2005 CURA Grant


In 2005 St Christopher House and the Centre for Urban and Community Studies (now the Cities Centre) was awarded a peer reviewed $1 million applied research grant under the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s Community University Research Alliance program.

That grant allowed for the systematic organization of all publically available census data on the Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver census metropolitan areas (CMAs) from the 1971 to the 2005 census.

This database allowed us to carefully examine how censes tracts (our proxy for neighbourhoods) changed in their socio-economic status over the 35 year period.  This analysis resulted in many insights into the nature and rate of change.  An overall summary of the key trends was provided in the 2010 publication of the report:  The Three Cities Within Toronto: Income Polarization Among Toronto’s Neighbourhoods, 1970-2005.  This website provides an online interactive version of that report, as well as the ability to download a copy of it and related resources.

The following is a summary of our original 2005 research plan that was funded by the 2005-2010 CURA grant.

1. Summary of the CURA Research Initiative

The Centre for Urban and Community Studies (now Cities Centre) at the University of Toronto and St. Christopher House, a large multi-service agency in Toronto, will carry out a series of applied policy-relevant research projects using as an initial case study seven adjacent inner-city Toronto neighbourhoods in order to answer the following questions:

  • Can we preserve existing lower-income and socially and ethnically mixed, affordable neighbourhoods in the face of forces that are raising costs (particularly housing costs) and displacing or excluding certain people, businesses, and community services?
  • How can people in urban neighbourhoods successfully shape the development of their environment to create a community that is socially cohesive and inclusive?
  • What can we learn from recent and emerging community practice about effective action against negative forces and support for positive forces to ensure better outcomes?

The purpose of this research is to better understand the way in which both global and local forces affect urban neighbourhoods and to develop models that promote community engagement and help low-income communities influence public policy.

Although considerable research has been done on globalization, its causes and consequences, this thinking has not been connected to the forces and outcomes experienced in neighbourhoods and urban districts. There is also a great deal of research on neighbourhood gentrification and displacement, but very little that is policy- and program-relevant and action-oriented.

There is a need to revitalize the academic debates and, at the same time, provide policy makers and community activists with relevant and usable information, analysis, and policy options. We would also like to build further capacity in the community and among university students and academics, through collaborative, practice-oriented research.

Our research involves a case study of a well-established, mainly residential area just west of downtown Toronto, consisting of the following seven “neighbourhoods”: Dufferin Grove, Little Portugal, Niagara, Palmerston, Roncesvalles, South Parkdale, and Trinity-Bellwoods. The area has a population of 107,000 (slightly larger than Guelph, Ontario) and a median household income about 13% lower than the city average (2001 census). It is an immigrant settlement area with significant ethno-cultural diversity.

St. Christopher House (SCH) is a multi-service agency working out of six sites in west-end Toronto. For almost 100 years it has provided services to people of all ages and cultures. Its budget is funded by the United Way as well as all levels of government and several private foundations. SCH is run by approximately 80 full-time staff, 120 part-time staff, and about 800 volunteers, overseen by a board of volunteers. About 10,000 individuals and families are served each year. SCH has an established track record as an effective partner in community initiatives and coalitions, with excellent connections to all stakeholders in the community, as well as local politicians and local businesses. SCH is the lead community partner.

The Centre for Urban and Community Studies (now the Cities Centre), established in 1964, promotes and disseminates multidisciplinary research and policy analysis on urban issues. Its research associates include professors and graduate students from a dozen different disciplines and professionals from a variety of organizations. The Centre promotes the exchange of knowledge between the university and community agencies and associations. As the lead academic partner the Centre has brought together the strongest possible multi-disciplinary team of researchers, from within the UofT, from elsewhere in Canada, and a formal linkage has been established with key researchers and their institutions in the UK, US and NZ/Australia.

2. Purpose of the Research

Global and local (“glocal”) forces are dramatically changing older inner-city neighbourhoods, affecting residents, businesses, employers, and community services. In Canada’s larger cities these changes are taking place within the context of displacement, income polarization, and destitution, including homelessness.

New investment and economic change in neighbourhoods should be harnessed for the benefit of the community, the city, and the nation. Although these dynamics are not new, many aspects are new. Globalized economic, social, and cultural forces are creating pressures at the neighbourhood level, as engaged citizens and their governments seek to control the impacts and outcomes. Yet the local impacts are not well understood. Without an improved understanding of these forces, how can we “encourage and guide local development” and develop the capacity for “participatory urban management processes,” as the UN Habitat Agenda recommends?

Despite public discussion of the need for an “improved urban agenda” in Canada (Prime Minister’s Caucus Task Force on Urban Issues, 2002), the particulars of that agenda are vague. What role should urban neighbourhoods, particularly lower-income and redeveloping neighbourhoods, play in the emerging urban agenda? What can and should be done about dynamics that produce displacement and social exclusion? What are appropriate and feasible responses to pressures on lower-income neighbourhoods? Research grounded in the lived experience of households and organizations (formal and informal) in neighbourhoods undergoing dramatic change can provide the basis for positive action toward improved or new policies and programs.

Although Canada’s prosperity has benefited most households, a significant minority are worse off than before. Many urban households are also at risk of physical displacement. These households tend to be in older inner-city neighbourhoods. Most are life-long renters at a time of widespread failure to produce new rental housing. The stock of rental housing is aging, and tenants are being displaced as a result of demolition, gentrification (renovation and higher rents), and conversions to condominium ownership. Meanwhile, homeowners in these neighbourhoods are aging and asset-rich (the house) but cash-poor. High maintenance costs, utility bills, and property taxes (based on the high land values) eventually drive them out.

Although considerable research has been done on globalization, this work has not been connected to the forces and outcomes experienced in neighbourhoods and urban districts. There is no research to guide policy actors and community residents in determining what is similar to the past (e.g., gentrification and displacement) and what is different. One of the recognized failures of the vast and often insightful literature on gentrification, displacement, and social exclusion is its lack of policy and program relevance.

This research starts at the neighbourhood level, with the lived experience of lower-income people in neighbourhoods in transition. It starts with the full range of interests of businesses, social agencies, and local associations. The focus is on the way in which macro socio-economic and political environments affect people’s lives and the neighbourhoods they live in. Practitioners – from those who shape policy, to service providers, to political activists – require a better understanding of these forces in order to define appropriate courses of action, such as specific policies and programs or political action by community leaders.

3. The Study Area

Our proposed research involves a study of an older, culturally diverse, mainly residential area just west of downtown Toronto. The study area has seven neighbourhoods: Dufferin Grove, Little Portugal, Niagara, Palmerston, Roncesvalles, South Parkdale, and Trinity-Bellwoods. If this area were a municipality, it would be the 38th largest city in Canada, slightly larger than Guelph, Barrie, Saanich, Gatineau, or St. John’s.

The area has the following characteristics: a population of 107,000; a low-income population of 28,500 people (27%, which is 4% more than the city average); a disproportionate share of single-parent families and episodically homeless people; a population density about twice the city average; and a median household income about 13% lower than the city average (2001 Census).

This is a major immigrant settlement area, with a high percentage of visible minorities. The largest groups are Portuguese, Chinese, Italian, Polish, Greek, East Indian, Vietnamese, Ukrainian and Filipino. The area has a significant population of people with psychiatric problems living in lower-cost rooming and boarding houses. There is also a significant homeless population living in parks and alleys. The displacement of low-income households from this area with its well-developed community services to more distant neighbourhoods that have fewer services is a major social policy and service planning issue.

The area is under redevelopment and gentrification pressures because it is about 15 minutes from downtown in a traffic-clogged city; its mature neighbourhoods have retained much of their social and economic vitality; it has excellent access to transit; it is close to the waterfront; and it has attractive streetscapes and housing stock. Several formerly industrial zones in and near the area, including the former Massey lands and in the Parkdale Liberty area, are being redeveloped, and now provide new ownership housing that is not affordable for most local residents. A $400-million public-private partnership proposes to consolidate facilities at the Queen Street site of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in the centre of the area.

In order to understand trends in one large part of Toronto we will also study trends in the City of Toronto and the metropolitan area in general, as well as engage in initial comparative research with neighbourhood trends in Montreal and Vancouver.