from the fACTivist Fall 2009
By JOHN KOLKMAN, Research and Policy Analysis Coordinator, Edmonton Social Planning Council
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Earlier this Fall, the ESPC released the latest edition of our signature publication, Tracking the Trends. In addition to tracking trends at the City or metro level, every edition of TtT has a special area of focus. For the 2009 edition, we chose neighbourhoods as a focustaking advantage of recently released 2006 census data to take a detailed look at social well-being at the neighbourhood level (which is only possible every five years).
More importantly, this area of focus was chosen because neighbourhoods matter. Like many Edmontonians, Im very passionate about my neighbourhood. Im also passionate about the importance of neighbourhoods to the well-being of large cities like Edmonton.
Edmonton is a city with a history of citizen involvement with their neighbourhoods. This is best exemplified by the Edmontons community leagues, one of North Americas oldest and most active volunteer-based groups organized at the neighbourhood level. (See page 3 & 9 for more on Edmontons community leagues.)
Theres an old saying about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link. Thats true of cities as well. Cities are only as strong as their most vulnerable neighbourhoods. The greatest disparities in socio-economic status are not between cities or provinces in Canada, but between neighbourhoods in the same cities. Some of Edmontons highest and lowest income neighbourhoods are located mere kilometers apart. Yet they are separated by vast differences in income, wealth, housing quality, and educational and economic opportunity.
Ranking neighbourhoods in terms of well-being is not without risk. A major risk is trying to make sure reports like Tracking the Trends dont further stigmatize already vulnerable neighbourhoods. The Edmonton Police Services neighbourhood crime mapping tool has faced some criticism for this very reason.
But lets not kid ourselves. Many Edmontonians already have strong views about which neighbourhoods are desirable places to live and which are not. As a resident of a low income neighbourhood for over 30 years, I sometimes get the surprised reaction, You live there!, when a casual conversation gets around to the topic of where in the City I live. Publications like Tracking the Trends make sure perceptions about neighbourhoods are rooted in fact rather than conjecture.
Tracking the Trends examines neighbourhood well-being across the following dimensions: low income measured by household; low income measured by family; average household income; change in average household income over the past 20 years; housing tenure; and unemployment. Using these data dimensions, a neighbourhood vulnerability index was created. One in ten Edmonton neighbourhoods, 23 in total, received a most vulnerable rating.
Fourteen of the 23 most vulnerable neighbourhoods are located in north central Edmonton, and in the mature areas of northeast Edmonton. There are also clusters of most vulnerable neighbourhoods in the old Jasper Place area, in the Callingwood area, and in the older neighbourhoods of Millwoods. These neighbourhoods had significantly above average poverty and unemployment rates, and below average incomes and rates of homeownership.
One of the more interesting trends we measured is how Edmonton neighbourhoods have changed over the past 20 years in terms of household income. Between 1986 and 2006 there has been a significant migration of higher income households from older neighbourhoods to newer neighbourhoods at the edge of the City. Neighbourhoods built before the 1980s tended to have a mix on incomes and housing types. However, federal and provincial governments withdrew funding to build new affordable housing starting in the late 1980s. This likely contributed to the trend of housing only affordable to households with higher incomes being built in newer neighbourhoods.
Since 1986, four out of five older neighbourhoods experienced declines in average household incomes relative to the City average. All lower income neighbourhoods and most higher income older neighbourhoods lost ground compared to the City average. The exceptions to this trend of declining household incomes are neighbourhoods located in the river valley or adjacent to the river valley and ravines.
There is also little evidence in Edmonton of gentrificationa process whereby higher income residents displace low income residents from central neighbourhoodsas has been observed in cities like Toronto and Vancouver. A greater challenge in Edmonton is to ensure a better mix of incomes and housing types in older low income neighbourhoods to prevent poverty and deprivation from becoming too deeply entrenched in certain areas of the City.
Tracking the Trends also found growing disparity between Edmonton lowest and highest income neighbourhoods. As measured by average household income, the poorest 10% of neighbourhoods have steadily lost ground to the wealthiest 10% of neighbourhoods between 1986 to 2006.
As a McCauley resident for thirty plus years, I can attest that lower income neighbourhoods can have many great qualities. Housing is more affordable. Public transit service is better. There is a mature urban forest. Commercial areas have unique shops and restaurants (often ethnic) and a large proportion of independent stores and businesses. Recreation facilities and schools are often located nearby. The grid system of streets makes older neighbourhoods more easily navigable for walkers and bikers.
Any neighbourhood can be great. Some neighbourhoods just need a bit more help than others. Tracking neighbourhood trends can help decision makers direct more resources to more vulnerable neighbourhoods to assist them in their revitalization efforts.
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