Inner Suburbs

These are publications resulting from the Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership based at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Cities Centre. The research is funded by peer-reviewed grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. These grants are described on this website at the ABOUT tab.

Nowhere Else to Go: Inadequate Housing & Risk of Homelessness Among Families in Toronto’s Aging Rental Buildings

This report explores the continuum of inadequate housing, risk of homelessness, and visible homelessness among families in Toronto. Low-income families often move between different points on this continuum, and homelessness among families is more likely to be hidden than visible. Drawing upon a survey of families living in aging rental apartment buildings in Toronto’s low-income neighbourhoods, and on focus groups with parents and service providers, this study examines the relationship between housing conditions and homelessness. The findings show that large numbers of children and parents are living in precarious, unaffordable, poor-quality housing. The report recommends four key interventions that can improve families’ access to safe, stable, affordable, and suitable housing.

Emily Paradis, PhD, is Senior Research Associate, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto. An activist, researcher, advocate, and front-line service provider with women facing homelessness for 25 years, her scholarly work focuses on homelessness among women and families, human rights dimensions of homelessness and housing, community-based research and action with marginalized groups, and participatory interventions to address socio-spatial inequalities between and within urban neighbourhoods. She is Project Manager of the Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership

Research Paper 231, Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership, University of Toronto, March 2014

Funded by the Government of Canada’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada through the Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.


Dead Malls: Suburban Activism, Local Spaces, Global Logistics

An entire category of urban space, albeit hardly recognized as such, is disappearing across North America. As retail logistics globalizes and big-box power centres replace enclosed shopping malls from the postwar era, a distinct form of social infrastructure vanishes as well. ‘Dead malls’ are now a staple of North American (sub)urban landscapes, and have provoked local activism in many places. But despite popular concern for the demise of mall space, critical urban scholarship has largely sidelined the phenomenon. Much of the disjuncture between popular outcry and academic silence relates to conceptions of ‘public’ space, and specifically the gap between formal ownership and everyday spatial practice. Spatial practice often exceeds the conceptions of designers and managers, transforming malls into community space. This is particularly true in declining inner suburbs, where poor and racialized communities depend more heavily on malls for social reproduction as well as recreation and consumption. In this article we investigate the revolution in logistics that has provoked the phenomenon of ‘dead malls’ and the creative activism emerging that aims to protect mall space as ‘community space’. Taking the case of the Morningside Mall in an old suburb of Toronto, we investigate the informal claims made on mall space through everyday spatial practice and the explicit claims for community space that arise when that space is threatened. We argue that many malls have effectively become community space, and activism to prevent its loss can be understood as a form of anti-globalization practice, even if it never employs that language. Morningside Mall is a prime illustration of the conflict inherent in privatized public spaces — that despite collective voice and action the ‘public’ still had no impact on the fate of ‘their’ space. However, Morningside reveals the need to consider spatial practice beyond our preconceived notions of what goes on in spaces designed for private use. This neglected area of study signals the potential for a vast range of exploratory ethnographic revisionings of public space and spatial practices in surprising places.

The City-Suburban Cleavage in Canadian Federal Politics

Despite increasing speculation and attention, as of yet insufficient empirical research has been conducted on the possibility of a political cleavage based on differences between Canadian inner cities and suburbs. This article sheds light on the potential existence of such differences by analyzing federal elections at the level of the constituency from 1945 to 1997. Results show that city-suburban differences in federal party voting did not become significant until the 1980s, and increased after this point, with inner-city residents remaining to the left of the rest of Canada in their party preferences while suburbanites shifted increasingly to the right in their voting patterns. The results obtained from regression analysis suggest that such a divergence cannot be reduced solely to differences in social composition, housing tenure, or region, and thus confirm that it constitutes a ‘true’ political cleavage. It is argued that intra-urban geography needs to taken into account in future analyses of Canadian political behaviour.

The boundaries of suburban discontent? Urban definitions and neighbourhood political effects

Residents of city and suburban neighbourhoods have diverged in the way they vote, with inner-city dwellers preferring political parties on the left while suburbanites increasingly vote for parties on the right. Yet it is not clear whether such a division is more evident between residents of central and suburban municipalities (the jurisdictional hypothesis), or between residents of neighbourhoods differentiated by urban form and, by assumption, lifestyle (the morphological hypothesis). While there are clear reasons for the predominant reliance on municipal differences in research based in the U.S. and other countries, it is not evident that these reasons apply in the Canadian context. This article examines how urban boundaries articulate electoral differences between metropolitan residents in Canada’s three largest urban regions, using aggregate election data for federal elections between 1945 and 2000, survey data from the 2000 Canada election study and a series of indices developed by the author. It is found that while trends towards city–suburban polarization are similar regardless of the boundaries used to define the zones, in the
Canadian case the results are stronger and more significant when boundaries based on urban form (between pre-and post-war development) are employed. The implications of these results for the relationship between urban space and political values in Canadian cities are then discussed.

Inner Suburbs at Stake: Investing in Social Infrastructure in Scarborough

This report finds that some “neighbourhood strategies” are more effective than others. Drawing on a pilot study that contrasts the experiences of the Kingston?Galloway/Orton Park (KGO) priority neighbourhood, with Parkdale, a downtown community that faces similar social and economic challenges but which did not receive Priority Neighbourhood (PN) designation, the report demonstrates that how we diagnose the problems in neighbourhoods matters profoundly in how we respond. This research further suggests that there are different ways of understanding neighbourhoods active within the PN strategy. According to residents and community workers, some ways of making sense of neighbourhoods and making change in neighbourhoods are more effective and responsive than others, and this report explores these strategies and practices in some detail. It includes findings about both effective and ineffective strategies. Effective neighbourhood strategies cultivate social infrastructure. They stem from explanations for concentrated poverty that assign responsibility to government policy and economic change at the local, regional, national, and global scale. They restore investment in human services and facilities in areas that have been overlooked, but they also advocate change at scales much larger than the local in order to respond to social polarization, segregation, and the racialization of poverty. Effective strategies for neighbourhoods are tailor?made for local conditions by local communities. They are accountable and inclusive, provide meaningful skills development that responds directly to identified gaps and needs, and they explicitly address persistent inequalities such as those that are manifest along the lines of race, mental health, class, and gender.

Toronto’s Inner Suburbs: Investing in Social Infrastructure in Scarborough

Cities Centre, University of Toronto, June 2011.  Toronto’s inner suburbs are home to many poor households, including members of many racialized groups. At the same time, social services in the inner suburbs are few and far between. This study looks at one neighbourhood (Kingston-Galloway/Orton Park) in Scarborough, and its social infrastructure. Social infrastructure is not just the social services or programs available to residents of a neighbourhood, but the area’s resources and relationships, such as spaces for gathering, opportunities for learning, as well as partnerships and networks within and beyond the community level. Social infrastructure exists at the local scale, but relies on public policy, capital investment, and social networks that are not necessarily local. This report draws on the insights of residents, community workers, non-profit agencies and public sector staff who are committed to improving everyday life for people in Toronto’s low income communities.

Lovely Spaces in Unknown Places: Creative City Building in Toronto’s Inner Suburbs

Research Paper 217, March 2009, vi, 50 pp.

This report examines the applicability of a creative cities strategy to Toronto’s inner suburbs, particularly its priority neighbourhoods. The author studied two priority neighbourhoods – one in North York, the other in Scarborough – and interviewed individuals working in arts, culture and creative industries in those areas. The results demonstrate that the creative class is having a significant impact on the social, physical, economic, and cultural life of the inner suburbs and has the potential for even greater impacts in future. The author proposes a Creative City Strategy for the Inner Suburbs, to be formed through community engagement and integrated with existing creative city and strong neighbourhood agendas. This perspective would lead to a more inclusive, diverse and effective creative city vision for Toronto.