Posts tagged ‘Neighbor’

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.

August 15, 2010

It’s always something: Life and death on a city block

 

The man across the street from me died recently. He is the twelfth death that I can remember on the block during the time I have lived here.

The Dalai Lama once said to remember that whenever you enter a room with others, there is always pain somewhere in the room. This is my remembrance of pain on the street, my own included. It’s perhaps a macabre exercise but one that underscores the thickness of our neighbourhoods.

When I lead Jane’s Walks in the neighbourhood, we fly through the neighbourhood. This tour will pause much more frequently and cover little more than a city block.

The only people I know who have gotten mugged in my neighbourhood both got mugged at the underpass to the railway tracks at the top of the street. And the restaurant at the other end is nicknamed the Kick & Stab.  This is some of what has happened in the spaces between these two places:

  • A corner brick house was built by a man during WWI. The woman who lived in it promised payment when her husband returned. Lost is the reason why, but the builder was never paid. His daughter bullied the new little girl who moved in after that – bullying passed on generationally, and spatially.
  • Further south is the family that raised a crowd of children, one they lost when he was eleven. Four neighbourhood boys had found an open sewer grate and crawled down for an adventure. What they found was a pocket of deadly gas. Only the two quickest boys were able to climb out. The others succumbed. His father bankrupted himself, suing the City for neglect.
  • Walking again south, we come to the house where five-year-old Jeffrey died with his grandparents after his young parents were found incompetent. However, his grandmother, barely better equipped, became overwhelmed. The testimony at the trial which I remember is how one of the neighbourhood mums, a woman I knew by sight from the local school ground, visited one day and found Jeffrey’s grandmother giving him a bath in the basement. The grandmother told our neighbour she didn’t know if she could manage. Within months, the weight of a toddler, 21 pound Jeffrey died of neglect and septic shock. A new, happy family lives behind those walls now, a little girl, who knows of him, in the bedroom where Jeffrey had been locked. It overlooks our backyards.
  • Turning right, here is where Louie ran a store for years, robbed just as frequently. His face was always relieved when he saw you were a customer. He’s gone now, and the owners of the store around the block have bought a big dog. Their faces are perpetually nervous too.
  • Here an old man found in his basement apartment, not having the strength to walk out on his own, relying on his neighbours to fetch groceries. The police found him when there was a fire in the building.
  • Here the brother and sister, grown, the patterns set when they were young. He was suspended, then expelled, from the local grade school. She lured into trading her young sexuality for favours.
  • Here the man who didn’t see his family for fifteen years until he was able to save enough for them to emigrate,  his toddler turned to a teenager.
  • And here the mother who went mad. And recovered. Sort of.
  • Here the man who has depression who won’t tell anyone. His wife miscarried, too.
  • Here the man so alienated from his family that he didn’t attend the funeral of his disabled son.
  • Here the brother who became a drug addict and then committed suicide. His father beat his mother.
  • Here the house that was filled with young people, lost to the world. They burned the house down setting off fire crackers in the waste can. One of them, panicked, rushed to the second floor porch, certain she was trapped, waiting for the fire trucks. Her friends, rushing out to the front sidewalk, chanted, “Jump, jump, jump.” Two households were burned out, neither covered by insurance.
  • Here the man who doesn’t talk to others. He’s in the hospital a lot.
  • Here the elderly mother whose dutiful daughter stayed close until she met a man who took her money. When the mother objected, they found a long-term home for her.
  • Here the woman who moved here with a draft dodger and had a beautiful child. But he lives on the streets now.
  • Here the daughter with special needs so carefully tended because her friendliness makes her vulnerable.
  • Here the daughter who died of cancer in her early 20’s.
  • Here the man who nursed his lover through the final stages of AIDS. Now, a couple who lost a child unborn.
  • Here the man who beat his wife until she left. His grown sons visit sometimes.
  • Here the woman and two children who emigrated here, to follow her husband, then to find they had no status. Her husband beat her too. She left him, and met a woman, a white Canadian who stepped in where her husband left off, we didn’t like her. The mother was almost deported, but neighbours put up the surety, testified on her behalf. The Canadian woman moved her away from this neighbourhood. The last we heard, she was homeless and mad. We don’t know what happened to the children. Now there, a women whose time is occupied with her suicidal sister.
  • Here the husband who was so cheap he wouldn’t let his wife have a visitor over for tea because electricity and tea bags cost money.
  • Here a four-year-old child lived, her Mum her only support, a woman who too became addicted. The neighbours each took turns watching over the child, feeding her, until her grandmother arrived months later and set things straight. I saw her grown and well.
  • Here, two bad landlords.
  • Here the smoker who died of lung cancer, saying, “I feel so stupid. I’m scared.”
  • Here the man who never told his family he is gay. But they never visit.
  • Here the partner who strayed, had a child with another woman, then left.
  • Here another straying man, whose lover left him. His wife wouldn’t take him back. And, then, a woman with a hundred friends who was self-conscious she was alone in life, single.
  • Here a father who swears his son is slow because of an undetected gas leak.
  • Here the couple who, when they moved, left pictures drawn on the wall of the wife having sex with their labrador dog.
  • Here the father who lost his legs and then his life to diabetes. An adult son also died. His wife had bottles delivered regularly to her home until she was put in housing. She’s better now. Then, a tenant who never worked after a construction accident.
  • Here the two half-brothers who lived and aged together for more than 3 decades, the older one passed away first, his brother’s name on his lips, his brother’s arms around him.
  • Here, another alcoholic and a tenant, in the basement, who couldn’t live peaceably with her partner.
  • Here the family that faced with dread that the daughter had inherited the mother’s disease, the men stood stalwart by these wives, only grouching about parking or snow removal.
  • Here the family who bought a home, a dream they could just afford, but it burned down early one morning, grandmother escaping with grandchildren, because the little boy who lived in the basement apartment found some matches. They didn’t have insurance either.
  • Here the mother who shepherded her two sons to school everyday, past her ex-mother-in-law, who would speak to none of them.
  • Here the woman, schizophrenic, who has managed through medication and personal strength and neighbourliness, to raise her child well.

There’s more, there’s always more, but that’s enough. As my neighbour June would sum up such events, “It’s always something on [our street].”

read more »

May 10, 2009

In a mixed neighbourhood: Theory, please meet Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt like I was getting closer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”
March 10, 2009

Five reasons why mixed neighbourhoods are important

Mixed neighbourhoods matter. Without them:

  1. Neighbourhoods become increasingly segregated in multiple ways: income, education, race.
  2. Some neighbourhoods and residents then live in concentrated disadvantage.
  3. Neighbourhoods with less resources have lower levels of resiliency and are less able to weather negative changes.
  4. Negative effects are felt more strongly by less mobile residents, those that are more vulnerable: seniors, children / parents, low-income, and  recent immigrants.
  5. Social problems which cluster together multiply, creating “hot spots” of social disorder, which then, in turn, spill into other neighbourhoods.

read more »

December 8, 2008

A school in every neighbourhood

Parents know instinctively that neighbourhood schools are worth protecting.

And there is a lot of research to support what they know. A few of the obvious things local schools do are:

In Toronto, schools sit at the hub of every neighbourhood . When the Strong Neighbourhoods Taskforce analyzed the accessibility of community resources across Toronto neighbourhoods, schools were the most commonly available resource across the city’s 140 defined neighbourhoods. They are a rich and under-utilized community resource.

So, this week, there was good news and bad for the idea of a neighbourhood school:

  • The good news was the recognition in the province’s newly announced Poverty Reduction Strategy that, in the effort to reduce child poverty, schools need to be community hubs. Provincial funding is being increased for the community use of schools.
  • The bad news came from the chair of the Toronto District School Board that he will use his second term to work to close schools identified as “under capacity” so that these resources can be put to build new schools.
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