FES profs comment on redevelopment of Lawrence Heights

If mixed-income neighbourhoods are to work, such as the one proposed for Lawrence Heights, there has to be a mental shift in the way people view renters, said a professor in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, wrote InsideToronto.com Jan. 6.

“You can’t tell people the way to go is to own property,” said Roger Keil, who is also director of the University’s City Institute. “The attitude has to change. We have to move away from the thought that rental housing is for lower-class people.”

With a large revitalization project such as Lawrence Heights, Keil said the key thing to keep in mind is how to balance needs and wants.

“The housing area is dilapidated,” he said. “The need part is putting in new windows, making upgrades, but also for landlords to treat residents in housing better. Toronto has an official plan and wants to make it a denser city. The problem is the want part. Other interests that want housing in that area really drive the process. With Regent Park, the whole place was torn down in order to create change in population and change in those areas. They tear the place down, kick inhabitants out, and when shiny new buildings are built, as far as the old residents go, either the rent is too high or they feel uncomfortable living there now with the new population and new class structure. This is a given. We know this is going to happen.”

Keil noted several ways to “soften the blow” to help ensure mixed-income neighbourhoods would succeed, including a guaranteed quota of low-income housing, rental attitude changes and creation of social institutions within those communities. “The question is how to manage it and not make it into a catastrophe,” he said. “Housing is a tiny aspect. We need schools, community centres, religious institutions that support the community there so we don’t ghettoize them in the new housing. Mobility is a major issue. It needs to be built into the renovation project and that’s why things like Transit City are so important.”

Ute Lehrer, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies and member of the City Institute, said the reason why not all residents return is mainly due to cost. “To relocate costs money,” she said. “People can’t really afford relocation twice. Then there is the issue of social networks with their kids. You have to take them out of their old school, put them in a new one, and if you move back, put them back in the old school. Employment situations might have changed. They might feel uncomfortable in their new environment, rubbing shoulders with people who they have very little in common with. There needs to be subsidies and guaranteed rental space, which needs to be implemented and politically supported.”

Poverty makes us sick; it ought to make us angry, writes Fiorito

Dennis Raphael and I were walking through the neighbourhood on a chilly day, wrote columnist Joe Fiorito in the Toronto Star Jan. 7. He is a professor of health policy & management in York University’s Faculty of Health, and he is an observant guy.

Raphael did a health study in Lawrence Heights a while back. His findings show that the correlation [of poverty and poor health] is not between the couch and the potato. “People who are poor don’t have the resources to be healthy. Diabetes is three or four times more likely to occur among poor people.”

“People with life-threatening illnesses overwhelmingly say they get good health care. And most people on disability get free meds, diabetes test strips, monitors, feet and eye exams; and, overwhelmingly, they had public housing…. But even with those pluses, we found that 72 per cent of the people we surveyed couldn’t afford the food they needed to be healthy.”

He wasted no time in pointing out the irony: “The health-care system will treat you fine if you keel over, but we won’t provide you with the resources you need to avoid getting sick.”

I noted that some people seem to think that if you are fat, you are more prone to diabetes. Raphael hammered away at his original theme: “It isn’t whether you are fat, it’s whether you are poor. Countries that have low poverty rates are countries that give things like child care, tuition, decent social assistance.” These are countries where – surprise, surprise – people’s health is generally better. “But in countries like ours, where there is a good chance of being poor, you don’t get those things – you don’t get universal child care; you don’t get good, solid employment insurance.”

NFB filmmakers collaborate with York’s City Institute

Take a glimpse into someone’s life that is otherwise invisible to most, wrote The Globe and Mail Jan. 5 in a story about the groundbreaking, web-based work Out My Window, by the National Film Board of Canada, that offers glimpses of lives within housing developments.

Director Katerina Cizek and NFB producer Gerry Flahive are collaborating with academic research on how cities are changing, such as the multiyear Global Suburbanisms: governance, land, and infrastructure in the 21st century project at York University’s City Institute, which looks at how cities have inverted: The suburbs are now the lower-income peripheries and the inner city is the wealthier urban core.

Thailand’s deposed Prime Minister relaxes and waits

The challenge for any leader [in Thailand] is bridging the enormous economic and political gulf between rural Thais and the Bangkok elite, said Peter Vandergeest, geography professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and a research associate in the York Centre for Asian Research, wrote the Toronto Star Jan. 6 in an article about Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s deposed prime minister.

On air

  • James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about a request to parliament by the RCMP for an easing of disclosure rules, on CTV News Jan. 6.