Archive for ‘Daily Life’

July 10, 2017

Lessons learned from a Neighbour: The long and honourable heritage of Daryl Currie, U.E.

19944343_10154495666742691_4736548893000713689_o
“Some people say she’s hard to get along with,” Daryl told me one day. “But I know what to do: Ask her about her dog. Then N-o-o-o -o problem,” he says.
It was bits of wisdom like this that my neighbour, Daryl, if you waited for it, taught me through the years. When you bore through the story, a mischievous glint would sparkle in his eye as inevitably he delivered another punchline, but one which often underscored his sense of the duty we have to each other.
Sometimes mistaken for a cop, Daryl’s nickname on the street was the Sheriff. Over the 45 years he lived there, he and his wife June had raised four kids in their small house. Not much fazed him. Because he had organized Community Watch on city blocks all around the neighbourhood, people often tapped on his door, many who spoke almost no English. They relied on his willingness to call apparent mischief-makers to account. Woe those who backed-up our one-way street where children regularly play, but he was just as likely to walk into a situation and calm it with humour and good will.
Daryl was from down east — although there too too he corrected me because eastern Canada is upriver — so perhaps he learned it there. He always had a yarn to spin, making a story out of almost any daily encounter. Today it was about a friend who never picked up the check at lunch, or a long drive across town in traffic, or some city workers patching a pothole. A kid passing by his front porch might be razzed, “You still going to school?! Hmm, you must be pretty stupid.” They’d look shocked for a moment, then laugh and agree. When June was around, invariably an offer of an ice cream cone or some other treat came next. They knew how to connect.
Daryl passed away on Sunday. An aortic aneurism saved him from a drawn-out goodbye.
The night before he died, I was lucky enough that we had a final sit on his porch because I had brought over some home-made pastries. We sat companionably, hailing passing neighbours and watching the evening darken and slow.
 
Advertisements
September 10, 2013

Toronto District School Board census 2011: Unsettling picture of inequality revealed

English: Park School studentsClose to 90,000 parents, or sixty-five per cent, of elementary school parents answered the Toronto District School Board’s census sent home last fall. The results are coming out now and reveal the unequal opportunities which children of different family backgrounds enjoy. A recent TDSB research report presents a startling picture of class and racial inequality among our youngest city residents.

 As part of gaining a snapshot of its students, parents were asked to report their family’s total income. Divided into five income groups for comparison, the report shows
  • 28% families reported a family income of less than $30,000/year.
  • 21% reported $30,000 – $49,999/year.
  • 15% reported $50,000 – $74,999/year.
  • 10% reported $75,000 – $99,999/year.
  • 26% reported $100,000+.

When this data was broken down by each family’s racial background, the differences became even more unsettling:

Bar graph showing self-reported family income of school board students by racial background.

TDSB research report on 2011 census of parents with children in Kindergarten through Grade Six.

The impact of these different family income levels was also reflected, as would be expected, in the out-of-school experience of children. Parents in each income group were asked about their children’s extra-curricular and pre-school activities.

Consistently, income was tied to children’s experiences outside of school. The following presents some of these marked differences. (Although the Board’s analysis covers all five income groups, figures for the lowest, middle and highest income groups are reported here as the pattern remains the same across each category.)

Child care centre (before Kindergarten)

  • 25% children in lowest income families enrolled their child in a child care centre.
  • 29% children in the middle-income families enrolled their child in a child care centre.
  • 45% children in highest income families enrolled their child in a child care centre.

Pre-school program

  • 25% children in lowest income families attended a pre-school program.
  • 34% children in the middle-income families attended a pre-school program.
  • 56% children in highest income families attended a pre-school program.

Sense of safety on their street or in their neighbourhood

  • 80% parents in lowest income group said their child is safe on their street or in their neighbourhood.
  • 90% parents in the middle-income group said their child is safe on their street or in their neighbourhood.
  • 95% parents in highest income group said their child is safe on their street or in their neighbourhood.

Sports & Recreation

  • 64/% children in the highest income families are involved in sports or recreation activities outside of school.
  • 54% children in the middle-income are involved in sports or recreation activities outside of school.
  • 38% families in the lowest income bracket participate in sports or recreation activities outside of school.

Arts

  • 59% children in the highest income in arts activities outside of school.
  • 32% children in the lowest income families participate in arts activities outside of school.

The patterns are not isolated to Toronto. Noted social commentator Robert Putnam explains, “Kids coming from upper middle-class backgrounds are living in a different world now from kids coming from working-class or less well-off backgrounds.”

However, the second part of the survey was more heartening. When parents were asked about their child’s experiences in school, the differences, by income group, were much smaller, showing only a percentage point or two difference around such things as feeling safe or welcome in the school. This area is an improvement from the 2008 census, a period in which the school board has worked to make improvements.

Opportunity. It’s a powerful idea, that everyone should have an equal chance, that every child should have an equal start. It underscores our sense of civic sense of fairness. Now, as ever, our school system must face this challenge outside its doors too.

read more »

December 2, 2012

The function and art of underground entrances: Metros, subways and the tube

Entrance to Old Street Underground station, London, England

Entrance to Old Street Underground station, London, England

On a trip through Europe, I once took a picture of some cows. “Why!?!” I wondered when I got home. “They’re cows.” My more creative sister did a bit better, producing a series on the various toilets we encountered through our travels.

My eye has sharpened just a bit now, I hope, and on my recent trip to London, England, in part for the First International Convention of Neighbourhood Bloggers, I focused on built form and urban space.

The accessibility of this subway entrance, near my hotel in the east end, caught my eye: stairs for when I was in a hurry, and a gently sloped ramp for when I was dragging my luggage. Wheeled conveyances welcome. (With over eight exits onto the Old Street roundabout, however, I did get lost.)

To confirm this strange new obsession, today’s U.K. Telegraph Travel section has published a photo series of the “most impressive underground subway stations” which looks at the artistic side of the transportation hubs.

The Moscow stations are baroque in their style, the London Underground industrial, the Scandinavian countries organic. The Italians are almost ready to unveil a subway entrance in Naples which could be described, in polite company, as a pair of lips.

Among the most playful example in the Telegraph series was this entrance to the Bockenheimer Warte metro station in Frankfurt:

Bockenheimer Warte U-Bahn
Everywhere, though, commuters look very work-a-day, bored as they make their way through these incredible spaces.

Tags:
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 »

May 2, 2011

The habit of voting: start early, vote often

rick mercer makes a pursed point

Image by clang boom steam via Flickr

Rick Mercer has been suggesting youth take a date to the federal election today. His earlier rant, at the beginning of the campaign, sparked vote mobs on campuses across the country. His words carry the weight of research.

Being eighteen-years-old is about the worst time to introduce youth to voting, according to a University doctoral student I met recently at a farewell reception for the now-defunct Centre for Urban Health Initiatives. Likely to be at a more tumultuous time of their lives, living in a new community, eighteen-year-olds are less likely to vote than the former age-of-majority, twenty-one-year olds. And when we don’t vote, she explained to us gathered around, it becomes a habit.

So the call to drop the voting age to sixteen makes a lot of sense. Youth, normally still living in familiar surroundings, would make their first foray into voting on more stable ground.

In fact, our grad student’s own research focuses levels of voting among immigrants. She is finding that those without the culture and habit of voting are less likely to exercise their franchise when they come to Canada. 

“If  I were king of the world,” she said, “I would make voting at least once a pre-requisite for citizenship.” Her doctoral work, not yet complete, gives weight to calls to allow city residents, despite their citizenship status, to vote in municipal elections.

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.

read more »

%d bloggers like this: