Placing the Poor: The Ecology of Poverty in Postwar Urban Canada

Article excerpt

An emergent social science literature emphasizes the growth of pockets of poverty in Canadian cities, which, many argue, leave our most economically marginalized urbanites increasingly isolated. Exploring the ecology of poverty in 10 Canadian urban areas (Halifax, Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa-Hull, Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver) since 1961, the authors offer a more tempered view of recent changes to Canadian cities. While there has been some growth in localized poverty, the larger story is continuity over time and the residential integration of the poor. Canadian cities have long been places where a minority of the poor resides in neighbourhoods of concentrated poverty, but the large majority lives amongst neighbours of greater means. These realities, the authors argue, might fruitfully redirect approaches to urban poverty in Canada, especially by demonstrating the importance of poverty in integrated residential settings.

Un nouveau courant en sciences sociales fait ressortir l'émergence de foyers de pauvreté dans les villes canadiennes qui, selon plusieurs, contribue à l'isolation croissante des citadins les plus défavorisés sur le plan économique. Les auteurs étudient ici l'écologie de la pauvreté dans dix centres urbains du pays (Halifax, Québec, Montréal, Ottawa-Hull, Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary et Vancouver) depuis 1961 et offrent une perspective plus nuancée sur les récentes transformations qui travaillent les villes canadiennes. Malgré l'augmentation de la pauvreté localisée, il faut s'interroger sur la permanence de cet état et sur l'intégration résidentielle des pauvres. De longue date, les villes canadiennes sont des lieux où une minorité de pauvres habitent des quartiers à forte concentration de pauvreté, alors que la majorité des pauvres se mêlent à une population plus aisée. Selon les auteurs, ces constatations peuvent mener à une nouvelle façon d'étudier la pauvreté urbaine au Canada, sachant qu'elles font ressortir l'importance de la pauvreté dans des cadres résidentiels intégrés.

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Many observers of Canadian cities concur that something has recently gone awry; or perhaps that, on the basis of recent trends, something threatens to go awry very shortly. David Hulchanski (2010, 7) makes this case forcefully in a recent and much-publicized research report, observing the "surprising and disturbing" polarization of Toronto since the 1970s. Toronto, the report argues, has splintered into zones of economic inequality and social difference-indeed, the report describes the existence in Toronto of separate and unequal cities. Drawing portraits of the future, Hulchanski suggests determined policy intervention, particularly in housing and transportation, to prevent the ongoing "segregation of the city by socio-economic status" (21).

For scholars such as Hulchanski, alarm about the direction of Canadian urbanism grows in large part from the view that inequality is becoming increasingly spatialized. Indeed, if urban Canada is growing more spatially stratified by income-if differences in earnings and resources divide our cities into separate and unequal zones-then alarm is well warranted. The division of cities into exclusive territories of poverty and wealth is indisputably deleterious to healthy urban life. The history of cities in the United States, where the geography of twentieth- century inequality became interlaced with the politics of race, provides vivid examples of both the effects of the territorialization of inequality on the lives of the poor and the prospects of progressive urban policy. Twentieth-century American cities saw the spatial isolation of disproportionately poor African Americans, damaging their life chances above and beyond the experience of individual and family poverty, encouraging punitive law-and-order politics, and precipitating a withdrawal of support from public services and a decline in civic engagement (Katz, Stern, and Fader 2005; Kruse 2005; Massey and Denton 1993; Sugrue 1996; Wilson 1987). …