Research Agenda

Neighbourhoods are becoming the new fault line of social isolation and spatial separation. 

Can neighbourhood interventions help achieve greater social inclusion?

Cities are becoming increasingly segregated spatially on the basis of socio-economic and ethno-cultural divisions.

In their book on urban trends in globalizing cities fifteen years ago, Marcuse & van Kempen (2000) warned that we can expect to see:

  • strengthened structural spatial divisions among the quarters of the city, with increased inequality and sharper lines of division among them;
  • wealthy quarters, housing those directly benefiting from increased glo­balization, and the quarters of the professionals, managers, and techni­cians that serve them, growing in size; …
  • quarters of those excluded from the globalizing economy, with their residents more and more isolated and walled in; …
  • continuing formation of immigrant enclaves of lower-paid workers; …
  • ghettoization of the excluded” (p. 272).

We are starting to see some of the effects of these trends.

Recent urban riots in England, Sweden, and France have illustrated what happens when poor households concentrate in certain districts where social, educational, and job opportunities are scarce. Such riots and looting may not be isolated local events, but rather signs of wider societal failures that impact on local neighbourhoods. These failures have been highlighted recently by the rapid spread of Occupy Wall Street–like demonstrations in cities around the world. It is becoming clear that the pattern of concentrated urban advantage and disadvantage can affect the life chances of urban residents in terms of health, education, and employment and contribute to political and economic instability.

Little is known about how these trends fit the Canadian context, although recent long-term analysis of neighbourhoods in Toronto (Hulchanski, 2010) has established that Canada is not immune to growing socio-spatial inequalities. Systematic quantitative and qualitative research on inequalities in Canada’s major cities in comparison with selected cities in other countries is needed to expand and deepen this analysis to include the diversity of the Canadian urban experience, especially at the neighbourhood level.

The Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership will examine the nature, causes, and consequences of inequality and socio-spatial exclusion in six major Canadian census metropolitan areas (CMAs), using longitudinal data on their neighbourhoods spanning 40 years: Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montréal, and Halifax. In 2006 these urban regions had a combined population of 14 million (44% of Canada). Between 2001 and 2006, they received 80% of Canada’s immigrants and accounted for 70% of Canada’s population growth. Our research, however, requires that we break down these aggregate statistics to identify local processes, variations, and responses.

Working with local community partners in all six metropolitan areas, we aim to identify and analyse changes in the socioeconomic status, ethno-cultural composition, and spatial outcomes of neighbourhoods in the six urban areas. We will identify similarities and differences among neighbourhoods; seek explanations for the observed changes, and identify implications for economic integration, social cohesion, equity, and quality of life that will contribute to the international literature on divided cities. Finally, we will propose policy and program responses to address and overcome inequalities. Taking a participatory and community-based approach to the research will not only contribute valuable insights, but will also help develop community capacity to address and perhaps reduce future socio-spatial inequities.

Spatial analysis makes it possible to analyse social trends and emerging issues at the neighbourhood level, and isolate factors and interactions that contribute to change. Community-university collaborations also offer a way to address the impacts of socio-spatial inequality.

Our research partnership brings together a team to tackle two major substantive policy challenges:

  • a research challenge about identifying the trajectories, causes, and consequences of neighbourhood trends, and
  • a policy challenge about responding to social change at the neighbourhood level.

Projects such as this face a number of methodological challenges about how to best undertake the research. For example, what are the most appropriate and insightful methods of research on neighbourhood trends, processes, consequences, and policies? Which variables are the most useful in identifying trends? How can we engage local partners and neighbourhood residents in the research? These will be addressed at the beginning of the project and reconsidered throughout.

 The research will enhance our understanding of contemporary inequalities in Canadian cities, thereby improving the potential for effective policy development and program implementation by civil society actors and all levels of government. The 40-year study period will provide a foundation for research and policy analysis long into the future. This research will position Canadian researchers as global leaders in identifying, understanding, and addressing issues of inequality, diversity, and change in our urbanized world. More broadly, the research will contribute to a public debate about social and economic inequalities in Canadian cities and their implications, and how public policies and decisions affect spatial inequalities.