October 19, 2018
INTERVIEW BY SHANNON CLARKE
Professor Daniyal Zuberi is RBC Chair and Professor of Social Policy at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. Professor Zuberi has studied the effects of Canadian social policies across a range of key social institutions, often focusing both on the people they serve and their families, and on the people who keep them running, Social service recipients are low-income, and social service employment often pays low wages, and may be insecure. In Toronto, both recipients and providers are often immigrants and second-generation Canadians. As a result, Zuberi’s work has contributed significantly to studies in ethnicity, immigration and race. He has published four books covering policy and social inequality in the hospital and hospitality industries, as well as education and urban design in Canada’s largest cities, “mainstreaming” issues of immigration and race in each.
Professor Zuberi spoke to The Global Migration Institute about the significance of immigration and race in Canadian social policy today, how the realities of new immigrants and their children in Canada today have changed, about the value of both qualitative and quantitative research, and about lessons he hopes his students will take from his classes in social policy and social work.
YOUR APPROACH TO STUDYING DIFFERENT SECTORS —HEALTH, EDUCATION, PERSONAL SERVICES — IS UNIQUE IN THAT IT IS NOT FOCUSED DIRECTLY ON IMMIGRATION AND ETHNICITY, BUT YOU WEAVE THOSE ISSUES INTO YOUR RESEARCH. HOW DID YOU COME TO “MAINSTREAMING” ETHNICITY AND IMMIGRATION INTO SOCIAL POLICY?
My first major research project examined the experiences of low-wage workers in Seattle and Vancouver to get at the importance of differences in policy between the United States and Canada for things like well-being and quality of life. The idea was to look at individuals who work in the same jobs for the same multinational companies, but happen to live in different social welfare contexts. The hotel industry is a useful sector to study this topic because it is large and growing, has multinational chains and exemplifies trends in the new economy, and so I ended up focusing on room attendants and others employed in the lower-tier of the hotel sector. In Seattle and Vancouver these jobs are often held by immigrants, and often by immigrant women from similar regions. So the main research question was: If you’re a migrant from China and you came to Seattle, how is your experience different than if you came to Vancouver, even if you are working for the same job in the same company? What that allowed me to do was focus on policy differences and how important they were to these individuals and families. The starting point was doing research with the working poor. Then I turned to the immigration literature to look at other things that might be affecting differences, such as immigration selection policy. As the findings pointed to the importance of non-immigrant specific social policies for explaining immigrant experiences, hardships and opportunities, my work ended up contributing to the immigration literature.
WHAT DIFFERENCES DID YOU FIND?
One difference that probably doesn’t surprise many Canadians is that having a universal health insurance system in Canada was extremely important. Those who immigrated to Canada had better access to health services; they were healthier overall, they reported much lower levels of financial stress around accessing health care, especially in the case of catastrophic health emergencies. Whereas, in contrast, in the US accessing and paying for health care was an incredibly stressful issue for many of the workers I interviewed and their families. In the US, the working poor often don’t qualify for publicly funded health insurance called Medicaid. In the low-wage sectors they frequently do not receive health insurance benefits or are not covered because they experience a probationary period for up to a year after beginning a new job. The quality of benefits in terms of coverage can be poor as well. In many cases, workers described delaying getting access to needed healthcare. Some related heartbreaking stories of losing their life-savings and their homes after a family member had a major medical incident such as a heart attack, cancer or a chronic health problem that required prescription drugs. In Canada, the workers interviewed were generally very positive about the health system, did not report delaying treatment or difficulties accessing health care, and did not experience major fiscal challenges or stress related to health care.
More surprising, perhaps, is that labour policy differences between the United States and Canada made a big difference. In the US, it’s very difficult to unionize a workplace, especially in the service sector, and the majority of the workers I interviewed in Seattle were non-union as compared to Vancouver, where most hotel workers are in unionized job positions. Unionized workers not only earned higher wages, they reported much greater levels of job security and many had been in their job for a long time. They had much better benefits and higher wages, which allowed them to save money. At the time when I did my research, in the mid-2000s, the room attendants in Vancouver I interviewed generally described themselves and their families as being “comfortably middle class”. In fact, many of them are wealthy because they saved and purchased detached homes in East Vancouver. In Vancouver, new immigrants who completed government funded training and certification courses in hospitality, were able to secure living-wage employment in the hotel sector. In Seattle, despite working for the same jobs for the same hotel chains, many were trapped earning poverty wages, cycling from one low-wage position to another, and experiencing financial stress and insecurity. So, the major takeaway from that study is that policy matters, especially for shaping the context of reception and outcomes for immigrants.
WHAT SPECIFIC CHALLENGES DO YOU FACE IN ADOPTING THIS MAINSTREAMING APPROACH?
My research has focused on immigrants in major institutions – such as the workplace – and schools. One issue is that of access, and the challenge to build trust with people you study. Another is that the focus on policy means that the research doesn’t address all the issues immigrants face. Some immigrants are quite wealthy, and wealthy immigrants have a very different experience than the respondents that I study. Another group that’s left out, for example, would be temporary foreign workers and the seasonal agricultural workers, who are not employed at hotels and hospitals, so I’m missing out on the experience of what I think is one of the biggest groups of immigrants that are particularly vulnerable in Canada.
This is also shown in my second research project, which looked at the experiences of a different group of cleaners, but not employed in hotels, rather in hospitals. It is a very different story than my first study on hotels, and enlightening because it turned out that the conditions of work in hospitals in the Vancouver region was intimately tied to organizational policy, and most importantly to decisions to outsource these jobs. In this case, I interviewed 80 workers who were mostly hospital cleaners, but also some dietary aids and other workers. All of their jobs were outsourced after 2002-2003. The case actually represents the largest privatization of workers in Canadian history, and it disproportionately impacted immigrant women working mostly as hospital cleaners, which I consider to be one of the hardest jobs out there. Hospital cleaning is a tough working environment, with high stress levels, and where the stakes are high. In this case, the day after their jobs were outsourced to private multinational companies, the in-house cleaners and dietary aids were all summarily laid off. Many were rehired, but at literally half the hourly wage and without any of the job benefits that they previously had. Their story is part of the current immigrant experience in Canada, and one that causes me concern about the rapid expansion of precarious low-paid work and its consequences for immigrants specifically. While these changes were devastating for the workers and their families, they didn’t simply accept their fates. There was a lot of mobilizing.
Historically, immigrants to Canada struggled for a few years and then they caught up and were able to find their foothold in the economy. The hospital cleaners experiences were more representative in some ways of newer trends that we see especially here in Toronto, of immigrants being trapped in precarious work and working poverty, which is concerning.
HOW IS YOUR WORK RECEIVED OUTSIDE OF ACADEMIA, AND DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE MORE RECEPTIVE TO IT BECAUSE IT’S NOT FOCUSED SPECIFICALLY ON IMMIGRATION AND ETHNICITY?
In general, my research has been very well received by non-academic and academic audiences. People seem to appreciate my bringing to light the voices of those who are often not heard. I think that is one of the strengths of my research methodology: people have been in hospitals, they’ve been to hotels, they see who is working in those positions but they don’t often get to know them, or hear their stories. At the same time, the fact that my research is more qualitative can be a limitation in policy circles. What I love is doing mixed-methods work, working with quantitative researchers to test whether the findings that emerge from the qualitative research hold up by comparing them to findings from large scale data. I’ve done that with scholars here at University of Toronto including working with public health scholar Arjumand Siddiqi, looking at Canada-US health policy differences and access to health care, and economist Philip Oreopolous, looking at educational outcomes.
My research has received recognition both in and outside of academia. For example, I’ve heard that my research on contracted out hospital cleaners in Vancouver was helpful in terms of negotiating better collective agreements. As a scholar, it is exciting to know that your work has an impact. I feel like my research is more accessible, because it includes those qualitative stories. Of course, because it’s qualitative, there’s the challenge of generalizability. Qualitative research brings more depth and that is one of its greatest strengths and generally qualitative researchers are more explicit about our methods and weaknesses. At the same time, I like engaging with quantitative data and my research has often been inspired by the work of economists, and by Canada-US comparative work.
In general, I don’t think that there has been enough research attention on the experience of immigrants after arrival and the experience of the second-generation in Canada and other countries. So, I’m hoping to help close that gap with my current research, which focuses on the Pathways to Education program in Regent Park, a neighbourhood with many immigrant youth from low-income families. Using the lens of this program as an intervention, and how it is helping improve educational opportunities and outcomes for youth, is teaching me about newcomer and second-generation settlement experiences and what resources, policies and programs are most important to them.
IS IT SURPRISING TO YOU THAT THERE ISN’T A LOT OF QUALITATIVE DATA HERE?
In the US, there’s a long tradition of urban poverty scholarship so, in some ways yes, I’m surprised. It probably reflects the fact that this kind of work is hard, it takes a lot time, and it takes building trust with the members of the community. In some academic departments, perhaps it is somewhat devalued; I think that might be one of the reasons it’s more challenging. It’s harder to publish in academic journals, which is often what’s valued. But it is important build a generation of researchers to do in-depth qualitative research because it contributes a lot.
DO SCHOLARS LIKE YOURSELF, WHO STUDY THESE SPECIFIC INSTITUTIONS, THINK ABOUT RACE AND ETHNICITY DIFFERENTLY IN TERMS OF THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK AND METHODOLOGY, COMPARED TO SCHOLARS WHO FOCUS PRIMARILY ON RACE AND ETHNICITY?
As institutional scholars, we probably undertheorize race, but at the same time issues like poverty and labour market are intricately tied to racialization. We see racialization and discrimination as being embedded in broader social and institutional structures.
Immigrants are our future. The majority of people in Toronto are foreign-born; Canada has one of the highest rates of immigration in the world; about 20 per cent of the country is foreign born. So, when we study low-wage immigrants we’re not just studying immigration, we’re studying ourselves; we’re studying our future. And the experiences of these workers and their families are going to comprise the Toronto and Canada of 20 years from now, and their children’s outcomes are going to be centrally important to the well-being of our society.
Immigrants are coming to Canada from a much more diverse range of countries than in the past, and at the same time the mechanisms that shaped the success that we’ve historically witnessed are starting to break down. It used to be that immigrants would come, they would struggle, they would be able to move up and have earnings similar to what native-born Canadians earn. Their kids grew up in middle-class, mixed-income neighbourhoods, they went to good public schools, they were more likely to go to university and do well. What we’re seeing now is that immigrant parents are coming in, they’re starting off at a lower starting point; worse, they’re often not catching up as quickly if at all. They’re increasingly likely to live in a high-poverty neighbourhood, often in a socially isolated inner-ring suburb; the children are more likely to go to a school where many other children are struggling. And we know they’re facing huge barriers, these youths, when they enter the labour market because we have ongoing discrimination.
It is in everybody’s interest to counter the rise of the anti-immigrant narrative — the populist sentiment that’s rooted in economic anxiety and uncertainty because of growing poverty and inequality that has become increasingly prevalent in in the U.S. and Europe. We know that segregating youth in high-poverty neighbourhoods without access to jobs and employment creates the very hopelessness that’s often at the root of involvement in criminal activity, gangs and drugs. This is happening in Vancouver, in Toronto and in big immigrant receiving centres in the country and it worries me. It’s more important than ever that we focus on giving people the tools to succeed.
HOW DOES YOUR APPROACH VARY WHEN YOU’RE STUDYING DIFFERENT GROUPS; WITHIN DIFFERENT INSTITUTIONS BUT ALSO, NEWER IMMIGRANTS, IMMIGRANTS WHO ARE SUFFERING TRAUMA?
I think it’s more challenging in some ways to do research with newcomers as opposed to more established immigrants and the second generation. I completed a small study in Vancouver looking at the impact of suburbanization of immigrants because one of the trends was historically, newcomers would land and settle in central cities and then over time move out into the suburbs as they gained their economic foothold and became Canadian. Now that’s changed. Now newcomers are more likely to start in Brampton or Richmond Hill than they are to settle in say, Chinatown. That’s a different context of settlement because historically many of the services for newcomers have been located in central cities and so one of the questions of the study was, are people more isolated in the suburbs? Are they having a harder time finding employment or are the challenges different, things like transit and the like? The study gave me some insight into the challenges of doing that kind of research, those challenges often being language barriers. So, I had to hire students who were multilingual to help with the interviews and translate them.
The interesting thing about this study was that I didn’t find huge systemic differences between immigrant experiences in the suburbs and in the cities. The bigger takeaway of the research was that the real struggle that newcomers faced was securing employment or if they were working, they were not working full-time and they wanted a better job, ideally one in line with their skills and training. Many of them were still looking for their first job and getting that “Canadian experience.” They were stuck in that challenging cycle of needing to get Canadian experience in order to get a job, but how do you get experience if you don’t get a job? When you focus on newcomers there are high levels of need. What’s often most important is the availability of key services and programs. Some are effective like mentoring programs in the workplace for example. And newcomers struggle with dilemmas: do you take the first job that you get even if it’s a low-wage, part time position far below your skills and your experience? But then how do you get accredited in your profession? How do you gain professional language skills if you’re trying to balance work, school and family? Is it better to wait and get qualified, to then get a job that’s better, or to take the first one available?
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING FINDING IN YOUR RESEARCH SO FAR?
I thought that immigrants would be better off in Canada than in the United States but I was surprised, in my first book, at how much better off they were here. It was quite a large difference; it was an amazing difference. It’s the fun part of doing research like this; there are frequent “aha” moments. In the first project, I was surprised at the important role of unions for low-wage service sector workers which is not something that I had expected to find, that labour policy would be so important in terms of shaping people’s experiences.
In the second study, I was surprised at the hardships of the workers who were hospital cleaners in Vancouver — the kind of deprivation that they described was shocking to me and somewhat heartbreaking in that, this is Canada, and there are people that I interviewed who, their children are sleeping on sofas in the living room, and they don’t have enough to eat. They’ve been evicted; some were living in horrible housing, and really stressed about paying bills and falling into debt. Some were even delaying getting root canals because they didn’t have access to good quality dental insurance coverage. It was the sort of stuff I wouldn’t have imagined and not in line with what I pictured Canada to be like.
At the same time, I greatly admired and was inspired by people’s optimism; their hope is beautiful. I think that’s a surprise in my research; people are working two jobs and struggling, and yet they feel confident and optimistic. They appreciate so much of life in Canada and then they’re so hopeful for their kids and their kids’ futures.
I also appreciate how open people have been, and willing to talk to me for my research and share things that are very personal and hard. Yet they feel like it’s important to tell their story because they think that others knowing will help make a difference in terms of policies to improve people’s lives.
I WONDER HOW DOING THIS RESEARCH HAS HELPED YOU OVER THE YEARS THINK ABOUT YOUR PARENTS’ EXPERIENCE AND YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE?
I believe I have been very fortunate. I grew up in a very nice mixed-income suburb in Maryland. It’s a little more like Canada than other parts of the U.S.: overall very middle class and diverse, with 95 percent of the kids in my high school attending college or university. There was a sharp contrast to what I then saw and experienced in the nearby city of Baltimore as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University.
Studying the immigrant experience in both the U.S. and Canada, I gained a newfound appreciation of the struggles that my parents faced, especially my Dad. He moved from Pakistan to Sweden to Canada to the United States, and then to be successful in that context — it takes a lot of work overcoming barriers. I also gained an understanding of his strong emphasis on education, something that was highly prioritized in our family. But I also have gained appreciation for the importance of community and social structures and supports. For example, I’m very appreciative that I had the opportunity to attend great public schools in a diverse community, because I think that experience led me to do the kind of work that I do, and created good education and employment opportunities..
As an immigrant to Canada, personally, it’s been interesting to do this research because it gave me an opportunity to explore the most important institutions for newcomers here. I got to go into the back rooms of large hotels, but also into hospitals and schools to learn about workplaces, the health care and education systems from the perspective of the people working in these institutions. I’ve learned so much about Canada and Canadian society and policy through the lens of other immigrants. And then I have experience these thing myself as well.
BECAUSE YOU DO THIS COMPARATIVE WORK BETWEEN THE US AND CANADA WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THAT KIND OF ASSERTION BY CANADIANS THAT THINGS ARE BETTER OR NOT AS BAD, AT LEAST COMPARED TO THE UNITED STATES?
I do think things in Canada are not as bad as in the United States especially when it comes to the leadership of the federal government. The US is a big country with a large population, and in some ways embodies more of the extremes. For example, it has some of the world’s best universities, hospitals and restaurants, and it has some of the most concentrated urban poverty. Things in Canada are a little more compressed in the middle. Canada is blessed to have these vibrant cities that don’t have the level of social problems and urban poverty that many US cities have.
At the same time, I’m horrified by Indigenous poverty in this country, with reserves that lack safe drinking water. Canada has entrenched and challenging urban social problems as well, including poverty, discrimination, addiction and homelessness. We have many of the same social problems that exist in the United States.
Economist Philip Oreopolous’s audit studies on discrimination show that employers and landlords do discriminate against visible minorities in Canada, and I think that in some ways the myth that racism and discrimination do not exist in Canada, has made it harder to address these issues in the policy and organizational institutional realms. When companies or government institutions discriminate and fail to hire the best person because of racism or discrimination everybody loses. It’s also just bad policy and we need to address those barriers actively. In the US, there’s more of an acknowledgement that discrimination is a major barrier, and thus programs like affirmative action programs and other anti-discrimination measures actively work to address and mitigate these problems.
In terms of urban poverty, there are some systemic differences between the US and Canada. In the US, urban poverty, in many cases, is tied intricately to de-industrialization, segregation by race, and joblessness. The trend in Canada is that increasingly, low-income people are employed, but they just have very, very low earnings. They’re also not able to secure enough hours. The poverty problem, especially as it relates to immigrants in Canada, is a problem of working poverty and precarious work. It is less of a problem of joblessness as much, although many people do struggle to get employment and it’s still an issue. I think that things are better in Canada than in the United States, largely because of policy differences such as the universal health care system. Yet on many measures such as poverty, inequality and other social problems, Canada is worse off than many similar Scandinavian and European countries, so we have a long way to go.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES THEN OF STUDYING INEQUALITY AND IMMIGRATION AND SOCIAL POLICY IN CANADA AND HOW DOES THAT COMPARE TO STUDYING IT IN THE US?
In general there’s a lot of interest in these issues in both countries. In the US, one barrier is fear, especially now with the increasing detention of undocumented immigrants. I was at the University of California – Davis last April giving an invited talk at a conference. This region of California is an important breadbasket of the US, and they have historically had many thousands of migrant farm workers picking and harvesting fruits in agriculture. Many of the individuals and activists at the conference described their fear and outrage over recent political rhetoric and policy trends. Given the new heavy emphasis on enforcement and ICE raids and all of that, the researchers that I met with — some of them were migrant farm workers, some of them were representatives of organizations working with farmworkers — were extremely fearful for the future. They were worried that any kind of participation in anything institutional, even visiting an immigrant health clinic could result in being arrested, deported, or taken away from their children. So I think right now that’s a huge challenge for American researchers looking at immigrants and immigration issues — there’s a well-justified fear, especially for those who are undocumented.
My research in Canada fortunately has not faced that kind of challenge. Instead, the challenges here are often that people are busy and working multiple jobs; many don’t have a lot of time to participate in research studies. Yet fear is still a factor. Many don’t want to do anything to jeopardize their current employment, which is understandable.
FOR YOUR STUDENTS WHO COME INTO YOUR CLASSES MAYBE NOT NECESSARILY THINKING ABOUT IMMIGRATION AND ETHNICITY: HOW DO YOU ENGAGE THEM WHEN THAT TOPIC COMES UP?
Many of them are second-generation immigrants so these are issues that are tremendously important to them, and those that aren’t (from immigrant backgrounds) know many — their friends or family are immigrants. So, they tend to be quite quickly engaged in these kinds of debates and issues. There are a few things that I do in my courses. One, assigning readings that include qualitative data, so people get to hear about people’s experiences; I find that frequently engages students. Two, I also show video segments that feature newcomers, say, live-in caregivers who have been exploited, and their experiences. Bringing that kind of personal experience and the voices of the immigrants themselves to the fore engages students, and then I find they are often much more inspired and engaged in the academic literature, statistics, and debates around these issues.
WHAT ISSUES DO YOU FIND INTEREST THE STUDENTS MOST?
They’re very interested in discrimination and barriers that newcomers face in both the labour market and housing. I’ve always brought my colleague and mentor David Hulchanksi in as a guest lecturer for all my courses. What’s particularly powerful about his research and findings is that he presents data in map format, so people can look at a map of Toronto, see where they live, see that it was a middle-class neighbourhood in the mid-1970s and today in many cases it’s a low-income neighbourhood. And by using maps, people get a sense of how much Toronto, the city they live in, has been polarizing and how it’s changing. I think that that kind of approach is very powerful for engaging students and policy makers around these issues versus, say, statistical tables or regression charts. They are also deeply engaged by the findings of audit studies of discrimination in employment and housing.
I WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT YOUR NEWEST BOOK, (RE)GENERATING INCLUSIVE CITIES: POVERTY AND PLANNING IN URBAN NORTH AMERICA. WHAT PROMPTED THAT STUDY?
This book emerged out of living in Vancouver, which I think has one of the most interesting and innovative urban development policies in North America. It’s a booming city, but there is also a lot of gentrification and displacement going on as real-estate prices soar, rents go up, and vacancy rates remain extremely low. Housing is the biggest budget line for most working-poor families, and so housing and neighbourhoods becomes a tremendously important factor. What we’re seeing in North America is that de-industrialization dramatically transformed large urban centres in the rust belt and other American cities. Cities like Baltimore and Pittsburgh used to be steel towns, and many people were employed in these sectors in these cities; these workers generally were able to earn a living wage in hard jobs, but secure jobs, in large factories and plants. If you look at from the 1980s on and even accelerating to the 2000s, we see a clear pattern of massive de-industrialization over time. These jobs have disappeared from these cities. This is a tremendously important factor for understanding increasing or sustained urban poverty in the U.S. right now. It’s also affecting Canada. We’ve had massive de-industrialization here too, especially in Ontario.
What successful cities have done in response is that they’ve worked to attract employment in other sectors such as finance and real-estate. Pittsburgh for example, has become a centre for health care and research, but that’s a very different kind of labour market than manufacturing.
And what we’ve seen over this period is also a very different kind of change in the way that cities are developing. One of the things that’s new is the condo boom. You’re building these towers, but in the towers, you have mostly small studio apartments and one-bedroom apartments that aren’t suitable for families with children. Some of those scholars who are critical of towers would say that they’re like the gated community of the future. Others would argue that, in places like Vancouver, families are crowding into these small towers and the downtown infrastructure is being overwhelmed; there are simply not enough schools and parks and other community institutions for families.
The general argument of the book is that we’re seeing a new kind of urban development with the changing economy, the condo boom, with more public-private partnership shaping both the redevelopment of inner cities and high-poverty neighbourhoods. Of course, it’s not all bad news, it’s not all good news; it’s more nuanced than that.
This book is based on some of my personal experiences over the past few years. I was fortunate to live in Vancouver; visit San Francisco for research and my first sabbatical; then live in Boston for a visiting fellowship after going to graduate school in the city; I spent some time in New York and now live in Toronto, and visit Montreal often. These booming cities are doing well, but are they doing well for everybody and who is being left behind? In many cases, it is newcomer immigrants who are increasingly having a hard time finding good housing and why is that? What are the broader forces shaping the development of these cities? Some of these cities are becoming victims of their own success and what does that mean and how can we address that?
YOU’RE IDENTIFYING TRENDS IN HOW CITIES ARE CHANGING. ARE THERE ANY FACTORS THAT DETERMINE HOW A CITY RESPONDS, UNIQUELY, TO THESE CHANGES?
I think one of the things that emerges is the role of social movements in cities – like when Jane Jacobs led a movement blocking the creation of a freeway where Spadina Ave is here in Toronto – and mobilizing communities. Community activists, environmentalists and other engaged citizens do that. We see that happening in Seattle, we see that happening in San Francisco, we see that happening in Montreal, where they were able to block the development of a casino in Pointe-Sainte-Charles, a low-income neighbourhood in that city. So, I do think that citizen mobilization and activism is one factor. Then in Canada, there are these issues around the way the municipality can be overridden by higher levels of government, especially the province (as we are hearing in the news a lot about today). Some point to amalgamation in Toronto as an issue because you have a majority of suburban councillors that then determine what happens in the city. It’s not the only thing, but it does seem to be one factor.
WHAT DOES AN INCLUSIVE CITY LOOK LIKE?
That’s a great and challenging question. I don’t think it’s something that’s perfectly achievable, but we would probably define an inclusive city as having low and declining levels of poverty, a city that has accessibility for people, that has employment opportunities, mixed-income neighbourhoods, rich accessible public amenities and cultural life. A city that’s vibrant and safe and one where those from different backgrounds and abilities and skills can find a place to live and work; where artists can be artists and create, where creative types can be celebrated, and where culture thrives and at the same time where there is a lot of economic opportunity. Unfortunately what we’re seeing is that booming cities in North America are often becoming less inclusive places and people are being displaced or pushed out or pushed to the margins.
ARE THERE ANY ISSUES THAT YOU THINK ARE NOT BEING ADDRESSED IN URBAN PLANNING IN TORONTO?
That’s a good question. One issue is the suburbanization of poverty. Immigrants and second generation visibly minorities are often being pushed into neighbourhoods that are most isolated, where they’re living in towers far away from employment opportunities, far away from the centres of education and other key institutions. The city of Toronto needs to do a lot more on connectivity, and ideally in innovative ways, so not just transit expansion – which is clearly important – but also bike paths and pedestrian friendly routes and walkable neighbourhoods.
The big push towards inclusive zoning, towards allowing for more commerce and shops on the ground level and bringing in more services is important. In terms of suburban development, the idea of facilitating high-density nodes that are linked to the central city and even to each other with transit that make suburban areas, say North York, more accessible, more diverse. We need to avoid this formula of endless square miles of single-family homes built on what used to be farmers’ fields, where people live isolated and are car-dependent. But we also need to prevent the concentration of poverty in certain areas: by building more diverse housing in different regions both outside of and in the city, it’s about giving people more options to live near work and school.
WHAT DO YOU MOST WANT YOUR STUDENTS TO TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR WORK?
A main point is that policy is centrally important. Yes, all countries are being buffeted by the forces of globalization and migration, experiencing many of the similar trends, but there’s nothing inevitable about outcomes of these forces such as higher poverty, insecurity, carbon emissions, and inequality. Fundamentally we have the capacity to address and mitigate these issues through policy and policy reform. We might not agree on what policies will be most effective, and that’s fine. We can look at evidence and debate that. What’s politically feasible is also a challenge, but I hope they take away that there is nothing inevitable about poverty and inequality in our countries today. We have so many resources, we have the human capital, we have the financial capital and resources to address these challenging problems with evidence-based policy reform.
I also want students to grapple with big challenges – poverty, climate change, inequality – and then think about how to make the kinds of changes that need to happen to address these challenges. How can we make workplaces more inclusive, improve immigrant outcomes, to address issues like discrimination and to mitigate the impact of growing inequality and precarious work and poverty? Engaging in these issues, I help the students develop research, analytical as well as oral and written presentation skills, to enhance their success in future courses and in the workplace. Through discussions and debates in my classes, I really want my students to find their passion – what issues spark their interest, imagination and desire to work to make the world a better place. Then I want them to give them an opportunity to deeply engage that topic through research.
I find that the quality of the class assignments is so high when people are deeply engaged in an issue that they care about, and that’s my own experience discovering the topics of policy, immigration, poverty and inequality. When you are passionately engaged, work doesn’t seem like work; it’s a joy, it’s a pleasure — ok, yes not all the time — but, you look forward to learning new things about the topic and being deeply engaged for a long time. I think that that’s when you find that, if you’re fortunate to be able to pursue it, then you’re really able to live a fuller and more engaged life and make a difference. That is the ultimate goal.