News / Vancouver

Mapping out Vancouver's growing divide between rich and poor

The trend is similar in Canada's other big cities, where researchers have mapped how neighbourhoods have changed since the 1970s.

A group of researchers have been mapping out how neighbourhoods are becoming more polarized when it comes to income. Light yellow indicates middle income neighbourhoods, while blue and dark blue are the wealthiest and orange and dark orange the poorest.

Neighbourhood Change Project

A group of researchers have been mapping out how neighbourhoods are becoming more polarized when it comes to income. Light yellow indicates middle income neighbourhoods, while blue and dark blue are the wealthiest and orange and dark orange the poorest.

Over the past 30 years, Vancouver’s Westside and downtown have become increasingly wealthier, while the middle class has been pushed further into the Eastside and the poor have been squeezed out of the city.

“People are being excluded from specific parts of the region by income,” said David Hulchanski, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Urban Studies, speaking at a public event in Vancouver on Dec. 1.

“That’s always gone on, but it’s massively going on now. This is a spatial segregation of people.”

Hulchanski is part of a research consortium called the Neighbourhood Change Project, which has created a series of maps showing growing economic inequality in Canadian cities. Huchanski was in Vancouver to show the latest iteration of the maps, updated with data from the 2016 census.

The new data shows that the trend continues to worsen, with many large Canadian cities seeing a drop in the number of “middle income” neighbourhoods and an increase in neighbourhoods that are either rich or poor.

Increasing economic inequality is a trend in many developing countries, and is most pronounced in English-speaking countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Factors include a changing labour market and taxation reforms in the 1980s and 1990s that favoured the wealthy.

Rising inequality is something we should be worried about, Hulchanski said, because research has shown that regions with higher economic inequality have worse outcomes for just about every indicator, from crime to health to political instability.

Vancouver doesn’t have the steepest level of rising inequality: Calgary has seen the most dramatic change, followed by Toronto. In fact, Vancouver is the only city to see an increase in the number of middle income neighbourhoods. But, Hulchanski notes, that’s because low-income people “are being pushed out of Vancouver."

Hulchanski believes the trend shows why it’s important for governments to get involved in housing policy, such as Vancouver’s new housing plan, which aims to produce 36,000 new units of housing affordable to people earning less than $80,000 a year. 

But Hulchanski is critical of the newly-released federal National Housing Strategy, calling it “a random and confusing set of spending initiatives, all involving billions of dollars, most starting after the next election” in an opinion piece published in the Globe and Mail.

“Everything I showed you was done by humans, it wasn’t done by an earthquake or flood,” Hulchanski said during his Vancouver lecture. “This is public and private power doing these things to the city. A just city demands that all developments must be in the service of everyone.”

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