Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was elected last fall on a promise to “trim the fat from City Hall”. Easier said than done, as Royson James of the Toronto Star reports (“Rob Ford’s gravy train running on fumes”, July 12, 2011). The Mayor commissioned internationally-reknowned consultants KPMG to review the city’s expenses and determine what services could be cut. The results were far from surprising: in the public works and infrastructure department, the City could save money by:

  • keeping blue boxes out of apartments and condos
  • reducing snow clearing, grass cutting and street sweeping
  • ending fluoridation of Toronto’s drinking water

 

And that’s it…in fact, the City of Toronto considers each of these options regularly and has decided time and time again not to implement them because they’re political powderkegs. KPMG wrote that 97% of the City of Toronto’s expenses in the public works and infrastructure department were core municipal services. G. Michael Warren, in a Toronto Star editorial (“Ford Nation’s grim future”, July 6, 2011), outlines the reasons why the inner suburban “economically challenged members of the Ford Nation”, who depend heavily on city services, are the most likely to suffer from service decreases. I’m pretty sure cutting back on snow clearing isn’t an option: the 1999 “Snowmageddon” storm dumped 118 centimetres of snow on Toronto and Mayor Mel Lastman was forced to call in the army to clear 5000 km of roads. Another major storm hit Toronto this January.

Seven more reports on the city departments, efficiencies and room for “fat trimming” will be released shortly.

The Mayor has made headlines recently for voting against six wildly popular community grants (he was defeated 43-1 on the first four programs, 42-2 on the fifth, and 41-3 on the sixth). He ruffled feathers by refusing to attend Toronto’s Pride Parade. After Ford shut down Transit City, the Province of Ontario even blames “municipalities like Toronto and politicians like Rob Ford”  for traffic gridlock (“Fed up with traffic gridlock? Not our fault, Liberals say”Toronto Star July 12, 2011). Rookie councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, citing “the current administration”, recently commissioned a private-sector revitalization plan for Yonge Street. Although she agrees that it could set a dangerous precedent, there was no way a new plan would have been approved in the current mood of fiscal restraint.

Vancouver’s progressive food security programs have expanded this year, including pocket farmers’ markets and expanded food carts. The result has been more awareness of local foods and more food-related celebration: several vendors were even located in the live viewing areas during the Stanley Cup finals.

Vancouver’s farmers markets are great for trying artisan breads, organic meats and gorgeous mustard greens, but like everything in this city, they’re expensive. This summer, several Neighbourhood Houses in Vancouver have partnered with local food security groups to offer pocket farmers’ markets in areas known as “food deserts”. Trout Lake, south of 12th Avenue between Victoria Drive and Nanaimo Street, is one of these areas. The Trout Lake-Cedar Cottage Food Security Network is a non-profit group that runs pocket markets, community gardens, tasting kitchens, and workshops on how to prepare healthy food. This summer, they partnered with the Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House to establish a year-round pocket farmers market on the third Saturday of each month at Nanaimo SkyTrain station. Interested shoppers buy $1 tokens in advance at the Neighbourhood House, and use them to buy local foods at wholesale prices. TLCC aims to supply local and organic items as much as possible. In May, TLCC expanded their program to partner with the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House: the mobile market will be held at Helping Spirit Lodge (3965 Dumfries Street) and Orchard Park (5988 Nanaimo Street) on the second Saturday of each month, and Brant Villa (2290 East 25th Avenue) and Culloden Court (1375 East 47th Avenue) on the third Saturday of each month.

The Westside Pocket Markets are hosted at Kitsilano Neighbourhood House, (2325 West 7th Avenue) every Thursday from July 7th to September 8th from 3-7pm. These markets are hosted by Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC BC), who run all sorts of fantastic urban food programs. These markets also have a voucher system, so check out their website for more details.

Another fantastic boost is Vancouver City Council’s recent decision to expand its Mobile Food Vendor program. Last year, a lucky 17 vendors were chosen to pilot the program and have been wildly successful. Vendors are selected on a points system determined by their foodsafe certification, previous street food vending experience, cart readiness, commitment to local, organic and fair trade foods, menu innovations, nutritional content, and waste reduction/green packaging. Council decided to add a further 19 vendors this year; many were profiled in the media, including CTV News (“From tacos to takoyaki”, April 4), the Georgia Straight (“Vancouver’s new food trucks off to a fabulously tasty start,” May 18), and The Globe and Mail (“Vancouver vendors serve up food a la cart”, June 10). Here’s the list of new vendors, and 2 apps to help you find them:

  • Cartel Street Food: Korean tacos, west side of 500 Dunsmuir St.
  • Chawalla: Indian teas, parantha (stuffed Indian flatbread), east side of 800 Howe St.
  • Didi’s Greek: souvlaki, spanakopita, south side of 1700 Robson St.
  • Feastro: tacos, fish and chips, Thurlow Street at West Cordova Street
  • Finest at Sea: seafood, southeast corner of Robson and Hornby streets
  • Gourmet Syndicate: Asian fusion, east side of 900 Burrard St.
  • Kiss Kiss Banh Banh: Vietnamese subs, northwest corner of Howe and Robson streets
  • Mangali: shishkabab, salads, north side of 900 West Georgia St.
  • Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck: sandwiches and soups, 600 Hornby St.
  • Off the Wagon: tacos, 600 Howe St.
  • Osa Tako Hero: takoyaki (octopus balls), south side of 800 West Pender St.
  • Roaming Dragon 2: comfort foods, east side of 800 Burrard St.
  • Soho Road Naan Kebab: Indian fusion, west side of 900 Howe St.
  • Tacofino Cantina Inc: tacos, burritos, 1800 Morton Sts
  • TBA: souvlaki, north side of 800 Dunsmuir St.
  • The Hut: vegetarian, south side of 1200 Pacific Blvd.
  • The Juice Truck: juice and smoothies, 200 Abbott St.
  • The Re-Up BBQ: barbecue, south side of 800 Robson St.
  • Trailer: Asian barbecue, west side of 1100 Burrard St.

 

The Food Vendor program will grow by 60 new vendors in the next four years. This year, the City also held a public survey to determine which types of food were in high demand, so check their website to vote next time around. Korean tacos or Asian barbecue, anyone?

Two weeks ago, after the Conservatives’ budget triggered a non-confidence vote, a federal election was called for May 2, 2011. This is the third election since 2006, the beginning of Stephen Harper’s reign as Prime Minister with a minority government. Like many Canadians, I certainly don’t enjoy the added cost of these elections, but I’ll pay any price I can to have the chance to vote Harper out of power and prevent him from winning a Conservative majority.

I realize this is an unusual stance to take in Canada: voter apathy is said to run rampant here (voter turnout is usually between 70 and 80 percent of registered voters, which represents 40 to 50 percent of the country’s population). Moreover, it’s an unusual stance for someone who supports the NDP. Given the fact that cities never fare well in federal elections due to the distribution of seats across Canada, and the parliamentary first-past-the-post system, I will probably never see an NDP Prime Minister. Like many Canadians supporting the left, I’ve become resigned to the fact that I probably won’t even see an NDP MP elected in my riding. When I lived in Ottawa, it was in Ottawa-Vanier, which has been Liberal since its establishment as a federal riding in 1935. In Vancouver, the two ridings I’ve lived in have also swung Liberal; this year, I’m in Hedy Fry‘s riding (she’s been in power since 1993). So am I just “wasting” my vote?

I was raised by immigrants from a strongly democratic country: Indian citizens (both men and women) have had the vote since 1935. Influenced by British rule, India shares the Canadian experiences of the first-past-the-post system and minority governments. Yet despite acknowledged corruption, years of coalition governments, and parties that have changed their political leanings over the years, voter turnout in India has remained between 55 and 60 percent for half a century, without the declines that most Western countries have experienced. Probably because I have parents from the world’s most populous democracy, I voted in my first federal election when I was 19. I have felt the powerful force of democracy most strongly when voting in federal and provincial elections.

Government, particularly at the federal and provincial levels, plays a major role in making our lives better or worse. I’m going out on a limb here: urban planners have long espoused the values of the local community. Many planners believe that it is only through local initiatives, community-led efforts, and intuitive knowledge of neighbourhoods can our cities become healthier, more environmentally conscious, and more economically robust. But here’s the thing: federal and provincial jurisdictions cover a lot of what happens in cities. We have a direct say in who is elected to federal government, something (lest we forget) citizens of other countries would love to have. And because of our parliamentary system, a vote for our local Member of Parliament contributes to federal leadership.

How does your MP affect what happens in your community? And how does voting in federal elections impact local issues? Let’s look at three issues: affordable housing, public transit, and immigration. All three are issues that cities large and small have struggled with for many years–and there’s only so much they can do on their own.

Affordable housing

Most municipal governments have acknowleged that their cities have high rents and low vacancy rates. They have limited or banned the conversion of rental housing to condominiums. They have started affordable housing funds. They have begun building smaller household types: condos, townhouses, granny flats. They have legalized secondary suites to help create lower-rent apartments. In short, cities have done just about everything they can to encourage the construction of affordable housing and protect what they do have. If you think this is just a big city problem, think again: even the City of Kelowna (with a population just over 100,000) has an affordable housing fund. The problem is so serious that in 2009, the United Nations declared that Canada had a housing crisis. But the federal government developed the National Housing Act, and it was changes to the federal Income Tax Act in 1972 that eliminated tax incentives for developing rental housing. In 1993, the feds (Liberals) delegated their authority over housing to the provinces and municipalities, but did not dedicate any funding. So cities remain in limbo while Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians, makes achingly slow progress through the House and the Senate (it’s been on the books in one form or another since 2004, and been re-introduced after each election and proroguing of Parliament). Bill C-304 could be a major breakthrough, if it ever becomes law: it will enable provinces and municipalities to work with the federal government to develop affordable housing programs that meet local needs. (And the best part, local readers: the bill was introduced by long-time Vancouver East MP Libby Davies (NDP).

Public transit

Municipalities and regions have the responsibility to provide public transportation, which is funded in part by the provincial and federal governments. Cities large and small operate public transit services across Canada, and many of them have experienced increases in ridership throughout the past 15 years. But there is no national transit act. This means that public transit organizations do not have a steady source of support for capital projects or operations. Their operating costs are partly covered by fees, local taxes, and other mechanisms, depending on the municipality. Capital costs require outside help: each time a city wants to build a new LRT line, expand its fleet of buses, or build some new stations along an existing line, it must apply to the provincial and federal governments for funding. Success depends on the identity and priorities of the provincial and federal Ministers of Transportation. In Vancouver, while TransLink strongly supported construction of the Evergreen Line (Coquitlam) and the UBC Line (Vancouver), then-Minister Kevin Falcon preferred the Canada Line (Vancouver-Richmond). Toronto Mayor Rob Ford just convinced Premier Dalton McGuinty to approve one future subway line instead of four LRT lines, after the City had spent years begging for money to fund transit improvements across the inner suburbs. The Regional Municipality of Waterloo just got provincial funding for an LRT line linking Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge. Public transit in Canadian municipalities was identified as a major issue early on in the federal election, and yet not a single federal leader has discussed it at this point. (Note: the Pembina Institute has info on how the parties stand on a variety of environmental issues, including transit). Meanwhile at the provincial level, the BC NDP leadership race has featured several arguments for better public transit (notably from candidates Adrian Dix and Mike Farnworth).

Immigration

Canadian cities grow substantially from immigration, and most municipalities welcome new immigrants, who contribute to their economic and social development. Immigrants rent housing in local neighbourhoods, find jobs locally, and enroll their children in local schools. In a country with low birth rates, immigration accounts for the majority of population growth. And while today’s immigrants are increasingly drawn to Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, smaller cities like Kelowna and Cambridge accommodate substantial numbers of immigrants each year. But immigration is a federal mandate: the feds decide what types of immigrants enter the country (Skilled Workers, Temporary Workers, Assisted Relatives) and how many. Since the Conservatives have  been in power, Temporary Worker permits (for jobs as varied as Starbucks barista and oil sands worker) have risen steadily to the point where there are about a quarter million permits issued each year; on the other hand, the other categories have remained stagnant. Provinces also have a strong say, particularly through the Provincial Nominees program. Several notable partnerships between all three levels of government, such as the Canada-Ontario-Toronto Memorandum of Understanding, have helped fund and operate immigrant settlement programs, which cover a range of settlement issues like finding jobs, getting foreign credentials recognized through bridging programs, and learning English. These programs are operated by local non-profits and community organizations, but could not exist without federal and provincial support. Certain cities, like Fort McMurray, Alberta, have been seriously affected by changes in immigration policy (in their case, a high number of Temporary Workers settling in a city with high rents and a low rental vacancy rate).

Vote locally-federally

So even if you’re an “act local” type who thinks that community and municipal agendas are all that matter, it pays to vote provincially and federally. Cities can’t do everything, and the beauty of our system (one of the few advantages, really) is that you can vote locally for a federal result. Your MP has a local office where you can find out what they’ve done in your community (click here to find out what riding you’re in). Have they voted for or against initiatives that may have benefitted your neighbourhood, like settlement programs for new immigrants? What is your MP’s stance on key issues that you value, like public transit? (Click here to see how the federal parties measure up on major issues) Do you feel they represent the needs of your community (if you live in Fort McMurray, does your MP support more rights for Temporary Workers?) Does your MP go to community events and interact with local people? Who is running against your MP in the federal election? Do the other candidates make good points? With today’s technology, you can follow the candidates on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. The Globe and Mail, National Post, CTV, CBC, and your local newspapers all have lots of articles and information on your riding and your candidates (click here for the Georgia Straight‘s view on Vancouver candidates). Elections Canada has voting information in 27 languages and a web feature on youth voting. Don’t complain about lack of time: there’s no need to spend any more time or effort on this than you would spend checking out the latest videos on YouTube…unless you find the issues interesting.

Take a page from Rick Mercer’s book and spend 20 minutes “doing something young people all over the world are dying to do: vote”. All you need is two pieces of identification with your name and address on them: trust me, I’ve moved across the country and had to do this many, many times. Even a piece of mail (like a hydro bill) will do for the second piece of ID. Students, you can vote in the riding where you live by taking in ID to the polling station–it’s that easy. All your friends are doing it! (click here to see vote mobs from campuses across the country).

Don’t feel like your vote is “wasted”, because you never know what can happen. Hey, the first time I voted in a federal election, the Tories suffered a crushing defeat and we ended 9 long years of Mulroney–I mean Conservative rule. The first time I voted provincially, the unthinkable happened: the NDP was elected in Ontario. Even if you live in a federal riding where your party has no hope of winning (like me), your vote matters. In the 2004 federal election, in the Liberal bastion of Ottawa-Vanier, 5 percent of voters supported the Green Party. Although the Greens had no possible chance of winning, their low level of support across the country (4.3 percent) raised the party to federal status, giving it federal funding for future elections. There are always close calls in ridings: when the election was called this year, the Globe and Mail featured a list of 50 ridings to watch across Canada where it’s a tight race (Vancouver Quadra voters, cast your ballots; Liberal Joyce Murray only won by 150 votes back in 2006). Left-thinking young residents are changing traditionally conservative values in suburbs across the country. So regardless of where you live or your political stripe, your vote does matter. (That said, if all you want is to prevent a Harper majority, Project Democracy tells you which party is best positioned to defeat the Conservative in your riding.) If you care about what happens in your city, you need to vote in this year’s federal election.

New Toronto mayor Rob Ford has been making headlines: and not in a good way. Ford has long been a controversial figure, and this summer’s mayoralty race was no exception. Echoing Mel Lastman, a similarly polarizing figure, Ford seems an odd fit for such a multicultural, cosmopolitan, and diverse city. He’s at best a pompous blowhard with insights into the political process; at worst, depending on your information source, he’s a racist homophobe who doesn’t support affordable housing, public transit, or any of the other pressing needs of the burgeoning city. But like Lastman, who was in office for six years, Ford will likely have a lasting effect on the City of Toronto.

In Canada’s biggest city, where 22% of the population takes transit, Ford has decided that transit is the enemy. On December 1st, his first day in office, he managed to kill the city’s proposed vehicle registration tax, freeze property taxes, and get council’s approval to have the Toronto Transit Commission deemed an essential service. With this designation, the TTC will be unable to strike, and union leaders say they’ll fight the decision, which will be made by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

McGuinty and regional transit planning authority Metrolinx also have to deal with Ford’s tyrannical attack on Transit City, an initiative that was seven years in the making and is already being built. The province, after approving the construction of four LRT lines, announced this spring that they may not be able to fund the entire plan at this time. Ford wants to scrap Transit City entirely, arguing that streetcars cause traffic congestion, and everyone prefers subways anyway. He wants to extend the Sheppard subway line to meet up with the Scarborough RT instead, even if the high cost of this option means that no other transit infrastucture can be built in Toronto. Perhaps he isn’t aware that one of Transit City’s approved lines was a retrofit of the Scarborough RT, which is rapidly deteriorating, and another was a Sheppard LRT that would extend much farther than the subway will? In vain, Metrolinx tried to convince Ford that many other options were more suitable and affordable than subway extension, but surprisingly, the man who claims to be so concerned about taxpayers’ wallets wants the most expensive option. The main beneficiaries of Transit City were to be the inner suburbs: Etobicoke, Scarborough, North York. Neighbouring municipalities like Mississauga also strongly support Transit City. David Hulchanski, who just released an update to his popular “Three Cities within Toronto” study, says that building LRT is the answer to slowing or reversing the segregation of the city by income. Doesn’t Ford feel a responsibility to represent the suburban “working man” that elected him?

Electing Ford represents frustration: residents are frustrated with the way their city is run. Suburban residents see traffic congestion, unreliable public transit, job losses, and rising taxes, and they want things to change. What they don’t see is that municipalities are chronically underfunded by the provincial government in ways that matter: it is the provincial government that funds transit and road infrastructure, and a good proportion of job creation also comes from provincial initiatives. This underfunding leads the TTC to strike, since they rarely have the money for either their capital or operating costs, and also requires the city to raise money in other ways, usually new or increased taxes. Canadian cities have precious few mechanisms to generate money, and unfortunately taxes are among the few. The vehicle registration tax would have raised $64 million for the City of Toronto; Ford has not announced another way of raising the money. Opponents claim that it is “mathematically impossible” that these two tax losses won’t cause any service cuts for City residents. Cancelling Transit City could cost the province fees for broken contracts: $137 million has already been spent on Transit City and $1.3 billion is committed. In fact, for a pro-business, right-wing mayor, Ford doesn’t seem to be very good at managing money. Perhaps his 2011 budget review will inform him that transit actually makes money for the City of Toronto: former budget chief Shelley Carroll says that high transit ridership contributed to a year-end operating surplus.

Both Lastman and Ford came into office at a time of economic recession. Both came to power after a period of progress for the City of Toronto: Barbara Hall (1994-1997) preceded Lastman and David Miller (2003-2010) preceded Ford. Both Lastman and Ford claimed to appeal to suburban “ordinary people”: indeed, the voting maps of Toronto illustrate the pervasive divide the media loves to play up (the Globe and Mail included). We know from US elections that the maps don’t tell all: as Joshua Kertzer and Jonathan Naymark wrote in the National Post,

“This attempt to create a downtown versus suburb cleavage is at best a distraction, and at worst, sets a dangerous precedent.”

Toronto's 2010 Election Results

Toronto's 1997 Election Results

Perhaps most tellingly, both Ford and Lastman faced a slew of opponents for mayor: Lastman was one of over thirty candidates, while Ford was one of 40. According to the City of Toronto’s website, 383,501 voters elected Ford: 813,984 actually voted in the election. So, 47% of voters, who represented 35.3% of the City of Toronto’s population, elected him: that’s 16.7% of the city’s population. Lastman, the first mayor elected after Toronto announced its amalgamation with five suburban municipalities, won by a slim margin of about 41,000 votes. In times of discord and recession, the appeal of the right-wing, cost-saving, businessman is strongest.

The next three years will be momentous ones in Canada’s biggest city. Ford will have to make allies in the provincial government if he wants to keep taxes low. Let’s hope that Ford has a fight on his hands, at least as far as transit is concerned: it takes very little to kill programs and policies that have taken years to approve. As Councillor Janet Davis said, “For the first time [we’re] expanding transit across the city that we waited generations for — the mayor can’t walk in on Day 1 and say, ‘it’s gone.’ It doesn’t work like that.” If anything, Ford’s rising star only proves how little power cities have over the issues that really matter to them, and how limited their sources of funding really are. The problem is that Ford’s blustery, and logic-free, decision-making will have long-term consequences on the City of Toronto: Lastman managed to have the Sheppard subway built, against the TTC’s advice. The result was a white elephant, no funding for additional services that the system badly needed, and at one point the streetcars running at very low speeds to cope with deteriorating tracks. While Vancouver is no stranger to provincial wrangling over transit infrastructure, at least we have a mayor who cycles to work and strongly supports sustainable transportation.

About a year ago, I wrote extensively about Bill C-304, the much-needed Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. The bill has been proposed several times, in different sessions of Parliament. Most recently, it was proposed as a private members’ public bill by Vancouver East MP Libby Davies.

After a few years passing through the first and second reading, the bill finally reached third reading debate in November. Most of the debate was in favour of the bill. Following Parliamentary procedure, on November 24th it went back to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) for an amendment requested by the Bloc Québecois. It then went back to the House for its third reading. It passed in the House and proceeded to the Senate for consideration.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s crazy that it took a year to get from second reading to the debates preceding third reading? And that this bill, in one form or another, lingered in the Parliamentary process for over four years? I realize Harper prorogued government a couple of times, but still…that only cost us a few months. We need this legislation badly. It is interesting how other governmental initiatives, like proroguing government last winter and cancelling the long-form Census this summer, seem to occur quickly and with devastating consequences for Canadians (the Liberals’ move to reinstate the long-form Censusintroduced on September 30th–will take far longer). How is it that the American government has elected a new President, had an entire housing crisis, introduced funding to support affordable rental housing, and introduced its first-ever health care legislation in the time it’s taken us to pass a single bill in the House of Commons?

Bill Rankin's map of Chicago

A couple of years ago, when I attended the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning annual conference in Chicago, I was stunned to hear that Cleveland and Chicago are the most segregated cities in the US. As I’ve written before, Canadian cities simply don’t have these levels of segregation; obviously not for African American and Hispanic populations, but also not for other groups. Recently, I’ve come across a series of maps illustrating the difference between American cities that are more segregated vs. more integrated, thanks to some enlightened cartographers. It is very interesting to compare these maps to the (albeit simpler) maps of visible minorities in Canadian cities recently published by the Globe and Mail.

Bill Rankin‘s map of Chicago illustrates the sharp divides between white, black, Asian, Hispanic, and other ethnocultural groups. It was originally published in Perspecta, the journal of the Yale School of Architecture; Rankin is a PhD candidate in architecture and the history of science.

After seeing this, Eric Fischer produced similar maps for the 40 largest American cities. He used the same process as Rankin (one dot for every 25 people and same colour code, using the 2000 Census data).

We can see some segregation in New York City, but there are zones of integration.

Eric Fischer's map of New York City

Detroit’s 8-Mile district stands out as an example of entrenched segregation. Many of the maps of smaller cities, like Buffalo, Toledo, and Raleigh, highlight inner city concentrations of African Americans.

Eric Fischer’s map of Detroit

Eric Fischer's map of Los Angeles

On the other hand, check out Riverside, CA, which looks very integrated. Los Angeles also has a lot of integration, and San Antonio is very integrated.

Eric Fischer's map of Riverside

A couple of weeks ago, the Globe and Mail posted a series of “heat maps” showing the concentration of visible minorities in Canadian cities. They don’t break down the statistics (from the 2006 Census) into specific ethnocultural groups, as is the usual Canadian trend; there are simply too many groups to map. But they are interesting nonetheless. The maps are interactive, allowing you to zoom in, so I can’t reproduce them here. Check them out at www.globeandmail.ca under Multiculturalism.

Vancouver’s map shows that in most census tracts in Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond and Surrey, over 30% of the population are visible minorities. Toronto has a similar pattern: over 30% of the population in Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Richmond, and Ajax are visible minorities. The central Toronto map shows some interesting areas of lower concentration: areas around the subway lines, west Toronto and the Beaches. In Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa, the census tracts with over 30% visible minorities are mainly in the suburbs.

Montréal is even more fascinating because it shows a very different pattern. The visible minority population there is almost exclusively concentrated on the island of Montréal, with lower rates of concentration in the suburbs: the older pattern of immigrant settlement that we still see in smaller cities. This is likely due to sheer numbers: Toronto and Vancouver receive tens of thousands more immigrants each year than Montréal.

Obviously, the American maps show that not all cities south of the border are sharply segregated, but even in the smaller cities, like Toledo, Ohio, there are lingering segregated African American populations. This in itself is not an issue; the maps of Canadian cities show lots of neighbourhoods with high concentrations of visible minorities. The real issue is when these concentrations are due to poverty or discrimination (either societal or institutional, such as in the housing market). American housing research seems to indicate that much of the segregation is in fact due to these two factors. Entire programs are devoted to fixing this problem: Housing Choice Vouchers, for example, aim to remove people from entrenched areas of poverty into neighbourhoods where they may have better educational and job opportunities.

I think these maps illustrate again how different Canadian and American cities are in terms of ethnocultural groups: both in terms of their composition and their spatial dispersal. This continues to create policy differences between the US and Canada, not only in my own research areas of housing, transportation, and immigration, but in many other areas affecting municipalities: welfare provision, health care, and education to name a few.

Many researchers in Toronto have become experts at mapping the city’s spatial, cultural, ethnic, and political trends. A few years ago, the Globe and Mail even published a language map of Toronto based on the 2001 Census data for mother tongue. Richard Florida is now one of the latest to use the excellent mapping and research resources available at the Centre for Urban and Community Studies (CUCS).

Florida’s map shows the same differentiation that David Hulchanski did three years ago in his excellent report Toronto divided: A tale of three cities. This report received a lot of media attention, in part because its complexity and rigor left little doubt in its findings: Hulchanski, Associate Director (Research) of CUCS, carefully mapped many different characteristics using Census data spanning a thirty-year period, including income, housing tenure, transit use, ethnicity, immigration status, household size, and employment. The carefully-worded report raised some red flags: the decline of the middle class, the decrease in housing choices for low-income households, the shift of poor neighbourhoods from the inner city to the outer suburbs.

It’s common to say that people “choose” their neighbourhoods, but it’s money that buys choice. Many people in Toronto have little money and thus few choices…When most of the city is in a middle-income range, city residents can generally afford what the market has to offer…It is only when the percentage of those in the middle declined that we began to hear about “housing affordability” problems. If the incomes of a significant share of people in a city fall relative to the middle, the gap between rich and poor widens. Those closer to the bottom are more numerous and find it increasingly difficult to afford the largest single item in their budget–housing (either in mortgage payments or rent).   J. David Hulchanski, Associate Director (Research), CUCS

Hulchanski, who has written volumes about affordable housing policy in Canada, wrote persuasively of the policy options that can help reverse these trends, and many writers echoed his concerns. Florida himself wrote an article in response in the Globe and Mail.

Florida, on the less thorough end of the spectrum, mapped “creative class”, “service class”, and “working class” occupations in the Toronto CMA. The Geography of Toronto’s Service Class, published by the Martin Prosperity Institute at U of T, shows how the “classes” were defined. Artists, doctors, teachers, managers, architects and computer programmers were all considered “creative class”. Cashiers, salespeople, police officers, food preparers, medical assistants, and administrative assistants were “service class”. And miners, welders, carpenters, truck drivers, production workers, and construction workers were in the “working class.” If you know Florida’s work, you know that he is preoccupied with class and that he tends to use loaded terms; “class” is not a casually-used word in the Canadian research arena.

The kind of work people do is the hallmark of social-economic class and the map shows a city where the dominant classes occupy, literally, two different social, economic, and geographic spaces.  Richard Florida, www.creativeclass.com

Map from www.creativeclass.com

It is true that Toronto’s postindustrial shift has led to a decrease in manufacturing jobs, suburbanization of workplaces, concentration of high-paying service-sector work in the inner city, and gentrification around subway lines (all of which Hulchanski pointed out earlier, not to mention Tom Hutton and David Ley). But Florida’s definitions are directly responsible for his findings: how is a doctor in the “creative class”? A manager or computer programmer? And how do police offers and medical assistants get grouped in with cashiers and administrative assistants? It seems as though he has just mapped by salary level, not occupational category…in which case his results aren’t surprising.

Research involving income, occupation, ethnicity, and polarization need to be carefully articulated and worded to avoid clichés like “upper class people live in desirable areas while lower class people do not.” There is much more depth to the story than Florida lets on, although he is fairly well-versed in housing issues. The recently-released report on Canada’s Housing Bubble, produced by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, outlines how housing prices have risen faster than inflation, household incomes, and economic growth. Echoing Edward Jones’ report earlier this year (see my previous post), CCPA says that the housing market is “more unstable than it has been in over a generation.” All major cities in Canada are now experiencing housing price increases above their historical range, meaning the time is ripe for a crash. For Florida, who advocates the creative class and advises cities on how to bring these types to their cities, real estate is crucial: he has written about the need for more rental housing, which in his opinion keeps people mobile and able to search for employment in a wider range of locations. His recent publication on Toronto’s class divide has more to do with the city’s political landscape than housing, of course, and it has served its purpose of being provocative.

Having spent some time working in the US and frequently immersed in American academic journals and conferences, I am well aware that there is a latent anti-intellectual bias that tends to rear its head during, oh…say national elections, or on the eve of major policy reform. Canadians, apparently, share this apprehension of “minority elites”.

The recent media storm over the Canadian census long form (see my previous post) has ignited a seemingly latent populace that believes that research, and researchers themselves, are pointless exercises in readin’, writin’, book-learnin’ and other geeky pursuits that don’t matter: that data will only be used in order to harass and over-tax the less-educated, privacy-minded general public. (Have a look at some of the articles posted in every major Canadian news outlet concerning the recent Census developments, and more to the point, have a look at some of the comments the “general public” posted.) But it’s not just your “average Canadians” who question the educated population. In today’s Globe and Mail (“Tories stall census probe, ask to hear from average Canadians”), Industry Minister Tony Clement has “already dismissed the controversy as one that only occupies “some of the elites in our country,” a phrase he also used when Canadian academics criticized the federal government’s decision to prorogue Parliament.

Maybe in countries where a university education costs more than a Bentley, it would be correct to state that educated people are a bunch of rich snobs who might be a tad removed from the fray (I said maybe). The vast majority of Canadian universities are public schools, meaning they have government-subsidized tuitions that are considerably lower than their American counterparts. Although tuitions have risen steadily in the last fifteen years or so, Canadian student loans are still readily available to most students. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) offers fellowships for Masters and PhD students. Admittedly, these have become rarer in recent years due to the Harper government’s decision to prioritize PhD topics directly related to the economy, and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) just announced it would drop its Doctoral Fellowship program this year. However, it would seem that funding scarcity hasn’t had much of an effect on our already high education levels.

Higher education is fairly well-distributed among gender, ethnic groups and income levels in Canada. During the 1930s, a quarter of Canadian women were university educated, and to look at graduate schools now you’d be hard-pressed to find a majority of men in any discipline: women have out-numbered men in university admissions since 1981. In the 2006 Census, 25% of the Canadian population had a university degree higher than Bachelors level. By the way, this is lower than the 31% of Americans with this level of education. Almost half of the Canadian population (49%) has a college diploma, trade certification, or university degree. Of OECD countries, Canada has the highest percentage of the population (from 25 to 64 years old) with a post-secondary education (46%), slightly higher than the Japan (40%) and the US (39%), and considerably higher than the OECD average of 26%.

Many immigrants enter the country with educations far superior to those born in Canada. And because the vast majority of population growth in Canada is due to immigration, these university-educated immigrants have a major impact on our cities, our labour market, and our education systems. In 2006, 51% of recent immigrants to Canada had university degrees, compared to 19% of the Canadian-born population. Immigrants also out-perform native-born Canadians in prose, document literacy, numeracy and problem-solving, according to the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey. Even more importantly, immigrants raised in China, India, or the Philippines (Canada’s three largest source countries for immigrants) know the importance of education and instill it in their children. Let me be clear: it is well known in the poorer parts of the world that education offers an escape route out of poverty. In most cases, the only way out. Many of my classmates at the University of Toronto were the children of immigrants who had only been able to complete high school educations or, occasionally, community college. We were the first generation to attend community colleges and universities en masse, and it was expected that we do so, because our parents could not afford to go themselves when they were our age. Despite their scrimping and saving, many of us were unable to pay tuition without government-subsidized public schools, government-funded loans, scholarships and fellowships.

While a university attendance is lower among the low-income population, Statistics Canada published a study in 2007 that found lower rates of attendance were due to differences in academic performance, parents’ level of education, parents’ expectations, the high school attended, and other such factors. Only 9.5% of the youth in the study reported that financial constraints were a barrier to university attendance. While this is still cause for concern, it is somewhat reassuring that the rapid ascent of tuitions in the 1990s have not have more serious effects.

I’m not sure that it’s accurate to describe this one-quarter of the Canadian population with Bachelors degrees as elite, or “the most powerful, best educated or best trained group in society” (Cambridge Dictionary). Can the half of the population with post-secondary educations, or the half of recent immigrants with university degrees, all be considered elites? While there are some groups in Canada who are under-represented in higher education (only 8% of Aboriginals have university degrees, but 41% have post-secondary educations), we are generally an educated bunch.

Perhaps that’s the real crisis in the Harper government: realizing yet again that Canadians aren’t as dumb as his 2008 re-election might suggest. First, we rose up in the tens of thousands to protest proroguing Parliament, and now that over 200 groups have protested the removal of the Census long form, he’s had to personally speak out on what he probably considered a minor technical issue that would only concern “elites”. After both of these crises, the Conservatives dropped in the polls, creating considerable distress for Harper’s minority Conservatives. An educated populace is a problem when your government acts more like a monarchy than a democratically-elected minority government that could topple at any time.

Sheng Zhong recently defended her PhD dissertation at UBC School of Community and Regional Planning.  Last year at the Association of American Geographers annual conference, she gave us a little preview of her research results on cultural production sites in Shanghai, focusing on one of the seventy government-designated sites, M50 on Suzhou Creek. She also published this case study in the 2009 issue of Critical Planning (Vol 16): From Fabrics to Fine Arts: Urban Restructuring and Formation of an Art District in Shanghai. Her research consisted of extensive interviews, surveys and site visits of most of these former industrial sites now destined as high-end cultural centers. The concept of the creative class might be controversial here, but Sheng’s research shows the Chinese government is jumping on the bandwagon that supposedly leads to economic growth and development, as suggested by Richard Florida.

In Sheng’s doctoral defense, she contrasted two cultural production sites, one of which developed on its own, as artists found the low-rent buildings vacated by industries that had relocated to the suburbs. The second was designated by the government and targeted for redevelopment. The contrast between the two was very interesting: the first had grown illegally for some time as artists occupied the various buildings on the site, then over a decade gentrified to the point where rents are almost at the upper limit of affordability for small-scale production. The second site was initially designed with high-end stores and upscale landscape architecture targeted to foreign tourists. It is under-used (the rents are too high and there may not be enough demand for the location) and the artwork sold there is unaffordable to the Chinese population.

Dr. Zhong will be starting a post-doctoral position at the National University of Singapore, where she will continue her research on urban redevelopment and the policies that impact growth and change in Chinese cities.

Update: As of February 2012, Sheng will be a lecturer at the brand new Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, a joint effort of China’s Xi’an Jiaotong University and the UK’s Liverpool University.

Cypress Community Garden

Cypress Community Garden

Municipalities have become increasingly concerned about food security in the past few years. I’ve written before about Vancouver’s Food Policy Council and some of the work they’ve been doing, including encouraging a by-law to allow backyard chickens. Since then some notable developments have happened in the city.

A few weeks ago, Vancouver city council approved five community projects, agreeing to spend $100,000 on the small-scale projects. One aims to help people on social assistance or small fixed incomes can buy coupons at the beginning of each month for a small fee and redeem them later in the month for fresh fruits and vegetables at a mini-farmers market in the neighbourhood. Another funds the development of farmers markets; several Vancouver neighbourhoods worked with city council to streamline fees and fix restrictive zoning bylaws. Council has now approved the development of interim guidelines and zoning changes to develop new farmers markets and expand existing ones, including the very successful Kitsilano, West End, and Trout Lake markets. I visited the West End farmers market this weekend and found the vendors selling seasonal greens, peppers, berries, cheese, fresh lamb and eggs. The prices, as usual for Vancouver, started around the same as supermarket produce and went up from there, but there’s no denying the freshness of the food. I’m still not sure why farmers markets out here are so pricey, when a dollar or two at a market in Ottawa, London, or Toronto will get you a head of broccoli bigger than your own.

There are lots of other ways to get fresh produce in the city. Vancouver has some amazing community gardens, where residents pay a small fee for a garden plot and grow all sorts of fruits, vegetables and flowers. A friend of mine has a plot at the Cypress Community Garden, which cost her $30 for the summer. She goes to garden work parties with the many other gardeners in the area; Kitsilano is full of apartment dwellers who otherwise wouldn’t have the space to grow their own food.

You can also raise chickens and have access to your own fresh eggs daily, since the bylaw was passed to allow backyard chickens. You can check out all these developments on Vancouver’s Food Policy Council website.