Gentrification: a social justice issue

Toronto’s tree-lined streets are getting a makeover. Contractors replace windows and sagging porches. Real estate signs dot elegant gardens. Gentrification makes the city a better place to live.

Or does it?

“Canadian cities are growing more unequal,” says Alan Walks, an associate professor in the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Department of Geography. “Over the last 50 years, a series of working-class neighbourhoods has been redeveloped for high-income households, and in recent times at quite rapid speeds.”

In the traditional model of gentrification, which Toronto experienced from the late 1960s through the 1980s, working-class areas are first colonized by artists, who provide the cachet that attracts tenure conversion and eventually high-income purchasers. The original inhabitants are displaced.

More recently, Walks says, gentrification has become so well established that almost any area in the inner city is fair game for speculators and higher-income individuals. The process is fueled by easy credit, which in the 2000s was driven by low interest rates and government mortgage policies.

Walks points out that gentrification involves distinct winners and losers. Municipalities encourage gentrification because it increases tax revenue. Speculators make money. Those with higher incomes have pleasant, accessible places to live. Gentrifying neighbourhoods enjoy ever-better services and more diverse retail.

That’s the winning side. Gentrification also means younger families take on higher debt to afford a house, and become involved in bidding wars that further drive up prices. Those with lower incomes find themselves priced out of inner cities entirely and compelled to live in cheaper neighbourhoods with poor transit. These newly displaced citizens can experience isolation, difficulty accessing employment and services and a lowered quality of life.

“There’s a social justice issue here: Who deserves to live in the high-accessibility, transit-friendly, walkable neighbourhood?” says Walks. “Gentrification takes those neighbourhoods away from those with fewer means, who can’t afford a car and who must rent, and hands them to the wealthy.”

To delve further into gentrification and the economic relationships between neighbourhoods, Walks turns to a concept he calls the “urban debtscape,” which examines hidden flows of debt across space and their uneven and unequal impacts. “It’s a conceptual tool that can help explain why there is decline in one neighbourhood and gentrification in another,” he says. “It shows factors such as the movement of credit and debt from areas where debt is high to those where it is lower.”

Walks says gentrification is not inevitable. locating heavy industry in the inner city and building more social housing are two important factors in maintaining a social mix in the city and providing poorer households fairer access to jobs, transit, and other inner city benefits.

“There is definitely an argument to be made for having a balanced mixed city, and this requires housing for low-income renters.”

Tagged: Community, Culture, Economy, Blog, Stories

Share: Print

Leave Comments

Blog Posts

Creating community through cuisine

Emma Drake | April 27, 2016

Food is more than a meal; it can be intrinsic to a person’s identity. But for refugees, part of their identity is challenged when they settle in countries that don’t offer foods from home. “We share culture and richness through food,” says Valencia Gaspard, a PhD student in rural studies at the University of Guelph. “Food can be used to build communities and bring people together.” Valencia is part of a team of student studying the availability of ethnocultural foods in Toronto. They will be examining how these foods are used to manifest a culture through cuisine. “Keystone ingredients, such as camel’s milk or sesame oil have great importance to the meal,” she says. “Not being able to choose what you eat is dis-empowering.” read more »

Farmers get ahead of ...

Araina Bond | April 19, 2016

Anticipating Mother Nature has always been an important part of farming. Now farmers in Northeastern Ontario can make more informed decisions using real-time data about environmental conditions, thanks to Nipissing University researchers. The Nipissing team has created an online system called GeoVisage, which uses seven weather stations throughout Northern Ontario to collect data on microclimates. That includes air and soil temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, leaf wetness and photosynthetically active radiation — that is, sunlight plants can use for photosynthesis. read more »
quinoa plants

Quinoa puts down roots ...

Jessica Shapiro | April 14, 2016

Ancient Incas considered quinoa their most sacred food. Packed with protein, vitamins and amino acids, it gave them stamina, strength and energy needed for survival. No wonder NASA has researched growing quinoa on long journeys to outer space. Despite the seed's explosion in world popularity over the past few years, including a massive increase in demand throughout North America, almost no farmers outside the Andes Mountains in South America grow it. Issues related to quality, supply, cost and importation have encouraged scientists to experiment with cultivating the crop in Ontario. At the Trent University Sustainable Agriculture Experimental Farm, Mehdi Sharifi is working with his students to make organic quinoa production viable for Ontario farmers. read more »
Larissa Barelli waters plants

Fine tuning fungi’s ...

Sharon Oosthoek | April 8, 2016

Nobody takes revenge like Mother Nature. After all, she created entomopathogenic fungi — organisms that not only kill crop pests, but offer up nutrients in the insects' bodies to the plant. "It's a cool mechanism," says University of Brock PhD biotech student Larissa Barelli who studies evolution of these fungi. "Certain species can drill through the insect's cuticle, grow within it and eat it from the inside. They can also release toxins that kill the insect. The fungi then transfers nitrogen from the insect to the plant." read more »

Trash-talking weeds stress crops

Sharon Oosthoek | April 4, 2016

Crop scientists have long known that plants can communicate with each other about their environment and make decisions about growth based on these conversations. But recent research out of the University of Guelph shows weeds can "talk" a crop plant to death. Plants trade information through chemical signals and changes in sunlight reflected off other plants growing nearby. University of Guelph plant agriculture researcher Clarence Swanton and his team showed for the first time the effect of communication between crop seedlings and nearby weeds. read more »
More Blogs »