Archive for ‘Diversity’

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 10, 2011

Canadian immigrants, housing and social relationships

A few years ago, Dr. Sutama Ghosh presented the results of her freshly minted thesis at a CERIS seminar on the housing of 30 Bangladeshi immigrant families in three Toronto neighbourhoods. She described one highrise tower she visited where children ran through the apartments of their neighbours, giggling, peeking into the fridge, and playing. Doors to the hallway were unlocked so that the children could have free-run. Mothers watched over each other’s children or visited in the laundry rooms. The community had created a “vertical neighbourhood” in the same way that suburban children might scamper through a set of backyards. Ghosh also described other families living in buildings where they were isolated, walled-off and alone. These apartment buildings, where many new immigrants first settle are, as she phrased it, “vertical neighbourhoods” and “spaces of hope and despair.”

Short and tall

Image by Loozrboy via Flica a few years ago kr

It’s a timely topic because later this week, United Way Toronto should be releasing an in-depth study looking at Torontonians who live in high-rise towers across the city, their well-being, their challenges and their communities.

Canadian geography professors, Brian Ray and Valerie Preston have also looked at the social isolation immigrants and found that building form is vital in explaining how connected immigrants are to their communities. Where Ghosh found hope, Ray and Preston found that isolation was more common, de-bunking the myth that immigrants live in inward-focused ethnic enclaves.

Poor social integration, if it is indeed a problem, may be much more a function of housing than the ethnocultural composition of neighbourhoods.

Those who rented or lived in apartment buildings were less likely to know their neighbours than other immigrants or Canadian-born because the places they lived did not necessarily provide the spaces to meet others. The ability to meet through chance encounters offered in “horizontal neighbourhoods,” ones with sidewalks and nearby stores, is often limited in apartment buildings. Neighbours may see each other in mailrooms or elevator rides. Building lobbies commonly lack a place to sit and socialize.

In a nice contrast, the new buildings in Regent Park have been designed to include common bulletin boards, laundromats with nearby play areas, rooftop garden plots and exercise and party rooms, normally a feature of condo buildings.

However, Ray and Preston also found that immigrants who lived in apartment buildings were just as likely as others to:

  • express a sense of belonging, even through the fleeting interactions with their neighbours, and
  • to have a majority of friends from other ethnic groups, a telling rebuttal to the idea that diversity dilutes trust in others.

They concluded that more thoughtful building designs and public policy would improve the social isolation that many immigrants — and apartment–dwellers — experience, making better neighbours.

Ray also be presents later this week at York University CERIS seminar on a related topic. It’s going to be a good week.

My thanks to blogger Kevin Harris, Neighbourhoods, for referring the Ray, Preston article to me.

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December 8, 2010

A welcoming community for immigrants

Mayor Ford made headlines in the recent municipal campaign when he said “enough’s enough” to a question on Tamil immigrants, citing official plan’s projected growth of another million residents in Toronto within the next ten years.

(A quick reality check: Our slowed population growth of 0.9% between the 2001 and 2006 censuses led to total growth of only 22,000 more people. The number of Canadian newcomers choosing to settle in Toronto has slowed dramatically.)

However, many Ontario communities are strategizing how to attract more immigrants, seeing their skills and numbers as an aid to their smaller city centres.

Funded through Citizenship Immigration Canada, Local Immigration Partnerships have emerged in 34 communities, aimed at creating more effective strategies and welcoming environments for Canadian newcomers. (Conflict of interest declaration: I am managing one neighbourhood-based LIP here in Toronto.)

Municipal governments, school boards, United Ways, and community agencies have begun meeting in North Bay, Thunder Bay, London, Windsor, Hamilton, Kingston and Ottawa, among others. They describe the work as a necessary effort for population renewal to boost their economies, fill labour needs, and slow population decline.

Vicky Esses, a professor at University of Western Ontario, is leading a project to define what works to “optimize social, cultural and political integration.” In a recent presentation to the Centre for Excellence in Research in Immigrant Studies (CERIS),  Esses suggested the following key elements are needed:

1. Employment Opportunities

2. Fostering of Social Capital

3. Affordable and Suitable Housing

4. Positive Attitudes toward Immigrants, Cultural Diversity, and the Presence of Newcomers

5. Presence of Newcomer-Serving Agencies

6. Links between Main Actors

7. Municipal Features and Services Sensitive to the Presence and Needs of Newcomers

8. Educational Opportunities

9. Accessible and Suitable Health Care

10.Available and Accessible Public Transit

11. Presence of Diverse Religious Organizations

12. Social Engagement Opportunities

13. Political Participation Opportunities

14. Positive Relationships with the Police and the Justice System

15. Safety

16. Opportunities for Use of Public Space and Recreation Facilities

17. Favourable Media Coverage

Together with Professor Livianna Tossutti, Esses’ work will now prioritize these parts of public life and develop ways to measure the health of them.

The Welcoming Communities Initiative, of which Esses and Tossutti’s work is a part, will be looking at the success of these projects across the small and medium cities in the province. It may well have lessons for Toronto as well.

In fact, Citizenship Immigration Canada is now funding a city-wide LIP in Toronto, which has among other parts, undertaken to develop a Toronto Newcomer Strategy.

September 23, 2010

The "right" to choose your neighbours becomes an election issue

Just as the Annual YIMBY (Yes In My BackYard) festival is being organized for October 16 at the Drake hotel, Nimbyism is being re-visited in the Beach municipal election. Both events seem to be about having policy-makers listen to residents, but the difference lies in the inclusive lense that is used. Debates about what occur in a community often spill over into who will live in a neighbourhood, whether they be students or those living with life challenges.

A friend in the Beach tells the story of a church building which moved through three different applications to convert to affordable housing, each time being denied because those living nearby raised concerns about the proposed new mothers, or seniors or other populations who were to be sited there. The current controversy, about a new building opening on Gerrard at Woodbine, has convinced me to attend tonight’s All Candidate meeting as a case study of the tension between service-providers, policy-makers and local residents.

The HomeComing Community Choice Coalition circulated the following letter:

Thursday evening, September 23, there is an all candidates meeting in Ward 32 (Beaches) and one candidate is calling on voters to come use their voices based on their “right to be angry about the location of supportive housing at 1908 Gerrard Street East”. (at Woodbine)

In November 2007, neighbours heard that a private developer intended to build an apartment building on the site – and planned to rent the apartments to people living with mental illness under an agreement with Houselink Community Homes.  The development was zoned for the intended use, so there was no need for public consultation.  A number of area residents spoke against the development at the Affordable Housing Committee meeting dealing with the funding for the development.  As a result, City staff were directed to host a public open house with the local community in consultation with the office of the local Councillor Sandra Bussin.

At the public open house a number of concerns were voiced, many of which were related to the approval process and lack of consultation.  Other concerns were related to the people intended to live in the development:

  • that the area was overly represented with social housing
  • the impact of the housing on the community in terms of safety and security
  • whether there would be sufficient support provided to the tenants
  • the perceived lack of support services in the area

Confronted by a number of angry residents, Councillor Bussin stood her ground and defended both the process and the right of people to live in communities of their choice.  At the subsequent Council meeting to approve funding for the project, Councillor Bussin expressed her shame at the behaviour of her constituents.  Almost all of the Councillors present also rose to speak in support of funding for the project and to denounce those who would exclude people from the community based on a disability.

Now almost three years later, the building is ready for occupancy.  Graffiti calling Councillor Bussin a traitor was painted on hoardings at the building a year ago and recently similar graffiti attacking Bussin has been painted on the building itself.

Finally, within the past few days, a leaflet has appeared apparently from Martin Gladstone, a candidate for City Councillor, calling the process flawed and accusing Councillor Bussin of working against her constituents and shutting them down (attached).

While HomeComing Community Choice Coalition does not endorse any candidate for public office, we are concerned that this Councillor is being targeted for standing up for the rights of people to live in communities of their choice.  We have often affirmed that people do not have to ask the permission of their neighbours to live in a community and the neighbours do not have a right to be informed or consulted before new housing is built, if the only issue is the disability of the people who live there.

We will be at the meeting Thursday evening and hope that others will be there as well to say thank you to Councillor Sandra Bussin for standing up in the face of angry residents to say to the new Houselink tenants: “Yes in My Back Yard!”

HomeComing Community Choice Coalition

“We promote the rights of people with mental
illness to live in the neighbourhood of their choice.”

Postscript: So when the issue came to the floor tonight, Sandra Bussin’s hecklers called out, “It’s the process! Process!”  They knew, at least, it would not have looked well to be seen as picking on people living with mental illness.

July 14, 2010

Racialized poverty & academic performance: A tentative exploration of the latent effects of social capital on educational achievement

The power of a strong research report is the way it changes our civil discourse. In Toronto, Poverty by Postal Code, the Strong Neighbourhoods Taskforce Report, MISWAA, and University of Toronto/St. Christopher House research reports on neighbourhood change have all played a robust part in recent public policy discussions. Such reports re-frame the way we think about our city and each other.

So, when the TDSB’s Inner City Advisory Committee (ICAC) asked the board’s research staff to do a comparative analysis tracking students’ academic achievement patterns against the Neighbourhood Change CURA’s “Three Cities” report, it seemed like a good idea. The Three Cities report had splashed over the front pages of our daily newspapers and underscored the growing inequality and geographic separations within our city. ICAC expected the results would provide further insight into schools in low-income neighbourhoods.

On first analysis, however, the results were disappointing.

Several measures of educational achievement were tested, including:

  • EQAO Grade 3 Math scores
  • EQAO Grade 6 Math scores
  • Grade 9 science results
  • Grade 9-10 Academic program
  • Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT)
  • Access to Ontario post-secondary institute

Yet, the correlation between the “Three Cities” and students’ academic performance was weak — likely for two reasons: first, the Neighbourhood Change/Three Cities analysis used average incomes in its comparisons of neighbourhoods, a known, weaker predictor of academic performance; and, secondly, almost half of the TDSB’s highest-need schools are actually located outside the areas identified as the “third city” or lowest-income areas.

Nevertheless, the school board’s researcher charged with the task, Dr. Rob Brown, persevered in his analysis.

The “three cities,” described by Dr. Hulchanski et. al., break down into further categories. For instance, high income areas are comprised of Elite neighbourhoods which were rich and have remained rich and Gentrifying neighbourhoods which have become high-income in recent decades.

Poor areas of the city break out into four main areas:

  • Youngest suburbs (Lower density, homeowners, larger families, white-collar jobs, high visible minority population, higher Chinese population)
  • Older suburbs (Lower density, more seniors, lower education levels, higher White population)
  • Renters (Immigrant reception areas, highest density, apartment towers, high levels of education, low incomes, more South Asian)
  • Lowest incomes (Highrise rental and social housing, low incomes, lower education, manual labour jobs, higher Black population, more single parents)

So, when Brown looked to see whether academic achievement tracked with these categories, the patterns were more interesting. What he found gives new insight into some of the debates at the school board around race and poverty.

Predictably, the highest performing students were almost consistently the students who lived in the Elite neighbourhoods. However, in two instances they were beaten, in Grade 3 Math and Grade 9 Science — both times by students, in the “third city,” from the Youngest Suburbs. In fact, in all but two of the measures, students in the Youngest Suburbs also out-performed the Gentrifying group of students in “city one”: Taking academic program in Grade 9-10, and the OSSLT.

University admissions tracked a similar path. 53% of Elite students confirmed attendance at an Ontario university, followed by 49% of students in the Youngest Suburbs. These two groups were also the most likely to have applied to post-secondary education. Students in every other neighbourhood type lagged behind in the 33% – 36% range, except for high school students in the Lowest-income neighbourhoods, where only 25% confirmed university attendance (and where 57% did not apply to any level of higher education).

In comparison, students from the other parts of the “third city,” Older Suburbs and Renters, were often within a few percentage points of each other and approaching, or occasionally surpassing, the performance of middle-income students in “city two.” The lowest academic performers were the Lowest Income, except in the case of Grade 3 math, where they beat the Gentrifying neighbourhoods.

So, the analysis shows that while income, or the lack there-of, can be an important predictor of students’ academic performance, it is not a determinant. While Brown himself doesn’t speculate, the interesting part of this work is to imagine what protective factors might be helping some low-income students to compete.

A perfunctory analysis might note that the distinguishing factors between the different “cities” are the racial and ethnic compositions of them. Buttressing the weight of this is the first release of the TDSB’s Student Census which made headlines when it was published because of the analysis which how students of various ethno-cultural backgrounds were performing in school. But that initial report stopped there at these correlations, ipso facto, not looking to control other factors, such as poverty, lone parent status, low education levels and other risk factors found in each of these neighbourhoods.

I would argue a deeper, more nuanced picture emerges from Brown’s ICAC study, one which outlines the structuralist nature of educational achievement. Because the neighbourhood categories were more homogenous, it was possible to examine some of the complex interplays of income and race and, more importantly, the social capital students were able to access.

Within the context of the City of Toronto, these factors play out along a racial dimension, in other places, they may play out along other lines of identity, of accent or class or another form of “othering.” We need to think though the root cause of the barriers. For instance, racism, rather than race, per se, may be a barrier, but so is limited access to social and economic capital or access to strong, supportive social networks. Race, ethnicity and culture are the shorthand for a much more complex picture, which encapsulates access to resources and opportunities, individual and systemic racism, community expectations and a wide range of other social determinants.

So, for instance, students in the Youngest Suburbs were part of a cultural heritage that holds scholarship in esteem, where white-collar jobs were more common, and where family structures were wider. In contrast, students in the Lowest Income neighbourhoods were more likely to live in low-quality (rental, crowded) housing, with poorer job prospects, fewer family supports, and fewer role models who had attended higher education. Students in the Youngest Suburbs and the Renters have also more likely been exposed to a second language, which can improve learning.

These apparent racial divisions are the evidence of deeper divides within the city. They represent the unequal division and distribution of resources among us. These racial divides allow the easy concentration of resources within family, kinship, and friendship networks, encasing the economic and social capital that families and neighbourhoods bring to bear on its own young. The result is that those with the fewest resources are least likely to apply to university, whereas those who still have a strong sense of aspiration, positive supports, and role models are more likely to have better outcomes.

This peer effect is underscored by the work of David Harding at the University of Michigan. He found that “disadvantaged neighborhoods exhibit greater heterogeneity in college goals and that adolescents in more heterogeneous neighborhoods are more likely to change educational goals over time and are less likely to act in concert.” Essentially, more kids in richer neighbourhoods attend university because they are expected to do so.

What Brown’s research underscores is that poverty is about more than income. It’s about the inoculative supports which many lack.

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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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November 30, 2009

A harder case to make for boys' school in the TDSB

New Toronto District School Board Director Chris Spence is showing himself fearless in the face of controversy. But he’s got a hard case to make if he is going to convince Torontonians that a boys’ school is a good way to address underachievement.

As part of the his move to open the discussion, Dr. Leonard Sax, the executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, was invited to address Toronto parents and trustees last week.

It didn’t go over well.

Perhaps most scathing was Trustee Mari Ruka’s summary of the talk (see More below). (Trustee Rutka is infamous for her arguments against the separate nature of Africentric schools, saying that if the school board proceeded, it should, by the same logic, set up schools for students who are “fat” or “red-headed.”)

Several OISE graduates have also begun a Facebook string on the topic of boy’s schools.

Pointing to the fact that both populations face underachievement, Spence used the same arguments used for the Africentric school launched earlier this year in the TDSB. Learning styles, which is what the boys’ school advocates seem to centre on, are not the same as the cultural inheritance arguments put forward for Black-focused schools. The arguments for separation are blurrier because gender identities are blurrier. (Sax’s ill-received attempts at humour probably failed because they too predictably relied on gender stereotypes.).

Black-focused/Africentric schools are also open to all students – different again from Spence and Sax’s arguments of how (some) boys may need a “girl-free” environment.

As the parent of a son, I have often argued for more “boy-friendly” learning environments. However, unlike my stance on Africentric schools, I still wait to be convinced that he, and boys like him, would be best served in a single-sex school.

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November 10, 2009

An opportunity gap – not an achievement gap

OISE’s Centre for Urban Schooling packed them in for a lecture tonight by Linda Nathan called Grappling with the Hardest Questions: Why Must Schools Talk Openly About Race and Achievement and What Happens When They Do.

Nathan is co-headmaster of Boston’s Arts Academy (BAA), a small public high school located across from Fenway Park, where kids from all economic and racial backgrounds can take advantage of the kind of specialized education institution to which upper and middle class parents often send their children.

In a school with such diversity, BAA has worked to ensure all students achieve. In the No Child Left Behind ethos, this means making sure students achieve. As Nathan writes in her new book, The Hardest Questions Aren’t on the Test:

For the majority of educators of good will who are teaching in urban schools—many of them, though obviously not all, white women—the achievement gap is a hugely personal issue. The notion that today’s schools are not helping to equalize opportunity in the way American schools are supposed to do is not just a frustration. It haunts us.

If schools are going to ensure the achievement gap is closed, she writes, it will take more than the piles binders of disaggregated data which simply reiterate the problem.

Instead, Nathan argues schools need to

  • frame the problem as an opportunity gap, recognizing the challenged and unequal backgrounds some students come from. Address inequality. So, for instance, admission to BAA is not based on skill, developed through years of private lessons, but on a student’s passion for the opportunity before them.
  • address how race affects learning, rather than test scores. This means, for example, instead trying to close the gap by teaching testing skills, that teachers have the training and time to think through complex learning issues as a school team.
  • plan explicitly to raise the performance of African American boys. For instance, when honour roll assemblies are held, she underlines the importance of Black male achievement, not to the detriment of other students, but to emphasize what they can all do.
  • Find a common vision – BAA developed an ethos called R.I.C.O., which stands for Refine, Invent, Connect, and Own. These are values applied to all of school life.

Teachers and students became involved in the difficult conversation about race and opportunity at BAA.

“If we don’t speak the truth we all see,” she explained to the audience, “we won’t make sustainable change.”

Nathan urges us to think about the structures that create opportunity.

More than artistry, BAA teaches citizenry.

Schools, she said, must be places where we want to belong. The stories she told (and others) emphasized the participatory and democratic natures of the schools where Nathan has worked. (She felt odd, she explained, telling these stories without the students with her now, but cross-border travel does present complications.)

94% of BAA’s students go on to post-secondary studies—and Nathan says there is still room for improvement.

The lesson, unnerving as it may be for Canadians, is that when race is explicitly addressed, when students are fully engaged, and when opportunity is created, there is no achievement gap.

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November 1, 2009

Mixed picture on mixed income: Moving in on poor neighbourhoods

Early one morning this week, I drove a neighbour (and, of course, friend) to a downtown hospital for a medical test.

We were distracted from the quiet between us by the car radio. CBC’s Metro Morning was broadcasting from Regent Park, the downtown neighbourhood with a scope of need that is almost double any other part of the city. We zoomed right through it, along Shuter Street.

Metro Morning was exploring the community’s revitalization. The first stage was underway, and 1 Cole Place, the new condominiums, were opening. The morning’s interviews demonstrated the deep history and vitality of the neighbourhood and, also, the new interest that has been sparked in the community.

As I drove back home alone, I decided to stop the car and go watch the broadcast from Nelson Mandela Park school.

Host Andy Barrie was the efforts to create a mixed income neighbourhood in Regent Park. He was interviewing a young University of Toronto doctoral student and Trudeau scholarship winner, Martine August, and long-time resident and community organizer, Sandra Costain, about the impact of the looming arrival of higher income residents (and their homes).

It was a sobering interview, one which just whet my appetite. August cited studies from her literature review, and Costain concurred from experience, but they both painted a gloomy picture:

  • People segregate themselves according to their separate identities. In 14 studies August looked at, interactions between higher-income newcomers and lower-income residents show that interactions don’t occur.
  • Very often when people of higher incomes do move into a poorer neighbourhood and exercise their political muscle, it’s to push social services, which low income people need, out.
  • Community programs which were universal, free to local (low-income) residents begin to require documentation of need, fees introduced, and stigma grows.

What was left unsaid in the short interview is what might mitigate these colonizing forces.

For instance, in his work in school, Clyde Hertzman found that children from poor families did better when in a mixed income school. He attributed that to the “sharp elbows of the middle class,” which act to protect a full range of services.  By extension then, those who buy homes in a poor area need to see further than their property values, but to a common good.

Discussing this electronically with Brian Eng at the Wellesley Institute afterwards, he said that this tendency of mixed income neighbourhoods to push out poor people further underscores the importance of community development.

Eng gave the example of the co-ops around the St. Lawrence Market as a good example of a mixed income community that works. In fact, commentators on CBC’s website, gave the example of the Woodsworth Coop, in the same area, that has monthly business meetings to discuss community business, shared common task (such as cleaning) and regular celebrations with food.

Where opportunities for interactions are created and fostered, stronger communities emerge, a place with, as one American social justice organization called for Better Neighbourhoods, Same Neighbours.

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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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