12.21.2007

a tale of three cities, but why?

A story on the front page of yesterday's Globe and Mail looked at a disturbing trend in Toronto.
The economic polarization of Toronto into distinct regions of great wealth and great poverty is even sharper than anecdotal reports suggest, according to University of Toronto researchers.

Using detailed census data to chart 30 years of change at the neighbourhood level, they have created a striking and disturbing new image of the city, one in which traditional mixed-income neighbourhoods are reduced to a mere buffer between an increasingly wealthy core and increasingly impoverished suburbs.

The observation is not new, but it has never been presented with such authority or drama as it is in the new analysis, titled The Three Cities within Toronto: Income Polarization among Toronto neighbourhoods, 1970-2000.

"All this frankly surprised us," said lead author David Hulchanski, director of the university's Centre for Urban and Community Studies. "We knew there was a shift. That's not new. We didn't know how dramatic it was."

The newly mapped data "explains an awful lot about us and what's happening to us," according to Prof. Hulchanski, "and it is sad."

The most striking trend is the looming disappearance of the average, mixed-income neighbourhood that once defined Toronto.

In 1970, two-thirds of all census tracts reported individual incomes in the middle range for the city as a whole, according to the study.

By 2001, that share had dropped by a full third: Only 32 per cent of census tracts in the 21st-century city could be described as average.

Some neighbourhoods moved up, led by the once-poor but now chic "inner city" south of Bloor Street. But far more went the other way, led by former suburbs built for the vanishing average family.

In 1970, only 18 per cent of Toronto census tracts reported individual incomes between 20 and 40 per cent below the city average. By 2001, that share had more than doubled to 41 per cent.

By 2020, according to the study, there will likely be more neighbourhoods with "very high" incomes (17 per cent) than those in the middle (only 10 per cent).

Just as two-thirds of Toronto neighbourhoods were middle income in 1970, two-thirds will have low or "very low" incomes in 2020.

. . .

Contrary to expectations, the data show the same trends occurring in the outer suburbs, albeit at a slower pace. The inevitable conclusion, according to Prof. Hulchanski, is that middle-income Torontonians are not merely moving to the 905. They're disappearing.

"There always were rich and poor parts of the city, but we're seeing many, many more poor parts of the city - and in a totally different location," he said.

This data echoes what's been going on in New York City for 60+ years. The trend towards a polarized city of only rich and poor has been somewhat ameliorated in recent years by the rebirth of the outer boroughs, thanks to a new working-class immigrant population. Despite that, it's a familiar story, and a sad one when it comes to the quality of urban life.

But the Globe and Mail story, amazingly, doesn't address any causes of this trends. I thought I must have missed a jump. But no, it's not there. Just: this is happening. Not one quote or a single conjecture as to why.

I've been told (in another context) that rents in Toronto were de-regulated, and if that's true, that would be a main culprit. If Toronto has lost most of its manufacturing base, that would be a factor. If the quality of life in the city has dropped because of social-service cuts (I still hear Mike Harris's name mentioned frequently), causing middle-class flight to the suburbs, that would be a factor. Deteriorating urban schools are often a major cause of suburban flight, although I've never heard about that in relation to Toronto.

Any of these factors, and others I haven't thought of, could come into play. But reading this front-page story in "Canada's National Newspaper," you would never know.

Your thoughts are welcome.

12 comments:

James said...

One contributing factor may be the rezoning from ten years ago, which triggered the condo boom. There's a lot of new residential spaces in the city core, but they tend to be either expensive or small -- and not necessarily great for families.

L-girl said...

There's a lot of new residential spaces in the city core, but they tend to be either expensive or small -- and not necessarily great for families.

Ah, I was going to mention this! That the housing being built downtown isn't really appropriate for middle-class families, for the most part. But I didn't know it was a function of rezoning. Thanks.

James said...

Most of downtown Toronto was zoned commercial only until Barbara Hall, seeking to keep the core from hollowing out as it has in so many US cities, rezoned it as "live/work". That led to developers buying old warehouses and refurbishing them as loft condos -- The Candy Factory, The Merchandise Lofts, &c, were among the first to take advantage of that.

Once those proved viable, the new-construction condo towers started showing up, which is why the Royal York hotel is now no longer visible from most of the Islands.

Overall, I think the rezoning has been a great thing, but the management of the development, especially along the lake shore, has left a lot to be desired.

L-girl said...

Most of downtown Toronto was zoned commercial only until Barbara Hall, seeking to keep the core from hollowing out as it has in so many US cities, rezoned it as "live/work".

Oh yes, that rezoning. I did know about that, thanks to you. I didn't connect it with the overdevelopment of condos.

the management of the development, especially along the lake shore, has left a lot to be desired.

Agreed.

It really pains me that Toronto makes such poor use of its potentially beautiful lakeshore, especially in the downtown area.

impudent strumpet said...

Major problem with that article: they didn't give dollar amounts for the income brackets. So the "middle income" is disappearing, but what is middle income? Am I low, middle, or high income? I haven't the slightest idea.

Also, wasn't that a surprisingly short article? I think the text took up as much space as the big graphic on the front page. I was expecting a two-page spread in the middle of the A section from the size of the graphic, but it was probably a total of two columns

L-girl said...

Major problem with that article: they didn't give dollar amounts for the income brackets.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the online version (linked above), it defines each income bracket.

Also, wasn't that a surprisingly short article? I think the text took up as much space as the big graphic on the front page. I was expecting a two-page spread in the middle of the A section from the size of the graphic, but it was probably a total of two columns

Yes! It was mostly the graphic. I can't understand running something like this without a discussion about why this is, whether the trends are continuing, what if anything might be done to reverse it, and so forth.

impudent strumpet said...

It's behind the firewall now and my usual workaround doesn't seem to be working.

If it's the same as the information that was in pie charts beside the map in the print version, I thought that was defining the average salary of the groups whose average income had risen or fallen significantly, not what constitutes objectively high or low income. But I finally stopped being a slob and took my recycling out last night, so I don't have it any more.

L-girl said...

It's behind the firewall now and my usual workaround doesn't seem to be working.

Oops, sorry about that. I'll paste it below, emphasis mine.

****

CITY 1

Income has increased 20% or more since 1970

Population in 2001: 417,000
Percentage of city: 17%
DEMOGRAPHICS
Chinese 6%
Black 2%
South Asian 2%
White 84%
Other 6%
Average household income in 2000 $126,000

CITY 2

Income has increased or decreased less than 20%

Population in 2001: 1,035,000
Percentage of city: 42%
DEMOGRAPHICS
Chinese 9%
Black 6%
South Asian 6%
White 67%
Other 12%
Average household income in 2000 $64,5000

CITY 3

Income has decreased 20% or more since 1970

Population in 2001: 1,002,000
Percentage of city: 40%
DEMOGRAPHICS
Chinese 14%
Black 12%
South Asian 17%
White 40%
Other 17%
Average household income in 2000 $54,800

Population by income bracket*

1970 2000
Very high income 7% 13%
High income 8% 4%
Middle income 66% 32%
Low income 18% 41%
Very low income 1% 9%

Numbers may not add to 100 due to rounding

The number of middle-income households in Toronto has dropped precipitously since 1970.

SOURCE: WWW.URBANCENTRE.UTORONTO.CA

impudent strumpet said...

Strange numbers. Why is there only a $10,000 difference between the low group and the middle group, but a $60,000 difference between middle and high? Given that people do earn $30,000 or $12,000, how do they even arrive at an average of $54,000 for the low group if the average for the middle group is $64,000? It seems like any incomes that would be high enough to bring the low group's average up that high would end up in the middle group. And how is it that I'm in the low group but can comfortably afford to live in one of the better buildings in a neighbourhood that's "rich" according to the map? Either I'm missing something or there's something missing.

L-girl said...

Why is there only a $10,000 difference between the low group and the middle group, but a $60,000difference between middle and high?

I wondered that too, but I think (not sure) you may be reading it somewhat in reverse of what the researchers did. I think they looked at who moved where, and then took an average of the incomes - not divided everyone by income and then looked at their movement. Going to the source website might add more clarity.

And how is it that I'm in the low group but can comfortably afford to live in one of the better buildings in a neighbourhood that's "rich" according to the map?

I believe it's because you're single, and these are incomes for families of four.

impudent strumpet said...

Whoa, I completely missed the household of four number. That makes much better sense! I don't know what's wrong with me, I don't normally miss this much information that's right there.

L-girl said...

I don't think you missed it. I think it's in the original data but not in this article! (Which means the article is even worse than I thought, although possibly not as bad as you thought.)