(134) Elizabeth Kneebone from the Brookings Institution

Poor McAllen ...literally!Here’s a thirty-five minute video featuring reseercher Elizabeth Kneebone of the Brookings Institution.  Brookings had brought out one of its major reports into suburan poverty at the time and the reasonable and very inteliigent Ms. Kneebone offers her insights into the changing geography of American poverty.  Curiously, McAllen, Texas appears on two of Ms. Kneebone’s lists.  What an honour that must be!  The reality of this change is enormous and so the interview is dense with facts and insights and the people calling in to ask questions or make comments had a wide variety of ideas, too. 

Suburban Poverty January 29, 2010 C-SPAN Video Library

Brookings Institution

(133) Less driving

American Family ShitboxWith the progression of the Great Recession we’ve read a few things online that indicate trouble in one of the major relationships of suburban living arrangements.  Of course, we are referring to the automobile.  It’s not just about the cost of ownership or having no job.  It seems that where you find an automotive/residential matrix the number of miles driven per person has been going down, total car sales are down and that the younger people appear less hell bent on acquiring driver’s licenses than in the past.  It is still early to decipher the meaning of these changes but we can safely assume that these changes are dictated ones, not chosen ones and they reflect the problems and growing poverty of suburbia.  Here is an item from the UK on the matter that also includes some American statistics.

America’s love affair with the car is running on empty Guardian

(132) Schnarky!

Canada’s largest freshwater turtle: the Snapping Turtle. Watch out kids! Tory the Turtle is none too fast but he’ll take that hand clean off if he gets the chance.

We came across this item, the article not the turtle, in the National Pest the other day.  It won’t be a shocker to any of suburban-poverty.com’s loyal readers to know that inequality and poverty is damaging to the general functioning of the economy and therefore harmful to the business interests and the political system that would appear to foster said poverty and inequality at every turn.  That the piece was written by a mainstream political actor associated with the federal Liberal party is not that striking either.  What we noticed were the snarky, unsophisticated comments from the general readership of The Pest.  Of course, not all the comments are simplified neoconservative maxims delivered with spite.  Nonetheless, we’ve seen such reactions all over the internet whenever economics is the topic at hand.  It bothers us and worries us that so many of our fellow citizens are so cranky and touchy and childish in their ideas about economics and the nature of societal relations.

Why is it so tough for people to separate the personal from the social, the anecdotal from the general?  We’ve come to conclude that most people commenting on economics and society are firstly giving vent to some emotional quirk, making a resentful statement primarily.  See for yourself.

Scott Brison: If Canada doesn’t tackle income disparity, the economy will suffer

(130) Every day is poverty day

Destitution Day arrived June 7th.  The new D-Day is a tool of Social Planning Toronto designed to help Canada’s largest, richest, busiest city understand where it is at regarding poverty.  Put simply, this is the day a single person collecting social assistance runs out of money.  So, no, in case you were wondering Destitution Day is not generating a lot of happy talk or positive feeling.  The statistics about poverty contained in the report are pretty distressing.  It is said that nearly all the wards of the city contain the equivalent of a small town living in poverty, even the one’s with the highest incomes.  And yes, the suburbs are well represented.

Social Planning Toronto releases first-ever poverty profiles of the city’s 44 wards on Destitution Day Toronto Star

http://www.socialplanningtoronto.org/

http://www.povertyfreetoronto.org/

(129) Hamilton, ON

Twinned with Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a shared heritage of steel making, the Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario also grapples with the kinds of changes many cities in North America are facing.  In the piece linked below, a Hamilton blogger and transit acitivist relates the issues of suburban change and decline to his city of just over 500,000 people at the western end of Lake Ontario.  It’ll be interesting to compare how post-industrial Hamilton evolves in comparison to Toronto, the sprawling super-suburbanized mega city to the east.  Whatever path Hamilton follows will be instructive to the whole region, both sides of the border.

We may be on the edge of an epochal migration Raise The Hammer

(128) Scrapping the suburbs

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.

(127) France & Spain

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

(125) The realities of inequality

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

TED Talk

Richard Wilkinson In Canada Huffington Post Canada