Archive for ‘Inequality’

June 25, 2012

Student graduation rates in the TDSB showing improvement across the board

Research staff at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) are producing a series of fact sheets to give an early peek at some of their drop-out data, and, as elsewhere, it’s good news: Student graduation rates are up.

Of the more than sixteen thousand students who started grade nine five years ago, 79% had graduated, up 10% from a comparator group seven years earlier. Those doing a “victory lap” held pretty well steady at 7%, so the decrease was in the number of students dropping out, down to 14% of the group in this study from a high of 23% in the earlier cohort.

However, while the groups examined are all showing an increase, not all groups of students are performing as well as each other. These research snapshots show some the differences among student performance within the system.

Board staff were also, for the first time, able to link these students profiles to the student census data.

Further analysis and more reports will be produced over the coming months, looking at issues like special education, race and ethnicity, and sex. This first brush looked at a wide range of variables: academic level, gender, age in grade nine, sexual orientation, racial background, language, and region of birth.

The numbers are more confirming than surprising. Eighty-eight percent of academic stream students graduated on time, compared to 59% of applied-level students. Girls had higher graduation rates than boys (83% vs. 75%).

Straight students had an on-time graduation rate of 82% compared to self-identified LGBTQ2S students of 69%.

Students who spoke English as a first language had a below-average graduation rate. Students who speak Chinese, Hindi, Serbian, and Bengali had the highest on-time graduation rates. Those who speak Spanish or Somali had the lowest rates.

The racial categories showed similar variation, but are less reliable because factors such as poverty or parental level of education were not controlled for. However, the numbers confirm that schools are not graduating Black or Latin American students in the same proportion as other racial groups.

The third fact sheet shows similar patterns when looking at the students choices around post-secondary education. 2005 and 2006 were the first years that a majority of TDSB students applied to post-secondary education on-time (the researchers measured rates of application from 17-year-olds).

The most interesting findings in this third fact sheet confirm how parental occupation and education levels seem to be major drivers in students going to university. 65% of students with parents in professional occupations confirmed an Ontario university after graduation, while only 46% of those with parents in “skilled clerical” occupations and 38% of those in unskilled occupations. These numbers are almost mirrored when looking at parental levels of education.

English: Missouri S&T Students at Fall'08 conv...

Students at Fall’08 convocation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similarly, while one out of eight (14%) of students from professional families chose not to apply to university, one-third of students from unskilled/clerical families chose not to.The pattern for college applications did not show such stark contrasts.

TDSB staff plan to continue to release these early glimpses into the student and parent census over the course of the next school year.

Next up for release is a report on Special Education and how socio-economic demographics interplay with those identifications. Subsequent reports will look at student engagement; LGBTQ students; Aboriginal students; the Black student diaspora (with York’s Professor Carl James); and at continuing education (52% of the current cohort have taken at least one summer school or night school class).

April 20, 2012

Gentrification signifiers: A story of one neighbourhood

When two grandmothers stopped on my street recently to tell me their adult children had bought a nearby house, I didn’t tell them why the young family who lived there was moving out. They had moved in with high hopes to this same freshly-painted and pot-lighted house, ignoring the “as is” in the stipulations. The house had undergone a quick flip from a man who bought it after a house fire burned out the tenants who lived there. The house attached to them had also suffered fire damage, but those tenants, renting rooms, stayed on in a more deteriorated house.

And then last summer, it got bad. A man with a violent criminal history moved in — and took over. We neighbours sat on our porches and watched the drug deals and solicitation. It had happened before on the street. The normal knock-and-run behaviour of drug buyers played out along the sidewalks where kids pedaled past on their bikes, part of the ballet that Jane Jacobs described. But this time, it was scarier.

Physical fights became the norm, and the local men became protective, taking to long smokes at the ends of their porches. The police raided the house almost weekly through those hot months. By-law officers arrived and spent three days carting refuse away. The landlord, a former neighbour, was rumoured to be incapacitated, unable to intervene or maintain control. Then, too late, a woman died there of an overdose. The house was padlocked and put up for sale.

I couldn’t tell all this to the cheery women I met. But I recognized their story — their children had got “such a good deal!” But I did recognize this stage of gentrification – the grown children had moved eastward, having rented in Kensington Market – and had  been not able to afford a home closer to the downtown core.

When neighbourhoods shift from working class neighbourhoods to higher income ones, several signs and stages are notable.

Neighbourhood Market

Neighbourhood Market (Photo credit: omegaforest)

First arrivals were people like me, my partner and our new baby. We had some family connections to the community, but while comfortable here in the neighbourhood, we were no longer working class. Higher education had boosted our personal prospects. So, our arrival acted as a signal, that the neighbourhood was “safe.”

Others like us soon came, and the occupations of my neighbours switched from taxi drivers, factory workers, and train conductors, to book editors, teachers, and non-profit workers. Single women thronged to the neighbourhood’s small houses, and young families used the low housing prices as a launching pad until they could afford a larger place. Homes which had housed multiple children (and sometimes a couple of families) were converted to single households. Population density dropped, and racial diversity paled. As housing prices rose, residents told each other this neighbourhood was “arriving.” (One elderly neighbour, disbelieving the rising house prices, chortled to me, “Diane, we’re quarter millionaires,” as housing prices rose over $200,000 for a 12.5 feet wide lots.)

Next, come the speculators. Housing flips are common in the neighbourhood now. Another couple, lured by granite counter tops and a street-front entrance, all at the price of a condo, has moved in across from us, but lawsuits have ensued as the rotted timber covered by the new drywall had been discovered. Our neighbourhood had become a bit of a destination point.

As a critical mass of newcomers builds, another sign emerges: residents’ associations. Their focus is often on remnant parts of the neighbourhood: ‘common’ concerns such as traffic flow, garbage, run-down properties (like the ones up above), and most often the desire to “clean up” the neighbourhood. Every couple of years, these small citizen efforts have emerged. GECO (eerily echoing Michael “Greed is Good” Douglas’ character in Wall Street) is the most recent incarnation, springing out of some of the sentiments expressed in the comments section of BlogTO’s recent article, What ails Little India?.

One of GECO’s members explained to me she thought it was important to have “more diversity” in the neighbourhood commercial strip, that there are “too many sari shops.” Toronto Life described this more diplomatically as “new businesses…revitalizing a dreary stretch of empty storefronts, noodle houses, laundro­mats and hair salons.” Others explain they hope for a Starbucks or “nice” set of restaurants like nearby (upper-income) neighbourhoods have. After all, they say to me, they have paid a lot of money for their homes and they want the neighbourhood to look good. A neighbourhood blog cooed “A few more cool shops on gerrard (sic) and even the Queen Street hipsters will allow us Northerners to be part of Leslieville.” Academics have described this as commercial gentrification. In fact, some have described how Toronto’s “ethnic neighbourhoods” can act as a branding mechanism, in the same way artists do, attracting others and driving up housing prices. It’s a familiar process to those who know Little Italy or Greektown, where many of the original ethnic stores are closing and residents have moved on.

But tolerance for social difference is limited. Another long-time resident, one of the original working-class residents who’d watched these changes with more good humour than I, reported one of new neighbours were discomfited to learn a gay (!) couple lived next door. So he explained to the new couple that good people lived up and down our street.

But the revanchist sentiment has grown.

The final stage of gentrification is when the higher income folk arrive, when the place has been sanctioned as “clean” and “safe.” Cleanliness is defined by such amenities as granite rocks and Japanese maples in the front garden and new windows adorning the home. Safety is not the definition of old, of neighbours knowing when a new neighbourhood child has gotten a tooth or who can be depended upon to hold a spare key for nearby neighbours. Safety is more about beaming spotlights and alarm codes. This final stage concentrates wealth to the point that some researchers call it super-gentrification.

More and more of the neighbourhoods in the old City of Toronto are undergoing this transition. Affordable housing stock is disappearing. The latest move by Toronto Community Housing to sell off single family units means the touted ideal of mixed-income neighbourhoods will be further away. New developments aggravate the problem, filled with homes all in the same high price range, inclusive zoning not yet a practice.

As income inequality is carved into our housing structures, our neighbourhoods suffer. Those who work in neighbourhood shops, filling our coffee orders, or the education assistants in our children’s grade school, won’t live in our neighbourhood, won’t be our neighbours. Our children won’t know difference. This is not Toronto, our motto “Diversity, our strength.”

Driven by individual choice, we are losing a common good.

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April 19, 2012

TDSB budget woes: Education assistants and school superintendents as a “nice-to-have”

My young son hated school when he started it; he hated school so much he ran away frequently. One January morning, wearing no shoes, he ran out straight out the school doors having realized stopping to grab outerwear would slow his escape. His heroic kindergarten education assistant was the one who caught him again.

So when Mike Harris threatened to cut funding for education assistants, I began a long career as a parent activist. My son will graduate from high school next year, and education assistants are being cut once more. (I don’t remember a time when school funding wasn’t being cut.)

In 2012, the Toronto District School Board is looking at another yawning funding gap, one that has now grown to over $100 million a year.

School trustees might choose to face down the current Liberal government, to refuse to implement a funding formula which systematically underfunds high-cost urban areas like Toronto. But the last time the Board did that, it was put under provincial supervision. And nothing changed.

So, instead, trustees are faced with staff layoffs. (Lay-off notices went out this week to over 700 education assistants, school secretaries, high school teachers and other staff, some with almost three decades of work at the Board.)

This will get worse. The first announced wave has moved the Board less than halfway to their budget target. Board staff and committees are looking now for another $60 million to cut.

More staff will fall, and it’s going to get ugly. For instance, senior staff came under ruthless attack at the last Board meeting, the quality of their contribution to the education enterprise being debated, as they sat there behind the trustees. Superintendents are an easy target. If women who chase into a snow storm after a small angry child are a “nice-to-have,” then these senior staff have little chance of showing they are a “must have.”

Really, the debate over central service staff is a mug’s game which the non-profit sector has been playing for years. Funding for core administrative staff pays for people who run the payroll, pay bills, hire staff, keep computers running, conduct health & safety inspections or maintain harassment prevention offices. Core staff are the ones who let others do the work of the organization, whether teaching or serving clients. Yet they are not seen as “mission critical.”

Trustees will be faced with tough choices. This, now, is the time they cannot be parochial or arbitrary in their decisions.

One of the key tools they have at their disposal, then, is one they adopted a few years ago: the Learning Opportunities Index (LOI), which ranks schools according to communities’ needs. The LOI was created because the school board was looking for better criteria to drive resource allocations. Trustees chose, as the framework for its decisions, the principle of equity, the idea that those who are stronger can do with less.

Almost three decades later, during the latest revision, the Board renewed that policy commitment and strengthened it, adopting a policy which said

In order to provide a more equitable distribution of resources, the Learning Opportunities Index shall be used when resources are being allocated to school.. [going on to describe a few exceptions: those where allocations are universal (for all schools), required by legislation and collective agreements, and finally where a better measure of need can be found.]

The LOI has to be used as filter for these discussions of where budget cuts are going to hit.

This is not going to be a popular tactic, but it is in accord to the Board’s own policies and history. It is also a just and judicious approach. As they wrestle with these hard questions, that’s what trustees must hang onto.

December 28, 2011

Power and privilege in Saskatoon and Toronto: Recognition of racism as foundational element of social determinants of health

Speaking recently at an event hosted by the Wellesley Institute, Dr. Cory Neudorf  leans forward in his seat when asked a question related to the social determinants of health (SDOH) of people of colour and Aboriginal peoples. It’s not what you expect from a public servant, and his answer shows the commitment he has to making real changes to the health of all city residents and the depth needed to accomplish that.

As Chief Medical Health Officer for  Saskatoon Health Region, Neudorf has steered the prairie city to a broad public buy-in for attacking poverty. He has moved the discussion of public health from personal behaviours towards a recognition of the systemic and policy barriers which can keep groups of  the region’s residents in poverty.

Early analysis showed the three drivers for poor health outcomes in Saskatoon, when Aboriginal Status is controlled for, are income inequality, education, and age. So how, then, I ask, does race play into a public health agenda?

Neudorf response is nuanced. Admittedly, these discussions are controversial, he said, because if other factors account for poor health outcomes, then some will argue there is no need to focus on Aboriginal status or Race (or other social demographics) as a factor for consideration.

In contrast Neudorf argues these social demographics are foundational elements that run across all the other determinants of health, so that our conversations about policy and program interventions have to be re-framed to build on them. Far more than simply naming them, Neudorf says, we have to talk about how racism is systemic and institutionalized, and why, simply, there are different prospects for people, not because of their race, but because of racism.

Neudorf explains the discussion has only started as te Saskatoon community has done some qualitative work to explore how racism impacts social determinants of health. They hope to determine when targeted responses are appropriate compared to broader population-based responses (or when both are in order).

Neudorf also explained the equity audits the regions health systems were undergoing. An important equity test for the system is to look not at the health pathways for a “typical” patient, but instead at the flow-through of all patients.

In sum, he says, these conversations are about inclusion.

Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer David McKeown, also in attendance, agreed with Neudorf and elaborated, focusing on the position of Toronto immigrants. Racism, McKeown explained, has to be named as an important confounder of health patterns. During earlier comments, McKeown also pointed to need to examine the various dimensions of inequity that make specifically tailored responses important.

These comments, by their admission, were not new points — activists and some academics have been making these points for years (eg. Colour of Poverty/Colour of Change campaign and their call for disaggregated data). What has shifted, though, is that those, closer to power, are now saying the same things too. It’s an optimistic turn.

(For more information about the session, see another post I wrote on the Wellesley Institute website. Neudorf’s presentation is also available there in video format. For more on what others have said on the topic, see below in More.)

on the topic

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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July 27, 2011

The complex origins of vacant and abandoned homes in a neighbourhood

Recent lessons from the housing crash in the United States described families simply walking away from their homes, leaving their front doors unlocked, because they couldn’t afford to carry their mortgages anymore. Financial abandonment is one of the starkest reasons residences are left untended.

However, like most things, it’s always more complicated. Just how empty and derelict does a building have to be to be abandoned? The octogenarian who lives only in two rooms of her house, having sealed off the rest, still holds domain over it all. But what if she was hospitalized? And then sent to long-term care? And then failed to pay her taxes?

In my neighbourhood, I can think of eight homes that, depending on the definition used, are vacant or abandoned. None of them, that I know of, are haunted or marijuana grow-ops:

  • After a fire started by a basement tenant put one family out of their new and hard-earned home, their re-building was abandoned because of lack of funds and the complexity of (re-)building without a contractor.  That’s been about ten years now since they lost their dream.
  • Another house on the same street also suffered a fire. The house attached to it also suffered damage. Neither household had insurance to re-build. It took two or three years for the first home to be sold to a speculator, who hired cheaply, and then sold it with fresh paint and pot lights “as is.” The family moved out of the attached house, and the landlord rented to a poorer tenants less able to complain.
  • There are three other homes in the neighbourhood where elderly residents have moved to homes for the aged, none of them interested in selling. One of these homes has been empty for over twenty years, the other fledges various young family members every few years, and the third has rats for inhabitants.
  • Another family home in the neighbourhood was sold to the owner’s brother who had no interest in living in it nor in renting it out. It has sat, preserving the family capital, for a quarter century.
  • Another home was bought by a resident in the adjoining house, so as he could enjoy some peace, but the cost of re-zoning the properties to make them a single home is too prohibitive. So, officially, that home is empty.
  • A final house in my neighbourhood acts as a storage locker for a couple who live across the street from it. Vans are unloaded into and out of the house but no one lives there. Census-takers knock futilely every five years. (Another neighbour tells me of a similar house a few streets away which someone else uses to keep their cats and dogs housed – and yes, it smells.)
When this was a working-class neighbourhood, houses were cheap, and few took note of these alternate uses. This was long before housing prices climbed, when only affordable housing activists and a few academics saw such rough, unused gems as valuable housing stock.
In 2008, the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC), an activist group called Abandonment Issues and York University’s City Centre partnered to look at cycles of reinvestment and disinvestment in the Toronto area. They explored the housing cycles that happen as neighbourhoods are abandoned and then “discovered” again, creating a small building boon of condos and flow of capital. Some good pressure was raised over the issue but not much changed on the legislative front.
Nowadays neighbours are more likely to talk about the property values of these half million dollars homes left derelict or vacant.
In response to the idea of impact on local property values and the loss of additional housing stock as shortages grow, some other municipalities have adopted “Use it or Lose it” laws.
The City of Toronto’s Affordable Housing Office may, too, be exploring the issues these vacant and abandoned homes create. That’s good news if it doesn’t just provide new fodder for housing speculators.

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May 19, 2011

Breast cancer least common in poor neighbourhoods

If you live in a higher-income neighbourhood, you are 15% more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than if you live in a poor neighbourhood. Statistics Canada’s Health Reports has just published this report from University of British Columbia researchers, Borugian, Spinelli, Abanto and Wilkins,  using data from the Canadian Cancer Registry and past censuses. Rates of breast cancer were studied in neighbourhoods across Canada.

The findings are counter to the trend found in most research on the social determinants of health.

Researchers found that, even when they controlled for mammography rates, age and childbirth rates, women in the lowest income quintile (fifth) of neighbourhoods had the lowest risk of breast cancer. Researchers were not able to determine why this was so but speculate that the effects occur at more than the individual level.

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April 7, 2011

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

Doug Saunders ARRIVAL CITY

Image by Jenn Farr via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 14, 2011

Federalizing school fundraising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But who has heard of it since?

It’s time we talk about this fundamental inequality.

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September 6, 2010

NIMBY – hear the middle-class roar

They came with their hairy dogs, determined looks on their faces and helmeted children scootering ahead of the adults holding picket signs. The people of the Beach and Birchcliffe had come to protect the Quarry.

A former dump, at one point, the Quarry is roughly 50 undeveloped acres southeast of the Main subway station. Environmentalists sing the praises of the wildlife. However, the area was zoned in the 1960s for highrise development, and the developers are exercising their legal rights. So, the community was out to defend it.

I happened on the protest by chance, with a friend. We had to stop. The banners said “Save our neighbourhood” and “1960s planning is bad planning.”

The proposed 7 twenty-story buildings would provide 1,455 units of housing, at a density 7 times what the surrounding area is now with its detached, single-family homes.

“Affordable housing!” I whooped. No one took up the call.

It’s hard to know what to think about these kind of events.

People were rising to the defense of the community, but against whom? The developer. Yes, probably. The newcomers (interlopers) – new renters or condo buyers.  Perhaps some of them.

It was easy to see what we were against, but what were we fighting for? About every person here probably has a different reason, my wiser friend explained.

It reminded me of other protests I’ve seen. The outrage against the possible arrival of big box store in South Riverdale pitched local residents against each other, often split along ethnic and income lines. The Salvation Army and Seaton House faced fierce community meetings when they moved to house homeless men in other neighbourhoods, even if only temporarily such as on Pape Avenue. (The Sally Ann, bless its soul, has a webpage on the topic of NIMBY-ism.)

These debates too often deteriorate into a debate about who is moving in, or they erupt, under a more politically correct guise, such as “Social services should not be concentrated here. We have our fair share already.”

Another recent example close to home was the call from near-by residents to have Felstead park’s playground equipment upgraded – something already on the schedule, but not soon enough for their liking. They too used the blind that as a mixed income neighbourhood, they had been ignored to the benefit of richer neighbourhoods near-by. However, as a gentrifying neighbourhood, the press was on.

Or more recently, neighbours to the south of here, feeling protective of their “own,” confronted members of a church congregation for bringing their faith to the streets, unfortunately by a fire hydrant where a gay couple live. This well-meaning crowd ended up as a “Was my face red…” front-page story in the Toronto Star.

Within the past year, another of my neighbours closed down his family restaurant when he heard an apartment building next door to him was being built to provide supportive housing to people with mental health problems. More plain in his prejudices, he refused to stay near “crazy” people.

Examples from other parts of the city include the conversion of the “Entertainment District” to a residential area and almost any neighbourhood where condos have been built close to a slaughterhouse or other industrial area. If the City of Toronto mapped out where building orders occur, they are in concentrated in the areas with higher and mixed-incomes – the gentrified and the gentrifying areas of the city.

What under lies all these is fear. People don’t want to lose what they have. When people (re-)act from a fearful place, any larger vision gets lost.

But the reality that the neighbourhoods with the highest complaints are not the places with the most problems, but rather places with the most privilege. These are the neighbourhoods where the “sharp elbows of the middle class” claim the resources seen to be due to them.

Flawed as the Priority Neighbourhood Areas were, what they did do effectively was to re-focus resources away from the noisiest, squeakiest parts of the city, to areas that hadn’t had any attention for a very long time. This leveling of the playing field probably led to some of the strongest critiques of the mayor, David Miller, that he had let things slide in the areas where, frankly, people are more likely to vote.

Instead, the Strong Neighbourhood strategy has evened some things out. The new Community Partnership Strategy is also building an evidence base so that neighbourhood comparisons can be done more accurately.

These strategies show we are a more generous city than these other NIMBY stories tell about us. When given a chance, we can dream of a common good.

But, until we Torontonians see our backyard as the entire city, inequality will continue to split neighbourhoods, into “good” and “bad’ places to live, into places where we fight each other.

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