Toronto’s 35-year income polarization trend is not only dividing the city into rich and poor neighbourhoods, but it is also triggering a city-wide health crisis. The latest Three Cities research from Prof David Hulchanski of the University of Toronto’s Cities Centre paints a devastating picture of growing segregation across the city. The report notes that two-thirds of Torontonians had average incomes in 1970, 7% of the city had very high incomes and only 1% of the city had very low incomes. Tracking the actual changes every five years since then, and projecting the numbers to 2025, Dr Hulchanski predicts that by 2025, the middle income will shrink to 9% of the city, while the poorest neighbourhoods will grow to 60% of the city.
Toronto’s neighbourhoods fall into three clear groups based on income change, 1970 to 2005
The first, which we call City #1, is a predominantly high-income area of the City of Toronto in which neighbourhood incomes have risen a great deal relative to the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) average since 1970; these neighbourhoods are generally found in the central city and close to the city’s subway lines. By contrast,City #3 is a generally low-income area of Toronto, in which neighbourhood incomes have fallen substantially over the past few decades compared to the CMA average; these neighbourhoods are found mostly inthe northeastern and northwestern parts of Toronto. In between these two is City #2, a mainly middle-income area, where neighbourhood incomes have remained fairly close to the CMA average since 1970. While all cities can be divided into various groupings, the important finding in this research is the consistent trend over time: the three groups of neighbourhoods are changing at different rates and moving further apart.
The middle-income area of the city shrank dramatically between 1970 and 2005, while the high income area increased slightly and the low-income area increased substantially.
Poverty has moved from the centre to the edges of the city.
These are long-term trends. The study looked at trends for a 35-year period, and found most of the changes to be persistent. The polarization of the city into wealthy neighbourhoods and greater numbers of disadvantaged neighbourhoods is continuing and middle-income neighbourhoods are disappearing.
The segregation of the city by income is not inevitable or irreversible. These trends could be slowed or reversed by public policies that would make housing more affordable to low-income households, by efforts to expand access to transit and services in neighbourhoods where the need is greatest, and by renewing the aging high-rise neighbourhoods scattered throughout City #3 (e.g., by the Tower Neighbourhood Renewal initiative: www.TowerRenewal.ca).