Posts tagged ‘Diversity’

October 13, 2016

Toronto’s Urban Diversity

European cities are struggling with the increasing diversity of their populations, places which historically grew out of national and ethno-cultural identities.

Divercities is a European Union funded project what is looking at how governance and civic structures can create “social cohesion, social mobility and economic performance in today’s hyper-diversified cities.” They hosted a conference in September at the University of Antwerp  with practitioners, policy-makers and academics.

Over the few days of discussion and debate, they asked some of us about what diversity looks like in our cities. Here below is what I said about Toronto, a place that people held as an ideal when we compared notes. I should have added “There is still work to be done!”

In February there will a larger concluding conference to present the wider findings.

September 10, 2013

Toronto District School Board census 2011: Unsettling picture of inequality revealed

English: Park School studentsClose to 90,000 parents, or sixty-five per cent, of elementary school parents answered the Toronto District School Board’s census sent home last fall. The results are coming out now and reveal the unequal opportunities which children of different family backgrounds enjoy. A recent TDSB research report presents a startling picture of class and racial inequality among our youngest city residents.

 As part of gaining a snapshot of its students, parents were asked to report their family’s total income. Divided into five income groups for comparison, the report shows
  • 28% families reported a family income of less than $30,000/year.
  • 21% reported $30,000 – $49,999/year.
  • 15% reported $50,000 – $74,999/year.
  • 10% reported $75,000 – $99,999/year.
  • 26% reported $100,000+.

When this data was broken down by each family’s racial background, the differences became even more unsettling:

Bar graph showing self-reported family income of school board students by racial background.

TDSB research report on 2011 census of parents with children in Kindergarten through Grade Six.

The impact of these different family income levels was also reflected, as would be expected, in the out-of-school experience of children. Parents in each income group were asked about their children’s extra-curricular and pre-school activities.

Consistently, income was tied to children’s experiences outside of school. The following presents some of these marked differences. (Although the Board’s analysis covers all five income groups, figures for the lowest, middle and highest income groups are reported here as the pattern remains the same across each category.)

Child care centre (before Kindergarten)

  • 25% children in lowest income families enrolled their child in a child care centre.
  • 29% children in the middle-income families enrolled their child in a child care centre.
  • 45% children in highest income families enrolled their child in a child care centre.

Pre-school program

  • 25% children in lowest income families attended a pre-school program.
  • 34% children in the middle-income families attended a pre-school program.
  • 56% children in highest income families attended a pre-school program.

Sense of safety on their street or in their neighbourhood

  • 80% parents in lowest income group said their child is safe on their street or in their neighbourhood.
  • 90% parents in the middle-income group said their child is safe on their street or in their neighbourhood.
  • 95% parents in highest income group said their child is safe on their street or in their neighbourhood.

Sports & Recreation

  • 64/% children in the highest income families are involved in sports or recreation activities outside of school.
  • 54% children in the middle-income are involved in sports or recreation activities outside of school.
  • 38% families in the lowest income bracket participate in sports or recreation activities outside of school.


  • 59% children in the highest income in arts activities outside of school.
  • 32% children in the lowest income families participate in arts activities outside of school.

The patterns are not isolated to Toronto. Noted social commentator Robert Putnam explains, “Kids coming from upper middle-class backgrounds are living in a different world now from kids coming from working-class or less well-off backgrounds.”

However, the second part of the survey was more heartening. When parents were asked about their child’s experiences in school, the differences, by income group, were much smaller, showing only a percentage point or two difference around such things as feeling safe or welcome in the school. This area is an improvement from the 2008 census, a period in which the school board has worked to make improvements.

Opportunity. It’s a powerful idea, that everyone should have an equal chance, that every child should have an equal start. It underscores our sense of civic sense of fairness. Now, as ever, our school system must face this challenge outside its doors too.

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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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April 30, 2009

Proximity makes the heart grow fonder

How do friendships form? gives some insight into why mixed neighbourhoods are important. The study, from Marmaros and Sacerdote, researchers from Google and Dartmouth College, tracked the 4.2 million e-mail exchanges between university students for more than a year to identify the social networks they established.

As Dartmouth students are assigned randomly to student residences, the researchers were able to track how factors like geographic proximity, family background, racial identity and shared student activities affected the formation of friendships between students.

The literature explains we are most likely to become close friends with people with whom we have frequent contact.  Fostering friendship with a random stranger further away requires an additional investment of time with no guarantee of a positive pay-off of a close friendship. Marmoros and Sacerdote wanted to test the theory that we are more likely to become close friends with someone with whom we have “lots of local, low cost social interactions.”

In essence, when we see a neighbour regularly, we get a short-term and a long-term benefit: in the immediate interaction, we are provided with the opportunity to exchange information and then, over the course of time, trust is built through reciprocity. Both these benefits can emerge at a fairly low cost to ourselves without a large investment of time or other resources. Random interactions expose us to the possibility of bigger pay-offs.

Marmaros and Sacerdote found such a “neighbourly effect” among the students whom they mapped. Students were more likely to form friendships with those who lived close to them or who shared an activity or class. The effect was lessened if students did not share the same racial or family background, however, the effect was still positive.

A caution from the study:

  • The positive effects on social interaction were only found at fairly close distances, such as among those living on the same floor in a school dorm.

Otherwise shared activities were required to demonstrate significant cross-cultural friendship formation. Even while seen as a broad societal benefit, the authors explained, an individual may be less likely to form a cr0ss-cultural friendship if it is seen as more “costly” in terms of time or additional risk factors. Happily, proximity to each other seems to help overcome the racial barrier.

Two additional noteworthy upsides:

  • Close friendships continued even when students moved further distances from each other. The opportunity to form friendships across a variety of identities, provided by living close to each other, provides a lasting effect. Once friendships are formed, most students found it worth continuing to invest in them.
  • Citing other research and expanding on their own, the authors describe the positive equity effects on the attitudes of white students who live with a Black roommate. While the white students were not more likely to have a larger circle of Black friends (as a result of having one Black friend), they are “more likely to support affirmative action in admissions and societal income redistribution.”
April 28, 2009

Disease and the regenerative power of cities

An appropriate quote, in these pandemic times, from Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cites:

Vital cities have marvoulous innate abilities for understanding, communicating, contriving and inventing what is required to combat their difficulties. Perhaps the most striking example of this ability is the effect that big cities have had on disease. Cities were once the most helpless and devastated victims of disease, but they became great disease conquerors. All the apparatus of surgery, hygiene, microbiology, chemistry, telecommuications, public health measures, teaching and research hospitals, ambulances and the like, which people not only in cities but also outside them depend upon for the unending war against premature mortality, are fundamentally products of big cities and would be inconceivable without big cities. The surplus wealth, the productivity, the close-grained juxtaposition of talents that permit society to support advances such as these are themselves products of our organization into cities, and especially into big and dense cities.

February 13, 2009

Ethnic enclaves in Toronto, 2001 – 2006

A packed house gathered last week at the Joint Centre for Excellence on Research in Immigration and Settlement. Building on their earlier work on ethnic enclaves in Toronto, professors Mohammed Qadeer (from Queen’s) and Sandeep Kumar Agrawal (from Ryerson) were speaking about the residential patterns of seven ethnic populations in Toronto:  African Blacks, Caribbean, Chinese, Italian, Jewish, Portuguese, and South Asian. (These are as reported at the census tract level by individual respondents to the 2001 and 2006 censuses living in the census metropolitan area (CMA) of Toronto.)

While the maps in their PDF presentation were the most interesting, Qadeer and Agrawal also laid out a few key elements about “ethnic enclaves”:

  • Enclaves are defined as residential concentrations with supporting cultural institutions and services.
  • Enclaves are distinct from ghettos because they happen through a positive choice, rather than a lack of choice. Measuring this, however, is a challenge.
  • Enclaves are an important step for Canadian newcomers on the way to settlement and integration.

Using GIS analysis, Qadeer and Agrawal’s found that ethnic enclaves are extending (so that they are now more widespread) and consolidating (single ethnic groups were more likely to be a higher portion of a neighbourhood). This growth, they found, was often spurred by new immigration.

However, they also found a wide variation in the likelihood of people of various ethnic groups to live within their own neighbourhoods, and that no enclaves were exclusive. All city census tracts had some ethnic mix.

The study provokes further questions to explore, many which were asked that afternoon. Further research could be done to look at these trends over a wider range of years and among other Canadian geographies or at alternate geographic levels (dissemination areas instead of census tract). Also worthwhile would be a examination of the shifting residential patterns of the City’s largest ethnic group, those of British ancestry, and, and more compelling, whether there is a tipping point when “white flight” becomes a reality.

Finally, the study gave a quick look at the percentage growths among various ethnic groups; Russian and Ukrainian populations grew the most quickly. The largest groups are British, South Asian, and, then, Chinese. (For more a detailed description, see the City of Toronto’s 2006 census broad overview and the profiles of specific ethnic groups.)

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January 17, 2009

Only in Toronto

We all know the stats. Half of Torontonians were born in another country (and an additional number of us were born elsewhere in Canada.) How we negotiate this diverse urban landscape plays out in daily life.

For instance, awhile back my Facebook status noted that I had listened to live music from four continents over the course of a week-end.

Or, at Christmas, I hosted guests from Russia, Malta, Israel, Tunisia, and Columbia.

Or one of my favourite moments on the TTC happened when a kindergarten class, tired from a long class trip, sat waiting for their stop. The little guy who sat in the seat by me fell asleep on the long ride. The streetcar was crowded, so the teachers were nervously shepherding their charges. As their stop neared, all the children were roused, but my little guy nodded off again – repeatedly. I tried. Other nearby adults tried as well. None of us spoke each other’s language, but we saw the problem, nudging him and guiding him to the exit where his classmates were clambering off. After the streetcar pulled away, him safely on the sidewalk, we all smiled at each other, nodding, and our task accomplished.

But this pattern of wide and disparate intersections, centred in this city, resurfaced yet again today.

This morning I popped in for a cup of tea with my neighbour, Daryl, and, as he often does, he began to reminisce. The cold weather had put him in mind of his rural childhood, in New Brunswick. He spent hours skating along the river which ran by his house with only a pail with lunch and some tea bags. When he and his friends and brothers got hungry, they would stop in the curve of a river, scavenge through the nearby forest for some dry branches, make a fire, boil some tea and eat. He explained in detail, as well, how a rabbit snare is set, with a bit of carrot as the bait. Anytime he caught a rabbit, his mother made a bony stew.

Then this afternoon, I learned from a fellow researcher that he had done his Master’s in India, writing about modern-day debt slaves, many who worked in the quarries of India. He spent fifteen years doing community development there. And finally, this evening, I sat at a mainly Afrocentric celebration, listening to a tall, young Native woman drum for us.

All this, in one day.

I try not to be awed. It’s such an unsophisticated response. But it does amaze me, the breadth of all of us, here.

The writer Dionne Brand, talking about this diversity, said it best: Toronto is “a city that has never happened before.”

December 23, 2008

Diversity in Neighbourhoods

Adam Gopnik, recently quoted in the Globe and Mail, on New York City neighbourhoods:

“I like the collision of types. The problem with our neighbourhood is that you walk out your door and you see people largely like yourself.”

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