Posts tagged ‘Violence’

June 5, 2013

TDSB Census 2011 highlights student isolation

The most recent TDSB census of parents and students shows improvements where the school board has influence, such as including students’ experience, welcoming parents into schools, or creating an environment where students feel safe. This part is a good news story that shows that concentrated educational efforts can make a difference.

However, as media reports have highlighted earlier, students are also feeling more stressed. The census results also show that physical health and nutrition drop in higher grades. Similarly, students are more likely to report being tired, having headaches, or being less happy in higher grades.

One-third of students don’t want to go to school, regardless of their age.

Students are also less likely to report having at least one adult whom they “feel comfortable to go to for personal support, advice or help.”
  • 34% of Grade 7/8 and 46% of high school students said they have no adult in whom they could confide.
  • 34% of Grade 7/8 and 31% of high school students said they had one adult in whom they could confide.
  • 31% of Grade 7/8 and 23% of high school students said they had more than one adult in whom they could confide.

Students report being less comfortable participating in class, especially those in high school.

According to the census, overwhelmingly students feel safe in class, but do report feeling less safe in other parts of the school building or outside on the grounds.

These are startling initial numbers. The impulse will be to psychologize the results, to describe the deficits in TDSB students and in their families. However, I want to suggest an alternative.

The social science of sociology might shed better light on how to support students to succeed: When students feel they belong in their schools, they will thrive. Foresightedly, some Board staff and trustees are already taking some good first steps and so have struck a working group to look more closely at the issue of how school relations shape better learning.

While the comparisons have not yet been explicitly made, this committee might start with the widening demographic gap between teacher and students. Increasingly divided by age, culture and socioeconomic class, students have a pretty good reason to feel disconnected from the adults in their schools. It’s up to the adults to fix that.

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March 26, 2013

Crime & Difference: What I want to say to our new local Toronto Police superintendent

English: The neighbourhood of Danforth Village...

English: The neighbourhood of Danforth Village in Toronto, Canada, looking east down Milverton Boulevard at its intersection with Woodmount Avenue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Toronto crime” is the the top search term that lands people on my blog, a blog about neighbourhoods and how we live together in community. However, as Mazlow’s hierarchy of need describes and, as our new local police superintendent must know, safety is the basis of all else.

Crime, and the threat of it, is why we pack high school auditoriums and why we write worried letters-to-the-editor. Whether our reaction is to lock ourselves behind double-deadbolted doors or to set up Neighbourhood Watches, these  are the ways we seek to protect ourselves and that which we love.

Last summer I attended a nearby community meeting with the local crime prevention officer. The attendees, many of my better-off neighbours, fretted about activity in the back alleyways, apparent drug activity at some homes, and people with substance abuse problems wandering by on neighbourhood sidewalks. None of these made the neighbourhood very family-friendly, so this focus wasn’t unfounded.

This is a neighbourhood where a substantial number of its residents have had some involvement with the criminal justice system, and the local police station has shown that targeting the few “bad apples” can drive down crime. Combing through a map of incarcerated individuals from a 2009 Toronto Star investigation, I found this part of the east end ranked on par with a few of the city’s better-known priority neighbourhood areas (see More below).

My own son, like many of my friends’ sons, had been mugged. It’s almost a neighbourhood rite of passage, disrupted once when a group of young men broke with orthodoxy and confronted a local mother demanding she turn over cash. For my son, though, it ended well. Older boys intervened and one of them, recognizing the aggressors, talked them into returning the stolen money. (Honour among thieves, indeed! I loved this story, when I finally heard it, because of the two degrees of separation and the power of social networks and social norms.)

I sat listening for a while, sympathetic to these women, protective too of their broods.

But now my son, the teenager I love, has grown. He is taller than me with a bristly haircut, a loping walk, and arms he’ll flex at the merest provocation. He looks, admittedly, a bit scary to some. And, as a mixed-race kid, he doesn’t carry the skin privilege I do.

Were they talking about him? A few assured me afterwards they didn’t mean him, of course, that they knew he was a good kid. But that’s small comfort. He has already been stopped by the Police, and I know the police won’t be asking my neighbours to vouch for him.

So our crime prevention meeting abruptly became nerve-wracking. Suddenly we weren’t talking about criminal activity. We were talking about how people looked, or dressed, or ambled around the neighbourhood. We were ready to call the police when someone, muttering to themselves or holding “too much” cash, walked by our porch. This, in a former working class neighbourhood, still with a group home, a rooming house, public housing, and scattered supportive units for people with mental health challenges?

Were we talking about enforcement over community-building? To sanction over supports?

Perhaps if we are scared enough, I heard.

This is the nub of the challenge our new superintendent will face: the tensions that arise among those who are different from each other, among those who do not have an easy understanding of each other and a code of behaviour to smooth things over.

It will take a sharp mind and a good heart to negotiate these waters, but I’m sure she’s up for the job of catching criminals, of resolving local disputes, and, as they say, of knowing the difference between the two.

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January 9, 2012

New Stats Can study: Youth crime patterns in Toronto neighbourhoods

I once showed a map of Toronto’s 2005 summer of shootings to a sociologist at the University of Hawaii and, without ever having visited our city, she was able to point out the main commercial districts, transit lines and low-income areas. These are the areas where urban crime cluster, she explained.

English: The northwest corner of the intersect...

Perhaps easily apparent, the patterns are always more interesting at a more granular level of detail.  So a new Statistics Canada report from the Crime and Justice Research Paper Series. has again given Torontonians another glimpse into criminal activity in our city. This time, author Mathieu Charron has focused on youth crime in Toronto. (His earlier 2009 paper on Toronto looked at broader patterns of crime.)

About 175,000 youth, aged 12 — 17, lived in the City of Toronto in 2006, the year which Charron used for his analysis. Using census tracts as a proxy for neighbourhoods, Charron looks at the geographic distribution of youth crime, and the characteristics of the places associated with it. He maps all police-reported incidents which involve a youth.

As anticipated, his maps show concentrations of youth crime along transit lines, in commercial areas, and then less frequently, around schools. But the study also finds some other interesting and confirming patterns:

  • About 1/3 of reported youth crime occurs in outdoors public spaces, and another third in commercial establishments. School properties accounted for the location of 12% of other reported incidents (2/3 occurring during supervised school activities). Public areas and local residences surrounding schools do not necessarily experience more youth crime, although local businesses do.
  • Neighbourhoods with lower mobility (i.e. residents more likely to have lived there for five years or more) experience less crime. Charron suggests more stable social networks may be part of the explanation for this.  And, as shown in other studies, neighbourhoods with higher levels of immigration are also less likely to experience some forms of youth crime. Family cohesion is usually seen as a contributing factor.
  • Neighbourhoods with more access to resources also are less likely to see youth accused of crime.
  • Central Toronto neighbourhoods (i.e. easily accessible) are more likely to experience youth crime in public areas.
  • Youth are more likely to be accused of a crime when they live in neighbourhoods with high adult crime rates, or higher residential mobility (people move homes more frequently) or where residents are economically vulnerable (low-income areas). Here, Charron cites other studies which attribute low levels of social control and/or exposure to violence as important contributing factors.
  • The characteristics of a youth’s home neighbourhood are more likely to predict whether youth become involved with the criminal justice system than the locations of where crimes take place. (Does that mean there are bad neighbourhoods? No, just vulnerable ones, with fewer resources.) This may be related to another of the study’s findings, that youth are more likely commit crimes outside their own residential neighbourhoods.

The most frequent sites of youth crime in 2006 were in commercial establishments, largely because of high traffic and opportunity. Property crime, especially shoplifting, accounted for 3 ⁄ 4 of the reported incidents. The maps Charron includes appear to confirm concentrations around shopping malls. The biggest apparent hotspot was Scarborough Town Centre with more than 250 incidents per square kilometre. Other crime hotspots (east to west) appear to be Yorkdale Shopping Mall, Dufferin Mall. Eaton Centre, Laird/Eglinton or Thorncliffe area, Cedarbrae Mall and Malvern Town Centre. These all showed rates between fifty to two hundred and fifty reported incidents. Outside of these large commercial centres, Charron found neighbourhood establishments, such as convenience stores and restaurants, were also vulnerable. Charron found a strong overlap between commercial areas which reported youth crime and adult crime, although youth were more likely to be involved in outlying neighbourhoods in the city.

In his next area of focus, outdoor public spaces, Charron found the prevalence of youth crime was much smaller, by a dimension of 25 to one (The upper range of outdoor events was only 10 incidences per square kilometre). As our Honolulu sociologist predicted, reported incidents were concentrated along transit and subway lines, in lower-income areas and near commercial areas. Charron also found some support for the “bored teenager syndrome,” that the number of reported crimes were higher in neighbourhoods with a higher number of youth, including central areas of the city where youth tend to gather and where household incomes are higher. Subway and other natural gathering points also attracted higher crime levels. The highest areas, reporting more than ten incidents per square kilometre, were around the University of Toronto, the Yonge Street downtown south of Yonge, Yonge and Finch, around Donlands and Danforth and the surrounding area (where five high schools are concentrated). Smaller problem pockets were found at Jane, south of Finch, the Mount Dennis area, Mount Pleasant and Eglinton (another high school), Pape Village, Greenwood Park, Kennedy subway station and its environs, and the Kingston Road and Morningside area.

The final location Charron examined are crimes which were reported to have happened in private residences. Largely concentrated in neighbourhoods with average employment incomes below $50,000 ⁄ year, the geographic pattern mimicked that of outdoor crime, especially outside the central part of the city. Charron found that crimes which occurred in houses were more likely to be property crimes, such as breaking and entering, theft and mischief. Crimes which occurred in apartments and other dwelling units were more likely to be violent offences. Residential crime was less likely to occur where there was a higher proportion of recent Canadian immigrants, where there are fewer youth or lower adult crime, or where local residents have access to more resources.

Charron concludes though by saying that neighbourhood characteristics, such as economic vulnerability, have less of an effect on youth crime than they do on adult crime — perhaps speaking to the early resiliency of youth.

More up-to-date data on crime in the city can be found through the Toronto Police Services Crime Statistics site and the City of Toronto’s Wellbeing Indices.
May 18, 2011

Toronto youth initiatives: Ground-level view of the stratosphere

After the “summer of the gun” in 2005, various funders and levels of government focused on the issues of youth and youth violence. The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence was produced. Funding appeared in the Priority Neighbourhood Areas through the Youth Challenge Fund (YCF). Laidlaw Foundation made youth a central focus of its work. United Way Toronto developed a “policy outcomes framework,” calling for coordinated action from the provincial government. Each summer since, through Focus on Youth, a provincially-funded program, the two largest public school boards have run programs providing youth employment and space for non-profits in Toronto schools.

So now, more

than five years later, some of that work is well established, and some of it, such as YCF, is near the end of its mandate. From the 30,000 foot level, things look good.

The provincial government’s youth policy framework is being developed, guided by “big brain science,” as one watcher called it. Literature reviews are done and developmental milestones are being firmed up. United Way Toronto has been hosting a multi-stakeholder Community of Practice for Youth and has developed evaluation frameworks with youth-serving agencies to develop a youth strategy. Consultations are underway for United Way’s development of a strategy. A city-wide Dialogue on youth violence working group is rolling along. A frontline youth workers crisis response guide has been developed. Laidlaw Foundation’s and United Way’s multiple reports and initiatives are well underway (see More below).

If youth of this city need strategies, guides, conferences and policy, the non-profit and government sectors are working it. But a recent conversation with a group of youth service-providers providers a more sobering reality check. While “capacity-building” and “skills-building” is being funded, program operating costs are scarce.

The south entrance of Dufferin Mall in Toronto...

Image via Wikipedia

One set of neighbourhood agencies have spent a year exploring after-school programming for local youth, but have stalled because they haven’t found a funder that focuses on this need. The Youth Challenge Fund, which focused on Priority Neighbourhood Areas, is in its last year. The City’s Welcome Policy is frozen – and this may be a seasonal occurrence. Youth settlement funding for newcomers is drying up. One youth worker explained he has no more funding to take youth to museums or other downtown excursions. His program cannot cover the tokens, never mind the admission costs of these attractions. Another worker lamented a summer of trips to the local park instead of places further afield, such as the Toronto Islands. The kids in these programs sometimes have never seen Lake Ontario. To raise funds for TTC costs, they are making arts & crafts to sell locally.

And community space for youth is still a crunch.

  • While LOFT has been able to open a youth social enterprise space, the Dufferin Mall space has closed.
  • Media centres have been or are opening in four Toronto libraries, but operating funding beyond three years is uncertain. What will happen to the city’s recreation centres is still to be determined.
  • Social Planning Toronto is working on a report to track how youth are able to access community space in Toronto. They are finding attitudes are as important a barrier as availability of space.
  • The provincially-funded Community Use of Schools program has opened 77 schools in the TDSB, but the hours are restricted to after 6 p.m. on week-days and week-ends. Because of the identified deficit, Board staff are actively discouraging bookings on week-ends because of the added overtime costs which eat into this budget.

A few sparks of hope continue to emerge, though. The Toronto District School Board, for instance, is playing with new ideas like delayed starts for the school day and more “schools of choice.” Even with the sluggishness of strategies or the scarcity of funding, people are being creative. However, in the end, all this thinking won’t be enough.  While we create more strategies, another generation of youth is moving through their teens.

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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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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].”

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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 17, 2009

Toronto's emotional map running hot & cold

Kevin Stolarick, Richard Florida’s “stats guy” at the Martin Prosperity Institute has been up to a bit of mischievous mapping in his spare time.

Using data from a UC Berkeley psychologist who publishes the Big Five Personality Test , Stolarick has mapped out the major emotional of characteristics of Toronto residents by neighbourhood (probably Forward Sortation Areas – the first three digits of a postal code).

The Toronto Star published the maps today: Toronto the Good – and bad and sad and mellow and … .

It’s a relief to see some maps that break the traditional “U” and “O” deprivation patterns. West-enders are extroverted, east-enders are neurotic. Suburban areas tend to be more agreeable, while those along the subway lines are less so. Most of the city is the conscientious type. Those closer to the lake tend to be more open to new experiences.

Now, because the survey is web-based, Stolarick says the sample is probably skewed towards the young (and tech-savvy), but it certainly is a bit of fun!

September 24, 2009

Crime hotspots across Toronto neighbourhoods

(October 29, 2012 Update: CBC release of police crime data by type and neighbourhood)

Today, Stats Can released a hot product: a report on crime in Toronto.  Even though we are one of the safer metropolitan areas on the continent, Neighbourhood Characteristics and the Distribution of Police-reported Crime in the City of Toronto is sure to draw some attention.

Produced by Mathieu Charron at the Canadian Centre for Crime Statistics, the report looks at the location of reported crimes and the characteristics of the neighbourhoods in which they occurred.

The data, drawn from Statistic Canada’s Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR)  “reflect reported crime that has been substantiated by police.” 106,175 incidents were clustered and mapped across the city.

The reports differentiates between violent crime and property crime, finding different correlations. The pattern shows that low-income and nearby neighbourhoods are more likely to suffer spillover effects.

Dividing crimes into violent and property ones, the report found:

  • Neighbourhoods with higher violent crime rates tend to have less access to resources. Education level of residents was one of the best predictors of such access.These neighbourhoods also tended to be “densely populated and have a higher percentage of residents living in multi-unit dwellings” (the tall towers which are the focus of the Mayor’s renewal efforts.) These neighbourhoods are also more likely to have more children, more single-parent families, more renters, and more people of colour.
  • Property crime (theft, break & enter) is concentrated around shopping centres, both large and small, in commercial districts, and in neighbourhoods around these places. Areas with high levels of education or a high portion of manufacturing and office jobs were less likely to report property crime.

Criminologists recognize the spatial patterns of crime. Crime comes in hot spots around the city. Mapping out various criminal activities, the report’s spatial crime patterns follow the same deprivation “U” which marks less privileged areas of the city. Densely populated cores, transportation and shopping hubs, which all draw large numbers of people, tended to report higher crime rates.

The report does not rank or rate specific neighbourhoods, however it did describe “some hot spots…Danforth, downtown east side, and the intersections of Lawrence and Morningside, Jane and Finch, and Jane and Eglinton.”

Here, for those who like the gory details, is what I could see on the maps. The highest levels of crime clustered in the following places:

  • Breaking & Entering: Downsview, Bridle Path, Lawrence Park,Don Mills
  • Drug offense: Jane-Finch, York, Dufferin Grove, Parkdale, New Toronto/Mimico, Trinity-Bellwoods, Regent Park, Greenwood- Woodbine, Crescent Town, Birchcliff, Cliffcrest, Scarborough Village, Kingston-Gallow, Woburn.
  • Major Assault: Jane-Finch, Jane-401, York, Downtown west & east, Lawrence-Kingston Road.
  • Minor Assault: Rexdale, Jane-FinchDownsview, Jane-401, Dufferin-Bloor, Parkdale, Don River-Gerrard, Danforth, Kingston Road, Woburn, Malvern
  • Mischief:  Riverdale, Cabbage Town, York, Morningside/Highland Creek.
  • Motor Vehicle Theft: Etobicoke, Scarborough (where car ownership rates are higher)
  • Robbery: Rexdale, Jane-Finch, Jane-Sheperd, York, Danforth, Woburn
  • Sexual Assault: Rexdale, Jane-Finch, Jane-401, High Park, Bloor-Danforth, Kingston Road
  • Theft: Dispersed along waterfront and main roads
  • Theft from Motor Vehicle: Pearson Airport, Willowdale, High Park, Downtown (west & east), Riverdale, University of Toronto, Scarborough

In contrast, the city’s financial district and the north end of Yonge Street were identified as areas with lower rates of violence. In essence, the central neighbourhoods of the city are higher-income and safer areas, while neighbourhoods with poor physical infrastructure and social resources were more likely to have higher levels of police involvement.

So, the final word probably best belongs to Canadian housing activist Michael Shapcott who wryly noted in his Twitter feed about the study, “Plenty of crime in rich, white neighbourhoods (fraud, tax cheating, ‘white collar’), it just doesn’t get policed/reported.”

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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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