Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The three cities of Toronto

Bloor and Lansdowne is changing as middle-class people buy houses formerly owned by working-class immigrants. In many ways this neighbourhood is becoming more pleasant for those who can afford to live here. New businesses are opening on Bloor Street. There are new cultural activities like the annual Big on Bloor festival or the music nights at the Holy Oak and 3-Speed. The Bloor and Gladstone library which has always had a fine old building was recently expanded. It's possible to pleasure skate at Campbell rink without being chased away by hockey players.

Of course, things aren't perfect. Change takes time and some of the old problems persist. While Bloor St. between Lansdowne and Dufferin has improved, drug dealers and prostitutes haven't completely disappeared. Every once in a while 14 Division sends out bulletins about swarmings and other robberies. Still, the neighbourhood overall is getting better if - and it's starting to be a big if - you have enough money to live here.

This isn't the only neighbourhood that's changing. If anything, gentrification is coming here later than it has in other parts of the old city. I can see how if you live and spend most of your time in the central part of Toronto, you might be mystified by the assertion that the city is in serious trouble. That's because Toronto's social problems (unemployment, poverty, poor housing and crime) are moving to the suburbs. The most serious problems aren't at Bloor and Lansdowne. They can be found in places like Malvern, Rexdale and Flemingdon Park.

In my recent posting about the lack of debate on immigration during the election, I mentioned research done by David Hulchanski of the University of Toronto. I would like to quote a few paragraphs from his 2008 study The Three Cities of Toronto. (You can download a free copy of the study here.) The study shows how poverty has moved from the central city to the inner suburbs and is becoming concentrated in specific neighbourhoods. In other words, there is growing income polarization in Toronto and if you don't live in one of the poor neighbourhoods it's easy to think the city is doing well when it isn't.

Here's the excerpt:

Toronto's neighbourhoods fall into three clear groups based on income change, 1970 to 2005. The first, which we call City #1, is a predominantly high-income area of the City of Toronto in which neighbourhood incomes have risen a great deal relative to the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) average since 1970: these neighbourhoods are generally found in the central city and close to the city's subway lines. By contrast, City #3 is a generally low-income area of Toronto, in which neighbourhood incomes have fallen substantially over the past few decades compared to the CMA average; these neighbourhoods are found mostly in the northeastern and northwestern parts of Toronto. In between these two is City #2, a mainly middle-income area, where neighbourhood incomes have remained fairly close to the CMA average since 1970. While all cities can be divided into various groupings, the important finding in this research is the consistent trend over time: the three groups of neighbourhoods are changing at different rates and moving further apart.

The middle-income area of the city shrank dramatically between 1970 and 2005, while the high-income area increased slightly and the low-income area increased substantially. Based on comparisons of neighbourhood income with the CMA average, the proportion of middle-income neighbourhoods (incomes less than 20% above or below the CMA average in each year) was 66% in 1970, but only 29% in 2005. Meanwhile over the same period, high-income neighbourhoods (neighbourhood incomes 20% or more above the CMA average) grew from 19% of the city's neighbourhoods to 53% (extremely low-income neighbourhoods grew from 1% to 9%). Middle-income households have not simply moved to the suburban municipalities beyond Toronto, beccause a similar trend can be seen in the rest of the Toronto CMA.

Poverty has moved from the centre to the edges of the city. In the 1970s, most of the city's low-income neighbourhoods were in the inner city. This meant that low-income households had good access to transit and services. Some of these neighbourhoods have gentrified and are now home to affluent households, while low-income households are concentrated in the northeastern and northwestern parts of city (the inner suburbs), with relatively poor access to transit and services.

These are long-term trends. The study looked at trends for a 35-year period, and found most of the changes to be persistent. The polarization of the city into wealthy neighbourhoods and greater numbers of disadvantaged neighbourhoods is continuing and middle-income neighbourhoods are disappearing.

As far as I know, Hulchanski doesn't share my opinion that immigration should be reduced. Nonetheless, the information in his study points in that direction. Overall, recent immigrants to Toronto aren't doing as well as earlier cohorts. That's a sign something is wrong with our immigration policy.