcome initiatives should be too.
  • Newcomers are also less likely to be setting in the downtown core of major cities, but are living in their suburbs or smaller, secondary cities.

The centrality of economic integration

  • Cities are welcoming the entrepreneurial activities of newcomers, providing support, networking, etc.
  • Opening up labour market opportunities is key, through targeted employment assistance and business start-up assistance.
  • “Living wage” is being recognized as an important policy commitment at the municipal level.

The key role of municipal government

  • Cities have a role as employers and as funders to enhance economic opportunity for newcomers.
  • Cities have a role in planning and zoning by-laws, fostering business opportunities and new cultural/faith spaces.
  • City space creates opportunities for exchange and interaction, so that strangers can become neighbours.
  • City programming, through libraries, parks, and recreation, can promote immigrant integration.
  • City governments have a role in procurement to create economic opportunities for newcomers.
  • City governments have an important role in building civic engagement opportunities, including voting, identity cards, etc.

Improvements, they note, help multiple groups. Youth, for instance, are as likely to benefit from these initiatives as newcomers.

Among the report’s recommendations are fourteen for municipal governments. Here’s the top 6 (my selection):
1.       Encourage the mayor to become a public champion for immigrant integration.
2.       Ensure immigrants, including non-citizens, can participate in the democratic process.
3.       Lead by example and set the new standard for inclusive hiring practices.
4.       Target initiatives to multiple demographic groups with similar needs and experiences.
5.       Rely on good, longitudinal data to measure and target programs and services.
6.       Recognize that your city is competing for immigrants.

read more »

September 17, 2012

Who are the students identified as having special education needs in the TDSB?

Are boys,Black students or students from low-income families more likely to be identified as Special Needs in the Toronto District School Board? Are children from more privileged backgrounds likely to be identified as Gifted?

A new research report from the board confirms what parents have often worried about.

This latest release confirms the racial and socio-economic backgrounds of its students are reflected in who is identified as Special Needs.

The report is drawn from a longitudinal study of the TDSB students who were in Grade 9, over 18,000 of them in 2006. It follows this cohort of students through each grade. (By now 79% of the studied students have graduated.)

According to the new Fact Sheet on Special Education:

  • Nearly 2/3 of students identified as having special education needs in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) are male.
  • Students who live with no or only one parent are more likely to be in a special needs program (other than Gifted) than those who live with both parents. In fact, not a single student who did not live with a parent was identified as Gifted (These would include students who lived independently or with other family members). Gifted students were also most likely to have parents with a university-level education (77% of Gifted students compared to 44% of students overall) and a professional-level occupation (56% of students in Gifted compared to 27% of students).
  • Tracking the pattern of low-income Special Needs students are the racial backgrounds of students in special ed. classes. The starkest contract was for students of African, Caribbean and Black backgrounds. Black students were the most likely of all other racial groups to be identified as having a Mild Intellectual Delay (MID), making up almost one-third (32%) of those so identified even though they make up only 1/8 (12%) of the overall student population. Black students also made up 17% of those identified with a learning disability. Interestingly, Whites made up more than half (53%) of students identified with a learning disability although they represent 34% of the total population. This may be that as a result of parents paying for private evaluations.
  • Gifted programs show that those with racial and class privilege are much more likely to be accessing these supports (which include smaller class sizes and enriched materials). 77% of students identified as Gifted have university-educated parents. White and East Asian students make up 80% of the Gifted identifications although together they represent just over half (53%) of the total enrollment in the year studied. Seven percent of the remaining students were South Asian. Less than 5% of Gifted students were Black (to be proportionate there should be twice as many).

The release concludes with a summary of the Board’s commitment to review the processes which may give rise to these inequities and act as barriers to student success. Several areas for review include

  • the structure of congregated/integrated program delivery (whether students should be grouped together or supported in class),
  • the process for referral, identification and placements of students suspected of having a disability, and
  • ensuring student learning is culturally and socio-demographically sensitive (for instance, gifted girls tend to be less disruptive so are less frequently identified).

The publication page by the Board’s Research & Information Services department is a hidden treasure, deep within the TDSB’s website, under the Tab “About Us.” (About us — truer words.)

Keep watching this page. Later this year, the results from the school board’s second parent/student census will be posted.

There, we may find the evidence of what we have suspected, that our schools still reflect more the realities of our community than its aspirations.

read more »

September 3, 2012

A clash of values within the public education system

While much of the recent media headlines have been on Premier McGuinty’s Putting Students First Act (Bill 115), another storm has been brewing on the edges of school board, one which is much more fundamental to the ideals we hold for our public education system.

“Religion, politics and education are never good friends,” was the response of one committee member at the recent TDSB Equity Policy Advisory Committee meeting.

Bill 113, the Accepting Schools Act (2012), has caused a furor among those who are strictly religious. The Act focuses on reducing bullying, specifically “To encourage a positive school climate and prevent inappropriate behaviour, including bullying, sexual assault, gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia, transphobia or biphobia.” It’s an important public statement.

Concretely, this means middle school kids can’t call something (or someone) a “fag” because they think it’s stupid.

Leading the charge is Public Education Advocates for Christian Equality (P.E.A.C.E.), which was formed when the Hamilton school board adopted an equity policy which, following the provincial human rights legislation, includes sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds for discrimination.

The panic has spread to the Toronto area. School board staff have reported that principals have received thousands of a five-page “Traditional Values” form letters from parents requesting their children opt out of any lessons dealing with “family values,” environmentalism, ethics, gal, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered issues, sex education, STDs & condoms and/or abortion.

In one Toronto neighbourhood, up to another hundred parents have asked taken a more radical step and asked to home school. One school superintendent spent a recent Friday afternoon signing up to 20 of these permission forms. (Truancy laws require that parents demonstrate a child will be educated, within or outside the provincial school system.)

TDSB equity staff are clear that nothing in the curriculum has changed since the Bill 113’s passage (“still age-appropriate and culturally-sensitive”), but are disturbed by the panic they see.

Student trustees are organizing a video campaign – no doubt when the rest of the system settles down.

read more »

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.

read more »

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 same 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 along the sidewalks where kids pedaled past on their bikes, part of the ballet that Jane Jacobs described. But this time, it was scarier.

Physical fights became the norm, and the local men became protective, taking to long smokes at the ends of their porches. The police raided the house almost weekly through those hot months. By-law officers arrived and spent 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 there of an overdose. The house was padlocked and put up for sale.

I couldn’t tell all 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 our new baby. We had some family connections to the community, but while comfortable here in the neighbourhood, we were no longer working class. Higher education had boosted our personal prospects. So, 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, factory 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 covered by the new drywall had 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 I, 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 sanctioned as “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 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.

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 assistants 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.”

Driven by individual choice, we are losing a common good.

read more »

December 28, 2011

Power and privilege in Saskatoon and Toronto: Recognition of racism as foundational element of social determinants of health

Speaking recently at an event hosted by the Wellesley Institute, Dr. Cory Neudorf  leans forward in his seat when asked a question related to the social determinants of health (SDOH) of people of colour and Aboriginal peoples. It’s not what you expect from a public servant, and his answer shows the commitment he has to making real changes to the health of all city residents and the depth needed to accomplish that.

As Chief Medical Health Officer for  Saskatoon Health Region, Neudorf has steered the prairie city to a broad public buy-in for attacking poverty. He has moved the discussion of public health from personal behaviours towards a recognition of the systemic and policy barriers which can keep groups of  the region’s residents in poverty.

Early analysis showed the three drivers for poor health outcomes in Saskatoon, when Aboriginal Status is controlled for, are income inequality, education, and age. So how, then, I ask, does race play into a public health agenda?

Neudorf response is nuanced. Admittedly, these discussions are controversial, he said, because if other factors account for poor health outcomes, then some will argue there is no need to focus on Aboriginal status or Race (or other social demographics) as a factor for consideration.

In contrast Neudorf argues these social demographics are foundational elements that run across all the other determinants of health, so that our conversations about policy and program interventions have to be re-framed to build on them. Far more than simply naming them, Neudorf says, we have to talk about how racism is systemic and institutionalized, and why, simply, there are different prospects for people, not because of their race, but because of racism.

Neudorf explains the discussion has only started as te Saskatoon community has done some qualitative work to explore how racism impacts social determinants of health. They hope to determine when targeted responses are appropriate compared to broader population-based responses (or when both are in order).

Neudorf also explained the equity audits the regions health systems were undergoing. An important equity test for the system is to look not at the health pathways for a “typical” patient, but instead at the flow-through of all patients.

In sum, he says, these conversations are about inclusion.

Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer David McKeown, also in attendance, agreed with Neudorf and elaborated, focusing on the position of Toronto immigrants. Racism, McKeown explained, has to be named as an important confounder of health patterns. During earlier comments, McKeown also pointed to need to examine the various dimensions of inequity that make specifically tailored responses important.

These comments, by their admission, were not new points — activists and some academics have been making these points for years (eg. Colour of Poverty/Colour of Change campaign and their call for disaggregated data). What has shifted, though, is that those, closer to power, are now saying the same things too. It’s an optimistic turn.

(For more information about the session, see another post I wrote on the Wellesley Institute website. Neudorf’s presentation is also available there in video format. For more on what others have said on the topic, see below in More.)

on the topic

October 27, 2011

Pros & cons of collecting demographic data to improve educational equity for students

On Monday, more than sixty school board staff and community members from Ottawa and the GTA area gathered at York University for a roundtable on the topic of student demographic data and educational equity.

Sponsored by the Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research, the project hopes to corral the various ways boards are using non-academic data about students to better serve their academic needs. It’s a topic that is difficult to summarize within an afternoon’s work, however Peel region’s Paul Favaro set the stage, highlighting many key challenges.

These questions are complex on multiple levels, however, we cannot be frozen into inaction, Favaro said. The meeting organizers, Professor Carl James, others, and Favaro urged the group to move through these challenges to ensure all students are offered equitable opportunities.

When 40% of the variance in student achievement can be explained by factors external the classroom and school, we need to understand the pathways and mechanisms that are at play here, Favaro said. It is a question of grounded in fundamental principles, he said.

If we agree all students deserve the best educational opportunities regardless of their backgrounds and that large inequalities exist both within and outside the classroom walls, what is the benefit of collecting data which tracks students according to socio-economic class, race, sex, or other such grounds?

Favaro detailed the some of the positive and negative aspects of collecting student demographic data.

Benefits include:

  • Assessing which groups are vulnerable and are underperforming / under-served
  • Programming better targeted
  • Able to monitor and assess improvements / accountability
  • Encourages the fulfillment of each student’s potential
  • Moves closer to providing an educational system that is free of bias
  • Increases achievement in society and among vulnerable groups
Drawbacks however were also noted:
  • May (re-)produce reduced sense of academic competence, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Members of vulnerable groups may feel stigmatized
  • May increase prejudicial attitudes and stereotyping if critical analysis not used
  • May lead teachers to implicitly or subconsciously teach students from some groups below their actual potential
  • Added pressure on members of high-performing groups
  • Contributes to labelling & false homogenizing
  • May be used by those in dominant positions to keep vulnerable minorities down
  • Potential backlash from parents & community members from high achieving groups [preserving their rank]

Another barrier to building a stronger evidence base identified by the attendees is the unwillingness of school administrators, teachers, parents and the general public to explore these uncomfortable issues, because, as one attendee described it, we risked a loss of our “Canadian innocence,” our self-image of being a fair place.

Former B.C. Deputy Minister Charles Ungerleider gave closing remarks, identifying the need for national participation in the creation of these solutions. He is writing a paper for the Canadian Education Association on the topic to which we can look forward by the end of the year.


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