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?
Isn’t it amazing that anybody has to ask a question like this at all? Let’s see now, 33 million people divide by an economy worth 1.3 trillion a year equals …not much excuse for poverty, suburban or otherwise, right?
Labour Day 2011: What Has Gone Wrong in Canada for Working People?
If we can’t spend Labour Day wallowing in the past then what good is it? Besides, there’s a lot to be learned back there. When considering suburban poverty and how we got to be where we are it’s hard to ask for a better starting point than a particular item in the archives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. From late 1954, this News Magazine feature examines the state of housing in the entire country. The music and voice over evoke the seriousness of war time. Sure, there is a Levittownesque optimism but there’s also a grim tone regarding affordability and the extent of the costly undertaking of keeping the working families of a growing country properly housed. The persistence of 1930s-style poverty wherein “housewives struggle against decay and filth” is openly acknowledged, too. The latter did much to drive the exertions required to build suburbia and is easily forgotten in 2011. Two approaches to housing Canadians are seen. Public housing – urban redevelopment in Regent Park – and private suburban housing in Don Mills. The latter was among Canada’s first couple of planned suburbs.
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
Looks like both cities and suburbs have lost a lot of their cultural weight and the result is a kind of post modern confusion about how we ought to live. Cities and suburbs seem to repel us and attract us.
Suburbs vs. cities — whose utopias? rabble.ca
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development produces a host of data directly useful for assessing social conditions. Do we need a supercomputer to connect rising inequality and the stacked economic gains of the rich with suburban poverty and downward mobility?
Notes for individual countries are found on the OECD site (.pdf files):
Better than many for a long time but no reason to be smug: Canada
Faltering after some improvement: United Kingdom
Forget it, only Turkey & Mexico are worse for income inequality: United States
Some improvement but could do better: Australia
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 cost of housing has a lot to do with suburban poverty.
It may be cheaper on the periphery but the effect of real estate inflation and low wages is mobile, too. Vancouver, case-in-point made through grim,