Posts tagged ‘Neighborhoods’

March 29, 2014

Gentrification: Spike Lee kills it

A provocative look at neighbourhood change and gentrification in New York City: How newcomers are received

For transcript, see: New York magazine

June 2, 2013

Community heros lifting above their weight: The story of a community hub in Hamilton

Don MacVicar once broke three world records, lifting 10 times his weight combined in a single competition. Now, he’s doing bigger things. He’s lifting a community on his shoulders.

The familiar hallways of a school now open into community resource rooms.

The familiar hallways of a school now open into community resource rooms.

For the past eight years, McVicar has led a renewal project in the industrial north end of Hamilton, Ontario, creating a hub in the  Robert Land school when it was faced with closure. Re-named the Eva Rothwell Centre, the former school now hosts a job resource centre, recreation programs, youth drop-in, summer camps, community health programs, police services (staffed by chatty volunteers, with handouts on everything from crime prevention to bed bugs), and a clothing bank.  It’s also one of the sites of Pathways to Education (the strange rumour in the community being that the tuition bursary may be abolished). There is even a miniature railroader club in the school’s basement, art out of metal, rails and wiring and a full-size railway car on delivery, to be a new literacy centre. And, yes, of course, there is a weight room.

This is, like many stories of community change, the story of heroes — how often local improvement is made by the determined efforts of a small group of people. (In fact, that Margaret Mead reference is on the home page of their website.)

When the school faced closure, MacVicar and a group of community member approached the Hamilton school board and proposed to buy it. Private donors stepped in with some quick funding to pony up close to $350,000, giving the community association time to incorporate as a non-profit corporation.

Two weeks ago, the centre hosted five bus loads of elementary students from the Toronto District School Board to attend the ribbon-cutting for a new draw: Team Canada 72 room filled with hockey memorabilia and team players.  It’s part of MacVicar’s plan to make the centre a destination where people want to visit. Next fall, he hopes to bring in the Stanley Cup.

Heroic as these efforts were, the visit to this re-purposed school highlighted two key lessons, at the micro-level and the macro-levels.

At the micro-level is the importance of taking action. Asked how he had accomplished this, MacVicar softly explained “If I join a committee, and they’re not doing anything within three months, I quietly move on.”

The second lesson, though, is broader. This good work needs to move beyond the efforts of small groups. Community hubs, such as these, should be supported at the system level because relying on local heroes to make this happen shouldn’t be a record-breaking event.

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March 10, 2013

Gaming Toronto’s neighbourhoods

Do you know the names of Toronto 140 official neighbourhoods? Click that ‘hood tests your knowledge of officialdom, making a game of the City of Toronto’s administrative planning areas. Developed for Code for America by Matt Keoshkerian, a transplanted Torontonian, the website uses data now available through Open Toronto.

In a Google world, Click the ‘hood cleverly avoids the perennial problem of double spellings between the spelling of neighbourhood and neighborhood. The site has gamified city neighbourhoods around the world, including Montreal (20 neighbourhoods), Vancouver (23 neighbourhoods), and Saskatoon (59 neighbourhoods).

With the growth of mapping, neighbourhood names are facing a new revival. Sociologists argue the naming of a neighbourhood is an important marker of social cohesion. Condo developers know this well, too. Donmount public housing was subject to an entire re-branding when it became Rivertowne, and the neighbourhood around it as taken the name Riverside. My favourite recent example of this is the new development at the corner of Woodbine and Upper Gerrard within days of local residents voted to call their area Beach Hill, a name marketed by a local condo development.

English: Neighbourhoods in East Toronto

Most of these cities have geographic gaps, parts of the city where no common consensus has emerged on the name of the place. Even within Toronto this was a problem.

Developed about ten years ago in an effort to coordinate competing geographic descriptors across various service divisions, City of Toronto staff divided the city into 140 areas. The areas were clustered to capture similar social demographics among residents and to be similar in population size. Natural boundaries, such as ravines and railways, were used where possible. Finally, neighbourhood names were selected, without broad consultation, on historic names or local geographic features, such as street names.

Through this method, the entire city was mapped and, now, with the power of gamification, the City’s 140 administrative neighbourhoods will become more familiar to Toronto residents.

(P.S. My best time? About 80 seconds for 20 random neighbourhoods.)

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December 14, 2012

Research fatigue and other lessons from Toronto’s Regent Park.

“Research Park – er, I mean Regent Park…”

It was a telling slip in one resident’s lament about the degree of academic surveillance taking place in Regent Park, the low-income Toronto neighbourhood where public housing has been torn down and is being rebuilt as a mixed income community. Thousands of new condo and townhouse owners will be living alongside the original low-income tenants in the next decade.

It is a living lab, a natural social experiment that is too tempting for a city with three universities and several more within driving distance of it.

Professors, grad students and undergrad class projects have taken their toll on Regent Park residents, creating a research fatigue, just as the second and largest phase of the redevelopment at Regent Park is underway.

(See More below to see a short list of the research projects I know.)

“If another researcher knocks on my door again, I won’t be very polite when I answer it,” declared one resident.

Another long-time resident was puzzled by the attention, saying

Our neighbourhood is just like every other one. There are all kinds of people. It’s not related to income or our location. It’s just that we’re living in a fish bowl.”

However, a recent panel at University Toronto drew a packed house of academics, residents, community service providers and advocates. The interest in undeniable. Even the residents in attendance at Regent Park Research Panel: New Findings from the Field were active in the debate afterwards. The speakers, all graduate students, have spent long stretches in the community and so spoke with an authenticity generally welcomed by the audience.

Each spoke in turn on their area of study.

Ryan James, York University

Youth, Stigma, and Security in 1970s Regent Park

James, an Anthropology doctoral student with ties to the community, described a history of Childhood in Regent Park. One of the powerful points in his narrative was the vulnerability of local children and youth.

One young women explained, “Being poor almost meant that you have a target on your back for sexual predators.”

Gordon Stuckless of Maple Leaf Gardens notoriety was remembered in the community.

When the community rose up in defence of its children, a vein of  “virulent homophobia” also erupted. This died down though, James explained, when gay rights activists held counter-demonstrations protesting that homosexuality did not equal pedophilia.

Sharon Kelly, University of Toronto

Navigating the road back home: The return of Regent Park Phase I residents

The next speaker, Sharon Kelly, also a doctoral student in Anthropology, embedded herself within the project unit which managed the moves required by residents as the redevelopment occurred.

“It was a place of hope,” she explained, decorated in bright colours and with fresh flowers, where residents, assigned by random draw, pored over floor plans to choose their new units. Higher floor or lower? North, south, east or west? Early project phase or later? In Regent Park or nearby? They lingered, ranking their first, second and third choices.

However, Kelly explained the site office was also a place of distrust, where residents worried about favouritism or grew weary of delays or frustrated their choices were not available. Some of the tensions were very real. Long-time residents were upset that a random draw meant that their length of tenure was not recognized. Or families and seniors, who were not able to meet shorter moving times, sometimes lost out to others who were more nimble.

Staff were sympathetic, but argued that the lottery system ensured impartiality, especially given the difficulty of evaluating and comparing competing needs. It was emotionally draining work, Kelly explained, and staff were forced to make decisions fast in order to keep up with the construction schedule.

A swap board was created so that tenants could negotiate changes among themselves. While well-intentioned but, Kelly did not hear of any viable trades made this way. What it did offer however was a sense of control that tenants welcomed.

When asked what some of the challenges, Kelly explained the biggest issue regarding complex work of resident relocation was the deceptively simple issue of communication.  Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) was cognizant of this, she said, and, for instance, when they needed to contact residents, they knocked on doors instead of mailing letters.

The work goes on, as three more phases have to be completed.

Martine August, Planning, University of Toronto

From isolation to inclusion? Tenant experiences in Regent Park’s Phase II

The final speaker was Martine August, a doctoral student in Planning, working with Alan Walks to take a critical look at gentrification and mixed income neighbourhoods.

August began with a brief description of the development plans for Regent Park. Begun in 2002, the revitalization of the neighbourhood was set to happen in five phases through a Public Private partnership. Capital would be raised through the sale of private market, newly-built housing stock.

The first phase is now completed, and residents have returned to new homes. Once complete, only 19-20% of the housing will be Rent Geared to Income (RGI), down significantly from the original neighbourhood. While the overall number of low-income residents will stay approximately the same, as higher income people move in, their density will be decreased.

Arguments for why this is good, August explained, is that there is “presumed need to deconcentrate poor people” because they are isolated from good role models. The concentration of need, the argument goes, leads to negative outcomes; Cause and effect are being mixed, she argues. (Professor Jim Dunn’s work, see below, is also finding that the “role model” argument is based on weak evidence.)

In the public’s mind, mixed income neighbourhoods have emerged as an ideal without the supporting evidence.

At best, these arguments are offensive, August explains. At worst, it is used to justify gentrification, leading to the removal of homeless and other marginalized people. This framing re-stigmatizes poor people (in a similar way to how public housing was originally and purposefully built to be unattractive).

Discussions of renewal and mixed neighbourhoods “use the language of balance in service of exclusion,” August argues. It is an academic argument she wants to test.

To explore this further, August interviewed 32 households before they moved out (pre-phase 2) and 50 households who have moved back from phase 1.

Residents were enthusiastic about several things in Regent Park: central location, availability of services, walkablility, easy access to public transit, number of local ethnic grocery stores, parks, and places of worship.  Residents described the benefits of living downtown and the vibrancy of the neighbourhood (all themes which are part of the marketing campaign for the new condos).

Residents also described the strong social ties and community connections they had with other tenants. “This doesn’t match the story of social isolation which is told about poor neighbourhoods,” August explained. Newcomers found each other, people borrowed from each other,  kept care of each other’s children, celebrated together, were there for crisis support. Community members also were proud of their political activism, describing Regent Park as a place which hit above its weight because of the concentration of people together.

So, contrary to stereotypes, Regent Park is well-located, well-connected, well-served.

“Not that weren’t real problems,” August said. “First, being the state of repairs and maintenance of the buildings, pests, broken appliances, plaster crumbling, and poor common areas. And it’s not clear that redevelopment will improve this. Already residents are telling of problems in their units, falling glass, broken shelves, buckling floor boards. TCHC has a $6m cut to their repair budget”.

Drug activity is still reported, according to August, but the tenants tend to take the attitude that “but if you don’t bother them, then they won’t bother you.” Tenants also recognize that solving this issue is not simply a matter of getting “the bad guys out.”  Brothers and sons are swept up in the crackdown, and the problem usually just shifts to a new location.

New design and new condos haven’t stopped these old problems.

Residents also report that stigma still an issue. although many resist the stereotypes. Something as simple as clothing reinforces class divisions within the new community.

Each new condo tower has achieved higher prices than one before.

August argues that if the purpose is to solve social problems, a market driven approach may not be the best way to address the issues.

English: As part of the redevelopment of Regen...

As part of the redevelopment of Regent Park from a social housing development to mixed-income neighbourhood, four of the five apartment towers designed by Peter Dickinson are being demolished (one will be preserved for historical reasons). Constructed in 1958, the collection of Regent Park towers won a Silver Medal by the Massey Medals for Architecture in 1961. This is an image of the second tower being demolished. Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However the market forces are pressing forward. The number of condos have now gone from around 3000 to 5400 without much discussion.

This will have impact on many levels, including the political presence of tenants as gentrification shifts to the local demographics to more middle-class concerns. At this point, residents associations, like RPNI (see below), represent tenants. Condo associations are also emerging. There may be opportunities to bridge among these associations.When asked, August recounted a telling story from the Don Mount (now Rivertowne) re-development across the river from Regent Park. That smaller community has also undergone a “renewal” that mixes income groups into a single housing project. Low-income tenants there report that people in market-rent housing have been really dominating community meetings, focusing on issues such as safety and policing, noise and garbage collection. Tenants feel targeted in their own neighbourhood.

When Regent Park condo owners heard about local youth being targeted by police, they organized an information session for youth, to learn their rights. This “rights-based” approach, in contrast to “keep-your-head-down” approach, highlights the very different frame of experience that middle-income and low-income people use.

The evening ended with the promise to continue the discussion, finding opportunities to bring these findings to the people of Regent Park.

“Good people live there,” one tenant said in conclusion.

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October 9, 2012

Neighbourhood centres: From the history of social justice among settlement houses to community hubs’ modern place-based approach

Photograph of early settlement house, Toynbee Hall circa 1902.

Toronto’s University Settlement House, by the Grange, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.

St. Chris House, in the west end, has also reached the century mark. Not far away, Central Neighbourhood House, founded by students from University of Toronto, has also celebrated 100. Also, in the downtown core, Dixon Hall is eighty and St. Stephen‘s is fifty. Reputedly named after Reverend Wood and Reverend Green, WoodGreen, where I work in the east end, has just turned 75 years old.

Each of these neighbourhood centres cluster in the centre of city, reflecting the downtown area’s history as a place where new immigrants and low-income lived. As demographics have shifted and need has spread, other neighbourhood centres – and community hubs – have emerged across the city.

Over these decades, these centres opened their doors, drawing on a model from 19th century Great Britain called a Settlement House. More than charitable service organizations that focus on individual needs, settlement houses emerged from wider ideals of social justice. Settlement referred not to, in the modern sense, of working with immigrants, but rather to a call to university-educated young people to settle in poor neighbourhoods, bring their talents to bear on local problems.

In a sense, settlement houses worked to ensure the intellectual and social capital of a neighbourhood were not stripped away. They also preserved the idea of social contract between rich and poor. Most settlement houses enjoyed the patronage of wealthy donors.

The tradition of Settlement House offer a few key touchstones to modern-day hubs and centres:

Wrap-around services: As multi-service organizations, neighbourhood centres are able to address the various needs clients have. Need a job? food? compantionship? housing? They have it all. Dixon Hall, for instance, defines itself by its multi-service approach.

On-the-ground knowledge: Neighbourhood houses have also acted as early warning systems. Some of urbanist Jane Jacob’s critique of the “towers in the park” emerged  from New York contemporary and settlement house social worker Ellen Lurie, who tracked what happened to her clients who were being moved into this newer form of public housing from their old neighbourhoods. Even now, seeing the changes in its neighbourhood, St Chris House sparked the research into how gentrification was changing their downtown neighbourhood, leading eventually to the Three Cities report by David Hulchanski. After hearing more and more stories from the sector, WoodGreen supported a fight for permanent funding to control bed bugs.

Commitment to creating opportunity at the individual and system level: Recognizing that charity work and case management would not create the systemic change needed to end poverty, advocacy and community development became a core part of centres’ work. Childcare, youth programs, and adult literacy programs were all staples of early programming. University Settlement House’s Music and Art program was established in 1921. Later decades would see these social programs adopted and funded by governments at all levels. In more recent times, St. Chris House led the cross-sectoral policy table, MISWAA, which examined income supports for working age adults. In short, it’s about social justice.

Innovation: Because they are alert to changes and are able to bring a wide set of services to any social problems, neighbourhood centres also act as incubators, creating solutions to complex problems. WoodGreen, for instance, partnered with the Toronto District School Board to create the first seamless, full-day kindergarten class at Bruce Public School.

Community building: Early neighbourhood centres were the original community hubs creating links across difference, strengthening local community. St. Stephen’s Resolution program actively in neighbourhood disputes, and has trained hundreds to do dispute resolution. Multiple ages walk through their doors and learn about each other. Free, non-commercial space is increasingly precious. The community hubs springing up across the city are based on these same community development principles. Place-based approaches to problems sometimes work better than those which work with only specific client populations.

Settlement houses, neighbourhood centres, community hubs — whatever you call them — seem a tradition worth celebrating.

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January 9, 2012

New Stats Can study: Youth crime patterns in Toronto neighbourhoods

I once showed a map of Toronto’s 2005 summer of shootings to a sociologist at the University of Hawaii and, without ever having visited our city, she was able to point out the main commercial districts, transit lines and low-income areas. These are the areas where urban crime cluster, she explained.

English: The northwest corner of the intersect...

Perhaps easily apparent, the patterns are always more interesting at a more granular level of detail.  So a new Statistics Canada report from the Crime and Justice Research Paper Series. has again given Torontonians another glimpse into criminal activity in our city. This time, author Mathieu Charron has focused on youth crime in Toronto. (His earlier 2009 paper on Toronto looked at broader patterns of crime.)

About 175,000 youth, aged 12 — 17, lived in the City of Toronto in 2006, the year which Charron used for his analysis. Using census tracts as a proxy for neighbourhoods, Charron looks at the geographic distribution of youth crime, and the characteristics of the places associated with it. He maps all police-reported incidents which involve a youth.

As anticipated, his maps show concentrations of youth crime along transit lines, in commercial areas, and then less frequently, around schools. But the study also finds some other interesting and confirming patterns:

  • About 1/3 of reported youth crime occurs in outdoors public spaces, and another third in commercial establishments. School properties accounted for the location of 12% of other reported incidents (2/3 occurring during supervised school activities). Public areas and local residences surrounding schools do not necessarily experience more youth crime, although local businesses do.
  • Neighbourhoods with lower mobility (i.e. residents more likely to have lived there for five years or more) experience less crime. Charron suggests more stable social networks may be part of the explanation for this.  And, as shown in other studies, neighbourhoods with higher levels of immigration are also less likely to experience some forms of youth crime. Family cohesion is usually seen as a contributing factor.
  • Neighbourhoods with more access to resources also are less likely to see youth accused of crime.
  • Central Toronto neighbourhoods (i.e. easily accessible) are more likely to experience youth crime in public areas.
  • Youth are more likely to be accused of a crime when they live in neighbourhoods with high adult crime rates, or higher residential mobility (people move homes more frequently) or where residents are economically vulnerable (low-income areas). Here, Charron cites other studies which attribute low levels of social control and/or exposure to violence as important contributing factors.
  • The characteristics of a youth’s home neighbourhood are more likely to predict whether youth become involved with the criminal justice system than the locations of where crimes take place. (Does that mean there are bad neighbourhoods? No, just vulnerable ones, with fewer resources.) This may be related to another of the study’s findings, that youth are more likely commit crimes outside their own residential neighbourhoods.

The most frequent sites of youth crime in 2006 were in commercial establishments, largely because of high traffic and opportunity. Property crime, especially shoplifting, accounted for 3 ⁄ 4 of the reported incidents. The maps Charron includes appear to confirm concentrations around shopping malls. The biggest apparent hotspot was Scarborough Town Centre with more than 250 incidents per square kilometre. Other crime hotspots (east to west) appear to be Yorkdale Shopping Mall, Dufferin Mall. Eaton Centre, Laird/Eglinton or Thorncliffe area, Cedarbrae Mall and Malvern Town Centre. These all showed rates between fifty to two hundred and fifty reported incidents. Outside of these large commercial centres, Charron found neighbourhood establishments, such as convenience stores and restaurants, were also vulnerable. Charron found a strong overlap between commercial areas which reported youth crime and adult crime, although youth were more likely to be involved in outlying neighbourhoods in the city.

In his next area of focus, outdoor public spaces, Charron found the prevalence of youth crime was much smaller, by a dimension of 25 to one (The upper range of outdoor events was only 10 incidences per square kilometre). As our Honolulu sociologist predicted, reported incidents were concentrated along transit and subway lines, in lower-income areas and near commercial areas. Charron also found some support for the “bored teenager syndrome,” that the number of reported crimes were higher in neighbourhoods with a higher number of youth, including central areas of the city where youth tend to gather and where household incomes are higher. Subway and other natural gathering points also attracted higher crime levels. The highest areas, reporting more than ten incidents per square kilometre, were around the University of Toronto, the Yonge Street downtown south of Yonge, Yonge and Finch, around Donlands and Danforth and the surrounding area (where five high schools are concentrated). Smaller problem pockets were found at Jane, south of Finch, the Mount Dennis area, Mount Pleasant and Eglinton (another high school), Pape Village, Greenwood Park, Kennedy subway station and its environs, and the Kingston Road and Morningside area.

The final location Charron examined are crimes which were reported to have happened in private residences. Largely concentrated in neighbourhoods with average employment incomes below $50,000 ⁄ year, the geographic pattern mimicked that of outdoor crime, especially outside the central part of the city. Charron found that crimes which occurred in houses were more likely to be property crimes, such as breaking and entering, theft and mischief. Crimes which occurred in apartments and other dwelling units were more likely to be violent offences. Residential crime was less likely to occur where there was a higher proportion of recent Canadian immigrants, where there are fewer youth or lower adult crime, or where local residents have access to more resources.

Charron concludes though by saying that neighbourhood characteristics, such as economic vulnerability, have less of an effect on youth crime than they do on adult crime — perhaps speaking to the early resiliency of youth.

More up-to-date data on crime in the city can be found through the Toronto Police Services Crime Statistics site and the City of Toronto’s Wellbeing Indices.
June 29, 2011

Wellbeing Toronto

Long awaited, Wellbeing Toronto is launching this morning through the City of Toronto website.

Keep hitting refresh! It will be here soon.

The Toronto Star has given a sneak peek in today’s edition. The site lets users select and map , across the City’s 140 social planning neighbourhoods, from a menu of indicators, ranging from one of Toronto’s top ten languages, applications to universities, or robberies. It also maps locations of various civic sites, community hubs, rate payers associations and other neighbourhood features.

While it’s bound to have some bugs as it launches (I couldn’t see a legend), this is a significant contribution to the civic dialogue of the city – as long as more than real estate agents use it! (My conflict-of-interest? I sat in on two advisory panels during its development.)

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June 23, 2011

New, more open data sharing on Toronto websites

English: Map of Toronto Français : Carte de To...

English: Map of Toronto Français : Carte de Toronto Deutsch: Karte von Toronto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Toronto data geeks can be excited about three new websites breaking onto the Toronto scene.

The first is a fresh new look for Toronto Health Profiles, a data partnership among St. Michael’s Hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health, Toronto Public Health, the Wellesley Institute and some community organizations. Thematic maps and data tables on a range of health indicators are being released as they are being developed. The site has gotten a good overhaul to make it easier to navigate and give it a cleaner look.

The second, from the Three Cities project, which looked at changing income trends in Toronto neighbourhoods, is releasing its findings in new more useable formats. The research website, driven by St. Christopher House and University of Toronto Professor David Hulchanski, Neighbourhood Change has re-launched with a new look. The site offers additional maps, a recent report on Scarborough and video clips. Information on Montreal and Vancouver are included alongside tower renewal in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

The third and most elaborate, the Wellbeing Toronto website will be launching June 29. (The site is so new, the URL was still being determined at the beginning of June!) It evolved out of the Neighbourhood Wellbeing Index/Indices project through the City of Toronto.

This new interactive site will build on census data and local administrative databases (liberated through Open Data Toronto). It has been funded through the Citizenship Immigration Canada Toronto Newcomer Initiative. The available data will be aggregated to the level of the city’s 140 planning neighbourhoods.

The site offers a range of goodies, from orthographic/satellite, cartographic/street view maps of Toronto. Ward boundaries and places of interest, such as community stores or convenience stores, will be mappable. An address search function is also to be included.

The developers have tried to make the site user-friendly, including some pre-set domains, including, for instance, a “diversity index” which measures ethno-racial mixes within a neighbourhood. Users of the site will be able to drill down into neighbourhoods or make comparisons among them. Up to 20 indicators can be loaded at a time, weighted differently, and then the data can be able to be exported to PDF, Excel or CSV formats.

The crime data is likely to be the most popular area of inquiry. Data for criminal code offenses for seven major crimes are included: Murders, Shootings, Vehicular theft, Break and Enters, Assaults, Sexual Assaults, and Arson. All of this rich fodder that has only been available on a limited basis up till now.

City staff are also looking to include other data in the future. Approaches to the Toronto Board of Trade, the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs, for information on hospitalization rates and seniors), the Canadian Bankers Association (for information on debt load), and the Children’s Aids Societies.  Indicators for arts and culture will be coming in October. The Toronto Transit Commission should also be included because  of the open data work, looking at routes, stops, crowding.

Both these sites will help to better inform civic discussions in the city and so are welcome web 2.0 resources.

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April 7, 2011

Saunders: The important functions of receiver communities (and how we get in the way)

Doug Saunders ARRIVAL CITY

Image by Jenn Farr via Flickr

Doug Saunders, author of Arrival City, spoke last week to the School of Public Policy and Governance at University of Toronto’s Munk Centre. His presentation flowed over description of the functions of communities which act as the first landing zones for urban migrants, describing the ambitions.

Arrival city neighbourhoods, or what are sometimes called receiver communities, are often found at the end of a transit line or in some other inaccessible corner of a city.  There, often a cluster of people from a similar place or the same village will have settled. In whichever urban area they are found, these are places of social mobility and change or they are places of failed dreams.

Having just returned from the Libya-Tunisian border for the lecture and book tour, Saunders began with “the Arrival City at the centre of the Arab Revolutions,” the neighbourhood of Bulaq in Cairo. It’s a place, he said, most people from Cairo would avoid. This was, though, the first neighbourhood into Tahrir Square for the rebellion against Mubarek. It had a history of such movements. Bulaq was a neighbourhood which, cut off from opportunities in the main parts of the city, had developed its own middle class, one which collided with the established Cairo middle class. It was, Saunders explained, a place of thwarted ambitions.

These receiver communities are found in the west, and the east, and the south, Saunder explained, like the French banlieux today at the edge of the capital; South Central Los Angeles, where the Hispanic residents have settled and invested in their new neighbourhoods; and Dhaka”s “place of the fallen” where the city’s “housecleaners, servants and prostitutes,” who serve the middle class, live. There are more, he said, like the “arrived overnight” neighbourhoods of Turkey, Brazilian favelas, and the neighbourhoods in Iran which fomented the 1979 rebellion. Saunders even described the historical neighbourhoods of 1789 Paris, where French villagers had settled, pushed there from the subsistence farming they had left behind, tipped quickly into early support of the French Revolution.

Receiver communities vary in their stability, but the trend of migration to urban areas is international.

Citing Professor Ronald Skeldon‘s work, Saunders explained how migration from rural to urban areas evolves from a rural family with an urban income source inevitably, although not always linearly, towards an urban family with rural roots. Education, he explained, is a key to this transformation.

It’s a mistake to see these places as static, as places which support a vital settlement function, Saunders said.

The state, Saunders explains, began to invest in these neighbourhoods after 1848 and into the 20th century. However, their role as places of transition is misunderstood, governments may interrupt or even damage their core functions.

We must think of these places as sets of functions rather than simply as locations, as places which, if they work well

  • foster networks, and act
  • as rural development support systems
  • as integration mechanisms,
  • as urban entry platforms,
  • as a social mobility channels, for the creation and distribution of social capital.

Within Toronto, Saunders has profiled Thorncliffe Park, but Parkdale, Crescent Town, Rexdale, or Scarborough Village could also all stand in. At one point, Kensington Market, or the Danforth, or Little Italy all served these functions, providing a landing place for city newcomers and now where social mobility has transformed them into desirable neighbourhoods. They are places where newcomers are able to get a foothold, and if it function correctly, connect to the rest of our city.

The drive for success is something North Americans, as the children of immigrants understand.

Saunders cited an example of how people from the same Turkish villages settled in Berlin and London and Istanbul with very different outcomes, because each of these areas offered different possibilities for integration. Understanding these complex dynamics can be challenging. Unlike the simplicity offered in a Millennial Village, it is harder to track the educational outcomes or the impact of remittances.

If an arrival city fails, isolation occurs.Rebellion bubbles up, informal economies thrive, and, as things worsen, crime, gangs and poverty emerge out of the “impediments to the natural ambitions” of these places. Protective conservatism can emerge, explaining how some immigrant communities are more conservative than the source villages from which residents emigrated. In another example, Saunders showed the audience pictures of a Dutch neighbourhood. Immigrants had settled here away from the city core, in low-rise apartments, where “it was easier to communicate with North Africa than with other Amsterdam residents.”

“It was a bottom rung, without the next two rungs,” Saunders said. So the grassy verges were converted, and the bottom floors of apartment buildings became retail and industrial working spaces. Densities were increased. It looked a lot like Spadina Avenue or New York’s Lower East Side, he explained. Regulations were pushed aside, and now they have become places where the rungs are visible, places which are succeeding. This Dutch neighbourhood has even created its own community police force, which includes a truancy patrol, unheard-of in laxer parts of the city.

Saunders warns that we are doing arrival cities wrong around the world. We need to do a few things to make sure these places work, he said:

  1. Start with the physical structures. As Jane Jacobs said, get planners and government out of the way of residents. Link these centres to other places. Transit is key to accesing the main city’s labour market, customers, and educational opportunities. Street lighting and home addresses raise property values (something residents monitor, he said, as closely as your average Torontonian obsesses over house values).
  2. Removing “bureaucratic” barriers is also key. Requirements for licensing hinder the emergence of small businesses. (The recent GTA Summit Alliance heard that 19 separate licenses and permits are required in Toronto to open a bakery.) Bureaucratic racism also hurts these communities. Black American settlements in northern states, for instance, had highways landed in the middle of their arrival cities.
  3. Citizenship barriers must also be lowered, not simply at the national level, but within the city. Postal code racism by employers is well-documented. If a large population of people sees no pathway to full citizenship, than they will see no reason to buy a house, to pay taxes, to send their children to higher education, because they see no future. Instead, newcomers will find a way to survive outside these structures, and sometimes outside the law. Countries, like Canada, have to be “very, very careful,” with reliance on temporary, foreign workers who cannot access full citizenship, Saunders warned.

Saunders concluded saying each of these have to be done in concert. No matter if it seems costly, Saunders said. Building the infrastructure to support them, including such basics as childcare, will save greater expenses later.

Arrival cities have the potential to be the next middle class or to be a continual source of problems.

His analysis and solutions, Saunders acknowledged, would be unsatisfactory to those people seeking a market solution and, also, to those looking to state actors to solve societal problems. It is, probably, why his solutions will work.

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January 14, 2011

Federalizing school fundraising

There’s a secret the Toronto District School Board doesn’t want us to know:

In some schools, chocolate-chip cookies cost a quarter and, in others, they cost a Toonie. So, if I bake 5 dozen cookies for a child in one school, we will raise $15 for the school’s coffers. In the second school, we would raise $120.

What the school board doesn’t want to tell us is just exactly how much money schools are able to raise from their parents and just how little others are able to raise. They don’t want this public because it’s part of the agreement that was made when school council bank accounts were closed and fundraising was brought, properly, under the authority of the school board’s finances; the commitment was that  individual school totals would not be revealed.

But that doesn’t mean the questions should be verboten.

  • How much money is raised by the richest group of schools compared to how much is raised by the poorest? How big is the gap?
  • How many schools have set up private foundations?

The Inner City Advisory Committee, as part of the provincial consultations on fundraising and fees, was able to pry some information out of the school board administration at their December meeting, but it was not provided in writing and was not minuted.

People for Education has been tracking school fundraising for more than a decade. In their 2009 report, they said

Fundraising is a reality in schools across the country, and fundraising activities can be an effective method for engaging parents and school communities, but high levels of fundraising lead to inequities among schools.

So, the Ontario Ministry of Education has heard the call and is conducting consultations on the topic of school fundraising this spring. They should hear some good ideas.

Max Wallace, a self-described rabble rouser, has an idea – federalism: the have-not should receive transfer payments from the haves to ensure a common standard. He has started up a Facebook group, the Coalition against Public School Inequality (CAPSI), to advocate for the idea, and he is making the rounds, talking to administrators, trustees, and journalists. Another parent, Nadia Heyd, has pointed out that the TDSB already has a way to do this. When the TDSB fundraising policy was put together, ten years ago, that idea was enshrined in it:

In its policy documents on fundraising, it also says “To ensure equity, a central equity fund shall be maintained that will hold funds voluntarily donated through a system-wide, curriculum-based fundraising criteria”

But who has heard of it since?

It’s time we talk about this fundamental inequality.

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