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
The working poor and immigrants were pulled to the suburbs and the Edge Cites during the real estate boom. After the crash, these groups are stranded in dispersed locations where social services and jobs tend to be thin on the ground. Enormous stress is created for vulnerable people when, for example, they try to access food banks on foot or via public transit. When they get to a resource they may then find it struggling for resources as well. Rapid growth in suburbia during the boom often resulted in under-funding of social services or reliance on uneven private, charitable efforts. The perception of poverty as an urban or inner city social ill also distorts responses and, like the Great Recession that sponsors so much of it, is not really going away fast. This podcast is about 15 minutes and refers to recent Brookings findings.
Next American City » Metro Matters Podcast » The Suburban Poor: An Interview with Elizabeth Kneebone and Scott Allard.
It looks like 2008 was the tipping point for suburban poverty. In that year of crashing global trade and high financial disaster awareness of suburban poverty started going mainstream. It had always been there of course but joblessness, the mortgage bomb and the high cost of energy mean more people are sharing in it. Media coverage of reports from the Brookings Institution and ongoing coverage of unemployment and foreclosures made for some grim reading for Americans. The socio-economic and structural arrangements of suburban living appear to be contracting all over the United States and in other communities around the world. One of the most substantial pieces representing this awareness of great change ran in The Atlantic Monthly in March of 2008. This feature article shows just how timely and powerful good magazine journalism can be. Required reading if you want to know where it’s all going.
The Next Slum? The subprime crisis is just the tip of the iceberg.
Fundamental changes in American life may turn today’s McMansions into tomorrow’s tenements.
Brookings Institution has followed its earlier papers on suburban poverty with several worthy efforts.
Below is a link for downloading their October 2010 paper about the difficulties facing social services in suburbia after the economic crash of 2008. Tough times in America for the working poor: with implications for understanding experiences in other countries including Canada and the UK. The paper includes statistical evidence on reported incomes and includes ‘on-the-ground’ impressions from three major urban-suburban agglomerations. Part of the ‘Metropolitan Opportunity’ series.
Suburban safety nets rely on relatively few social services organizations, and tend to stretch operations across much larger service delivery areas than their urban counterparts.
This second link, to a University of Chicago page, includes video from one of the authors and some links to mainstream media coverage.
Poverty grows in suburbs, but social services don’t keep up
The United Way takes a look at ‘vertical poverty’ in ageing inner suburbs. ‘Moving up in the world’ doesn’t really mean what it used to.
Vertical Poverty Press Conference
YouTube 16:47 (highly recommended)
Created in 1974, Mississauga is a vast Edge City in the western part of one of North America’s largest city-suburb agglomerations. For decades there it was all about growth, growth, growth. Now, the buzz has begun to wear off a bit, especially in areas with older high rise buildings. This article from the Globe and Mail, a relatively conservative newspaper for its century-or-so of existence, encapsulates the dawning of an awareness of post-growth issues, including poverty. Targeting priority neighbourhoods for social spending, as is done in Toronto, has begun to get support. The tagline of the City of Mississauga is ‘Leading Today for Tomorrow.’ We’ll see what that means soon enough!
Poverty hides in the suburbs: will ‘priority neighbourhoods’ help?