Tag Archives: Canada

(62) Poverty in Canada [Book review]

Today in Canada is Thanksgiving Day.  Jour de l’Action de grâce has been a national holiday since 1957.  What better spot on the calendar could we pick to review the second edition of Poverty In Canada: Implications for Health & Quality of Life by York University professor Dennis Raphael?

From first encounter this work comes across well.  The second edition clears 500 pages in trade paperback form and continues the fact-jammed academic dissection of poverty in the first edition, with extras.  Of course, there are tables and charts and analysis with references, index and suggestions for web resources and further reading all in the right places.  Plentiful ammunition for journalists, academics, policy makers and public servants to use against ignorance of poverty and hopefully poverty itself.  Students should find this book useful in many fields.

Poverty in Canada is too frequent, too consistent, too often racialized, too hard on too many children, too deep, too little studied, too (literally) sickening, too often not acknowledged at all, too often blamed on the individual affected by it, too closely linked to deliberately chosen neo-conservative economic policies, and too readily reduced or eliminated by quite reasonable efforts and means.  Again and again in this book Canada is seen to fare better than the United States but significantly worse than the Scandinavian countries when it comes to poverty.  Considering the size and economic output of this country our poverty has to be some of the craziest shit in the developed world.  If you are remotely interested in this topic you will find something of disturbing value in Raphael’s work.

Lived experience of poverty has been given more profile in the new edition.  This is sensible.  Elaborating the real thing is humane and complements the statistical approach.

Curiously, there is no specific mention of suburban poverty.  When we purchased Poverty In Canada we expected to find some direct mention of the phenomenon since the Brookings Institution has done a lot to make it a mainstream issue south of the border.  Additionally, we can claim to have directly observed suburban poverty in Canada through social service sector study and volunteering and through living in the suburbs.  In its own modest, amateur way this blog has begun to register and aggregate information about Canadian suburban poverty so we are surprised that a big gun academic like Raphael approaches it indirectly, hasn’t chosen to name it.  Some of this may have to do with the domestic statistical sources he uses and with the fact that the definitions of suburban and urban remains somewhat vague at times for many of us.

Ultimately, all poverty is a disaster and the labels attached to it are less important than the realities of it.  Nonetheless, the experience of poverty changes over time and suburbs are a new frontier of problematic social conditions in Canada.

Seriously, buy and read this book.  Mail a copy to your political representative.  Put it on your students’ reading lists if you are a teacher.  It’s available online and through most book stores.

(61) Flemo!

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.

(40) Historica [deux]

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.

CBC News Magazine: White Picket Dreams

(35) Ottawa’s First Nations

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

(27) OCAP open letter [2008]

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 

(21) Rising inequality: OECD data

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

(17) Two cities: five worlds

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