Tackling the income gap in Canadian cities

TheStar.com – news/gta
Published on Sunday July 08, 2012.    Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter

Toronto’s middle-class suburbs of the 1970s have turned into “urban deserts” of growing poverty while the city centre has become an enclave for the ultra rich.

But in the Montreal region, the suburbs are growing increasingly wealthy while poverty is spreading in the band of communities just outside the city’s historic downtown.

Meantime, the wealthy suburbs of North and West Vancouver have grown richer while poverty has spread east and south of downtown since 1970.

What’s common for all three cities, however, is that the middle class is shrinking, notes University of Toronto researcher David Hulchanski, whose ground-breaking The Three Cities Within Toronto report in 2007 was the first to map Statistics Canada Census income data over time by neighbourhood.

The new Montreal and Vancouver research, presented at U of T last week and not yet published, is part of a seven-year study of neighbourhood inequality in six Canadian cities that Hulchanski hopes will help explain why this is happening and what measures can halt or at least ease the 35-year-trend.

Calgary, Winnipeg, Halifax and the Greater Toronto Area are the other Canadian cities that will be examined in the study.

“Urban inequality has been well studied in the U.S. and Europe, but for the most part, Canada has been left out of the research,” says Hulchanski who is leading the $2.5 million study funded by the federal Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

With his broad team of Canadian and international researchers, community agencies, municipalities and private-sector partners, Hulchanski said he hopes Canada can become a world leader in the field.

In addition to using StatsCan data to map income trends in the six Canadian cities, community partners will conduct neighbourhood case studies to show how the changes affect residents’ everyday lives, he said.

This type of large-scale data analysis combined with local, participatory research has never been done on a national scale, he added.

The goal is to create “a more inclusive society in which youth have hope for the future, newcomers are welcomed, the elderly have support in their communities, aboriginal people are not isolated from the mainstream, and those on low incomes can be contributing members of a community,” Hulchanski said.

Architect and urban designer Ken Greenberg, one of six panelists and study members at the U of T project launch last week, listed several ways policy makers could reverse neighbourhood inequality in Toronto.

In Ontario, before the mid-1990s Mike Harris Conservative government, policies required all new housing communities to contain a mix of tenures, for renters, homeowners and seniors, he said.

The push for so-called “inclusionary zoning” that requires developers to make a percentage of housing units in new residential developments available to low- and moderate-income residents is “one of the most significant things we could do going forward,” he said.

Toronto’s stalled Tower Renewal initiative to rehabilitate crumbling high-rises in the city’s inner suburbs where most low-income residents live, is another measure worth ramping up.

Improving public transit to the poor inner suburbs through Metrolinx and the recent OneCity proposal suggested by TTC chair Karen Stintz and vice-chair Glenn De Baeremaeker would also make a difference by making it easier for residents to get to work.

“If we decided to make it a priority, there are many things we could do about it,” he said.

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