“All countries and societies will be unequal in various ways,” Professor Hulchanski said, “the question is how much and in what direction—and it’s no secret that we’ve been moving in the wrong direction.” Changes in income have naturally influenced urban development. Neighbourhoods that once were home to working-class families, including many parts of the old City of Toronto, are slowly becoming gentrified.
Some areas, such as the northwest of the city, are undergoing an opposite transformation. They have gradually gone from middle- to low-income neighbourhoods. Relocated to the outskirts of the city, poorer families have worse access to public transit. Contrary to Toronto’s official motto, “Diversity is Our Strength,” most of the families left behind belong to a visible minority or are of an immigrant background, whereas City #1 is 82 per cent white.
David Miller examined the causes of socio-economic inequality, including the neo-liberal reforms of the 1980s and 90s. “These are the results of deliberate political choices made by Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney,” he said. To reverse this trend toward greater inequality, he, like Hulchanski, recommended improving access to public transport in poorer neighbourhoods.
Transit City, a plan Miller devised during his mayoralty and which his successor Rob Ford suspended, would have improved services to these neighbourhoods. Miller also praised the Tower Renewal project to renovate aging concrete apartment complexes, which are home to many low-income families.
“If we believe in a society in which people have equal rights and responsibilities,” Miller said, “if we believe in a society where we judge ourselves by how well we treat those who have the least, and if we believe that government is how we come together to solve those common problems—if we believe that, then we need to act.”