UBC profs show Vancouver is becoming more financially, racially separated
// Victoria Fawkes

Vancouver is famous around the world for its diversity and incomparable cultural atmosphere. Though it’s true that Vancouver may have more ethnic variety than any other Canadian city, it’s quickly becoming more segregated than it ever has been before.

A recent study conducted by the University of British Columbia entitled Divisions and Disparities: Socio-Spatial Income Polarization in Greater Vancouver, 1970-2005 shows that segregation by race and income in Vancouver is on the rise. The study, which was released exclusively to the Huffington Post, uses census data to analyze the trends in economic and racial division over a period of 35 years.

UBC geographers David Ley and Nicholas Lynch, who carried out and authored the study’s research, agree that the inequality in Vancouver is a serious problem. Lynch, who co-authored the study with Ley, says his concerns lie with the vulnerability of more racially and financially segregated neighbourhoods: “The value of our research, and the reason why this is such a troubling issue, is that we can trace the transformation of Greater Vancouver’s income landscape across a relatively long time period, something that other research has failed to do. Based on our findings, it is increasingly clear that the region has been dividing along lines of income and race, and there is little reason at this point to suspect that it will abate in the near future,” he explains.

“We can expect that with a business-as-usual approach, the pressures on both the middleclass and recent immigrants will rise, and lead to greater disparities in the region. What this means is that at the local level, specific neighbourhoods throughout the region are falling behind adding greater vulnerability and inequality into the urban household sector,” he adds. “If nothing is done to alleviate the pressures on these neighbourhoods, then we may see that these neighbourhoods become even more geographically and socially isolated.”

According to the article in the Huffington Post, Ley and Lynch’s study used a previously created method of determining income levels, developed by David Hulchanski. Hulchanski, who is a professor on the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto, released his “Three Cities Within Toronto” report in 2010, outlining the changing geography of Toronto in terms of income. Using Hulchanski’s methods, Ley and Lynch separated Vancouver into three income categories, “City Number One”, “City Number Two”, and “City Number Three”.

City Number One accounts for 30 per cent of the total grid, and is described as upper-class residents, mostly consisting of the neighbourhoods that are located around the western side of Vancouver, such as Kitsilano and Shaughnessy, along with the entire municipalities of North and West Vancouver. These areas are those with the average highest incomes in the study. During the 35 years that the study looked at, the incomes of residents in this area enjoyed an average 15 per cent increase in their income over the average Vancouverite.

City Number Two consists of middle-class Vancouver residents. Neighbourhoods in City No. Two make up half of the city grid and their incomes are either 15 per cent above or below the average. These neighborhoods can be found scattered throughout the city, but serve as dividers between the wealthier northern and western neighborhoods and the poorer neighborhoods in the east and south, according to the researchers.

The third, and least-wealthy, of the neighborhoods is City Number Three. These neighborhoods were classified as being less than 15 per cent below Vancouver’s average income, and are mostly located in South and East Vancouver, along with Surrey. The number of immigrants residing in City No. Three has increased significantly, rising from 24 per cent to 51 per cent. Interestingly, there are no neighbourhoods on the North Shore that can be classified as City No. Three.

When analyzing the three cities, it is apparent not only that there is an economic divide, but that there is a racial element to the increased segregation as well, and that they may go hand-in-hand: “In City No. One, we have primarily people who are Canadian-born and primarily white or European origin. In City No. Three, we have primarily immigrants and primarily people of color,” explains Ley.

Additionally, Ley has noted that it’s not just racial groups that are segregated in Vancouver: “There are certain lifestyle groups who tend to be segregated. We think of Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley as something of a bible belt; we think of the West End as something of a gay area. So there’s segregation that occurs any way you want to cut up society,” says Ley.

While the trends over time show visible minorities becoming poorer, Ley notes that there is a significant amount of variation in the wealth of immigrants that come to Canada. “For example, there are very wealthy immigrants that come from China and Hong Kong, but also very poor immigrants from Vietnam, who came in the 1980s,” says Ley. The study in Toronto revealed similar trends, though there, they are even more pronounced than in Vancouver.

Toronto and Vancouver are not the only places in which studies that examine segregation have been done. According to a study released by The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research in January of this year, although there is still racial segregation in some US suburbs, residential segregation by race is the lowest it has ever been. However, it is concerning to compare Canada’s backward slide financial and racial division to the small strides made in the United States’.

However, according to Ley, there are both positive and negative aspects to this racial division: “I think if segregation occurs by choice, it can serve a useful role. Neighbourhood enclaves can provide starter jobs, and people can cope because three are others around them that speak the same language. “Segregation, I think, offers advantages,” says Ley. “However, if people are unable to leave segregated neighbourhoods, I think it does limit their life chances. It limits their ability to speak English, for example, which is a high predictor of economic success.”

Lynch points out that an increase in segregation is still overall an unwelcome development. “To be honest, there are no real positives about our findings. Over the 35-year period, it is becoming increasingly clear that Greater Vancouver is getting worse, not better, in terms of patterns of polarization and inequality,” he says. “Together, the magnification of these two factors has no real benefits for local neighbourhoods and their residents, especially concerning what we like to consider as developing a healthy and livable city.”

Ley believes that increased poverty results in decreased social stability: “Cities that are polarizing and unequal tend to have concentrated poverty, and as result experience heightened levels of crime, insecurity, and housing crises,” he says. “These are not places that tend to foster social, cultural, and economic diversity.”

“In the end,” he concludes, “Vancouver may well become a city split between ‘haves and have-nots’, a situation that can only lead to increased difficulties for all.”

//Victoria Fawkes, staff writer
//Photograph by Jason Jeon

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