Posts tagged ‘Polarization’

February 26, 2014

A new measurement of health equity: Urban HEART Toronto

The City of Toronto’s official 140 neighbourhoods now have a new measurement tool: an adapted version of the World Health Organization‘s Urban Health Equity Assessment and Response Tool (Urban HEART).

To be released today by the Centre for Research on Inner City Health (CRICH) at St. Michael’s Hospital, Urban HEART Toronto is a neighbourhood-level dashboard to five key health domains:

  • Economic Opportunities
  • Social and Human Development
  • Governance and Civic Engagement
  • Physical Environment and Infrastructure, and
  • Population Health

Key indicators for each of these areas were identified by panels of experts from academia, government and community. Things like diabetes rates, high school graduation rates and income levels were all part of final set of data.

After being collected for every neighbourhood, the data were sorted into Red, Yellow, and Green, like a stop light. The intention was to take complex data understandable. So Red means below a minimum benchmark, Yellow means below an ideal target, and Green means the neighbourhood is at or above target. All the benchmarks and targets were developed by the technical team.

At the recent City of Toronto consultations on the City’s Strong Neighbourhood Strategy, policy staff Sarah Rix described the nuances the Urban HEART tool offers. Under the former Priority Neighbourhood Areas, identified ten years ago, resources were concentrated in 13 identified area of the city. However, Urban HEART takes a wider view, allowing each neighbourhood to be measured, a little like a blood pressure reading or body temperature taken, Rix explained.

The result? Urban HEART allows anyone to get an idea of the strengths and weaknesses both within a specific neighbourhood and to also see how it compares to others across the city.

Under the new Urban HEART tool, no neighbourhood in the City is entirely green, nor is any entirely red. Neighbourhoods like Bridle Path suffer, for instance, for not being very walkable, while places like Scarborough Village, at the edge of the lake, show better mental health rates than the majority of other city neighbourhoods.

Like any collection of health readings, if a neighbourhood indicator pops up yellow or red under Urban HEART, further probing is probably a good idea. High youth ? High premature mortality rates? A simple reading of the numbers won’t tell us what to do, but they will tell us about the neighbourhood’s well-being and where to look to fix any problems.

First stop for Urban HEART will be an update of the City’s Strong Neighbourhood Strategy and discussion of ‘Neighbourhood Investment Areas’ at the Community Development and Recreation Committee on March 10, 2014.

Full disclosure: I was a member of the Steering Committee for the development of Urban HEART and helped with some of the technical aspects of the project.

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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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August 25, 2013

The Costs of Raising a Child: Bargain, Regular or Luxury

Like the debates over the poverty line, the current debate over the cost of raising a child has caused a stir. (How can you not factor in housing and childcare in these latest calculations? Bargain-shopping, seems to be the reply.)

In a previous job, I was once asked to update the Manitoba Department of Agriculture’s 2004 study on the cost of raising a child. Which child, I asked? The one that went to the local library in the summer because it was free, the one that went to day-camp, or the one that went to overnight-camp? I couldn’t do it.

Kids, it seems, come in bargain, retail and luxury versions. So, following on the concrete examples offered by academics like Peggy MacIntosh for how race affects privilege, here are some contrasts for children. Assign the costs yourself.

Category Bargain Retail Luxury
Housing Apartment Semi-detached in city or House in suburbs Detached downtown (and country escape) or House in country
Sleeping arrangements Bunk beds Double bed King-sized bed
Transport to (high) school Walk Bus pass Drive
School lunch Bread & butter 7 Grain bread & meat / cheese Prepared hot lunch
Tutoring After school (detention) Local university student Professional tutor
Childcare Neighbour / Family / Stay home Childcare centre, preferably licensed Nannies
Summer vacation Visit to family (again) Cottage (again) Europe (again)
Summer camp Community agency with field trips to local park Skills / Interest-based camp (Circus, Science, Video Games, etc.) Overnight “Away” camp, one month plus.
Home computer Anything 5 years old; no printer Personal Computer (shared desktop) Mac Computer (own laptop)
Outside play area Sidewalk Backyard Tennis club
Birthday present New clothes New toys New electronics
Dishwasher Family member Maytag Maid
Laundry Laundromat Kenmore Maid
High school failure Drop-out Alternative high school Prep school
Crooked teeth So? Braces, but only for one sibling Invisible braces
School supply shopping Dollar Store Staples Apple store
Birthday party Home, with games Party Room (bowling, play gym, etc.) Home (with bowling, bouncy castle, pony, clown, etc.)

Lots more examples to think of, no?

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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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November 23, 2011

Growing class divide means some children may be denied a generational legacy

Once, as part of a group exercise to identify personal values, I had to answer the question, “For what would you be willing to die?”

“I would rush into the street to save a child!” I said. My colleague nodded his agreement and we talked a little more about how becoming a parent changes your perspective on what should be valued. So, when it came time to report back to the larger group, I described our shared generational commitment to protect those younger.

“Oh!” he interjected, “I didn’t mean I’d die for any child; I was talking about my children.”

My partner’s narrow protection of his genetic progeny shocked me — and reminded me never to ask him to babysit. However, many of us do recognize a wider common good, a place where all children and youth are protected and secured by the village that is us.

Youth are cited as one of the top concerns for residents across our city’s neighbourhoods. United Way Toronto’s environmental scan, Torontonians Speak Out, identified this in 2002, so that it became one of the community funder’s top three priorities (neighbourhoods and newcomers being the other two).

More recently, Trish Hennessy, from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), has been doing focus groups with Environics, to understand Torontonians’ voting records and public policy priorities. Among other interesting findings, she has found some deep resonance around issues of legacy. This is among voters who have voted in the current municipal administration, they too are talking about the next generation. As this boomer bulge ages, it is considering what it wants to leave behind and to whom.

The question is what shape that legacy will be, and for whom will we leave it?

Recent comments from Bowling Alone author and professor Robert Putnam cast a dreary light on the future of North America’s children. In the interview cited in Harvard’s Social Capital Blog, Putnam argued that, while Americans are seeing more

integration along religious and racial lines, there is an opposite trend when it comes to class, mainly, he believes, because of the widening gap in incomes. Americans are less likely today to marry outside their class. Children from lower classes are less likely to spend time with their peers or take part in community activities and have less confidence, while the trend for middle-class children is the opposite.

In sum, he explains, children have very different access to life opportunities dependent on who their parents are.

This growing income gap is not news to Hennessy’s colleagues at the CCPA; economists Armine Yalnizyan and Hugh Mackenzie have shown that unless we think about growing levels of inequality, many more will be further left behind on an economic level. The lack of economic opportunities has similar echos around access to education, housing, and other social determinants of health.

Mobility between classes may also be on decline in Canada, although the Conference Board of Canada ranks us 5th out of 11 peer countries.. American mobility is even worse, according an editor at Time magazine and others those who monitor such things.

Yet, youth are still hopeful. For instance, Joseph Rowntree study released this fall in the U.K. showed that youth from low-income families in the U.K. do have aspirations for higher education. Parents, too, want high achievement for their children. In the last Toronto District School Board (TDSB) student/parent census (2008), almost 9⁄10 parents said they want their kids to go to university. Among low–income families, that only fell to 8⁄10.

So, are these our children, too? Will we provide them the opportunities and encouragement they want?

I believe we will. We must.

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March 26, 2010

TDSB ARCs may push out the poor

Recommendations from the Toronto District School Board’s ten Area Review Committees (ARCs) are beginning to emerge, and some communities are looking at school closures.

When the TDSB set out to evaluate “which locations should be closed, consolidated or upgraded,” some wondered how equitably this would all play out in the course of these difficult conversations.

Were the schools in poor areas being singled out first?

Parents in some Toronto communities said so. Reporters poked at the story. Some trustees grumbled.

And, it turns out, they were right.

Twice as many schools under review are in the bottom half (the poorer half) of the school board’s Learning Opportunity Index (LOI) as compared to those in the top half. And, of the 16 schools being reviewed in the top half of the LOI, they are all less vulnerable to closure because they have higher enrollment and utilization rates.

The numbers don’t change much however you slice them, by quartiles or quintiles.

But, of course, it’s more complex than that.

The schools under review are grouped with others from across the range of need.

While four of the ARCs contain schools from only the bottom end of the LOI, five other ARCs have poor schools grouped with richer schools. (Only one ARC (at Yonge and Davisville) is reviewing schools from only the top half of the LOI. Perhaps, not surprisingly, because they had higher enrollments, they have recommended no closures.)

Schools which are able to mobilize their parents to attend numerous evening meetings have actively participated in the process, printing buttons and flyers. Other schools, where parents may work additional jobs or evening hours or not be able to afford child care, have not been not in the room, to describe their vision for the future.

By reports, the dynamics at many of the ARCs have not been not great.

What started as a democratic and inclusive process has turned into a long, drawn-out, and divisive process. Staff at one community agency reported to a recent Toronto Neighbourhood Centres meeting how committee members were told they could not speak at a public meeting. Trustees complain openly about each other where ARCs cross ward boundaries. Blogs have been set up. One ARC has moved from outright hostility to a sullen withdrawal from the process.

So, poorer schools have faced a double jeopardy: more poor schools are under review, and they are also far less likely to be participating in a process which requires a strong and active participant voice.

Before the ARC recommendations come up for adoption in May, someone should review the decisions, with an equity lens, to ensure that those with the fewest resources aren’t being cut again.

December 2010 post-script: Schools which were announced to be closed from this round of ARCs are:

  • Brooks Road Public School
  • Heron Park Junior Public School
  • Peter Secor Junior Public School
  • McCowan Road Junior Public School
  • Pringdale Gardens Junior Public School
  • Silverthorn Junior Public School
  • Arlington Middle School
  • Kent Senior Public School-Alpha II

No schools in the Top quintile were closed; two in the Upper income quintile, one a middle school and one an alternative school; one school in the middle-income group; three in the lower-income quintile; and three in the Bottom (closing in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood have been postponed pending further review).

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February 3, 2010

Mixed-income neighbourhoods

Mixed income neighbourhoods carry some cachet. The idea of middle class and poor folk living in harmony together catches us.

However, when looked at more closely, these communities tend to get more mixed reviews.

Whether it’s Martine August’s doctoral work on Regent Park or Canada Research Chair David Ley description of social mix as a transitional stage, Canadian scholars are not giving mixed neighbourhoods the same rave reviews that housing developers are.

Joining the discussion, Christopher Leo, University of Winnipeg political science professor and blogger, has joined the discussion with a recent post on the topic: “Does Mixed Income Housing Ameliorate Poverty?”.

Leo summarizes the research from the Urban Affairs journal which shows the conflicting impacts of mixed income neighbourhoods. He also reminds us about the increasing segregation by housing form by income and punctures some of the positive mythology which surrounds the ideal of these communities. It is a refreshing critical look at what works and what doesn’t.

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October 23, 2009

"Are there limits to gentrification? Evidence from Vancouver"

Gentrification is fifty years old this year, UBC professor and Canada Research Chair in Geography David Ley explained to a University of Toronto audience earlier this week. Or at least the word “gentrification” is.

Although attributed to sociologist Ruth Glass first in 1964, the term can be found in an unpublished paper of hers five years earlier. Glass’ definition still holds up well, Ley explained. Gentrification is the movement of middle income households into lower income or working-class neighbourhoods.

Ley was speaking a Cities Centre hosted lecture entitled “Are there limits to gentrification? Evidence from Vancouver.” Reflecting back on the decades of work he has done on Vancouver neighbourhoods, Ley made the following points, some new, some old.

Shifts in the housing and labour markets are linked

While the labour marker and the housing market have been “commonly partitioned in academia,” they are coupled.

Citing the historical shifts in Cabbagetown, Ley read off a list of occupations from the 1960s and then a few decades afterwards. Physicians replaced Punch Press Operators. Teachers replaced transit workers. Higher income occupations replaced working class occupations. (It’s similar to the process I have described in my own neighbourhood in an earlier post.)

“Clearly a social change was going on,” said Ley.

The growth in the managerial and professional class occurred at the same time as the closure of factories were disappearing from Canada’s 5 largest metropolitan areas.  Almost as an aside, Ley pointed out the unrecognized role good quality public sector jobs has played in generating this shift. [One can’t help thinking how this links to Richard Florida’s idea of the creative classes.)

So, as the labour market shifted, the housing markets were likely to follow.

Industrial transition is the meta-narrative in the story of gentrification.

Gentrification plays out differently in different places because of the varied conditions. Urban areas with a stronger industrial base, such as Winnipeg and Windsor, will be less likely to face gentrification than post-industrial cities, such as Toronto. During the 1970s and 80s, for example, Toronto gained 60,000 of these higher status jobs while 75,000 jobs were lost in other parts of the economy.

The movement of artists predicts gentrification

The presence of artists other “pre-professionals” (with a lot of cultural capital, but little economic capital) signals a neighbourhoods in transition.

Ley described artists as modern magicians, transforming the material world of disinvested neighbourhoods, creating cachet.  Young professionals, eager to pick up such cultural capital, soon follow, driving prices up. So artists are continually shunted along out of the secure neighbourhoods into other working class, and often non-English -speaking, ones.

“So where they were in 1971, they are gone. And where they weren’t, they are in 1991,” Ley said. “Their concentration leads to their own elimination.”

The middle class then begins to move in, once terra incognito is proven. In Toronto, we saw movement along Bloor Street as this occurred. In Vancouver, the growth was along Main Street.

So what kinds of neighbourhoods has gentrification favoured?

Ley’s study of Vancouver neighbourhoods since the 1970s found these patterns:

  1. Gentrification typically occurs in areas adjacent to other high status areas.
  2. It also typically occurs close to environmental amenities, such as waterfronts and parks, where Ley remarked wryly, physiques can be admired.
  3. Gentrification occurs overwhelmingly in areas which are Anglo-Canadian (British stock).
  4. Gentrification occurs in areas where rents are above average.

This is the founding pattern. Ley said wryly that he missed the opportunity in the 970s to become a millionaire when he had the predictive model to see where gentrification would spread. Instead, Ley said, he had only the deep moral satisfaction that he had had the insight, if not the wit, to invest.

“However, once the market is ‘proven,’ a much more eclectic, experimental phase follows,” Ley explained, “and areas likely to gentrify become much harder to predict.”

Some neighbourhoods resist gentrification

People have been talking about the imminent gentrification of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Grandview Woodland for 35 years, Ley explained. It has many heritage buildings, walkable, close to water and some tree-lined streets, all indicators in the earlier model of a place ripe for gentrification. And yet, they remain, some of the poorest census tracts in Canada.

Attempts at gentrification are regularly made by hopeful arrivals. Condo marketers have played off this grittiness, advertising, “Be bold or move to the suburbs.” But, as one local business owner said to Ley, “these people just wash through.”

So how have these neighbourhoods resisted persistent attempts to move them upscale?

Ley’s short answer: A complex local sense of place which is unfriendly to gentrification

Ley’s longer answer:

  • Proximate to an industrial waterfront, where one nearby resident said the rendering plant had made him a vegetarian.
  • A challenging street scene that creates unpredictable encounters in public space.
  • Local politics are highly tolerant of existing diversity and hostile to capitalism in general. For instance, when Starbucks opened on Commercial Drive, their windows were smashed repeatedly.

Neighbourhoods “in decline” are where poor people are housed, yet, Ley cautioned later, governments need to be cautious about intervening there, as improvements may lead to displacements.

Gentrifiers can triumph through persistent incrementalism

“There is clear evidence gentrifiers are trying to change their externalities,” Ley said as he flipped a transparency onto the overhead.

The graph showed the number of complaints about the smell emanating from the local rendering plant. A wave of complaints in the 1990s lead to  changes. Then, in 2005, the complaints sky-rocketed, doubling, even when additional changes were made.

Ley flipped another transparency onto the overhead: An excerpt from the Globe & Mail’s real estate section, Done Deal. A five bedroom house with a two bedroom rental unit in Grandview Woodland.

  • 1996 – Selling price, $277,000
  • 2001 – Selling price, $428,000
  • 2006 – Selling price $920,000
  • 2009 – Asked $899,000; Selling price – $1,015,000

It is one of the dichotomies of the private market, Ley explained, later in answer to a question from the audience. “The bottom line is if we have a free-market in land, than those with the most money will outbid others and hold the land.”

Recognizing the right to the city for poor people

The Downtown Eastside has held gentrification at bay, mainly, Ley says because 40% of housing in the neighbourhoods is non-market. The City has sustained affordable housing units, and neighbourhood residents and organizations have a “poor people’s turf” legitimate.

The local ethos is preservation, public investment and revitalization without displacement. It is a grudging recognition of a right to the city for poor people.

Government regulation and policy is central

In the past century, Ley explains, neo-liberal policies have encouraged the spread of gentrification and the displacement of poor people because of the lack of investments it has made in affordable housing. Escalating levels of public debt will work against the revival of a welfare state that will create new housing.

The current push for sustainable housing and improved “eco-densities” will further aggravate the problem of affordable housing and further prime the inequality that is running the poor out of Canadian cities, Ley explained.

Although newer developments purport to improve densities, building taller buildings, the units are large and use more expensive materials, leaving those with low incomes displaced form the areas being “renewed.” Indeed these taller buildings often have fewer people in them then low-rises they replaced.

Gentrification cannot be benign

Strictly speaking, if higher-end housing units are built as infill or on brownfield, displacement of the poor is not an issue.

However, Ley explained in response to an audience question, the argument shifts then to the effects beyond the building unit itself, such as whether other middle income households are then drawn to the area. Housing co-ops, for instance, have been argued to prime neighbourhoods for gentrification. One social housing service provider explained to Ley that they want their housing to be “gritty” so that it doesn’t generate these external effects.

Finally, approached afterwards on the topic of mixed neighbourhoods, Ley explained that social mixing is usually just a transitional stage, on the way to complete gentrification.

The audience would have stayed longer to flesh out the lecture further, but another class arrived, this time to face an exam.

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July 16, 2009

One neighbourhood, many politics

It could have been an awkward conversation — me: a manager; my neighbour: a striking city worker; and another neighbour, who makes her living in the service industry, depending on tips.

The topic of the city workers’ strike, now ending its third week, had just popped into our front porch chitchat.

I froze, tried to shoo the topic away.

But instead, what started as a snipe about “greedy unions” turned into a wide-ranging discussion about the integrity in collective bargaining and the hard and very human realities of living through a strike. The exchange became a chance to soften hard lines which missed the complexity of our situations.

By the end, we were laughing, teasing, empathizing.

We were able to have this conversation because we had all know each other for over a dozen years. We trusted each other to have this hard conversation.

The Toronto Star profiled a similar encounter between neighbours. It is, though, a conversation that may be less and less likely in Toronto neighbourhoods, which are increasingly divided along income lines. (Why do we build homogenized houses of similar value in separated neighbourhoods?)

What happens in neighbourhoods which have less diversity, whether those differences are along political, class, or racial lines? Political science presents a useful concept to answer this: supermajorities (more than a majority, often 2/3).

In supermajorities, diverse opinions are not heard, and political positions harden. What was a conservative or a progressive belief becomes, in an unchallenged field, an ultra-conservative or a radical one.

Conversations like the one on my front porch tonight reminded me of one more reason why mixed neighbourhoods are important.

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July 1, 2009

Toronto swimming pools: Class in session

One of the strongest arguments put forward to save the school pools in the TDSB has been the issue of equitable access to a public resource. Or as the headline on the Globe and Mail article by Margaret Atwood put it, without pools, “Rich kids swim. Poor kids sink.

Critics have groused because swimming pools seem a unjustified demand on the public purse for a perk which many school boards outside Toronto do not enjoy.

However, the argument goes, school pools allow students who don’t have access to summer cottages and camp to learn a basic survival skills.

It’s a debating point that has held some sway. Last week, the TDSB voted to save twenty pools, and to put 13 more on hold while the schools look for further support. Seven pools will be closed. [Declaration of potential conflict of interest: A pool will be closing at a high school which my son will be attending next year.]

Given the relentless cuts over the years, the news came as somewhat of a relief.

A closer look, though, at the pools which have been saved gives some credence to the “pools as perks for the already privileged” argument.

The list of saved pools (Forest Hill, Lawrence Park and Humberside, among others) are in some of the toniest parts of Toronto. Similarly, the list of closing pools (Bickford Centre, Central Commerce and Parkdale among others) are in poorer neighbourhoods. Such anecdotal evidence requires a closer examination.

Using these schools’ ranks on the TDSB’s Learning Opportunity Index lets us see who has won this fight. The Learning Opportunity Index uses student-level data to rank schools according to their socioeconomic bracket. The Stats Can taxfiler data measures include the percentage of students below the Low Income Measure and the percentage of families on social assistance. The higher on the Index a school is, the more rich student population is.

A rough analysis, breaking the schools into upper, middle and lower tiers shows that schools in richer neighbourhoods are the ones being saved.

Of the 20 pools which have been saved:

  • 12 [60%] of the school pools (8 high schools and 4 elementary pools) are in the top third of the LOI (i.e. the schools with the richest students)
  • 6 [30%] of the saved pools are in “middle-class” high schools, and
  • 2 [10%] of the pools which will remain open, in high schools, are in the bottom third (the neediest schools).

Comparatively, looking at the 20 pools that are still threatened or being closed, poorer schools fared worse:

  • 2 elementary school in the upper tier have a pool being put on hold.
  • 8 pools in middle tier schoolsface a threat
    • 4 closed;
    • 4 threatened (3 high schools + 1 elementary)
  • 10 pools in the poorest tier are under threat
    • 3 closed (2 high schools + Bickford Centre);
    • 7 threatened (5 high schools + 2 elementary)

Troubling, indeed.

The sample skews in favour of schools in more well-heeled neighbourhoods, but this may be a result of a “sampling error.” Perhaps more of the  pools are simply located in richer schools and so, by saving them, more “rich pools” will be saved.

So, there’s another way to examine this.

Let’s look at the number of pools saved against the number of pools threatened in each of these three income tiers. If these numbers are disproportionate then we may have evidence of a systemic problem of classism.

Sadly, these numbers tell the same biased story.

  • In the top tier, 14 pools were threatened. 12 are being saved, or six-sevenths of them (86%).
  • In the middle tier of schools, 14 pools were threatened. 7 of them are being saved (or half).
  • In the bottom tier, the poorest schools, 2 pools have been saved of the threatened 11  + the unranked Bickford Centre for Adult Students & Continuing Education. (So one in six or 17% of these pools which serve poorer students has been saved.)

Also worth noting is that the only 4 pools in elementary schools which are being saved are all in the top bracket.  However, two “top tier” elementary school have been put on hold, as have six other elementary schools, all in the middle or bottom tier.

It’s a pretty damning picture. “Higher class” pools are five times as likely to be saved as pools in the poorest schools and twice as likely to be saved as pools in the middle tier.

How can this be so?

Part of the way this has fallen out may well be because one of the key criteria used to determine whether a pool would be saved, that is whether it could “generate sufficient revenue to offset operating costs.” Pools which serve richer populations are probably more likely to be able to do so. It was a sound decision — without the further vetting needed to assure it was an equitable one.

There’s no maliciousness here, but no one asked the question, so we have created further inequalities along class lines.

If our public education system is to meet its stated ideal of leveling the playing field for all students, another look at this decision must be taken. Rich kids are swimming, and the poor ones aren’t.

For list of school pools and their status, see more.

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