(100) Canadian housing bubble?

Last fall, The Economist published a piece that put Canada on a list, with a few other smaller countries, of those eligible for a significant correction of real estate prices.  Hasn’t quite happened yet.  The country gains a quarter million immigrants a year and is set to become even more of a petro state in the future.  Both things keep traditional ideas and indicators of growth cooking along.  A number of large resource extraction projects are also on the books and these will likely bring in the cash, too.  Thing is, if real estate prices remain jacked up it makes things tough for the working poor.  It’s a mixed blessing for the beleagured middle classes, too.  Home equity makes a lot of them feel richer and smarter than they really are.  A real estate wipe-out would hurt, but we can already see there’s pain in this long boom, it just depends who you are.  For the suburban poor, high prices for real estate mean the rents are jacked higher than wages and for the middle class homes remain overpriced.  Hard to say what will happen.  We heard on the radio today that, according to the governor of the Bank of Canada, the bad economy in the United States costs Canada as much as $30bn a year in lost export trade.  Wow!  Will we crash the way the Americans have, just a bit later, or will we skate through this era of debt and disaster to whatever era arrives afterward?
Economist bubble piece
Bank of Canada comments 
Huffington Post Canada
Bubble case studies: Ireland & Canada Automatic Earth, 2010

Photo credit: Marceltheshell via Wikimedia Commons

(99) Mississauga is broke

Canadians count themselves a fortunate people.  Perhaps that’s why they are such squanderers as well?

Case in point, the vast suburban project directly west of Toronto.  Mississauga enjoyed a true golden age of property development, a California-esque era of low taxes, easy services, smugness, and growth, growth, growth.  The cornfields went down.  The houses went up.  The money changed hands.  Now, it looks like the party is over in the city whose official tag line is the frighteningly vacuous “Leading today for tomorrow.”  If the private and public economy alike can’t be kept up by a massive flow of development-based revenue then what will happen?  Nobody seems to know but denial isn’t really an option any more.  This year, the city that bragged about never laying off staff and not needing tax increases levied a whopping 7.4% increase on its property tax payers.  Imagine the pain in a true blue Tory place that kind of thing brings on!

Architecture and urban affairs columnist Christopher Hume pulls punches in the item linked below.  Even if you hate the kind of sprawling megasuburb Mississauga is you can’t read a demolition job like this without a fearful feeling of apocalypse to come.

Hume: Mississauga waking up to a new reality Toronto Star

(98) York

Between Lake Simcoe and the northern border of Toronto lies York Region.  It has just a shade over one million people and has been the venue of some very high intensity real estate development since the 1980s.  It would appear to represent the pinnacle of fast growth and high-profit, up-to-the-minute suburban mega-success.  Guess what?  They have poverty and homeless people.  The proof is available from the York Region Alliance to End Homelessness.  Still photos and voiceovers tell the story overlooked amidst all the commercial activity, monster homes, and cars, cars, cars.  You know, they probably should have just kept growing corn up there…
Hidden In Plain Site

(97) Chicago

A report from public station WTTW profiles tough times in DuPage County, Illinois.  An official describes poverty there as having “exploded.”  Some 60,000 people in DuPage County meet US federal government criteria for being poor, an increase of some 185%.  Those profiled in this piece represent the so-called “newly” poor.  A teacher and a nurse, slipped from situations of relative privilege sadly demonstrate the findings of the 2010 US census.  Mentioned here a number of times already the 2010 census will enter the American historical record as a profound document of social change and social difficulty.  Will the suburbs ever bounce back?  Or will they just turn into something else completely?
Chicago Tonight: Suburban Poverty 9:00

Photo credit: barmik via Wikimedia Commons

(96) Germany

European academic journal Articulo published a piece in 2010 analysing the general discourse around suburbia in Germany and the US.  The objectivity of the piece may annoy readers with strong feelings about the suburbs, good or bad.  The author finds suburbia neither heaven-on-Earth nor hell manifest.  He calls for, and provides, more detailed understanding of life beyond the urban centres.  Looking at American experience and the sheer scale of suburbia there the comparison to Germany may seem less than useful but we found the piece brainy and articulate.  Going forward, it is hard to imagine that suburban outbuilding will continue in Europe even if it makes use of public transit and sustainable sources of energy.  In North America the suburban project seems to be over, to be contracting if anything.  To have modelled any part of their built environment on North America is probably a worrisome thing to Europeans, doubly so now that the Euro crisis is fully arrived.

Suburbs: the next slum? Explorations into the contested terrain of social construction and political discourse

(95) It isn’t a secret…

Whoever wrote the headline for the item linked below maybe needs to pay more attention to the world.  Suburban poverty is not a secret.  Still, this is a good piece.  The item mentions 2010 US Census data which strongly underlined the shift in the fortunes of the suburbs, underway since well before the crash of 2008.  The author also visits a food bank in Illinois.  Food banks and food pantries are among the places where the rubber really hits the road as far as ascertaining the true state of a community.

“Last year, there were 2.7 million more suburban households below the federal poverty level than urban households, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was the first time on record that America’s cities didn’t contain the highest absolute number of households living in poverty. There are many reasons for the dramatic turnabout in the geographic profile of poverty.”

America’s Best Kept Secret: Rising Suburban Poverty
Fiscal Times

(94) Demolition Man: UBC’s Bill Rees on sustainability

Bill Rees is a Canadian academic from the University of British Columbia’s School of Community and Regional Planning.  Here he gives a deft and noteless lecture weighted with facts on the ground.  Rees is all over the changing context of urbanization, technology, consumption, sustainability, and energy.  Apparently what North Americans have come to think of as normal is really the single most anomalous moment in all of human history.  Cutesy ideas like green consumerism, hybrid SUVs, green architecture and biofuels don’t last long in front of scientist Rees.  Short term profit in the run-up to complete catastrophe have distorted our reality so much it looks like we can’t change in time.  None of this means wealth and happiness for humans, suburban or otherwise.  Boy, it gets depressing maintaining your own meta-blog some times.  No wonder people drink.

(93) Empire of Scrounge & Happy Neo Year

One of our interns was riding their bike in a suburban area last spring and scored this virtually unused, clean-as-a-whistle, one-of-a-kind wooden horse – from a garbage pile!  We made sure it joined a life list of items found thusly and passed on to urchins and unfortunates.  Each time we hear about, or, better yet, participate in one of these little reversals of the waste/consumer ethos it gladdens our hearts here at suburban-poverty.com and gives us hope.  It also reminds us of Texas academic Jeff Ferrell and his book (and blog) Empire of Scrounge.

Mr. Ferrell was faced with a lull in his career as a sociologist/criminologist and took to dumpster diving and trash picking on a bike to keep his observation and analytical skills sharp, save money and find cool shit.  Empire of Scrounge is the title of the book that came out of the first part of Mr Ferrell’s adventures and the blog serves to update his ongoing adventures.  Great stuff, well reccomended to our own readership when we consider the venue at hand.  Dallas-Fort Worth is possibly one of this continent’s most serious examples of sprawled, super-suburbanization.  It’s population density is only about half that of the Greater Toronto Area, for example.

Often, we are dismissed (sometimes even by ourselves) as doomer wannabes full of pessimism 0with little to offer in the way of solutions.  Well, the editor hasn’t gotten his social services worker diploma just yet so this kind of practical, hands-on, exploratory, two-wheeled excellence will have to do for now.  Links below, and seriously, have a safe, prosperous, resiliency-enhancing 2012.

Empire of Scrounge

Trespass, Trash & Train

(92) KunstlerCast: Conversations With James Howard Kunstler [Book review]

Some say that if there is a future historical record much of this age, the internet age, will simply not be included in it. Digital material can develop serious shelf life and readability issues after just a few years.  That’s a worry because the internet, is now the home to much of the intellectual content we make use of.  In the particular case of podcasting a lot of wonderful material is found “out there” and nowhere else, particularly the alternative, non-mainstream, non-status quo voices.

The KunstlerCast, a weekly offering featuring James Howard Kunstler, is one such voice.  He’s an American public intellectual and social critic with a powerful angle on all things suburban.  The digital evaporation of the KunstlerCast’s sharpness, sarcasm and wise counsel would be more than just a personal thing for his audience, it would be something of a cultural tragedy.

Almost from its inception we’ve been listening to the KunstlerCast and loving it.  The dry humour and conversational enjoyability enhances a tasty demolition job on the American automotive/suburban complex, a version of which we built in this country.   Each week, host Duncan Crary sets up Jim Kunstler with a topical angle on where the hell life in North America is going with all its consumerism, its massive energy requirements, car dependence, cul-de-sac houses by the zillion, the ageing strip malls, its completely whacked economics and  increasingly questionable popular culture. It’s rarely ever pretty.

Now, there’s a book based on the podcasts. It may help bring the wit and wisdom out to a wider audience and preserve it for the future.  Both truly worthy things!

Buy this one, okay!  It’s only $16.95 in Canada, a bit less in the States.  You get eight side-bar loaded chapters on “the tragic comedy of urban sprawl.”  There’s also notes and an index and a set of quirky chapter headers by comic artist Ken Avidor.  The latter appear to have been created in an archaic style with a hollow cylinder held in the hand which transfers a sort of wet toner to paper allowing the artist to stain a picture onto the paper by themselves without a computer at all. Imagine that!  One more thing to recommend this three-hundred-and-twenty-page gem of Duncan Crary’s.  Exactly the type of thing one could read on a local light rail vehicle, or a Euro-styled high speed train, gawd, even a kinda-medium speed train would be a nice venue for appreciating this book.

The conversational tone and good naturedness of the KunstlerCast, on the air and on paper, often belie the serious nature of the topics at hand.  Above all, Kunstler calls for a renewed, and closer, relationship with reality in the great republic to our south.  Which has been acting like a demented, addicted rock star for decades now, squandering its wealth and talent on decadent insanities like brutalist city halls, starchitecture, wars in the Middle East and megamalls where there were once fields of corn.

This book should matter to our readers because we cannot understand or alleviate suburban poverty until we know the structure of suburbia as well as the economics that exist there.  The KunstlerCast helps out with this understanding.  Crary has included a subsection of Chapter 6 called Concentrating Poverty where many of suburban-poverty.com’s lines of thought are expounded on.

The conversational tone is so welcome. This is like talking with friends, intellectual cousins.  When I was reading KunstlerCast it felt a bit like David Byrne’s 2009 book Bicycle Diairies wherein the artist relates his explorations on two wheels of some of the world’s major cities.  No sooner had this thought occurred to me than I came across a line in which Crary makes a reference to the Talking Heads song Nothing But Flowers.

I don’t know about you but I love little moments of cross connection like that one.  They are like the feeling one gets in the public places that Kunstler and Crary advocate, the healthy, walkable, finely detailed, organic, cohesive, localized and self-respecting communities that have become too hard to find and which we need to rediscover.  I bet if we could make that rediscovery suburban poverty would stop growing, might even be the part of the now we lose.

For more on the book & podcast click here.

(91) Manhattan-on-Thames

Recent policy changes in and around London, England are seen by some to represent the system ‘taking the gloves off’, so to speak, in regard to who gets what and lives where.  To some extent these policy changes probably just formally represent changes and desires that have been on the books and in the hearts of decision makers for some time.  If you are on the receiving end it may mot much matter from whence it all comes, this latest effort at reordering the UK’s capital, long the seat of extreme differences in income and standard of living.  These items linked below would appear to describe a bold-faced, formal, legalistic and economic effort to move the lower orders away from central/high prestige areas.

Council cuts: the Manhattanisation of central London  Guardian

Housing benefit cuts: Tory flagship prepares to give 5,000 households their marching orders Guardian