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.