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]
If gargoyles could vomit with disgust somebody would be hanging up buckets at Humber College’s Lakeshore campus next week. The college, located in a converted Edwardian psychiatric hospital on the shore of Lake Ontario in Toronto, is hosting two eating contests. This is a place of education that trains social service workers and community service workers. Suburban-poverty.com thinks this is wrong in so many ways. There are food banks in every corner of the GTA now and there are people experiencing starvation in the world beyond. What kind of signal does this send to low income students or young women experiencing eating disorders and to the world at large about Humber? Why does the Humber Student Federation think it’s okay to put on this kind of event, supported by student fees? This is just more evidence, written in all caps in a font called Frat Boy Idiot, of just how low the level of mindfulness, social consciousness, and general discussion of poverty and other issues can be. Shame on you Humber if you go ahead with this. A growing number of students object to the eating contests and hopefully they will be heard by management in time to kill them stone dead. Even a gargoyle can figure this one out.
The National Film Board of Canada came up with a documentary recently about an aging suburb in the northeast corner of Toronto called Flemingdon Park. It’s an honest piece of work directly engaging the people and place. Now, Flemingdon Park is not exactly south central Los Angeles but it sure ain’t film festival Toronto either. Rarely does this flopped Utopia ever make it into the mass media in the GTA unless some young man has just gotten murdered in a housing project. Lack of transit and poor socioeconomic conditions are combined with a lacklustre aesthetic environment that you would imagine from the outside all but destroys meaningful human experience or connection to place. The people of Flemingdon Park may be an archetype of life in many North American suburbs because of the former but they might surprise viewers a little on the latter.
Eat nothing but food from a dollar store for an entire week? A Toronto Star reporter tried that recently and found a man cannot live on salty garbage alone. The results were probably predictable enough but we salute those who put it on the line like this and keep their sense of humour!
A week of groceries from the dollar store?
Some new data has become available about First Nations in Ottawa. The population is growing but becoming more spread out. Newly arriving First Nations persons are also moving directly to suburban Ottawa in a number of cases. The sterotype of aboriginal poverty in the centres of Canadian cities (and on reserves) might appear to be changing if this demographic development were to be looked at further. Unfortunately, the article indicates that there is still hardship for Ottawa’s First Nations outside of the more established neighbourhoods they have lived in there.
5 things to know about Ottawa’s aboriginal community CBC
From time-to-time in the Greater Toronto Area a group called OCAP, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, can garner attention for its activism. The general public alternates between apathy toward, and disapproval of, anything to do with OCAP. Among recent efforts is the open letter to Premier McGuinty at the link below. It makes a specific criticism of a municipal program designed to relieve homelessness in Toronto. The group objects to the way the program involves relocating those experiencing homelessness out of downtown areas to the edges.
Open Letter to Mayor David Miller, Councilor Joe Mihevc and Streets To Homes Manager Iain De Jong
The difficulty of accurately perceiving social conditions in suburban communities is rooted in space and structure. Much of our definition of cities attaches to their evolution under nineteenth century industrialization. When we think of say Paris or Baltimore the weight of our general definition of them is shaped by this older process of identity building. When the era of ex-urban hyper-building got going after 1945 new approaches to understanding human communities were required and began to come about – but have been only partially successful. It seems that wherever the land, capital, political relationships, and economic imperatives are in place multiple worlds developed, inner and outer ones.
There are still arguments over exactly what constitutes suburbia but… well, we feel we know it when we see it. Suburbia is misunderstood, changing, and remains screened by the larger, older identities of place. This pair of links, to items from NewGeography.com, offer general approaches to a more integrated understanding of place.
The two worlds of Buenos Aires
Toronto: three cities in more than one way