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.

A couple of years ago, when I presented the results of my Masters thesis on the social travel patterns of youth and young adults to TransLink, I got some mixed reactions. On one hand, the younger transit planners in the room nodded and understood the changing travel patterns, with more young people choosing to remain car-free. On the other hand, the older planners expressed surprise that young people were continuing to use transit, walking, and cycling well into their 30s: given my small sample size, they thought my study only reflected real transit junkies and that the trends did not reflect trends in the general population. I’m pleased to say there are now a number of other studies out there that confirm my results that young people really do have different transportation preferences, and not just because they can’t afford to own cars.

A recent article in the LA Times portrays the younger generation as increasingly anti-car. JD Power and Associates conducted a study of hundreds of thousands of “conversations” on car-related sites, personal blogs and sites like Twitter and Facebook in order to get a sense of teens’ (12-18) and young adults’ (22-28) perceptions of cars. According to the market research firm, the reasons are only partly economic. They also found that social networking sites may be relieving the need for young people to physically meet up with friends and socialize, decreasing the need to travel. They found that young people generally had negative perceptions about the auto industry (not surprising considering the fall of the Big Three automakers and the failure to address cleaner-burning engines).

This is no news to most of us in planning, but Elizabeth Caitlin Cooper’s recent study of SFU students is definitely food for thought. Cooper’s study found that young adults who had used a U-Pass during their time as students were much more likely to be regular transit riders after they had graduated. Her thesis, “Creating a Transit Generation”, was featured on the front page of the Georgia Straight in August. Yuri Kagema wrote about decreased car use among Japanese youth in the Oregon Business News earlier this year. Car manufacturers are naturally concerned at this turn of events (the LA Times article appeared in the “car” section of their newspaper) but the news from the US, Japan, and Canada seems to indicate changing trends.

It’s definitely time to reconsider the notion that car ownership is a mark of adulthood, and that everyone automatically switches to driving when they turn 16 (particularly with graduated licensing these days!) I will be taking a deeper look at youth and young adults’ transportation trends in Canada’s 10 largest Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) in the December issue of Plan Canada, so stay tuned all you planners out there.

Many researchers are concerned about ethnic concentrations in our cities, particularly in the US. Researcher Rich Benjamin’s latest book Searching for Whitopia: an Improbable Journey into the Heart of White America, examines why the fastest-growing areas in the US are also the whitest. He defines “whitopias” as areas that are over 75% white, and for the book he focused on places with a higher than 6% growth rate since 2000. The idea was also raised by Bill Bishop, who wrote The Big Sort (2008) which documents the trend for Americans to live in increasingly homogenous communities where everyone has the same religious and political values. Both authors agree that this is bad for Americans; Bishop’s book is subtitled “Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart.” It seems like Richard Sennett was right after all.

Decades ago in The Uses of Disorder (1970) Sennett argued that suburbs were a fascist social control that created a more intolerant society, one that was more individual-based rather than community-based. He wrote that suburbs tended to exacerbate the natural inclination of people to associate with others with similar values, even banding together to exclude people of different cultures and religions.

In the US, Bishop and Booth write that the roots for this type of voluntary segregation can be seen in the 1960s, when the courts demanded integration of African Americans and “white flight” first began. Recently, minorities are increasing in the inner suburbs fairly close to city centers, spurring whites to flee to exurban areas, which can be over an hour from the city. Benjamin says that many of these are older white Americans who fear an increasing role of government and a loss of power in the face of demographic shifts. Older whites traditionally have more political power because they are more likely to vote, but as of 2042 whites will no longer be the majority in the US.

Echoing Sennett, both Bishop and Benjamin argue that segregation into class-based, race-based neighbourhood leads to more clashes between groups, as each becomes entrenched in its own position and values. Bishop writes that this type of stalemate leads to some innovative policy at the metropolitan and state levels, but a lack of transformative change in the US.

The argument is very interesting from a Canadian viewpoint, where many of our suburban areas are very mixed because of our consistently high immigration rates. Unfortunately, no author has taken on a book-length discussion on growth rates and ethnicity in Canadian cities, but there is plenty of statistical evidence that shows Canada moving in a very different direction than the US. In Metro Vancouver, suburban municipality Port Moody had the highest growth rate in the region, followed by Surrey. Richmond and Vancouver had much lower rates but are still around 6%.

Metro Vancouver Growth RatesImmigration landings confirm that the vast majority of these immigrants have come from Asia, particularly mainland China and Hong Kong. Statistics Canada Community Profiles show that the proportion of immigrants is significant even in traditionally “whiter” mid-sized cities: 20% of Victoria’s population is foreign-born, as is 21% of London’s and 15% of Kelowna’s. However, visible minorities make up only 12% of Victoria’s population, 14% of the population in London and 6% in Kelowna.

Despite the mixture of ethnic groups in Canadian suburbs, the tendency towards locating among people with similar values can clearly be seen in Canadian elections. Cities emerge as islands of Liberal and NDP support in a country that has had a Conservative minority government since 2006. Have a look at southern Ontario or Vancouver in the 2008 federal election. Even Vancouver’s municipal election results show sharp dividing lines between those supporting Gregor Robertson for mayor versus Peter Ladner. Some even argue that the periodic redrawing of census tracts is linked to political agendas, but given the housing affordability crisis in most Canadian cities, it seems that the political and ethnocultural trends is less tied to cultural preferences than the geography of affordable housing.

At any rate, there are some obvious differences between Canadian and American cities, notably in the spatial concentration of ethnic populations and the absence of sharp ethnic divides. While Bishop and Benjamin trace this to civil rights era, the issue clearly goes further back to a history of slavery in the US. Canada, while having its own history of racist legislation, does not have as long of a history of non-white settlement. The Immigration Act of 1952 was the first to allow people from non-European countries to enter the country, and by that time there were fewer legal restrictions to owning land and buying property. By 1967, with another major shift in the Immigration Act, a new wave of non-white immigrants entered the country. However, they were never faced with legal barriers to homeownership or the labour market, two considerable barriers for African Americans in the US that remain entrenched today. Earlier non-white populations in Canada, notably Sikhs and Chinese in British Columbia, faced much harsher restrictions and still have the highest rates of segregation in the country today. These differences in immigration and labour market policy mean that our segregation rates are much lower than those seen in the US, yet another reason to think twice before applying American theory and reality to our own cities.

Benjamin’s and Bishop’s books do make us think about the fractured populace living just south of the border, and urge us to do more to help new immigrants integrate into their lives in Canada. Every time I travel to the US for a conference and listen to researchers documenting entrenched segregation, labour market barriers, and the “racial” biases unearthed during the mortgage crisis, I am reminded how different our countries are. This is particularly significant in my own research with immigrants in Toronto, which has introduced me to the work of many brilliant Canadian researchers and opened my eyes to our lower spatial segregation rates and more mixed neighbourhoods. However, I am also reminded of how much work still lies ahead for Canadians in recognizing immigrants’ foreign credentials, ensuring greater income equity, and promoting more tolerance in the workplace. We also need to recognize that sharp divides in tenure, such as the growth of luxury condominiums in neighbourhoods next to predominantly rental and low-income housing, can foster critical differences in political affiliation. As Sennett argued almost 40 years ago, the more isolated we are the more intolerant we become.

For the past few years there has been a remarkable amount of research looking at immigrant settlement patterns in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. While these articles rely upon the latest data from the 2006 Census, they are informed by models of urban growth and change that are decades old. This, and their American origins, may influence their application to Canadian cities.

A recent example of the media coverage of immigrant settlement patterns is Doug Sanders article in The Globe and Mail (Are poor ‘ethnic’ areas cages?, February 28, 2009). Sanders asks whether areas with high immigrant concentrations are ethnic ghettos, “where people are trapped in a culturally isolated island of poverty and permanent segregation” or ethnic enclaves, “where people choose to live among fellow immigrants in order to forge ties to the new country, launch small businesses and help one another become members of Canadian society so that their kids can live elsewhere.” Sanders criticizes other writers who have implied that Canadian cities are becoming increasingly polarized and segregated. He also points out that many groups who have more segregated residential patterns are wealthy, such as the Jewish and Italian populations in Toronto.

Although Sanders never mentions them, long-standing theories about how cities grow and change underlie his article. The four most important are the concentric growth model (Charles Booth, 1902), the spatial assimilation model (E.W. Burgess, 1925), the housing career model, and the spatial mismatch model (John F. Kain, 1969).

The concentric growth model is by far the oldest; in fact, Booth was merely the first modern scholar to write about concentric patterns in cities. Burgess further developed the concentric model, arguing that socio-economic status increased towards the edges of the city. Concentric zones were the financial and office district, central retail district, wholesale and light manufacturing zone, heavy manufacturing zone, zone of workingmens’ homes, residential zone, and commuter zone. In 1920s Chicago, when Burgess was writing, the poorest areas of the city were next to manufacturing districts, while the wealthiest were located in rail and streetcar suburbs on the edge of the city. Chicago’s ethnic groups (main Italian, Chinese, and African American) lived in the workingmens’ zone. It was Burgess’ assumption that since the periphery of the city was the most desirable area to live, immigrants would eventually move outward as their socioeconomic status increased (the spatial assimilation model). Although the two models were criticized and found inaccurate only a decade later in Homer Hoyt’s 1939 study of 142 American cities, they have remained remarkably influential.

The housing career model is one of the most commonly used in research dealing with immigrants’ settlement patterns. It likely originated with the Federal Housing Administration (US) and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation early in the postwar era. Home ownership was then considered more stable and socially acceptable than renting; housing also quickly became a valuable consumer product in the late 1940s. The housing career model is based upon the idealized human life cycle, which includes pre-child, childearing, childrearing and launching, post-child, and later life stages. The model is linear and progressive; families are assumed to move towards single family home ownership and then to downsize as they get older. The model is used extensively in economic and housing forecasts, and in municipal planning documents.

The spatial mismatch model was developed by John F. Kain. In his view, a major reason behind spatial mismatch was the segregation of African Americans due to housing market discrimination. As cities grew and employers increasingly located in the suburbs, African Americans were unable to move to suburban housing, and in many cases unable to travel to suburban settings due to low car ownership. This resulted in longer commute distances and decreased labour market participation for African Americans.

Interestingly, these models were all (perhaps with the exception of housing career) created in the American context. While Canadian culture is similar, there are a number of marked differences between Canadian and American cities. First and foremost, Canada’s population is concentrated in very few large cites, and a good number of mid-sized ones. Toronto (5.1 million), Montreal (3.6 million), and Vancouver (2.1 million) are the Big Three. Following them are Ottawa-Gatineau (1.1 million), Calgary (1.1 million), Edmonton (715,500), Winnipeg (694,600), and Hamilton (692,900). Sixty percent of immigrants settle in the Big Three; the vast majority end up in Toronto (over 40%). Almost half (2.2 million) of Toronto’s population are immigrants.

Secondly, even back in the 1970s, researchers remarked that Toronto did not have a “race problem”. This is not to deny the racism faced by Chinese and South Asian Canadians a century ago, nor that faced by the Jewish and Italian communities until the 1960s (in fact, these four groups are still among the most segregated in Canadian cities). However, Canadian cities are devoid of the large swathes of inner city segregation common to many American cities. University of Toronto researchers Alan Walks and Larry Bourne studied residential segregation in all 27 Canadian Census Metropolitan Areas. While largest cities had the highest proportion of segregated neighbourhoods, there were no ghettos (which were classified as census tracts having at least 70% minority residents, 66% from one single ethnic group and at least 30% of ethnic group members living in such neighbourhoods). Although some groups were segregated, none approached the level of segregation experienced by African Americans in the US. Further, Walks and Bourne found that residential segregation decreased from 1991-2001, but many visible minority groups were moving into areas with high proportions of other visible minorities. The researchers linked this to the availability of low-rent apartment housing and increasing affordability problems among new immigrants. Other researchers have found that rising rates of segregation are in fact due to the fact that a commonly-used method, the Index of Segregation, measures the extent to which minority group members are exposed only to one another in their neighbourhood. As Canadian cities become more diverse, this likelihood increases, resulting in higher rates of segregation.

These differences between Canadian and American cities are crucial. In addition to this are trends common in postindustrial cities. Toronto and Vancouver in particular have tight housing markets and competitive rents. Combined with structural changes like immigration policy and economic restructuring, immigrants cannot possibly settle in Canadian cities following the concentric pattern established in the interwar period in the US. Numerous articles have explored the causes behind immigrants’ settlement directly in suburban areas in these two cities (see ‘Immigrants prefer suburbs to living in core areas’, Globe and Mail, March 31, 2008). Some, like Anthony Reinhart, imply that while the housing career model is incorrect here (immigrants are settling directly in single-family housing rather than transitioning into it gradually) the core principles of spatial assimilation are intact (immigrants are choosing the most desirable housing location). But in a city with high housing prices and high rents, are immigrants choosing the most desirable housing, or simply the most affordable? Are they, in fact, ‘choosing’ at all, when inner city neighbourhoods are increasingly dominated by luxury condos beyond their means? This remains to be seen.

Finally, should these models continue to drive our planning practices? For example, is it acceptable that the most desirable areas to live in are at the edge of the city? Is this true in today’s postmodern city with a strong demand for urban loft living? Should we focus housing policy on homeownership, at the expense of rental housing, co-operatives and other tenure types? When the average family cannot afford a home in Toronto or Vancouver, perhaps it is time for policy shift. In our multicultural country, is it acceptable that we expect immigrants to integrate into suburban neighbourhoods with the Canadian-born? Or have we finally accepted the idea that ethnic neighbourhoods and mixed neighbourhoods can co-exist? The media storm on this issue indicates that we have not.