NEWS: TORONTO MIDDLE-CLASS NEIGHBOURHOODS SHRINKING

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You may recall the significant influence that Professor David Hulchanski had on our HIGHRISE thinking. His groundbreaking 2007 research was called The Three Cities within Toronto.

Using census data from 1970-2000, Hulchanski concluded that, despite its claim to being one of the most diverse cities in the world, Toronto was no longer a city of one, but had become a city of 3 neighbourhoods, divided by  income, race and other factors. He showed that City 1 is 84% white, average household income $173,000/year. City 2 is 65% white, average household income $72,000/year. City 3 is 34% white, average household income $59,000/year.

Hulchanski proved that the city’s poverty had drifted to the peripheries of the city.

Now, just last week, he has released a new important update that concludes “If current trends continue, the City of Toronto will eventually be sharply divided into a city of wealthy neighbourhoods and poor neighbourhoods with very few middle- income neighbourhoods.”

Effectively, by 2025 , City 2 will shrink down to make up only 10% of the city, City 3 will take over 60%, leaving 30% to City 1, according to the new report.

A city of three distinct types of neighbourhoods, will become a city of two. The rich and the poor.

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A front page story about the report in Canada’s leading newpaper, The Globe and Mail, says “Toronto, a predominantly middle-class metropolis just three decades ago, is increasingly dominated by two opposite populations – one with an average income of $88,400, and another of $26,900. These two groups live in different neighbourhoods, work in different sectors, send their children to different schools and have divergent and unequal access to city services and public transit.”

But Hulchanski also argues that these changes are not inevitable.

The solution? Tower Renewal.

According to the report, “The segregation of the city by income is not inevitable or irreversible. These trends could be slowed or reversed by public policies that would make housing more affordable to low-income households, by efforts to expand access to transit and services in neighbourhoods where the need is greatest, and by renewing the aging high-rise neighbourhoods scattered throughout City #3.”

Via email, Hulchanski told me “It is in the 40% of the city where neighbourhoods have been steadily declining in average individual income and socio-economic status that half of all rental housing is in the now 40 and 50 year old towers. The research by our team adds a huge amount of evidence supporting the conclusion that a major tower renewal initiative is the most important way to not only improve the lives of so many lower income renters but to improve the quality of their neighbourhoods. The Three Cities Within Toronto report draws attention to the steady decline in 40% of the city’s neighbourhoods. There are many large and small actions that will reverse the negative trends leading to an increasingly divided city but tower renewal is the most important.

I also asked him about how his research fits into global predictions of a shrinking middle class. He said “Though many people still call themselves “middle class,” all evidence about growing inequality, the ever widening income and wealth gap between rich and poor, a process that began in the 1980s, points out that the “middle” has virtually disappeared. The middle income group can be defined, as it is in our report. We show how this group was indeed a majority in the 1970s (66% of the City’s neighbourhoods) but is now a minority (29%) and only a small and declining plurality in the outer suburbs (from 86% to 61%). This is a trend that is most pronounced in Anglo-American countries, where the income gap is much larger than in most of the Western European countries. There is a great deal of populist resentment because the majority believes they are “middle class” yet they cannot live a middle class life style. They cannot afford the expected or assumed middle class package of goods and services because they are, on average, much lower income in real terms than ten and twenty years ago. In addition, many of the goods and services provided by or subsidized by the state have been cut back or eliminated.”

It’s a stark picture for Canada’s largest city and it’s remarkable research, the kind that should be done in urban areas around the world, to address our (mis)understandings of the places we live.


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