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.
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
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.
LAMP has been a social services presence in Etobicoke for some time now and so it makes sense that they would help bring an Economic Inequality forum to Toronto’s west end. The forum, one of three so far, is designed to get dialogue and action going in regard to the way societies like this one have just become giant machines for making the rich richer. This is the considered, brainy, indoors, post-Occupy response I think a lot of us have been looking forward to seeing for a while now. The suburban character of poverty, everything from aging highrises to the need for public transit spending, was fully acknowledged. Kay Blair, John Sewell and David Hulchanski spoke on behalf of the need to develop a broad popular agenda in favour of changing inequality. The event was quite audience friendly and the reasonable array of ideas, the well-considered social awareness in evidence was a lovely contrast to the kind of reactive nonsense we hear from right wing critters in public office and in the media too often.
We told them so on their Facebook page! They gave out some literature about inequality, gathered suggestions and the Etobicoke Guardian covered the event. Hopefully this is going somewhere.
The next related event is at Metropolitan United Church on March 26.
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
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
We don’t know if there are a million towers out there but certainly the reinforced concrete high rise apartment or condominium building is one of the most readily encountered artefacts of humanity and home to many, many people. An example of one was used as the banner image for this blog. The Toronto area alone is said to have about 2,000 large residential towers. Although it is remarkably easy to come up with critiques of such buildings and their effect on human communities it is kinda tough to find anyone doing anything really meaningful to imagine better for them and their residents. The documentary linked below, from Canada’s National Film Board, steps into the gap and asks a small group of high rise residents to imagine better. You’d have to be one hard hearted human being not to feel something while watching this six minute documentary.
Also see (61) Flemo!
A major guarantor of future suburban poverty (and of every other kind of poverty) is contemporary student debt. It must be getting pretty bad because during the last provincial election the Ontario Public Service Employees Union put up a bright red website all about it with the catchy name How Screwed Are You? This was downright feisty and the media are still taking notice of some of the harrowing stories of serfdom-at-twenty-five. With the Tories ascendant federally it only makes sense that Canadian politics and labour relations get amped up a bit. In the past Canadians were known as nice people who were ‘happy for no apparent reason.’ Think that’ll last another generation? Think there’s enough money in the tar sands to fix this one?
Students! Find out how screwed you really are
Here’s a recent feature from the Toronto Star about inequality. Written by J David Hulchanski, a university of Toronto social work academic, it notably takes up the language of the occupy movement. That movement may fade a little as winter weather sets in but suburban-poverty.com feels it is now a full contributor to the general discourse in the United States and the United Kingdom. In Canada it is not as developed. Mixed feelings about the banks do exist here but there is a genuine sense that the regulatory environment and the corporate culture in banks here deserve some moral credit for keeping us a little more secure than elsewhere.
Don’t get us wrong, the fact Canadian banks didn’t deliver us unto a foreclosure crisis or help themselves to even more of our money in the form of direct bailouts should probably not be viewed as a major favour. That goes double when you consider two more things. Firstly, “our” banks have been drawing on a major piece of real estate, the second largest country in the world for two hundred years so they can afford to be well regulated and like it along the way. Second, we bail them out indirectly every day in the form of transaction fees. Suburban-poverty.com’s treasurer was aghast the other day to have an ATM screen inform him of a new $1 charge for printing a statement the size of a modest convenience store receipt. All those “tips” add up, people.
Hulchanski’s article elaborates on an established concept, the emergence of three cities in the Greater Toronto Area. Basically it’s about the death of the middle class. Statistics, a graph and a map indicate the reality of suburban poverty in the fifth largest city in North America, Canada’s business capital and a vast area increasingly defined by, and living off of the avails of, suburban sprawl.
The 99% know all about inequality
[statistics for 1970 & 2005 – projections for 2025]