The results of a two-year partnership, My Health My Community, give us a lot of insight into Metro Vancouver’s active transportation trends: 43% of residents say their primary transportation mode is walking, cycling, or public transit.

Transportation agencies and municipal transit providers do a lot of their own research, but most of this is not open data and is summarized in publicly available reports. In the absence of Census data or a national transportation survey, transportation researchers often have to collect their own data. The My Health My Community study surveyed over 28,000 residents in Metro Vancouver on their primary mode of transportation, health outcomes, lifestyle behaviours and neighbourhood characteristics.

Key findings from the study include:

  • Active transportation users have lower body mass index, walk more each day, and are twice as likely to meet the requirement for 30 minutes or more of daily recommended walking
  • Car users with longer commute times have a lower sense of community belonging
  • Transit use is highest among lower income, visible minorities and recent immigrants–it is 69% lower among parents with dependent children and 70% lower among households with incomes of over $100,000 annually

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 4.23.42 PMAnother interesting result is shown on this map which depicts areas with higher than average active transportation (the darkest purple) in relation to existing and proposed transit infrastructure–and there is a second map showing the same for car users.

My Health My Community is a partnership between Vancouver Coastal Health, the Fraser Health, and the e-Health Strategy Office at the University of British Columbia.  The survey was conducted in 2013-2014 and the results are just beginning to be released. Dr. Jat Sandhu of Vancouver Coastal Health will be presenting the research tomorrow, April 30th at the SFU Segal School of Business, from 7:30-9:00.

There have been a few interesting articles lately discussing immigrants’ employment success in Canada. Last week, The Globe and Mail published a story about a new project begun by Maytree, a charitable organization that runs all kinds of interesting programs to help employers hire new immigrants, train and mentor newcomers to organize political campaigns or run for office, and share best practices in integration. Maytree’s current project, under its Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant Employment Strategies (ALLIES) initiative, connects skilled immigrants with small- and medium-sized businesses. Small- and medium-sized employers hire about 64% of private sector employees, but many immigrants don’t know about them. The companies may lack the human resources skills and staff to recruit immigrants.

Immigrants’ paths towards economic success have been linked to many factors, including acceptance of foreign credentials and immigrants’ social networks. A paper recently released by Metropolis BC, using the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC), found that immigrants take different paths towards employment depending upon their immigration category. In 2007, 60% of immigrants to Canada were economic, 25% were family immigrants, and 15% were refugees. Immigrant Category, Social Networks, and Ethnic Workplaces over Time: A Longitudinal Analysis of Immigrants’ Economic Integration in Canada (Metropolis BC Working Paper 11-10) summarizes the study conducted by Wendy Roth, Marc-David Seidel, Dennis Ma and Eiston Lo. The authors analyzed LSIC data, collected 6 months, 2 years, and 4 years after immigrants’ arrival in Canada, to determine how the workplace type (ethnic or non-ethnic) influences the ethnic composition of social ties, and how these two factors impact immigrants’ economic success. They found that economic immigrants benefit from non-ethnic workplaces, family immigrants face economic penalties when they enter the open economy, and refugees benefit from entrepreneurship. In short, “Immigration policies sort immigrants into different labour market trajectories with different financial returns.”

Family immigrants are more likely to remain in the ethnic labour market, leading to co-ethnic friendships. When they move into the open economy, they are less likely to reap its benefits than economic immigrants. They’re also less likely to benefit from entrepreneurship than refugees, who use this as a path to long-term success. Obviously, family immigrants were sponsored by their relatives; 37% of economic immigrants and 65% of refugees had relatives in Canada before immigrating. Economic immigrants are more likely to speak English or French, and have higher levels of education, facilitating non-ethnic social ties and employment in non-ethnic workplaces. Interestingly, the ethnic concentration of the CMA and the presence of friends or family in Canada before immigration had no impact on the odds of working in a non-ethnic workplace or the odds of making non-ethnic friendships. However, people who made friendships through friends and relatives in Canada or through religious activities were more likely to make ethnic friends, while making friends through ESL classes or work more often led to non-ethnic friendships. Those who form mainly non-ethnic friendships early earn higher incomes. While economic immigrants develop diverse social networks and move into the open economy, family immigrants tend to make their contacts and maintain employment in the ethnic market, facing economic barriers to success elsewhere. However, the authors stress that family immigrants often provide support for their families, such as child care, which has economic benefits. Refugees’ relative success from entrepreneurship seems to reflect the support they receive from private sponsors or the government.

This is further fuel for my dissertation, which found that structural changes, such as changes in immigration policy, impacted the housing and transportation choices of Filipino immigrants over several decades. Policy is a remarkable sorting agent, and sub-categories such as the Live-in Caregiver Program or Entrepreneur Class can have major impacts on immigrants’ housing and transportation trajectories. Social networks were crucial factors in finding housing and transportation options, not to mention finding jobs and accessing bridging or training programs.


Fans watching Game 4 in front of the Vancouver Public Library

Two weeks have passed since the Vancouver Canucks’ Game 7 Stanley Cup loss to the Boston Bruins and the ensuing riot. Other events have prevented my journalistic ink from flowing as freely as others’ on this topic…yet the amount of ink spilled (both literal and virtual) has done little to answer the fundamental question of why the riot happened. Opinions range from “there wasn’t enough of a police presence” (“Police actions questioned in wake of Vancouver riot”, CTV News) to “the potential for violence always exists in the human brain” (“Sometimes, is a riot normal?”The Georgia Straight, June 23).

I’ll let the experts discuss the reasons behind it, although I will say that I was as surprised as anyone at the Game 7 riot, having been downtown watching Games 4 and 6, both of which the Canucks lost. There were over 100,000 fans downtown on earlier game nights, and many of us watched the game on the big screens at Georgia and Hamilton Streets. There were big groups of police and security personnel standing around, as most fans went home in a state of quiet depression during the barren third period of each game (“Vancouver riot saw 800 cops on the street“, The Globe and Mail, June 28). The Stanley Cup Playoffs ran nine weeks this year, and considering it would have been the Canuck’s first Cup ever and Canada’s first since 1993, Cup Fever had built up over a two-month period.

I’ll also leave aside the alarming, or alarmist, media coverage, which quickly spun the story out of control. At 10pm on June 15th, a mere hour after the game ended, CTV reported that “Rioters left downtown Vancouver reeling from countless fires, widespread looting and numerous stabbings in the wake of a crushing loss for the Canucks.” (In fact, fifteen cars were set on fire, several stores were looted along Georgia and Robson Streets and there were exactly two stabbings.) Stories abounded about how people were trapped downtown after TransLink was forced to shut down bus service into/out of downtown. (Anyone living here knows that Vancouver’s downtown is a peninsula. You can walk east, south, and southwest about 20 minutes and you’re out of the core and can hop on a bus.) The international media quickly picked up the events unfolding through thousands of Twitter feeds, Facebook updates and incessant hand-wringing of middle-aged news anchors on CBC, CTV, and local Canadian networks. Even now, media comparisons persist between Vancouver’s Stanley Cup riot (over 100 arrests) and Toronto’s G20 protests last year, an event still being pursued in the courts involving 19,000 police offers, 1,100 security guards and over 900 arrests, the highest number of mass arrests in Canada’s history.

I’m more concerned with how quickly Vancouver residents disowned the riot, saying it was not typical of Vancouver.

Fans walk home along Granville Street after Game 6

“It is extremely disappointing to see the situation in downtown Vancouver turn violent after tonight’s Stanley Cup game. Vancouver is a world-class city, and it is embarrassing and shameful to see the type of violence and disorder we’ve seen tonight.”   Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, June 15, 2011

NBA player Steve Nash, a Vancouver native, agreed the riot was an embarrassment for the city. Police Chief Jim Chu was quick to pin the blame on “anarchists and criminals” (though he took back those words within days). Gary Mason of The Globe and Mail wrote that rioters came from all over the region, not just Vancouver. Solicitor-General Shirley Bond said that the riot was due to a very young, predominantly male crowd–a different crowd than other Stanley Cup playoff nights. Spectators interviewed by the press indicated their disappointment, saying, “This is not Vancouver.” Later, when locals started penning their thoughts on the wood panels used to shore up broken windows of vandalized stores, a common theme was “Don’t judge us by a few hooligans.” Quickly, now, repeat after me: Vancouver is pretty. Not ugly.

In fact, this is Vancouver. Like any city, Vancouver has a history of violence, and riots have arisen out of political protest, civic unrest and hooliganism. In September 1907, 2000 citizens gathered in “anti-Asiatic riots”, smashing in the windows of Japanese business owners on Powell Street. A drunken riot involving 600 citizens and soldiers demonstrating in front of the Vancouver Police Station was broken up by tear gas and military police in August 1943. In November 1966, 5000 rioters swarmed into a three-block area along Georgia Street, throwing beer bottles, breaking windows, and starting fires in sidewalk trash bins after the annual Grey Cup parade; there were 200 arrests. In August 1971, Gastown residents rioted against a police crackdown on illegal drugs; 100 people were arrested. Less than a year later, in June 1972, 2000 people outside Pacific Coliseum hurled rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails at riot-equipped Vancouver Police officers during a Rolling Stones concert (warmup act: then-22-year-old Stevie Wonder). Thirty policemen were injured as the mob tried to crash the concert. And of course, following the Canucks’ Stanley Cup loss in 1994, a riot ensued lasting six hours; 200 were arrested. Some of these riots were inspired by political events, but some involved a bunch of hooligans who thought it would be fun to smash some stuff up and set a few things on fire, just like June 15th, 2011. Many came prepared to riot regardless of whether the Canucks won or lost, with black knit masks, fire extinguishers that could be used to smash windows, and signs that said, “Riot 2011”. Countless people took digital photos of themselves with the burning cars, arms held high as if they’d scored a victory. In Vancouver’s first social media riot, Twitter feeds, Facebook postings, and the confessions of several teens who have been charged after the incident confirm how lightly participants took acts like setting cars on fire. They seemed to just go with the flow, and even seem surprised at the internet backlash that has led to them losing their jobs, being suspended from sports teams, and endangering their families. Like Stephen Quinn joked, some might even have hooked up as a result of their actions (“Missed Connections/I saw you (through the tear gas)”, The Globe and Mail, June 24).

Every city has the potential for inexplicable violence, because every city is home to hundreds of thousands of people. We did manage to hold the Olympics here without major incident. We’ve also held countless international events like Expo ’86, and community events like Car-Free Day on the Drive, the Kitsilano Greek Festival, and Chinese New Year celebrations, all of which draw thousands of people. All of these events are carefully planned with the presence of police, first aid, and security personnel. Most of the time, nothing goes awry. Occasionally it does (few outsiders remember that downtown windows were smashed by anti-Olympics protesters on the first day of last year’s Olympics). When it does, we all have to deal with it: the mayor, the police chief, the gutsy few that helped hold back looters (“Police seeking Stanley Cup riot Good Samaritans”, The Toronto Star June 27th) and more than 14,000 citizens who volunteered to help store owners clean up the shattered glass and debris on the morning of June 16th. These stories, both good and bad, become part of the city’s history, at least for those of us who can’t stomach the sugary-sweet myth of Vancouver. Those of us who live here know that this is also a city with persistent homelessness, sharply polarized incomes (with the poorest and richest postal codes in the country), and serious drug traffic. People exist here, like they do elsewhere, within a fragile network of social connections kept alive by a veneer of civility. Certain events (whether it be sports, politics, or inequity) motivate people to take sandpaper and blowtorches to the shiny surface, exposing the conflicts underneath. Other events, like “most livable city” contests, buff the veneer right up again. So never fear, politicians and business scions: the myth of Vancouver as some kind of laid-back hippie paradise (for rich people) persists.

Maybe this riot, like the 1994 Stanley Cup riot, the 2001 transit strike that lasted so long it produced skewed Census results, and the persistent smashing of Starbucks’ windows when they first opened on Commercial Drive, offers us a little insight into the complex social, income, and ethnic diversity of this city. These events, like the Olympics and Expo ’86 and the hundreds of festivals held here, are as much a part of the city as the Downtown Eastside and Kitsilano. The rioters, the Good Samaritans, the cleanup crew, and the internet vigilantes who have sent police thousands of pictures to help identify rioters: they are all Vancouver.


Vancouver has a lot of things going for it: beautiful scenery, coffee shops on every corner, and some fantastic local foods. But as my regular readers know, Vancouver also has undesirable characteristics: it’s ridiculously expensive, socially polarized and inward-looking. It’s also notoriously difficult for young singles to meet potential mates in this town. So when The Tyee‘s Vanessa Richmond asked, “What the heck is wrong with men in this town?” I couldn’t resist responding.

There’s a fair amount of Vancouver-bashing going on now that the Canucks have made it to their first Stanley Cup finals in 17 years. Most of the talk indicates the lukewarm attitudes the rest of Canada has towards “the most livable city in the world”.

 

“The fact is, as cities go, many Canadians view Vancouver as effete, a metropolis made up of snotty, latte swilling, cargo-shorts wearing, too-cool-for-school yuppies for whom pleasure and real estate remain their only abiding concerns.” Gary Mason, Can Canucks really be Canada’s hockey team?Globe and Mail, May 18, 2011)


“We are yuppie, expensive and shallow. Look at the place! We’d be stupid not to be yuppie, expensive and shallow. I’m writing this column in my hot tub while sipping a clever little Okanagan Pinot Gris. Life is good here.” Pete McMartin, “Dear rest of Canada, please get your own hockey team”Vancouver Sun, May 12, 2011)

 

Vancouverites know that it’s more than geography that separates them from the rest of Canada, and they’re proud of this cultural distinctness in the same way Alaskans revel in their separation from “the lower 48”. But there are specific characteristics that make it difficult for singles to hook up in VanCity (depending on what your definition of “hookup” is):

  • Strict Prohibition-era liquor laws make it more expensive to drink here and enforce earlier closing hours for Vancouver bars outside of the Granville Street club strip. When I moved here in 2005, I was shocked to discover that last call for bars and restaurants here is midnight…I mean come on, even in London, Ontario it’s 1:30am. It’s even illegal to take BC wines across the Alberta border, as a local radio reporter demonstrated recently (noted: I’m about to embark on a road trip to Calgary, so I guess we’ll have to stock up once we cross the border).
  • The weather. Canadians in Toronto and Montreal somehow manage to socialize in the rain and snow, but 8 months of rain per year literally dampens Vancouver’s social scene.
  • Urban planning. Metro Vancouver’s segmented land mass joined by precious few bridges makes socializing in the (tiny) downtown much more difficult than in other cities, where the downtown blends seamlessly into inner suburban neighbourhoods. It’s still a relatively small city (1.8 million for the entire region) and still largely suburban: people retreat to their homes after work, rather than sharing in the traditional urban pastime of after-work drinks that spill into dinner. And it’s still a relatively young city, so neighbourhoods don’t really have their own local bar/restaurant scenes. Vancouver still doesn’t feel like a vibrant urban centre.
  • Culture. Urban planner Gordon Price, quoted in Richmond’s article, notes that aloof behavior is “embedded in the cultural bedrock upon which this place was founded”. This British reserve means that men don’t approach women in bars, social hangouts, or even online dating sites: Richmond calls this “the eternal shyness of the VanCity man”.
  • Transience. Vancouver has a reputation that draws people from all over the country, and increasingly, all over the world. This creates a relatively transient population: many stay in Vancouver, but lots choose to return home when housing prices and incessant rain start to make them miserable. Many of my single friends have complained that the men they’ve dated weren’t into anything serious because they didn’t intend to stay here.

In other cities, singles aren’t hard up for hookups…how does anyone ever meet in VanCity? When I moved here for grad school, those of us from out of town quickly realized that the “townies” didn’t really socialize with us. They had their well-established networks of friends and family, and didn’t have the time or desire to add more. A classmate of mine who had moved here for work several years earlier told us how difficult it was to make friends here, and several of my friends have shared their own struggles in Vancouver’s social scene. One friend recently mentioned that her husband has had a tough time making guy friends. “You think it’s hard for women to make friends here?” she asked. “It’s ten times harder for men.” Even after living in Vancouver for six years, most of my friends are from out of town, and many from out of province. (Lest I be outed as “anti-Vancouver”, my husband and I noticed the same social phenomenon in Ottawa, where we lived for three years). This difficulty making friends in Vancouver inevitably extends to other social activities like dating.

I don’t know what the solution is any more than Richmond does; even her suggestion that women be more assertive in approaching men might be problematic in Vancouver (the men in her article are rebuffed when they approach women, so who’s to know how they would react if a woman were to make the first move?) All I can say is that Vancouver’s social scene is markedly different from Montreal’s, where waiters at restaurants flirt with every woman in sight, and Toronto’s (I dare you to find a Toronto friend who hasn’t gone out for after-work drinks in the last month).

Filipino immigrants are a rapidly growing group in many Canadian cities: there are almost half a million Filipinos in the country. In many ways, they are distinct: recent studies have highlighted their increasing dependence upon the Live-in Caregiver Program, their difficulties finding work in their occupations, and the implications of long periods of separation upon their families in Canada and the Philippines. Last year, the Vancouver Sun ran a four-part series on Filipinos in Canada, which they dubbed “The Filipino Factor”. This weekend the Globe and Mail featured a two-page spread, now that the Philippines outpaces China and India as the main source of immigrants to Canada. In my view, the distinctive patterns of Filipino immigrants make them an ideal case study that can teach us about immigrants’ integration, labour market participation and survival strategies.

As many of you know, my dissertation focuses on Filipinos’ housing and transportation choices in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), where over 170,000 Filipinos live. I’m rapidly nearing the end of my four years in the PhD programme at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning, which means I’m finishing my study and getting ready to publish my results. I have found that Filipino immigrants display a remarkable resilience in their housing and transportation choices. It’s the same resilience that is portrayed in the media: Filipinos come from a country with far less economic and political stability than Canada, and they are willing to work hard to succeed here. They do experience significant barriers to their integration, if we’re talking about the labour market. But socially, they must be one of the most integrated groups in Canada: they are very spatially dispersed and do not form ethnic enclaves. They are also experts in community-building: Filipinos have established hundreds of non-profit, community, and advocacy groups in Canadian cities. These groups help new arrivals find jobs, train for new careers, and adjust to life in Canada; they are often staffed by both paid and volunteer Filipinos. Prominent Filipino researchers Dr. Nora Angeles and Dr. Aprodicio Laquian have done research in this area; Nora is currently an Associate Professor at SCARP and Prod is a Professor Emeritus at our school.

In my own research, I have seen that Filipinos’ lower homeownership rate and higher transit commuting rate can partially be explained by their flexibility: they make practical choices depending on access to transit and the location of their workplaces, their children’s schools, shops and services. They move back and forth between owning and renting, driving and transit use, depending on changes in their families and careers. These choices mirror their experiences in the Philippines, where many lived in dense, mixed-use communities with access to transit. Of course, their choices are also shaped by structural changes in housing policy, immigration policy, and the labour market over the years.

We can’t ignore the issues faced by growing number of Filipinos who work far below their education and skill levels, or the policy shifts that have made things more difficult for recent arrivals (Dr. Phil Kelly at York University has written extensively on this subject). In the 1990s and 2000s, immigration from the Philippines increased markedly, and many of these new immigrants entered under the LCP rather than Skilled Worker or Family Class immigration categories. It will take these more recent immigrants longer to find jobs in their professions than earlier immigrants, and during this time they work long hours and have difficulty studying for recertification; many have college diplomas or university degrees from the Philippines that Canadian employers and professional associations do not recognize. However, in the face of these changes in immigration policy and the labour market, Filipinos’ resiliency strategy serves them well. Because they remain flexible and mobile in their housing and transportation decisions, they are able to adapt to changing situations, like divorce, training for a new job, or offering a room to recently-arrived family members when they arrive in Canada.

Why all the fuss about Filipinos? After all, we’re a multicultural society…why focus on one particular group? Because Filipinos have higher than average rates of education and are fluent in English, but are not able to work in their professions, which means they often have lower than average incomes. For example, over the years, Filipinos’ jobs in finance, insurance and real estate have changed to jobs in manufacturing and the service sector. Filipinos seem to be more affected by changes in immigration policy, such as the LCP. Their resiliency strategy towards housing and transportation choice may be unique. For these reasons, a case study of Filipinos may be instructive to researchers studying immigrants’ housing, settlement, and labour market patterns.

This week, I’ll be presenting my work at the National Metropolis Conference here in Vancouver. I’m looking forward to seeing other researchers in urban planning, geography and sociology who are studying how immigrants settle into Canadian cities. Metropolis Canada is part of an international network of researchers on immigration and migration, and there is also an annual conference in Europe each year. The best part is the diversity of academic researchers, community researchers, non-profit housing providers, immigrant service providers, and of course students who come to the conference to share their research and best practices on immigrant integration. I’ll never forget my first Metropolis conference last year in Montréal…let’s hope Vancouver can be as much fun!

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.

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.

I’m getting pretty tired of writing about great policies and projects that we’ve proposed in Canada, only to have to write later that the government has decided not to fund them. Toronto’s Transit City project, an ambitious attempt to link the suburban parts of the region to reliable rapid transit through the construction of eight LRT lines, is under threat. Despite being approved by the federal and provincial governments, the province is threatening to cut Transit City funding by half, decreasing the viability of the project considerably.

A map showing the proposed LRTs

I’ve written before about how complex governance is when it comes to public transit in our municipalities. Vancouver’s struggles to build the UBC rapid transit line and many Canadian municipalities’ policies to better link transit and housing are detailed in several other posts. Even when projects are approved, it’s no guarantee they will be built because we have no stable source of funding for public transit and no consistent governance structure that enables the transfer of federal or provincial funds to municipalities. Transit City originally proposed eight lines: Sheppard (14 km), Finch West (17 km), Eglington Crosstown (33km), Scarborough, Don Mills, Jane, Scarborough Malvern, and Waterfront West. The province agreed to fund the first four back in 2007: of these, three are new lines (Sheppard, Finch West, and Eglinton) and the fourth is a retrofit of the existing Scarborough RT with four new stations. The province’s proposal to cut funding in half will put the Eglinton LRT, Scarborough RT, and Finch LRT at risk: the Sheppard line is already under construction while Eglington and Finch were to break ground this year and Scarborough in 2012.

As U of T Social Work professor David Hulchanski illustrated a couple of years ago, increased incomes in the areas around the existing two subway lines make it all but impossible for lower- and middle-income people to live close to rapid transit.

Hulchanski's map showing the need for rapid transit

Hulchanski’s most recent map shows the areas which have decreased in income in the past forty years against the proposed lines: the new LRT lines would be making transit much more accessible to the rapidly-growing areas of the region (read his plea for action on ttcriders.ca). My own work with immigrants in Toronto shows that they are willing to travel long distances on infrequent public transit buses only for a short time; eventually they succumb to buying one, two, and three cars. They live further and further out because that’s where affordable housing is…little realizing their transportation costs will eat away considerably at their savings.

Last week mayor David Miller recorded a public service announcement on the subway PA system telling people to call the Premier’s office and their MPPs to oppose the Transit City cuts. Many of the local mayors are also urging their citizens to do the same. All sorts of organizations, from Toronto Environmental Alliance to the Public Transit Coalition have links to the appropriate politicians, and there is a Save Transit City site. I urge you all to call, email, write the MPPs and Premier McGuinty and if you’re in the Toronto area, pack the Council chambers this Wednesday April 21st.

It’s so rare that I see a headline on my parents’ home state of Kerala that I couldn’t resist writing about this article in the Globe and Mail. For those of you who don’t know, Kerala (pronounced CARE-ah-la, and not cur-AH-la) is a mass of contradictions. It has the highest literacy rate in India but still has arranged marriages. The population of the state is the same as that of Canada, but Kerala’s birth rate is lower that the US rate, thanks to the intense family planning advocacy that’s gone on since my parents were children in the 1950s. A relatively high quality of life is contradicted by a very low GDP. And most paradoxical, the state has a Communist history: democratically-elected Communist governments.

This last point is the key to all the others. Since 1957, the Communist party has been democratically elected and in office, either alone or working with other left wing parties. The leftist governments prioritized public services, small scale co-ops and rural land reforms, resisting rabid globalization and the corporatization of agriculture. In other words, the governments have built upon Kerala’s strengths rather than following popular, often disastrous, employment trends. Strong labour unions are also responsible: workers of all stripes go on strike regularly in Kerala, with the result that the state has some of the best working conditions in the country.

Most importantly, Kerala illustrates one of the classic postwar economic paradoxes: it has a very low GDP but excellent labour conditions, lower poverty than the rest of the country, very strong women’s rights, and excellent health outcomes. How can that be when the state governments haven’t bought into the ideas of neoliberalism, globalization and corporate agriculture? For one, the excellent public health initiatives in Kerala are a direct result of a strong, affordable, health care system that was only possible with consistent leftist governments. Ditto education, which is the key to women’s economic and social independence. State education in Kerala, including free public and high schools, mean that Kerala doesn’t have untouchables: the caste system barely exists at all in the state. It has a very low incidence of religious intolerance (Hindus killing Christians, Muslims killing Hindus, etc.) The strength of the public sector balances out the lower employment in niche areas like traditional Kerala crafts and small-scale manufacturing and production.

All is not sunshine, however: the traffic and pressure on local roads is growing by 10% each year and the rate of road accidents is the highest in India. And unemployment, particularly among youth and women, is fairly high (a handy side effect of strong labour unions and a very well-educated population). This has resulted in massive emigration of Kerala’s population to the Arabian Gulf, the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. More than 50% of Kerala’s population relies on wells for fresh water, which are still responsible for water-borne diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and hepatitis. Environmental conditions are no picnic either: Booker Prize winning author Arundati Roy (The God of Small Things), who hails from Kerala, famously donated her prize winnings to fighting the Sardar Sarovar Dam project across the Narmada river.

Nevertheless, Kerala has achieved a remarkable amount with, measurably, very little. The state is just one more example that money may not be the key to happiness after all.