Comment 36146

By Tammany (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2009 at 12:35:28

I question how economically and socially integrated Toronto really is.

Do poor people and rich people co-exist in a meaningful sense in the same neighbourhoods? Almost invariably no.

The poor in downtown Toronto are severely marginalized, pushed into a number of undesirable enclaves like Jarvis, Moss Park, St. James Town, etc. Even some of these areas are being "reclaimed" by the middle classes (note the recent construction of condos and townhomes on and around Jarvis for example).

Why is this?

Middle class (and above) people are uncomfortable in areas which they do not firmly regard as being their own territory. You may have panhandlers on Bloor Street, in Yorkville and in the Annex, but middle class people don't feel uncomfortable in these areas because they regard them as their own. They know that they outnumber the poor people, that the poor people are the ones who "don't belong". On the other hand, put an average middle class person in an area in which they are heavily outnumbered by the poor and they will instantly become anxious and uncomfortable, even if the poor people don't realistically pose any sort of physical threat.

(Of course some middle class people are more "avant garde" and can overcome the anxiety associated with residing in lower class neighbourhoods. These are the people who stake out enclaves in such neighbourhoods, eventually, in some cases, causing those neighbourhoods to gentrify entirely.)

I think this fact largely explains why downtown has struggled so hard to develop. Middle class people regard it as alien territory. It doesn't belong to them because they are manifestly outnumbered by the "other", compounded and emphasized by the fact that most of the visible facilities (the retail, the social services, etc.) are all geared towards the other. And while the "others" might not in reality be dangerous, middle class people are nevertheless intimidated by their presence, and will tend to see them in a threatening and derisory light - hence Lorne's remarks about "young punks with tatooed necks", panhandlers, drug dealers, etc.

This is not going to change by preaching to people about social and economic diversity. Average middle class people - for the most part - are never going to want to live (or even work and shop) in an area full of poor people. It just won't happen. They will tolerate the presence of the "other" but only if that presence is a marginal one (e.g. the occasional panhandler on the corner). If that presence is anything more than marginal, they will feel threatened, anxious, uncomfortable, and they will want to leave as quickly as they possibly can.

Saving downtown, in the way most people on this site talk about it, means giving it back to middle class people. It also necessarily means taking it away from the poor.

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