Students usually form a portion of most communities when those communities reach a certain size and come to host insitutions of higher learning. Generally, this is all to the good. To be in any way a progressive and economically competitive society, education is advised. Part of that equation means keeping students, housed, fed, clothed and healthy while they study. We see friction developing out there on the perimeter where housing is concerned.
Last month in the Toronto Star there was a piece about a city raid in Scarborough on a rooming house near a University of Toronto satellite campus and a Centennial College campus. Inspectors entered a fairly ordinary-looking home designed for a single family and apparently found “…11 people …crammed together paying $500 to $700 per month each for spaces created by subdividing rooms at 1289 Military Trail.” (GTA section of the Star February 11, 2013)
This conversion is alleged to have been done without permits or inspections and without reasonable regard to the provision of fire exits, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors or proper heating and ventilation. The owner of the property mentioned above, at the time of inspection, was potentially liable for fines of up to $70,000. They, and other owners of ad hoc student residences seem reluctant to talk to the media. Perhaps they may see themselves merely as housing entrepreneurs responding to increased enrollments at nearby schools. On a bad day, however, they could be seen as slum landlords, taking advantage of a group who may find themselves in a weak position because of their status as students.
Many communities have come to cherish the “eds and meds” portion of the post-industrial economy. It seems that suburban communities in particular value the presence of colleges and universities for the good paycheques and prestige associated with them. Schools in turn may find a variety of incentives for expanding in ex-urban areas including cheaper land, physical space and a student-age population ready to study. Housing in the communities near satellite schools simply may not have adapted quickly enough to student housing needs for a variety of reasons and the schools themsleves may not have invested in their own, on-campus housing infrastructure. The results seen in the article below model what is happening all over North America in proximity to places of higher learning. Is it really a great idea to leave housing our future taxpayers, voters, citizens, entrepreneurs, professionals and tradespersons to the random, frequently sloppy efforts of unknown landlords?
No, of course not. This phenomena must be seen as part of a pattern of suburban-poverty.
Another jarring sideswipe to Canada’s self esteem. A World Health Organization report says we aren’t doing enough for pedestrians and cyclists. This is bad news because transportation issues are interweaved with suburban poverty. Easier conditions for walkers and cyclists reflect better designed, pro-social communities but they require well thought out, properly funded infrastructure projects. Walking and cycling is cheap, good for people and contributes to sustainability. A culture of non-motorized transportation doesn’t just stem from accidents of geography like flat land in Holland or warm weather in California, though undoubtedbly these things don’t hurt the cause. Social vision and political will are just as important.
Curiously, we came across a consideration of the report in the section of the Toronto Star that normally concerns itself with automobiles (reviews of new models, road congestion issues and so forth). This is a major section of the weekend edition of the country’s biggest newspaper in terms of readership eyes and advertising revenue and is a double section on Saturday. This weekend, for example, the Wheels section contained a worthless review of a Lambourghini sports car – a psychotic artefact few of us will ever see let alone drive or purchase – yet was unable to completely ignore the WHO report. Maybe this is a sign important messages about liveability, safety and alternatives to the car are sinking in around the Greater Toronto Area?
Smackdown: Is Canada friendly enough to cyclists and pedestrians?
Global status report on road safety 2013
Police Ticket Cyclists While UN Slams Canada for Failing to Design Safe Streets raisethehammer.org
image: Diplodicus by Heinrich Harber, 1916 via Wikimedia Commons
Canada managed to flop off the “ten best countries” list kept by the United Nations this week. Eleventh place, one notch below the bottom of the top is maybe not too bad considering the goofed up state of the world.
Canada no longer one of the top 10 most developed countries: United Nations
2013 Human Development Report Press Kit
A direct approach to easing suburban poverty would seem to be found in wages. If suburban poverty is about precarious employment in dispersed, lower wage jobs, thin transportation resources, weak access to social services, and lack of affordable and appropriate housing options then why wouldn’t wages be a good place to start? In the UK a movement for living wages is edging into the national debate just as the country appears poised for brutal austerity and economic contraction which will be very difficult for the poor. Certainly, the idea of living wages has been kicking around social policy circles in most developed countries for decades and perhaps the economic craziness of the last few years has brought it forward.
In Canada, we see British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University adopt living wages as a specific policy …and finding itself able to afford to do so. It seems a sensible argument can be made that living wages are good for people and what is good for people is good for business. The very idea of a minimum wage is simply obsolete. Not only can few live on them but business interests and their lobbyists, at least in English-speaking countries, tend to take offence to notions of raising minimum wages. It’s harder to argue against living wages, which are an expression of justice in an age where a job doesn’t protect you from being poor.
CBC’s The National visited Hamilton, ON in 2012 to look at what a transition from minimum to living wages might mean. That clip, and other material, is available on the Living Wage Hamilton site.
Living wage will cost SFU less than 0.1 per cent of budget: report
Living Wage Foundation UK
Beyond the Bottom Line: Challenges and Opportunities of the Living Wage
77-page .pdf file resolutionfoundation.org January 2013
image: Bundesarkiv via Wikimedia Commons
Loss of diversity of bird life can apparently be attached to the growth of low income, low population density, aesthetically unattractive, socially unequal human communities. If we were sprawl, well, we would probably be feeling a little queasy after reading the item below, hosted at urbanhabitats.org. The author of the paper is Stephanie J Melles and she is associated with the University of Toronto’s Department of Zoology.
“…wealthier neighborhoods have more native species of birds and …these native species increase in abundance as the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood improves. With two-thirds of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2030, more and more people will grow up surrounded by a depauperate community of birds, and this could adversely affect the way people perceive, appreciate, and understand nature. Ultimately, as city birdlife diminishes and urban dwellers become dissociated from the natural diversity it represents, popular support for preserving and restoring such diversity may wane, allowing ecological conditions to further erode.” …says Ms. Melles. Her report blends socioeconomic data and bird count data for Greater Vancouver including suburban areas.
How are the birds doing where you live?
Urban Bird Diversity as an Indicator of Human Social Diversity and Economic Inequality in Vancouver, British Columbia
24-page .pdf file
see also (155) Tree cover
image: tree swallow via Wikimedia Commons
Something like half of Canada’s best farm country can be seen from the top of the CN Tower. Sure, that Toronto edifice is the world’s tallest free standing structure but that doesn’t make for a lot of farm land for Canada to feed herself from. Both of these ideas are cliches that have been in circulation since the mid 1970s.
What you can also see from up there is a zillion dollars worth of suburban development. In a growth-crazed Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area few can imagine life any other way. In time, we may come to ask if exchanging all that good, green, food-producing land for a brittle horizon filled with worn out, low grade garbage architecture was all that good an idea. Better the questions start now while there is something to conserve. This is what the Suzuki Foundation has in mind with its most recent report. An opinion piece in the Toronto Star introduces the report, a document deserving wide readership.
From the report:
“Some regions of the country, like the Golden Horseshoe surrounding Toronto, have been blessed with an abundance of Class 1 soils. But an increasing proportion of the best soils in the Golden Horseshoe and in most urbanized regions of Canada now lie beneath sprawling housing developments, highways, strip malls and other infrastructure. As urban communities have grown over the years, agricultural lands and natural areas have far too often been drained, dug up and paved over.
…our growing cities sprawl over what once was mostly farmland. Only 5 per cent of Canada’s entire land base is suitable for growing food. At the same time, urban uses have consumed more than 7,400 square kilometres of dependable farmland in recent decades.”
Urban sprawl is destroying Ontario’s farmland star.com
Nature on the Edge: natural capital and Ontario’s growing Golden Horseshoe
davidsuzuki.org for full report as a 31-page .pdf file
The hollowed out nature of many working lives in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton area is the subject of a new report from McMaster University Social Sciences and the United Way. Using Statistics Canada data, interviews and previous United Way research the authors delve into one of the major determinants of the quality of life in Ontario: precarious employment. This should be a major embarrassment to the system. Working people with serious intentions who do their part remain in poverty or in fear of poverty. They work for cash, have intermittent, insecure employment arrangements in the form of limited hours of work, temporary and on-call status and a weak grip on wages let alone pensions and benefit plans. Even university lecturers live this way. The result is a depressing under-utilization of human capital and a reduction in the resilience of our society and a reduction in the standard of living. Precarious employment places a negative slant on nearly all aspects of the individual’s life and these effects become manifest in the public realm. The 120-page report is available at the link below in .pdf format. If any single issue in the life of this province needs to be brought out of obscurity for clarification and remedy it is this one. The Toronto Star devoted a good amount of space to the report with numerous personal profiles. Other mainstream media outlets have covered the report but its release just before the mindless hype and over commentary driven by the Oscars may not have been such a hot idea.
It’s more than poverty: employment precarity and household well-being
Insecure Jobs Destabilize Communities
United Way press release
Half of GTA and Hamilton workers in ‘precarious’ jobs
Toronto Star – see profiles link on left navigation
PEPSO: population and employment precarity in southern Ontario
image: unemployed single men’s march in 1930s Toronto – via Wikimedia Commons
Very powerful words about a grave bodily danger. This article from Canadian Architect reiterates the now manifold warnings about the conseqeunces of sprawl, of poorly designed communities that discourage walking, connection to nature, that tend not to say anything memorable about why we are all here to begin with. The evidence is well in that this critique embraces more than just personal taste. $24 billion dollars a year is cited as the cost of preventable heart disease to the Canadian health care system. How do you fight heart disease? One way is with better design that makes for happier, fitter people more at home in their places and bodies. This works for depression, childhood obesity and diabetes as well. Architects, this one is aimed at you but we all should take heed.
Bringing healthy design to the suburbs
This being the Family Day holiday weekend in Ontario we decided some cheerful and appropriate content would be nice. Having failed to locate any we must substitute something from the don’t-know-whether-to-laugh-or-cry file. A bungalow in Kitsilano for two million bucks. That’s like 1300 ounces of gold for a wooden box. The house looks serviceable and liveable enough, true. Still, we would have thought that when the value of something was gamed, jacked and misrepresented from here to planet Neptune that you had fraud on your hands. Apparently not. If you know somebody who thinks Canada, or at least Vancouver, is not in a housing bubble they need to see this real estate listing. Something historical is about to happen and this house is representative of where the culture is at. This might have been a home for working and middle class people to aspire to live in. Now it is an instrument of investment, an alchemic and magic ATM of sorts.
Happy Family Day!
2906 W 13th Avenue, Vancouver, BC
(12) Crack shack or mansion: what does a million get you in Vancouver?
image: Mercury13 via Wikimedia Commons
The suburban-poverty.com Lear Jet finds itself touching down in Brampton, ON …yet again! The Toronto Star’s urban affairs columnist Christopher Hume continues to blaze a trail across suburbia a step or two ahead of us. Hume is realistic, dry and barely contains his sarcasm in the land of clothes line bans and monster homes. Locals counterattack viciously in the comment boxes, advising Hume to stay downtown with the other density-loving, latte sipping yuppies. Almost the inverse of the previous posting’s problem this time the issue is a housing form with too much visibility. A massive monster home grows in an older suburb. The owner/builder wants his extended village-sized family under one roof. To do this he has to go big. It could get ugly. Well, actually, ugly it already is.
The point is not what is going on at a single address in Brampton. Larger issues present themselves. Again, if this is the best the culture can do to get started working out the housing challenges of the twenty-first century then it doesn’t say much for us.
Now, where did we put our latte spoon?
Brampton monster home controversy exposes suburbanites’ fear of density
Monster homes are here to stay despite Brampton’s new bylaw
image: a taco establishment behind one of Brampton’s groovy new bus stops by Secondarywaltz via Wikimedia Commons