Revitalization

Real v. Phony Mixed Neighbourhoods

By Ben Bull
Published January 25, 2008

More examples of crappy planning hit the press today.

First, we read about the new "mixed residential subdivision" going up on the west mountain. How, exactly, is it "mixed"? Well, it includes "single family homes, semi-detached homes and freehold townhouses" laid out across 24.3 hectares (60 acres) on Rymal Rd. east of Garth St.

Then we switch over to the Spectator to hear about another spate of school closures, this time in the Catholic board.

There's plenty to consider here, but let's start with the Mountain.

Real Mixed Neighbourhoods are Healthy

Single family homes, semi detached homes and freehold townhouses does not constitute a "mixed" neighbourhood. Mixed neighbourhoods are supposed to attract a wide demographic. Who do you think is going to flock to these new mountain homes?

Demographic indicators are broad; they are like life itself, almost infinitely diverse. Indicators include income types, employment or student status, family type and family sizes, age groups, singles, couples, able bodied, disabled, black, white, brown, yellow, blue collar and white collar - and on and on.

The primary aim of a true mixed neighbourhood is to attract as big a cross section of the world around us as possible. Why? Because it creates healthy neighbourhoods.

How does it create healthy neighbourhoods? There are lots of reasons, but I'll give you two to start with:

Community Durability

With a mixed neighbourhood, you maintain a healthy mix of children in the area and avoid school closures (see below). Without effective mixed accommodation and amenities, a neighbourhood is beholden to population migration patterns such as happened in the 1960s and '70s, when Hamilton's downtownies moved lock stock and barrel to the mountain.

The same thing happens in all cities over time. Yesterday's retirement village is tomorrow's nuclear family neighbourhood and vice versa. With a wide choice of housing options and well placed amenities, you can go a long way to insulating your neighbourhood against these expensive and unfortunate events.

Avoiding Ghettoization

Toronto's Regents Park and Flemington Park, Hamilton's North End, Yorkville - Whenever you get a concentration of one type of housing and amenities, you get a proliferation of a certain demographic. Regents Park residents are poor. Yorkvillians are rich.

In the case of Regents Park in Toronto, we know that poverty breeds hopelessness and crime. Head south of Aberdeen Avenue in Hamilton or into Yorkville in Toronto and you see the negative consequences of gentrification, where rich white folks live in delirious clusters pricing other incomes out of the area and creating an insular community detached from reality.

School Closures Reinforce Ghettoization

As neighbourhoods homogenize and the number of children at small neighbourhood schools drops, the school board can see quick profit from selling the land to home developers. This, of courrse, further reduces the neighbourhood mix.

The problem is that the process is one-way. The neighbourhood cannot gentrify again or attract new families with young children, because there's no longer a local school and there's no land left to build a new one.

Let's be clear about one thing: mixed neighbourhoods are not just about the choice of housing; they're about amenities, too. What's the proximity to transit? What's the proximity to different paying jobs? What about park space and civic services?

Bringing these various things into proximity creates healthy, sustainable neighbourhoods. Segregating them creates car-dependent single use subdivisions, reduced quality of life, and ghettoes.

Guaranteed - if you build low-end apartments next to a drug treatment centre and the central welfare office, you'll get residents to match. Same goes for three story mansions planted next to a 50 acre park. You get what you build for.

Frankly, calling single family homes, semi-detached abodes and lines and lines of row houses a "mixed neighbourhood" is just not going to cut it.

(With files from Jason Leach and Trevor Shaw)

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By Al Rathbone (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2008 at 23:40:35

Although Declining enrolement is a reason for some school closures, if i'm not mistaken the Catholic Board is consolidating schools because the current ones are two small to be efficient, by design, not because of enrolement decline.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted January 26, 2008 at 11:17:07

^perhaps, but inevitably these schools are located in poorer lower city neighbourhoods. over the years, the board has done its best to abandon the lower city for the mountain.

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By Gordie (anonymous) | Posted January 26, 2008 at 13:07:14

How come they weren't "too small to be efficient" for all the decades they've been open until now? How about all the evidence that smaller schools produce higher grades, have fewer discipline problems and have lower dropout rates than big schools? Shouldnt' that be part of whether they're efficient?

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By statius (registered) | Posted January 26, 2008 at 16:55:49

"Head south of Aberdeen Avenue in Hamilton or into Yorkville in Toronto and you see the negative consequences of gentrification, where rich white folks live in delirious clusters pricing other incomes out of the area and creating an insular community detached from reality."

This is an inaccurate representation. While Yorkville may be quite uniformly rich, it is certainly not uniformly white. In my building in Yorkville there are probably as many races, cultures and heritages represented as in Regents Park or St. James Town (alright, that's probably a bit of an exaggeration ...). Many white residents of Yorkville frequently note (to themselves of course) the seemingly disproportionate number of Yorkvilleans of Asian and middle eastern descent who have moved into the area in increasing numbers over the last decade or so. There are plenty of non-white, high-salaried people in Toronto and they like to live where the rich people live too.

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By statius (registered) | Posted January 26, 2008 at 17:04:26

In my opinion, if the Durand area were to become even more of a mixed-income area than it already is, the lower city would lose whatever ability it has to draw upper income families altogether. The south end already has too many rooming houses and low cost apartment buildings which are drastically out of scale with the neighborhood. My grandparents have lived in the Durand for over 50 years, and like so many others who have stuck it out rather than move to Ancaster, they frequently point out that the neighbourhood is a mere shadow of its former self.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted January 26, 2008 at 17:35:27

Interesting point about Yorkville Staitus. I have to say I haven't noticed the mix up there. Although I'm sure there's nothing like living in a place to get the real feel of the 'hood.

As for Durrand, I agree that getting the right mix is hard, but one reason my wife and I decided not to move to that area, when we lived in the Hammer, was because of it's overwhelming whiteness (I'm talking south of Aberdeen here). In fact, we could find very few neighbourhoods in Hamilton with a good mix of cultures. (Having said that we then went and moved to Dundas so I guess we weren't that fussed...! :) )

In truth, I think it's one thing to attract a good income and family mix by design, but's there are probably more factors than urban planning when trying to get different cultures to live together...

With respect to the two news items in the post however, I stand by the crux of my argument, the west Mountain development is not a mixed neighbourhood and the school closures are at least partly related to poor planning.

Cheers

Ben

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By statius (registered) | Posted January 26, 2008 at 17:46:21

The Durand is exceptionally white, agreed ... but then again, in comparison with Toronto, Hamilton's a very white city generally.

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By statius (registered) | Posted January 26, 2008 at 17:57:03

I think more than urban planning is required to get people of different income levels to live together too. In fact, in my experience, class solidarity often tends to overcome racial and cultural barriers, particularly on the upper end of the spectrum.

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By Leisha (anonymous) | Posted January 26, 2008 at 19:01:56

The viability of a school comes down to the number of teachable students. This means that the students have to be citizens; if they are not citizens, than other funding must be in place. There is a strict audit process to ensure that the proper procedures are maintained. There was an article in the Spectator about a year ago regarding an elementary student that was denied an education because her step-father wasn't able to afford her adoption fees.

The school funding was changed under Harris' provincial government which allowed a high ratio of students per teacher. Moreover, the school boards are no longer allowed to tax the feeder neighbourhoods. This cancelled taxing system enabled the Boards to move money from the affluent areas to the poor areas. The Boards only get money from the Ministry and must allocate it as per a special formula. There has been no word by the present government to address this situation.

The problems of the poor neighbourhoods are connected and diverse: ESL, IEPs, limited funding for EAs, challenging curriculum, liability issues, illiteracy of parents, distrust of educators, addiction, poverty, violence... This is not to say that the affluent neighbourhoods don't have these issues; they have more social resources at their disposal.

In the end, it is cheaper to bus students (regardless of the negative effects) to other schools. Teachers, EAs, custodians... are deemed obsolete along with the buildings.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted January 28, 2008 at 04:11:06

Neighbourhoods change all the time. Sometimes it's gentrification, sometimes it's the opposite.(drugs & crime) There is only so much you can do to mega-manage what we think we want. Property values rise & fall. Neighbourhoods deteriorate, or escalate in value. With gentrification comes expulsion of the poor. With expulsion of the poor often what brought wealthier people to this 'interesting, creative, diverse area' is lost. Beautiful places with real homes & buildings get 'developed' into condos, & apt. blocks when an area becomes fashionable. Then it becomes unfashionable.

A new wave of immigration starts & those people want to be with people of the same culture, language, values, so they move to one or two specific areas.

(Is it a 'ghetto' if it's the people's choice to move there? In a few decades or a generation these people will disperse into the City, the Province, the Country. But will something be lost then? Are places like Little India, or Greek Town bad? Do they lack diversity? Would it be politically incorrect to say so?)

One of my friends lives in a 'diverse area' of Toronto. The rich condos to the West, the poor people, & crime ridden areas to the East crime, & the subsidized towers in the middle. She lives in the middle & says it's like living on the Berlin Wall. Do we look at areas street by street, or as an electoral riding, or just by economics? I'd say that the area she lives in actually 3 different areas, not one diverse area. However I'm sure political spinners would like to see it as 'one successful diverse area'. It's just politics & semantics. One man's diversity is another man's ghetto. The usual deciding factor is how much $$$$$$$$ can the developers make & how much political hay can the politicians make?

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted January 28, 2008 at 10:32:24

Hey CityJoe,

Cultural clusters can be great for the city as a whole and, as I mentioned on my last post I think it is hard to plan for this. As you say, neighbourhoods evolve.

I disagree with your assertion that neighbourhoods will always be one thing or another. Measures such as: - ensuring there is a good range of family housing and a good proportion of high end and affordable housing, and - maintaining a good range of ameneties close to the area will do a lot to ensure the neighbourhood resists the fluctuations imposed on it by economic and societal trends. In Toronto they are looking at mandating a minimum number of affordable units into every condo development. It's measures like these that will bring intergration right into the heart of the neighbourhood (as opposed to the perimiters as you alluded to in your post).

You CAN encourage the creation of healthy mixed neighbourhoods through sensible 'macro' planning measures. Of course this will not create a utopia, there will always be other factors which come into play, but if we stop building massive affordable housing and detached home clusters and start integrating our neighbourhoods a little more we will see the benefits.

Cheers

Ben

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By CityJoe (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2008 at 19:16:40

Quoting Ben:


"Cultural clusters can be great for the city as a whole and, as I mentioned on my last post I think it is hard to plan for this. As you say, neighbourhoods evolve."

Yes, & often it's a lot faster than anybody can plan for.

I disagree with your assertion that neighbourhoods will always be one thing or another. Measures such as:
- ensuring there is a good range of family housing and a good proportion of high end and affordable housing, and
- maintaining a good range of ameneties close to the area
will do a lot to ensure the neighbourhood resists the fluctuations imposed on it by economic and societal trends."

What I'm saying is everyone seems to have a different definition of 'Neighbourhood' & sadly that often goes along with what makes the author of the definition appear in the best light. If you want to eliminate a problem, cut it out of the equation. What was once considered 'part of this neighbourhood' is now not part of it, & somebody else's problem. (Governments often change political boundaries, & I'm sure this works to their advantage at the ballot box. It also insures a more homogenious vote. Majority of rich, middle class, poor, or a specific ethnic group that will be predictable in their voting patterns. (Ie: Dundas, Ancaster, etc.& later Westdale was added to the riding.)

When we enter a run down neighbourhood, do you ever hear anybody say, "What this neighbourhood could use is more diversity? We need more old white rich people here!" ('Cuz we know that probably won't happen, unless gentrification happens & then, "There goes the neighbourhood!")

"In Toronto they are looking at mandating a minimum number of affordable units into every condo development. It's measures like these that will bring intergration right into the heart of the neighbourhood (as opposed to the perimiters as you alluded to in your post)."

But affordable to whom? 'Affordable' is as nebulous as 'neighbourhood', & even more negotiable. Most affordable units are not within the reach of single parents,or minimum wage earners. The developers get the last say in what to charge for these units, do they not?
(This is why developers are of no use in assistance to the very poor, & the homeless. They just keep ending up in ghettos of one sort or another, if they find adequate housing at all.)

You CAN encourage the creation of healthy mixed neighbourhoods through sensible 'macro' planning measures. Of course this will not create a utopia, there will always be other factors which come into play, but if we stop building massive affordable housing and detached home clusters and start integrating our neighbourhoods a little more we will see the benefits.

I completely agree. Most neighbourhoods begin like this until they are tampered with by time & politicians.
Massive 30 story affordable units are rediculous. Who wants to house small children in there? The elderly, or the handicapped cannot escape or cope with emergencies (fire), power or water outages. Low rise row housing is probably better for all these groups, but nobody wants to do that.

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