Archive for May, 2009

May 31, 2009

Key factors associated with youth delinquency

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

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

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

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

Here’s what the report found:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 28, 2009

The strength of EDI as a predictive tool

I am probably about to commit heresy: I hate the EDI.

The EDI, in long form the Early Development Instrument, has gained popularity as a population tool to rank students’ readiness for school. Developed by Dan Offord and Magdelena Janus at McMaster University, and popularized by Clyde Hertzman at the University of British Columbia, the EDI has been shown to have a strong correlation to the likelihood of a student cohort to achieve academically. But more tellingly, it strongly correlates to students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and the neighbourhoods where they live.

The EDI tool is administered in Senior Kindergarten by classroom teachers in the space of about fifteen minutes per student. To quote, students are assessed on five domains:

  • Physical Health and Well-being referring to physical readiness for the school day, physical independence, and gross and fine motor skills.
  • Social Knowledge and Competence referring to overall social competence, responsibility and respect, approaches to learning and readiness to explore new things.
  • Emotional Health and Maturity referring to prosocial and helping behaviours, anxious and fearful behaviour, aggressive behaviour and hyperactivity and inattention.
  • Language and Cognitive Development referring to basic and advanced literacy skills, interest in literacy/numeracy and memory, and basic numeracy skills.
  • Communication Skills & General Knowledge referring to the child’s ability to communicate needs and idea effectively and interest in the surrounding world.

In each of these domains, children who come from tougher economic circumstances or from outside the dominant linguistic or ethnoracial group are invariably disadvantaged. For instance, whether a child arrives to school with appropriate clothing, can discuss an idea, or knows her way around a picture book are all EDI measures. Low EDI scores are often, though not always, evidence of deprivation.

Children who start from further behind also face a higher hurdle, if they are to measure up to their peers. A different framework would  measure the improvements children may have made; instead the EDI uses a threshold to measure a child’s readiness for school. You make the cut-off or you’re at-risk.

The strengths that marginalized students might bring to the classroom, but which fall outside the scope of the the framework for “school readiness,” are also not recognized in the same weighty way. Internal resiliency in the face of a strange school setting doesn’t get measured.

(My favourite example of this was when the girl from across the street who spoke English as a second language began kindergarten with my daughter, she relied on my daughter to repeat the teacher’s instructions slowly. Then, in the afternoon, when they both attended Heritage language classes, they reversed roles. It was a creative coping strategy.)

Finally, I hate the the EDI because it can act as a proxy for teachers’ middle class prejudices and ethnocultural biases. However, therein also lies its strength.

Not surprisingly, groups of students who do poorly in academic rankings in Kindergarten generally continue to do poorly in the eyes of their teachers in higher grades. Teachers are at least consistent.

Like Robert Fulgham’s Kindergarten Poem, all your school really needs to know is how you did in kindergarten. If your Kindergarten teacher thought you were unruly and inattentive, then probably so will subsequent ones.

Research has shown that the EDI is a reliable predictor of children’s likelihood of completing school successfully. We can tell that early on who might not make it.

The EDI’s predictive ability is sad confirmation of the social gap that some identifiable demographic groups come from further behind and stay behind throughout their schooling.

Yet, there is hope. Hertzman’s work, with the school system in British Columbia, shows that a coordinated, community-based response can make a difference in the school readiness of all children. So, that is where our work begins.

May 19, 2009

An electronic front porch

Web 2.0 is re-shaping the way individuals communicate to those living near them, and, concurrently, social media needs to re-form to meet the demands of local communities.

I found an interesting article with a long name, Networking Serendipitous Social Encounters in Urban Neighbourhoods, written by Marcus Foth and published in Australia, which makes the above argument very well.

I had been considering it since another Twitter friend, Michael Cayley (@memeticbrand), challenged me last year to consider how social media supports the way we interact in our neighbourhoods. As Social Capital Value Added blogger and the founder of Riverdale Rapids ning, Cayley’s question is an honest one.

Here’s what I learned from Foth’s analysis:

  • If so designed, Web 2.0 tools can compliment community development work, allowing on-line communities of choice to merge into communities of place. Social media supplement and enhance local channels for communication. (U of T professor Barry Wellman had written extensively on this dynamic, as well.)
  • In times before electronic communications, we relied on neighbours and came to know them. “The fact that people residing in the immediate surroundings were known also established a feeling of security, community identity and a sense of belonging – a feeling that clashes with the experience of living in today’s high density, compact urban environments.” (Foth, 2009) We find community in other places now.
  • The construction of physical “town squares” and other public spaces has becomes less important in these technologically connected times. Electronic communications now facilitate personal interactions and, often, ways of meeting physically. Community connections are strengthened in different ways now.
  • Caution is required as traditional power dynamics can get played out through social media. These electronic “front porches” also have a hierarchy. Those with more social capital gather more social capital.
  • People won’t be attracted to place-focused web 2.0 tools simply because of proximity. Websites like Neighborhood Fruit or Wikimapia or the ubiquitous Craig’s List all offer some more concrete reward for interaction, whether it’s a fresh peach, esoteric knowledge, or a new job.

Foth identifies a social media project he is working on in three Australian cities to develop “urban tribes” which offer enough diversity for on-line subscribers to find others to be self-sustaining, .

In the end, it was a compelling article to find. The magic of the Web2.0 internet is that it offers serendipitous encounters, like those afforded by sitting on a front porch. (In fact, as our neighbourhoods become more homogeneous, the chances that our communities of interest and our local communities will overlap only rises. Our interconnections will only be stronger.)

Only a few days ago, I was talking to a neighbour, by phone, about how the two of us were both sick and therefore house-bound. The only interactions we had had for a few days were through things that plugged into walls. It seemed sort of sad at the time.

Now I can see we were riding the crest of the future.

May 16, 2009

The annual summer learning deficit looms for low income students

Soft summer days will soon be upon us, schools will let out, and poor kids will be left to fall further behind academically.

In a recent summer, my own son was able to collect a number of free T-shirts when he attended consecutive weeks of science, computer and basketball camps. He was provided with a rich range of experiences, excursions and learning opportunities.

In contrast, this week, I put together a funding application for one of my agency’s summer camps. The budget broke down so that each child would allocated bus fare for one return trip/week with an additional $8 per child for admission or other costs, $5/day/child for food (because food security is a real issue), and $2/day/child for supplies for arts & crafts, games and recreation. We’re hoping to be given the $10,000 maximum grant. Otherwise these amounts will have to be cut.

However, these are differences of opportunity between poor kids and their more privileged counterparts that are apparent even in schools within the public education system.

The real inequity emerges from the learning shortfall or “summer slide” that occurs when school is out in July and August. The students from more privileged backgrounds continue to gain academic ground through the summer, boosting their verbal, organizational and other learning skills. At best, students from low income families tread water. More often they backslide.

Learning disparities accumulate each summer so that by high school, the summer learning gap strongly predicts whether a student will take an academic course load, finish high school or attend post-secondary education.

Perhaps most startlingly, the implications from the research are that if schools are able to help low-income students catch-up when they are in session, then supporting these learning opportunities through the summer break may be more important even than the early learning initiatives, which first gave kids their leg up, but which are not as long-lasting.

This issue of the summer achievement learning gap has some respectable backers:

In February, the Toronto District School Board received a staff report on year-round schooling. Unfortunately, the report was limited by an examination of whether the current 185 days of instruction should be spread throughout the calendar year, rather than looking at whether additional instructional days might have an impact.

While not making a formal recommendation, the door is still open. The Board report left the possibility of moving to a different calendar if a school community requested the scheduling change.

The summer learning gap is not an issue that can be easily addressed at the board-level. Funding and teaching contracts are provincial matters.

However, within Ontario,Toronto probably has the most compelling reason and capacity to act on the issue. The TDSB’s leadership on inner city and urban issues offers the opportunity for the board to lead on this issue, in the best interests of low income students.

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May 10, 2009

In a mixed neighbourhood: Theory, please meet Reality

In one of my last posts, A white resident’s dilemma, I suggested that mixed neighbourhoods were good solutions to the tidal wave of gentrification in many cities. In riposte, Kevin Harris, the U.K. blogger for Neighbourhoods, quoted some residents with whom he has worked and who weren’t convinced by the real world validity of the ‘mixed neighbourhoods’ concept:

‘You had neighbours who you wouldn’t mix with if you were dying. It was theory-led, they had this theory that everyone had to mix together and it wasn’t going to work.’

This resident’s comment, a good reality test, is a challenge to the gnarly problem of how we live together, in community.  Personality differences, alone, can challenge the possibility of this theoretical neighbourhood. (I remember one of my own neighbours once explaining to me about a woman at his church, “People say she is hard to get along with, but I know what to do and I’ll tell you what you do. You’ve got to ask her about her dog. We get along just fine.”)

Yes, indeed, living in community is difficult. At a minimum, this resident’s comments speak to the need for common civility. Still, I can present my own similar example of theory clashing with reality.

Last fall, one of my other neighbours remarked to me how well we all got along on the street. “I think,” he said, “it’s because we are all so much alike, at the same stage of life.” It threw me back. Here I was, presenting later that week at the Ontario Non Profit Housing Association conference on the topic of strong neighbourhoods, and he was describing a good neighbourhood as one that was not inclusive.

So obviously my theory, seemingly naive and well-principled, needed more work. It prompted me to turn to some of the academics who have looked at this issue.

My instincts about the stages of gentrification and its homogenizing effects are borne out by studies such as Alan Walks and Richard Maaranen, who looked at gentrification in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal between 1961 and 2001. Within Toronto, they found that more than a third of neighbourhoods were gentrifying, mainly around the downtown core.

So I wasn’t imagining it, but how about this idealistic answer I had proposed?

U of T’s Centre for Urban and Community Studies/Cities Centre also held a symposium last year which did an international comparison of the patterns of gentrification in the western world. They made the important point there that “mixed neighbourhoods can be defined in many ways, through class, race, ethnicity, language, lifestyle, generation, household type.”

I felt like I was getting closer.

What Kevin Harris’ resident was complaining about, and my neighbour was commenting on, was the reality that co-location does not work. In fact, it often aggravates.

It is common sense that many residents do better when located close to others at a similar life stage. If we want to swap cigarettes or baby-sitting or garden tools, it’s easier usually with someone in the same life stage or age grouping. Noise complaints are often an example of clashing lifestyles/stages: someone’s up too late partying, or someone is up too early mowing. Zoning laws mediate these very things.

If, the differences we are talking about, however, are based in class and/or race, then even more so, a structural answer is needed, a need to create and strengthen the social and institutional bridges between us. These are the places where community can be created (and much of what this blog is about).

In all of these examples of division, the answer lies in strengthening the social fabric of the neighbourhood in explicit, yay planned, ways.

Community walkability is important. Our children need to go to the same schools. Housing forms should be similar. Economic opportunities must be shared. The issue also underscores the important functions of civility and shared identities.

Mixed neighbourhoods have to be about more than living alongside each other, but are really about living with each other. Still this seems too idealistic because frictions arise, if our communities are zero-sum games, where if one wins, the other loses.

Neighbourhoods are situated in a larger context, so mixed neighbourhoods about more than civility and good zoning; they have to address and mitigate social and economic injustices.

Otherwise, Kevin Harris’ residents is right: they won’t work.

May 6, 2009

Greenwood-Coxwell Jane’s Walk

Sunday, May 3, 2009.
Photographs by Jeff Stewart (many thanks!)

To see the profile of this walk in the Globe & Mail by the Architourist, see here.

Leading a Jane's Walk, 2009

Leading a Jane

Discussing importance of community hubs and social institutions

Roden School: Discussing importance of community hubs and social institutions

Discussing community resiliency and social networks

Top of Craven Road: Discussing community resiliency and social networks

Discussing Robert Putnam's <i>Bowling Alone</i>

Gerrard Street Theatre: Discussing Robert Putnam

Discussing the buffering function of neighbourhoods

Greenwood Park: Discussing the buffering function of neighbourhoods

More photos, see reflex6002
Another Blogger’s perspective on the walk:
Demographic profile: Greenwood Coxwell

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May 5, 2009

A white resident’s dilemma: gentrification or segregation?

A Twitter friend, @JessieNYC, a smart and progressive woman who lives in New York City, worried recently about the selection of her new home. She had two choices: to live on the Upper East Side, a high income and mainly white neighbourhood, or to move to another apartment in East Harlem. Her choice was essentially to remain, isolated, in a white enclave or to become a gentrifier.

Gentrification is an issue about which I think a lot, but have hesitated to write about specifically because this is so personally about my neighbourhood. However another Twitter user I follow recently posted a link to Life, Inc., a searing analysis of gentrification and racial politics in Brooklyn, New York. So I have decided to take the plunge; these are things that have to be debated.

For the past fifteen years, my neighbourhood has been changing.

Renters have been displaced as homes are converted to single family dwellings. Front-yard vegetable gardens are being replaced by granite rock and Japanese maples. Median income is rising. The occupational classes of my neighbours have been changing. Where I used to live next to taxi drivers, railway conductors, sales clerks, hotel maids and medical secretaries, I now live among a range of fashion, acting, film and visual artists and writers, and professionals such as social workers, librarians, teachers, and museum curators.

And the neighbourhood is now less racially diverse. Where my (mixed-race) children could see their Chinese heritage reflected around them, where they learned to greet older adults as Po-po or Gong-gong, many of these families have moved away, almost always to be replaced by a young, white couple and a large dog, pleased to be able to afford to enter the housing market on their two incomes. One of the kindergarten teachers at the school where my kids, now in high school, attended, was surprised to realize this year that every child in her morning class is white. When my children were young, she had less than a handful of student who were white.

When I whined about these demographic shifts, a Facebook friend called me out. “Tough living where others want to live, isn’t it?” he said.

Even Jane Jacobs defended gentrification, saying this “unslumming” showed the desirability of a neighbourhood and improved the neighbourhood.

Others have admonished: Change happens!

So I have struggled to articulate my discomfort with these changes.

They are threefold:

  1. The economic drivers of the change
  2. The racial impacts of gentrification
  3. The homogenization of the neighbourhood

1. The neighbourhood change is as a result of economic forces. CUNY Professor Neil Smith provides some insight into the dynamics of these shifts (See the blog Racialicious for more). The forces underlying these moves and improvements to the the neighbourhood are economic – nay, capitalistic, rather than a reflection of social forces or personal decisions.

Smith elaborates, denying “our goal is some rigidly conceived `even development’. This would make little sense. Rather, the goal is to create socially determined patterns of differentiation and equalisation which are driven not by the logic of capital but genuine social choice.

People will maximize their return, so if that means selling out while prices are high, so they will move.  At the neighbourhood level, this plays out as high residential mobility, as prices continue to rise, and people’s price point is reached. (I remember when the first house on our street sold for over $250,000. My older neighbour crowed to me, “Diane, we’re quarter-millionaires!”). When my neighbours move away, they are having their rental housing sold from under them, or, as owners, are cashing in and moving further away, often outside the city.

These individual actions have a cumulative impact.

2. These neighbourhood changes play out racially, as well. In a city as diverse as Toronto, what plays out economically plays out racially. And because income and race are correlated here, upwardly mobile neighbourhoods are becoming whiter. Professor David Hulchanski’s work is bearing this out (see my previous post on racial divisions tracking income polarization).

The racial composition of my neighbourhood has shifted, and whites are becoming the dominant racial group here, the very opposite dynamic of what is happening demographically in the city.

3. Perhaps the most telling symptom of gentrification, is that this demographic shift is unidirectional.

Gentrification happens, in stages. And, as working class has shifted to artistic class, the upper class (and higher housing prices) cannot be far behind. The downtown city core of Toronto has become a destination.

Some of neighbours are just fine with that. Often, these same some, upon their arrival here, find the rough granularity of the neighbourhood disturbing. Often, they moved here thinking they have purchased a good bargain, just at the edge of one of the high-income neighbourhoods around us, and they mistake this neighbourhood for that one. It’s not long before they are disappointed and organizing a petition.

Or, sometimes, they thought the “colour” would be nice. And, yet, their singular arrival usually displaces an East Asian family. (Stats Can data shows one in five ethnic-Chinese people left the neighbourhood between 2001 and 2006.)The only in-migration to the neighbourhood, besides whites, are some South Asians and Urdu-speakers because the mosque and commercial district is in walking distance (Their numbers doubled, so that now they comprise 5% of the local population).

The answer to these three problems, the economic, the racial, the homogenization, is to purposefully plan for mixed neighbourhoods. Left to wider economic forces, the poor (and, by corollary, people of colour), are continually displaced.

So what to do, after all this awfulizing? Mixed neighbourhoods!

Sometimes, as discussions of mixed income neighbourhoods erupt, wealthier neighbourhoods often object to the idea of affordable housing being built in the neighbourhood. However, the response from one wise woman was, where do you want the woman who cares for your child at the daycare or serves you coffee in the morning to live? Is she a part of our community, or not?

Gentrification happens because of income inequality, an issue which is continuing to grow.  While these are issues, created at an entirely different levels, they are played out locally, within and between our neighbourhoods.

So my reply to my Twitter friend’s dilemma was, whether she stayed within the white enclave where she lives, or moves to a more diverse neighbourhood, I knew she would work to build an inclusive place. It’s the only fair thing to be done.


Income polarization tracking racial divisions

“Are there limits to gentrification? Evidence from Vancouver”

Mixed picture on mixed income: Moving in on poor neighbourhoods


May 3, 2009

Urban neighbourhoods: The long view

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

May 2, 2009

Top Ten Rules of Street Parking, learned by experience

(For link to Toronto parking regulations, see bottom of this post.)

Absolutely, while the wisdom of keeping a car downtown is questionable, on-street parking is one area of social interaction which can be smoothed by congenial neighbours or can be a continual source of aggravation by ones who are not. Street parking is a reflection of how we live together.

  1. If you circle the block looking for a parking spot, one will open up in front of your house as soon as you walk up the pathway to your front door.
  2. Parking switchovers (staying up late or rising early to move the car to the opposite side of the street) occur every two weeks on downtown residential streets for the ostensible purpose of clearing the dust and debris off the street; however, throughout course of the entire spring, summer and fall, you will only see a street sweeper twice. Corollary: Parking switchovers will not occur in the winter even though several feet of snow accumulate on both sides of the street and snow plows pass by more frequently.
  3. Switchover days almost always fall on a week-end, when most local residents are sleeping in.
  4. The day you forget to move your car for the switchover will be the same day your neighbour forgets to warn you.
  5. Leaving room between cars in the summer is anti-social, ensuring fewer cars are able to park on the block; leaving room between cars in the winter is essential, to get enough traction to break out of the snowbanks.
  6. In the winter, your neighbours who do not have a car will feel free take a parking space in front of their house to put their snow.
  7. If your neighbours go on vacation, they will have left the car awkwardly parked to take up two spaces. If they haven’t left their keys with anyone, they will be parked so as to block three spaces.
  8. If a new neighbour moves onto your block, they will have at least one more car than your former neighbour did.
  9. Down-towners can be distinguished from Suburban-ites by their swiftness and skill in parallel parking. Corollary: If there is nothing on TV, spending an evening on the front porch can provide good entertainment value.
  10. Cars are an essential signal to your neighbours, providing vital information such as whether you are home.(I’ve had neighbours come check on me because my car hasn’t moved in long time.) Corollary: If you need help (parking your car, getting a jump, or a push), stand by your car and look forlorn. Good people will come to you.
  • For a more interesting foray, see the Map of the Week from the Toronto Star’s FOI request, looking at parking ticket locations in the city.

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