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.
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
Here are links to two mainstream internet video journalism pieces on suburban poverty. One is from Fresno, CA. The other is from North Bergen, NJ. The North Bergen piece is pretty shallow stuff, hit-and-run, low cost journalism. A reporter talks to a food bank user who has seen her aspirations to be middle class evaporate over the last few years and, my goodness, it apparently sucks for that person.
The California piece is a little better, takes in the problem and goes for a bit of a walkabout with people capable of analysing the big picture and involved with activist responses. Either way…
The New Poor of Fresno Time Video
America’s New Poor CNNMoney
If you came by looking for some serious depth-of-treatment regarding suburban poverty you could do much worse than giving up ninety or so minutes to Scott W. Allard from the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. He points out that suburban poverty is not just driven by outward movement of people but exists for its own local reasons as well. Professor Allard is working on a new book. We’re probably gonna read it.
Places in need
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
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
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.
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
It’s okay, don’t worry. Everybody go back to sleep, …just another report on child poverty in Canada. Everything’s fine.
Ottawa lacks plan to fight child poverty, coalition says Toronto Star