In 2010, David Hulchanski published The Three Cities within Toronto: Income Polarization among Toronto’s Neighbourhoods, 1970-2005, which used census data to analyze the average income changes over three decades in Toronto neighbourhoods. That research showed that those Toronto neighbourhoods located downtown and along the subway lines saw average incomes rise much more rapidly than the city average, while neighbourhoods at the north and west side of the city saw average incomes fall in comparison both of their past and to the city average. A third set of neighbourhoods remained relative stable.
Hulchanski’s “three cities” analysis proved to be an important tool for measuring both inequality and the effects of inequality in an urban setting.
“The segregation of the city by income is not inevitable or irreversible,” he wrote. “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 [i.e., those areas of Toronto that are struggling to keep up].”
In the wake of the Toronto report, Hulchanski and other researchers have found similar “three city” divisions in Montreal and Vancouver.
Last week, a group of anthropologists at Dalhousie University published a “three cities” analysis of Halifax, Neighbourhood Change in Halifax Regional Municipality, 1970 to 2010: Applying the “Three Cities” Model.
The broad take-away from their research is that in Halifax income inequality doesn’t express itself geographically to as large a degree as it does in Canada’s larger cities. In fact, Halifax has seen a broad “middling” effect, and over the last four decades a slightly larger number of people are living in neighbourhoods that fall within 20 percent of the city’s average income.
But that apparent good news comes with a caveat: the researchers think the census tract-level of analysis is simply too big to get an accurate picture of what’s happening in smaller cities. Co-author Martha Radice has coined the phrase “polarized adjacencies” to describe some Halifax neighbourhoods, such as the north end, which can see very low income people living a block or two over from very high income people. By comparison, areas within census tracts in Toronto are much more homogeneous.
“One ramification is we should ask, When is it appropriate to use census tracts to make policy?” says co-author Howard Ramos. “Unfortunately, policy makers over-rely on census tracts. Our detailed analysis shows that census tracts don’t work.”
Another problem is that the exact geographic boundaries of the census tracts, especially in fast-growing outlying areas, have changed dramatically.
Still, the research shows that there have been dramatic changes in Halifax neighbourhoods. As with other cities, Halifax’s first-ring suburbs — Fairview, Spryfield, and North Dartmouth — have seen the greatest average drop in average income. But unlike in larger cities, Halifax has pockets of such neighbourhoods in the urban core and elsewhere.
On the upper end of the income spectrum, the south end and Bedford have seen rapid increases in income relative to the city’s average.
The analysis also shows that Halifax isn’t inundated with the very wealthy, the so-called 1%. “The super-rich have left Halifax,” says Ramos. “There are fewer super-rich living in Halifax now than there were in 1970.” That may lead to increased social cohesion, but “if we’re becoming all-poor, that’s not a good thing either.”
Even with rather flat income polarization in Halifax, social polarization still matters to people, says Ramos. “In Toronto, it’s the minimum wage workers versus the millionaires. In Halifax, it’s the minimum wage workers versus people with a decent job.”
Ramos acknowledges that census tract analysis doesn’t tell us how particular people are experiencing income inequality. And, he says, income is just one factor to explore. Later this summer his group will be publishing more papers giving finer detail to the research; he’s embargoed the exact subject of those papers, but he does mention two issues that concern him. First is the social and cultural differences that play out in Halifax’s neighbourhoods as experienced by, for instance, immigrants and African Nova Scotians. Second is rise of the French speaking neighbourhood around the french school.