Descriptions of where suburbia is at call forth questions about its future. Some of the predictions of where it’s all going for suburbia are dire indeed. In a world of capital and energy problems the growth of suburbia is safely described as over. Does that mean we are looking at decay and contraction or adaptation? Is it possible that we’ll see an element of scrapping, reclaiming and recycling of the very fabric of suburbia? Maybe. There’s hundreds of thousands of tons, nay millions of tons, of everything from wood to asphalt to aluminium and copper out there. If it is deployed in a built environment that increasingly is either unsustainable or simply doesn’t meet human needs what will happen to it? Humans are inventive critters so we’ll probably see all three: adaptation, contraction and physical reclamation of useful materials.
With that in mind we’d like you to meet two guys already at it. Kenny Chumsky of New Jersey and a Canadian in southern Ontario named Jack-the-Scrapper. These dudes troll the suburbs garbage picking and scrapping. They live off the consumer insanity of suburbia but could easily have their way with the very bones and flesh of it without much difficulty we imagine. Kenny has a charming New Jersey accent and looks a little worse for wear, he doesn’t even don work gloves as he demolishes everything from TV sets to swing sets. Jack is younger and could easily be a comedian with his own reality show. He’s almost as funny as the Chief Publisher here at suburban-poverty.com. Jack doesn’t look half as rough as Kenny, …must be all that socialist public health care forced on him by his vile government. Either way, these two men are out there on the edge, testing the future one discarded cast aluminium barbecue at a time.
How to scrap metal from a TV: for copper, wire and aluminum Caution: awesome!
How to scrap a flat TV for cash $$$$ “I’m gonna hit that TV with this axe!”
If you live in a suburban area in North America you probably have noticed a serious rise in scrapping and garbage picking. Such things were staples of the economic life of developing countries and their visibility here probably speaks volumes. Copper wire is currently worth about $3.00 a pound and that is why the cords disappear from the toasters and video tape players that go out on garbage day. Pop cans and scrap aluminium is worth less than a dollar a pound. Other times scrappers repair or reuse objects and the internet abounds with tales of perfectly good stuff hauled out of the garbage. Outside the suburban-poverty.com office the first wave of scrappers in vans and pickups, often with trailers, rolls by mid-afternoon garbage day. There’s another wave around dinner time. Sometimes one around 20:00 and another at 23:00. Individual pickers and scrappers can cruise by at any time on garbage day. There’s a man nearby here who scraps on foot with a specially adapted baby buggy. Not something really anticipated when this grand, sprawling suburban creature was birthed officially in 1974.
France and Spain are hosts to some fairly serious situations of suburban poverty. It is also increasingly difficult to see how they will improve upon these situations going forward. Bit of a shame when you think of the amazing cultural life, public spaces and social progress most western Europeans have been enjoying for some time now. The kind of anger and social difficulty once corralled on the urban fringes could become familiar to more and more of the populations of Spain and France if austerity is forced upon them. The links below are to articles from cafebabel.com. Hints of positive solutions coming from artists and social activists are found in both items, and that’s a good thing.
Paris suburbs: cliche piled on cliche
La Tres Mils: the last oasis of nomadic life
We’ve been enjoying Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. It takes a hard, statistics-driven look at economic inequality and the character of society. The bigger the gap between the top and bottom twenty per cent of a given population the worse off that society will be in virtually every way. Not just by some tiny margin either and not just in terms of major health issues or raw life expectancy data. The more unequal your society the more people in jail, the more mental illness, the lower the level of happiness and the poorer general funcitoning it will see. The Spirit Level is quite something, it empowers in great detail the arguments against inequality and poverty in a world where the rich have left us all in the dust. Much of this is known to us through experience,of course, anecdotally or in fragementary ways. Not any more. The findings under consideration also break down from the national level to that of provinces and states …and even by neighbourhood!
Canada, for its part, appears in the charts and graphs as a middling, mediocre country. Our inequality not as bad as that of the UK or the US but we have more than western and northern Europe or Japan and so the negative effects of inequality and poverty register more than all but the most heartless readers here will feel comfortable with. The countries with the least inequality do better across the board with statistics indicating better child welfare, better health, better everything from more reading to less bullying in schools. Powerful ammunition this is indeed for fighting back against the people and policy makers who think all we need is to cut this taxe or reduce that regulation.
Dr. Wilkinson has been appearing in the media in support of the book quite a bit. We at suburban-poverty.com could listen to him all day. Here are some links:
The Equality Trust
Richard Wilkinson In Canada Huffington Post Canada
Keep calm and carry on… unless you are a working person and live in the UK. Here’s a piece from the Guardian columnist Eva Wiseman. It contains several of the main threads we’ve been discussing around here. The item puts in personal terms what it all feels like and asks where is it all going? Apparently, to live in Ms. Wiseman’s part of London and rent comfortably you need an income of nearly seventy-thousand pounds a year. The pound has come down a bit over the years (something to do with running out of North Sea oil) but that’s still roughly two-hundred-bazillion Canadian dollars, …a lot of sterling to hand over to a landlord just for the privilege of living someplace.
Locked out of the property market
The pair of commentators making up the Freakonomics franchise have enjoyed quite a bit of success and a high profile for a while now. They made people a little uneasy with the assertion in their last book that prostitution is a clever career choice for women as long as they remember to go about it in some kind of nice middle-class kind of way. Yeah, whatever. Suburban-poverty.com thought they’d have made more effort to apply their quirky perspectives to the matter at hand. This item from last fall citing Brookings Institution work seems to be about it, at least since the 2007-2008 crash. You can confirm suburban poverty in the United States by looking at where housing vouchers are being spent.
The suburb as the slum: housing voucher shifts in America
A lot of the coverage of the last Canadian federal budget focussed on government layoffs and cuts to the CBC. Less attention has gone to the axing of what is called the National Council of Welfare. This is a small government advisory body that concerns itself with “any matter relating to social development.” With a broad, progressive mandate like that you know you are dealing with something created before the present age of neoconservative ignorance. Since 1969 the council has communicated with ministers about:
- income security programs
- child benefits
- the tax system
- income adequacy
- employment programs
- the justice system
- social services, such as child care and child welfare
- the cost of poverty
- specific populations such as children, lone-parent families and seniors
You’d have to wonder why such a focus is so offensive to the present government that they’d ditch an agency that provided them with insight into these areas. Can we assume that the Harper Tories, therefore, don’t care much about these things?
The second last item on the list above should be a bit of an eye catcher: the cost of poverty. NCW has published findings that show spending to reduce poverty would be expensive but would save Canada money because of the costs associated with poverty. This includes everything from crime to healthcare for mental illnesses caused by poverty. Duh! The neoconservatives project this image of being sensible, businesslike, no-nonsense types. If there were any truth in such imagery they would be all over NCW’s findings and doing everything they can to reinforce the council, not shut it down.
The dollars and sense of solving poverty
If I told you about a country with beautiful scenery composed of mountains and coastlines, surrounded by oceans on three sides and blessed with oil wealth you could pick Scotland or Canada …and be right with either! Liking a drink, Celtic place names and a middle class under pressure and at risk of evaporating are other things these two countries have in common.
Reporting on Glasgow is this blog posting from the Socialist Courier. The really funny part is how this item is from the archives, having been published in 1981!
Getting the blues in suburbia
With poverty, the fun just never stops. Now, the automobile in North American popular culture is viewed as a great cultural leveller and class unifier. Montreal’s Department of Public Health just spent four years looking at motor vehicle accidents and guess what they came up with? The poorer your neighbourhood the more vehicular, pedestrian and cycling accidents take place and the more serious the nature of them.
“Gentlemen, start your engines!”
Wealth and traffic accidents: study shows poorer people many times more likely to be hurt
It’s quite heartening to see Ed Broadbent reemerging into Canada’s public realm through the creation of an institute with a major focus on economic inequality. Even those adhering to neo-conservative thought must surely find it refreshing to come across perspectives other than their own. Of course, that may be asking too much but Mr. Broadbent appears intent on backing up his take on inequality, and the harm it does, with strong arguments, research and statistical evidence. Not just the right has a tradition of vehemence, argumentativeness and truthfulness don’t you know!
At suburban-poverty.com we have high hopes that Mr. Broadbent will be successful getting the word out. A reversal of the brain-washing, the opinions-disguised-as-the-truth, the elistist contmept and laissez-faire social policy that have been so much a part of the national life for the last three decades is long overdue. Indeed, we remember in our teens some three decades ago, that in Canada Scandinavia-style social democracy was viewed as a perfectly rational option for the nation by a great many people. Things turned out rather differently it would seem. The inequality we have here now and, above all, the way it is viewed as inevitable by so many tells us that.
But efforts like that of economicinequality.ca and now Mr. Broadbent, however, show us that perhaps Canada is not a complete write off yet? “Ready, aye ready …already!”
Since suburban-poverty.com takes a global view of its namesake issue it is a little surprising we have not mentioned H.U.D. Apparently the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has had, shall we say, its ups and downs over the years. Either way they have made themselves felt and been a factor shaping urban and suburban life in America for some time now. In the winter of 2012 their Policy Development & Research people produced this item called Meeting the Challenges of Suburban Poverty.
HUD [Evidence Matters]