(164) Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA seems to have taken its share of hits over the last five or so years.  Too bad really.  As a city of culture, with terrific old architecture, it had begun to recover and find itself in the post-industrial era, even doing better than many large cities in the northeastern United States.  Still, the real estate flippers, the “we buy houses: cash fast” crews are finding plenty of opportunity in amongst the foreclosures.  This piece from the Atlantic tells a tale of tragedy and opportunity intertwining.

‘We Buy Houses’: Decline and Opportunity in Pittsburgh’s East Suburbs

photo: Jim Orsini via Wikimedia Commons

(163) Inequality and health in England [King’s Fund report]

Crossing the pond to the United Kingdom from Canada we find at least  two things much the same.  The first is a public health care system.  The second is that despite the latter the richer the person the more likely they are to be in good health and live longer.  At least, that is the finding of a think tank called the King’s Fund.  They have taken a longer term look at diet, smoking, exercise, and drinking.  Not exactly a pretty picture, the influence of these things on the cost and provision of health care.

Class divide in health widens says think tank Guardian

Clustering of unhealthy behaviours over time: implications for policy and practice King’s Fund site

(162) Inequality and health in Canada [CMA report]

This post introuduces the Progressive Economic Forum to suburban-poverty.com’s readers with an item confirming the relationship between income levels and health in Canada.  PEF cites a new Canadian Medical Association report.  It seems that Canadians remain fortunate people in terms of health and wellness but a gap has opened up based on income.  If you are poorer you die sooner and have more problems over the years.  The author of this piece supports the view that beating up on the poor for bad lifestyle choices is too often used as an easy out for explaining the social determinants of health.  An item on the same CMA report on the CBC website got just over 800 comments in a short time.  Clearly this is an important issue, one Canadians know to feel strongly about.

To address health inequalities, look beyond the role of individual responsibility PEF

‘Wealth equals health,’ Canadian doctors say: lower-income groups report poorer health CBC.ca

CMA poll finds “worrisome” gap in income-related health status CMA.ca

(161) Tropical disease

This is alarming and awful: a New York Times Sunday Review piece about poverty and public health in the United States.  It seems lessons are imminent about the major relationship between tropical disease and poverty as found in warmer areas and among families living on as little as two dollars a day.  Low standards of living – and low expectations of assistance with the problems associated with such standards among certain ethnic groups – appears to be setting up a disaster featuring such things as cysticercosis and toxocariasis (worm infections), cutaneous leishmaniasis, murine typhus and Chagas disease.  Such a development is accompanied by cutbacks at the Center for Disease Control.

From the article by Peter J Hotez:

“They disproportionately affect Americans living in poverty, and especially minorities, including up to 2.8 million African-Americans with toxocariasis and 300,000 or more people, mostly Hispanic Americans, with Chagas disease. The neglected tropical diseases thrive in the poorer South’s warm climate, especially in areas where people live in dilapidated housing or can’t afford air-conditioning and sleep with the windows open to disease-transmitting insects. They thrive wherever there is poor street drainage, plumbing, sanitation and garbage collection, and in areas with neglected swimming pools.       

Most troubling of all, they can even increase the levels of poverty in these areas by slowing the growth and intellectual development of children and impeding productivity in the work force. They are the forgotten diseases of forgotten people, and Texas is emerging as an epicenter.”

Tropical Diseases: The New Plague of Poverty

(160) Too many monsters

It almost seems too easy to pick on the McMansion or Monster Home these days.  The bloated starter castles of credit- and bubble-driven pseudo prosperity indeed symbolize failure of the most brutal kind.  A recent study suggests that America has some forty million more of these homes than it actually needs.  Hard to imagine forty million of anything, let alone houses.  All that drywall, copper wire, wood, metal, plastic – the furnishings needed for them, the labour and energy put into them.  Talk about overshoot.
Big giant houses, no money down, to go with big giant SUVs and big giant plastic cups of endlessly refillable corn sugared soft drinks.  Did a bunch of seven-year-old boys design such a society?

Today’s monster home is likely to be tomorrow’s slum rental.

U.S. overbuilt in big houses, planners find: 40 million houses too many – one explanation for falling prices U-T San Diego

Photo: Merfam via Wikimedia Commons

(159) Suburban poverty and the brain

There goes the neighbourhood!Is it just us or does a diagram of the human brain look like a map of a suburban neighbourhood, replete with winding cul-de-sacs?  Perhaps, after a full year on the topic at hand, we simply need a vacation?  Not speculative, of course, is the general relationship between where a person is and how they feel.  Two items from Australia and one from Ireland indicate that depression is not just an economic term.

Depression surge in rich suburbs over cash worries: affluent areas see huge jump in demand for mental health services Independent.ie

Sick suburbs theage.com.au

What price a home? theage.com.au


(158) Strap Hanger [Book review]

Taras Grescoe, a Montreal-based writer, is a sensible, optimistic lover of urban life.  He couldn’t have been otherwise to undertake a project of visiting fourteen cities in North America, Asia, Europe and South America to check out their public transit systems.  Grescoe reports on the history, present state and potential of each place with journalistic guts for the detail in the choices facing these cities.
Sprawl and cars prove inescapable and hateful in Grescoe’s worldview soon enough.  Some places, like Beijing, are early on the curve that rises to saturation levels of automobile ownership.  Other cities, like Copenhagen, are down the other side of that curve and evolving, not always easily, into something else.  Still other places, Toronto for example, are somewhere in-between, on the crest of change.  It was important for us to see suburban poverty fully acknowledged as part of a package of miseries waiting for communities unable to adapt.  Grescoe doesn’t hide his advocacy of public transit, why should he?  What indeed, will happen to cities that do not consciously make themselves over to be more walkable, transit-centric, bikeable and just generally interesting places to be?  They will become crowded, unhealthy, unmanageable places that discourage business and culture alike.
But Grescoe’s is not just a mindless reiteration of THE TRUTH ABOUT CITIES as laid down by Jane Jacobs decades ago in her own battles against the American interstate highway system.  He acknowledges the difficulty, cost and entrenched resistance transit systems face in the planning stages alone.  Strap Hanger points out the global importance of getting this right in an urbanizing world with a growing population, a changing climate, a world increasingly dominated by weird and inequitable economics.  Grescoe balances the kind of personal story your well-travelled best friend comes up with over coffee and the big picture of trade offs and economics cities are challenged by.  Strongly recommended to students, voters, taxpayers, motorists, politicians, economists, and, of course, those in public transit vehicles everywhere, holding onto straps.


STRAPHANGER: Vancouverism and smart transit planning
excerpts in Spacing Montreal

Cities visited in Strap Hanger are: Shanghai, New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Paris, Copenhagen, Moscow, Tokyo, Bogota, Portland, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Toronto, Montreal.  A dozen pages for source information and further reading are included.

(157) North Carolina

North Carolina appears to fully conform to the pattern of suburban poverty.  A pretty unfortunate circumstance considering that in recent years its largest city has become a major financial centre reporting remarkable employment growth (at least in that sector) as well as plenty of sprawl-based development.  Charlotte is even home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame!
Perhaps then, suburban poverty will be a topic in detail for speechmakers and election strategists when the Democratic convention gets going there in September?  We wouldn’t bet on it.  Not after considering a recent report from the North Carolina Justice Centre that indicates more than 650,000 North Carolinians have moved into poverty in roughly a decade.

Poverty gave a body blow to N.C. suburbs Charlotte Observer

Suburbia vs. sustainability: like other Sun Belt centers, Charlotte is nervous about density, even as it prepares for Democrats to gather in convention

All’s not well in N.C. suburbs as poverty rises Charlotte Observer

(156) Ireland

Ireland’s 2008 economic blow out, complete with real estate bubble and a major banking rescue at public expense was troubling indeed.  They were the first European Union country to fall into the Great Recession and have struggled since.  The days of the Celtic Tiger may never return since they were based on the greed and sleaze of an out-of-control financial sector combined with the wilful lunacy of a vast real-estate bubble.  One of our interns travelled to the Republic of Ireland in the late 1980s and recalls that early in the boom years there was visible progress in the nation’s standard of living and that working people were benefitting from an optimistic economic picture.  Now, with Ireland’s history of poverty bred by colonialism and conflict you’d have thought they’d be a little more careful in regard to who gets to do a number on who.
It was with interest, therefore, that we came across this book available online in .pdf format: Suburban Affiliations: Social Relations in the Greater Dublin Area.  It remains curious that Ireland chose the cars/suburban sprawl model of economic development, leveraging every last penny on a risky orgy of overbuilding.  Perhaps some clue to the madness will be found here…

Suburban Affiliations Social Relations in the Greater Dublin Area

(155) Tree cover

Money doesn’t grow on trees but it sure doesn’t mind having them around.  That’s what some recent research into the relationship between tree cover and income has determined.  The relationship appears to be reliable and is demonstrable numerically: the richer you are the more tree cover around you.  This is visible from space, people.

Income inequality can be seen from space  boingboing.net

photo: Wikimedia Commons