Toronto: 3 Cities in More Than One Way

Publication, Housing Affordability, Steve Lafleur

The issue of income disparity in Toronto has once again been brought into the public eye in a December 15, 2010, report by University of Toronto Professor David Hulchanski. The report, The Three Cities Within Toronto, points to a growing disparity in incomes between Downtown Toronto, the inner suburbs, and the outer suburbs of the city. The report demonstrates that between 1970 and 2005 the residents of the once prosperous outer suburbs have been losing ground compared to the now wealthy downtown core. The results for the inner suburbs have been mixed.
In 1970, 66% of city neighbourhoods were considered middle income. Only 15% were considered high or very high, and 19% were low or very low. In 2005, only 29% of neighbourhoods were considered middle income. The number of high or very high income neighbourhoods rose to 19%, while low and very low income neighbourhoods made up a staggering 54% of neighbourhoods.
The news isn’t all bad. After all, the downtown core is now one of the most desirable places to live in North America, and many of the formerly low income neighbourhoods have gentrified, or are in the process of doing so. However, many of the city’s traditional suburbs have been decimated. The former cities of Etobicoke and Scarborough used to be middle class. Not so much anymore.
In real dollar terms, even the majority of the very low income areas have become wealthier. The trouble with poverty statistics is that they focus on relative poverty, rather than absolute poverty. This means that if Etobicoke’s average income doubled tomorrow, the downtown core would all of a sudden be considered poor. This is a major limitation. Toronto isn’t exactly turning into a Canadian Detroit.
The report rightly points to the need for greater mobility in the outer suburbs. Given that the most lucrative jobs are typically downtown, many young professionals and recent graduates living outside of the core need to be able to get downtown cheaply and quickly in order to build their careers. Where the report goes wrong is that it recommends stricter land use regulations, stronger rent controls, and the revival of the flawed Transit City plan that Mayor Ford vigorously campaigned against in the recent election.