When we passed our 1000th posting and fifth anniversary this summer suburban-poverty.com decided other voices would be timely, nice. Nicole N. Hanson, a west GTA planner with a specialty in cemetery and memorial space urbanism, is our first guest contributor.
Honestly, we never gave her area much thought. Like true Canadians we assumed land for houses, roads, schools, arenas, airports and malls could never run out. Same for cemeteries, mausoleums, crematories and the like.
Not the case. Equity issues are surfacing fast as access to proper, culturally sensitive places for accommodating the dead tightens up. Winging it in this area entails some social risk. We may not know exactly what we need decades from now in terms of say transportation resources but we do know death is a guaranteed thing. How to accommodate that need fairly in a hyper-diverse society where space and public resources are contested?
Well, that’s where Nicole comes in. She writes…
Is there such a thing as suburban poverty in Ontario? What does it look like in neighbourhoods, on streetscapes? These are general questions that I do reflect on from time to time. I’m afraid I have little problem attaching the shortage of cemetery space in Peel Region, specifically in the city of Mississauga, to the term suburban poverty.
This is something of an ongoing crisis now and while it remains a quiet crisis, it nonetheless is one, and it affects a Mississauga now home to a range of cultural values that need to be honoured and reflected in the fabric of the city. The shortage of cemetery space and lack of social funding for what can be overly expensive, emotionally fraught funeral services is linked to an essential need. The affordability of funeral service and cemetery products and services (graves, cremations, lots, crypts, flowers, music, monuments and markers) have begun to leave low- to middle-income families in precarious situations when trying to honour their beloved in a culturally appropriate, meaningful way. Land-strapped municipalities are left quite strained attempting to equitably and spatially plan for death.
Mississauga has become a densified, built-out, car-dependent city framed with an ever changing skyline (those Monroe towers are quite the sight!). Numerous wards are host to planning projects which support liveable streetscapes and active transportation networks. Metrolinx’s Hurontario Street light rail transit project, for example, will bring twenty kilometres of rapid transit to Missisauga (and hopefully Brampton). A similar maturity is seen in the Lakeview Master Plan and the Small Arms arts project within it. Dundas Connects is also a master plan for the brutal sprawlscape of the Dundas Street corrdior.
These are headline grabbing projects the City of Mississauga has underway to promote good planning under provincial legislation out to 2041. Despite all its post-suburban commerce, energy and general bustle poverty is still a problem here. There is a lack of fair equity in the transportation system, a lack of affordable housing and now a lack of green spaces viable for cemetery land use or other employment as memorial landscapes. Given this, memorialization in Mississauga has become one of the issues of precarity alongisde employment and housing.
How does ‘death equity’ affect sprawl communities facing the future? Sprawl zones such as Peel and York regions are currently exploring their options for memorialization. York initiated a Cemetery Needs Anaysis for the Official Plan Review 2041, conducted by LEES + Associates Architects and Land Use Planners. This is the first cemetery needs analysis undertaken by an upper-tier municipality in Ontario!
The City of Mississauga is currently exploring their inventory of cemetery and memorial lands against future needs via a feasibility study. Like most councils in ‘younger’ municpalities the focus tends to be on such things as siting new office towers and parking issues, particularly in emerging core areas. A million things compete for attention from Ontario’s municipal politicians besides the political economy of death.
The Board of Funeral Services, which regulates the funeral industry under the Bereavement Authority of Ontario averages the cost of a funeral service to be roughly five thousand dollars. More than two thousand dollars is needed for a typical casket and another one thousand five hundred dollars is needed for a vault. These figures do not include a cemetery plot, opening and closing fees for burial and for the marker or monument. Reflect on the number of hours required to earn these things in a minimum wage job.
Based on our value systems and religious affiliations, how will people be able to acquire funerary and cemetery products and services and memoryscapes? Even with the rise of so-called celebration of life services, it is still hard to make ends meet for middle to low income families when they lose someone. This blog has aggregated a lot of material regarding the rise of precariatized living in Canada. Unemployment created through advanced technology will also soon play against our ability to find resources for daily living, let alone for the dead.
How do we address precariousness in relation to death? Have we even begun to have conversations about how a precarious worker’s social class, race, religious values, and cultural traditions will be negotiated after death?
We can assign the increased role for cremation (Roman Catholics, for example, used to eschew cremation) not to cultural traditions but rather to individual income. Without resources to buy pre-need and at-need cemetery supplies and services what do we do with a loved one’s remains? The percentage of cremation for final disposition of bodily remains in the GTA is now sixty-five per cent with thirty-five percent of us receiving traditional burial. The sixty-five per cent choosing cremation usually find themselves interred in an existing lot / plot, cemetery niche or scattered on Crown or private property. If double or triple depth lot use is permitted within a cemetery based on its bylaws; many interments will take place in the existing inventory of lots and plots where there is limited land available.
We are looking at a bottom line, so to speak, in which in the next ten to fifteen years it will be close to pretty much impossible to buy a cemetery space in the GTA unless it is purchased privately.
-Nicole N. Hanson
Even death isn’t a complete equalizer. One woman pushes for equity in urban cemeteries around Toronto
See also: (471) Funeral poverty
image: Mark Strozler via Flickr/CC
An NRDC blogger recently urged a consideration of suburban sprawl and the environment. Specifically, we need to consider drought and sprawl as contiguous problems. In the larger developed countries (Canada, Australia, United States) we certainly have seen the permanent destruction of vast acreages of agricultural land for suburban development.
America’s archetypal Levittowns were put down in potato fields on Long Island in the late 1940s. Drought in America this summer upped food prices. Australia’s Murray-Darling basin is the country’s food basket and is heavily settled and has experienced serious drought. Canada’s largest province, Ontario, lost nearly twenty per-cent of its best class of farmland just between the mid-seventies and mid-nineties alone – during a period of population growth. Surpassing these done deals is the expansion of ex-urban living in the developing countries. Predictions are for inevitable amounts of massive, unevenly managed growth there.
Population, energy, water, land, agriculture, infrastructure. These issues require a complex set of decisions. Who will make them and what will the outcomes be? Who will pay?
photo: files from Wikimedia Commons