Posts tagged ‘Social Capital’

May 2, 2011

The habit of voting: start early, vote often

rick mercer makes a pursed point

Image by clang boom steam via Flickr

Rick Mercer has been suggesting youth take a date to the federal election today. His earlier rant, at the beginning of the campaign, sparked vote mobs on campuses across the country. His words carry the weight of research.

Being eighteen-years-old is about the worst time to introduce youth to voting, according to a University doctoral student I met recently at a farewell reception for the now-defunct Centre for Urban Health Initiatives. Likely to be at a more tumultuous time of their lives, living in a new community, eighteen-year-olds are less likely to vote than the former age-of-majority, twenty-one-year olds. And when we don’t vote, she explained to us gathered around, it becomes a habit.

So the call to drop the voting age to sixteen makes a lot of sense. Youth, normally still living in familiar surroundings, would make their first foray into voting on more stable ground.

In fact, our grad student’s own research focuses levels of voting among immigrants. She is finding that those without the culture and habit of voting are less likely to exercise their franchise when they come to Canada. 

“If  I were king of the world,” she said, “I would make voting at least once a pre-requisite for citizenship.” Her doctoral work, not yet complete, gives weight to calls to allow city residents, despite their citizenship status, to vote in municipal elections.

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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September 24, 2010

Happy 2nd Blogday, Belonging Community!

Two years ago, Belonging Community began. As poet Dionne Brand has said, this is a city that is in the middle of “becoming,” and my hope was to think about Toronto from the level of a city block.

How can schools serve students better? What lives do our neighbours live? What does inequality look like at the neighbourhood level? How do local institutions affect our lives?

One hundred and two posts later, the Top Hits from the past year are:

Crime hotspots across Toronto neighbourhoods 2,992 More stats
Toronto Community Partnership Strategy: 443 More stats
About me 428 More stats
The Ontario HST: a counter-intuitive remedy 385 More stats
Ethnic enclaves in Toronto, 2001 – 2006 365 More stats
“Are there limits to gentrification? 333 More stats
The TDSB’s Learning Opportunity Index 323 More stats
Toronto swimming pools: Class in session 317 More stats
Community Partnership Strategy: NWI 265 More stats
Crime and social cohesion in Toronto 261 More stats
Defining race (and racism) in the TDSB LOI 243 More stats

Crime as you can see is big, with an average of eight hits a day. Other topics are popular because not many people are writing about them. My favourite pieces are less about these big policy pieces than the stories which emerge from living in an urban neighbourhood.

I have also appreciated the new community of bloggers, activists, and researcher that Belonging Community has introduced me to, people like Kevin Harris, Christopher Leo and Leo Romero. Sometimes too, I have even gotten a laugh. Three of the funniest (or strangest ways) people have found the blog recently are by using these search terms:

  • diane dyson emergency
  • ugliest areas of toronto
  • portland flag

Thanks all! It’s been a good year.

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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March 26, 2010

TDSB ARCs may push out the poor

Recommendations from the Toronto District School Board’s ten Area Review Committees (ARCs) are beginning to emerge, and some communities are looking at school closures.

When the TDSB set out to evaluate “which locations should be closed, consolidated or upgraded,” some wondered how equitably this would all play out in the course of these difficult conversations.

Were the schools in poor areas being singled out first?

Parents in some Toronto communities said so. Reporters poked at the story. Some trustees grumbled.

And, it turns out, they were right.

Twice as many schools under review are in the bottom half (the poorer half) of the school board’s Learning Opportunity Index (LOI) as compared to those in the top half. And, of the 16 schools being reviewed in the top half of the LOI, they are all less vulnerable to closure because they have higher enrollment and utilization rates.

The numbers don’t change much however you slice them, by quartiles or quintiles.

But, of course, it’s more complex than that.

The schools under review are grouped with others from across the range of need.

While four of the ARCs contain schools from only the bottom end of the LOI, five other ARCs have poor schools grouped with richer schools. (Only one ARC (at Yonge and Davisville) is reviewing schools from only the top half of the LOI. Perhaps, not surprisingly, because they had higher enrollments, they have recommended no closures.)

Schools which are able to mobilize their parents to attend numerous evening meetings have actively participated in the process, printing buttons and flyers. Other schools, where parents may work additional jobs or evening hours or not be able to afford child care, have not been not in the room, to describe their vision for the future.

By reports, the dynamics at many of the ARCs have not been not great.

What started as a democratic and inclusive process has turned into a long, drawn-out, and divisive process. Staff at one community agency reported to a recent Toronto Neighbourhood Centres meeting how committee members were told they could not speak at a public meeting. Trustees complain openly about each other where ARCs cross ward boundaries. Blogs have been set up. One ARC has moved from outright hostility to a sullen withdrawal from the process.

So, poorer schools have faced a double jeopardy: more poor schools are under review, and they are also far less likely to be participating in a process which requires a strong and active participant voice.

Before the ARC recommendations come up for adoption in May, someone should review the decisions, with an equity lens, to ensure that those with the fewest resources aren’t being cut again.

December 2010 post-script: Schools which were announced to be closed from this round of ARCs are:

  • Brooks Road Public School
  • Heron Park Junior Public School
  • Peter Secor Junior Public School
  • McCowan Road Junior Public School
  • Pringdale Gardens Junior Public School
  • Silverthorn Junior Public School
  • Arlington Middle School
  • Kent Senior Public School-Alpha II

No schools in the Top quintile were closed; two in the Upper income quintile, one a middle school and one an alternative school; one school in the middle-income group; three in the lower-income quintile; and three in the Bottom (closing in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood have been postponed pending further review).

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December 29, 2009

Neighbourhood vitality in Toronto's towers

Toronto’s residential towers are flung far across the city’s inner suburbs, tossed over subway lines or sprinkled along ravines and major roadways, further from transit. E R A Architects made the strong case for the renewal of these urban structures, and the City’s (now being re-branded) “Mayor’s Tower Renewal Project” has focused resources on these vertical neighbourhoods.

Wading into the issue soon will be a new United Way Toronto report on housing and neighbourhood vitality, tentatively titled (until the marketers get a hold of it),The Role of Housing in Neighbourhood Vitality: An investigation into the impact of high-rise living on personal well-being and neighbourhood vitality. It will examine the quality of housing in these mainly private marker towers located within the poor neighbourhoods in Toronto’s inner suburbs; it will also measure residents’ satisfaction levels, the impact on health and well-being for themselves and their families, their attachment to the neighbourhood and the experience of various populations groups within this housing stock.

United Way laid the groundwork for this study as part of its Building Strong Neighbourhoods focus. Part of this earlier work was laid out in an exploration of the elements of neighbourhood vitality. That report went so far as to recommend useful data variables which could be drawn from primary and secondary sources.

Scheduled for release sometime in the first half of 2010, the donor-funded report is a rigourous and sweeping undertaking with a total survey interview sample of 2800 tenants and additional focus groups. York University researchers (led by Robert Murdie) are already undertaking to replicate the survey in the Parkdale neighbourhood.

The data collection was completed through the fall with a team of interviewers and 3 field coordinators. Data cleaning and analysis are now underway.

The research is being done in partnership with the

  • Social Housing Services Corporation, looking at the potential of a provincial roll-out
  • Toronto Community Housing, to compare social housing tenants and private market renters
  • Toronto Public Health, to understand the impact of housing on health
  • Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, to inform the new provincial housing strategy
  • City of Toronto, to create a a baseline of knowledge and also test the limitations of the complaints process, and
  • Apartment Association of Greater Toronto, who has provided access to private market rental stock.
December 17, 2009

Collective efficacy: Our trust in one another affects neighbourhood crime levels

The research crowd at the recent Toronto Neighbourhood Research Network meeting positively oohed when McMaster professor Jim Dunn described the new data capture method in a recent grant application.

“Not only will we be able to videotape the social interactions in a neighbourhood, but we’ll be able to project the data into a video-surround ‘cave’ —with sound.”

The technology would (re-)create a Canadian version of some foundational neighbourhood research, Neighborhoods and Violent Crime: A Multilevel Study of Collective Efficacy. In 1997, Robert Sampson, Stephen Raudenbush & Felton Earls drove a van slowly through the streets of Chicago, recording the social interactions they saw: adults interacting with youth and with each other. These were categorized and analyzed against the crime levels in different neighbourhoods.

Sampson, Raudenbush and Earls were trying to explain why crime levels varies among neighbourhoods which were similar in many other respects. The “broken windows” theory, popular in previous decades, hypothesized that petty crime, unchecked, leads to bigger crime. The broken windows theory had led to harsher policing responses to minor criminal activities and misdemeanors.

Their research generated the idea of collective efficacy, most easily described, as the trust neighbours have in each other to affect change. Where neighbours know each other, even by sight, and intervene when help is needed, crime levels were lower.

According to a recent presentation at CERIS, by Sara Thompson, a professor at Ryerson’s department of Criminal Justice & Criminology, strengthening the social connections within neighbourhoods is one of the most promising interventions to stop violent crime and homicides. The field of criminology has evolved from an earlier analysis that to the “kinds of places” where criminal activity occurs.

For instance, much of the debate in the 1990s, Thompson explained, focused on “kinds of people” involved in criminal activity, so that the  “purported link between violence and immigrants” resulted in calls for stricter immigration policies.

The more recent emphasis in Toronto on strengthening neighbourhoods has arisen out of the identification of “the central role of disadvantaged neighbourhoods as fertile fields for the roots of violence…” (Roots of Youth Violence, Vol 1.). This led to the pouring of resources into the Priority Neighbourhood Areas in Toronto’s “underserviced” areas.

The idea of collective efficacy moves the focus from people, to places, to finally (as novelist Barbara Kingsolver says) “the spaces between,” underscoring the importance of neighbouring and neighbourliness.

(My thanks to Sean Meagher who first introduced me to the research of Sampson, Raudenbush and Earls.)

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October 1, 2009

David Crombie on neighbourhoods and belonging

Quick notes from David Crombie, the former mayor of Toronto, speaking at the WoodGreen Community Services’ annual general meeting tonight:

Someone wise once said there are three questions everyone has to answer:

    1. Who am I?
    2. Where do I belong?
    3. How do I behave?

Neighbourhoods are where we do that.

Crombie also took a moment to reflect that he is the same age as the agency itself, 73 years old. Evoking the issues the agency faced at its start, Crombie reminded the crowd of  its founder Ray McCleary’s rallying call in the 1930s, “We need to reduce the power of poverty.”

Ever so. The work goes on.

August 25, 2009

Life in a town of 900

A few days ago, I travelled through the town of Skagway, Alaska on my way for a day of horseback riding and canoeing in the Yukon. Our bus driver, Mark, settled in the sea-side, shipping town fourteen years ago and proudly showed us around before we got on the highway. He explained, in very concrete terms, the sociology of life in a very small community.

A wintertime population of about 900, none of them there all at once, he explained, absorbs to up to 10,000 people every summer day when the cruise ships arrive.  The town’s summer population is swelled also buy the in-migration of commercial operators, happy to sell amethyst, gold and jade to the summer crowds. Others come looking for seasonal work. The summer time resident population swells to 2 – 3,000.  Many of them are housed in trailers at the edge of town – which Mark said residents called their “ghetto”, probably, I thought because of the poor quality of the housing, distant from any services.

Because of the small size of the town, Mark explained the importance of a strong sense of community in a hostile and changing environment. “It means,” he said,”that we don’t all necessarily like each, but we have to look out for each other.” For example,  fundraising benefits are regularly held for those facing medical or other life crises to help defray the unexpected and exorbitant costs.

Mark also amazed us when he explained why the border guards were so friendly. The social networks in a small town are dense, he explained, because everyone does a lot of different things. They have to if they want things to go.

“I’ll be back here at the border in a few hours to work. I keep their mechanical systems running. But that’s just what I get paid for,” he said, launching into another spiel. “I also do a weekly show on the local radio station and I am on the volunteer fire department.

“Because there’s is work to be done and if we don’t do it, who’s going to?”

June 5, 2009

Crime and social cohesion in Toronto neighbourhoods

Neighbourhood social cohesion has gotten some recent media attention in Toronto.

Presenting recently at 2009 Canadian Association of Geographers, Ryerson professor Sarah Thompson caught the attention of the National Post.

Co-author with Professor Rosemary Gartner, they have been able to map out “The spatial distribution of homicide in Toronto’s neighborhoods, 1988 – 2003” and to do some preliminary analysis on the difference between high homicide and low homicide neighbourhoods.

“Measures of neighborhood-level socio-economic disadvantage and the proportion of residents who were young males were the most consistent correlates of neighbourhood-level homicide counts,” according to their research.

At this point, more analysis is needed, however speculation on other reasons for the differences includes the level of community services available locally and the social cohesion in the neighbourhood.  It’s an exciting start.

United Ways Toronto and Peel are also bringing some attention to the issue of social cohesion. They’ve invited Garland Yates, a Senior Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, to speak at their Annual General Meetings. He has been working with the United Way Toronto’s resident engagement project, Action for Neighbourhood Change, for the past three years.

CBC Metro Morning’s Andy Barrie interviewed him this week while he was in town. (The man does not mind getting up early when he travels, three mornings in a row.)

When pushed by Barry to move past the platitudes of “facilitating” and “enabling” and to explain what could be done to strengthen social networks, Yates rose to the challenge, explaining the messy and unorganized ways that social networks function and social cohesion builds:

“First of all…social networks are pretty organic…I remember when growing up my mother and others would do things for each other, like each other’s hair.

“I don’t think it is necessarily about creating [social networks], and we have to be careful, as well, not to overprofessionalize them.

“Where there are natural tendencies of people to relate and interact with each other…that relate to welfare and improvement of the neighbourhood, we ought to just encourage them.

“A kind of simplistic way of putting it is, is that if we have resources we should invest those resources in activities that get people to interact and not necessarily in a program structure.”

CBC Metro Morning, June 3, 2009

Upon reflection, the implications of both these presentations call for further exploration of the role of community agencies in the strengthening of neighbourhoods. Community service agencies formalize the supports that used to have to be provided by social networks, yet, in our complex, densely-populated communities, neither can replace the other.

And speaking of the The National Post, it’s doing some great Toronto-focused profiles of the city:

  • A series since the beginning of May, Peter Kuitenbrouwer’s Walk Across Toronto has focused on the wide range of neighbourhoods outside the downtown (and predictable, as he terms it) city core.
  • A weekly series called Toronto, A to Z, profiling interesting corners of the city. They are up to the letter M now.
  • 95 (and counting) separate profiles entitled My Toronto by “famous” sons and daughters of the city.

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