What does growing income disparity in Metro Van mean for New West?

I read an interesting article recently from Atlantic Cities about income disparity in Vancouver, based on a research paper produced at the University of Toronto.

The report findings reveal three ‘cities’ within Metro Van. City #1 includes higher-status areas in historically upper-middle-class neighbourhoods, gentrified urban areas and redeveloped zones within areas like New West that are close to parks, views or the waterfront. City #2 includes the traditionally stable middle-class neighbourhoods and City #3 includes neighbourhoods where the average income fell more than 15% relative to the metropolitan area.

While we do have our own issues with income disparity in New West, I found it interesting to see where we stand in contrast to the region. The blue-shaded areas are the areas where household incomes have grown 15-288% more quickly than the metropolitan average between 1970 and 2005. The white areas are neighbourhoods that have seen an increase or decrease under 15%, and the red areas represent income decreases of more than 15% since 1970. If you zoom into the map (which is unfortunately pretty grainy, making details hard to see), New West shows up as largely white & blue, while large sections of nearby Burnaby, Coquitlam and Surrey have seen significant declines in household incomes since the ’70s.

Map showing average changes in household income by neighbourhood in Metro Vancouver between 1970 - 2005
A map showing average changes in household income by neighbourhood in Metro Vancouver between 1970 – 2005

A map illustrating the change in average household incomes between 1970-2005 in the Lower Mainland shows incomes in New West increasing in the Queensborough and the West End neighbourhoods, while remaining flat in Queen’s Park, Downtown/Uptown and other parts of the city. Elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, affluent neighbourhoods seem to have seen incomes increase, while many formerly middle-income neighbourhoods have seen incomes decline.

According to the report, “The three neighbourhood groupings or “Cities” represent a dramatic transition from the old model of concentric social areas with poverty at the urban core and a solid band of middle income districts in the suburbs. Relative to metropolitan changes, significant income gains and losses are occurring in both city and suburban neighbourhoods. There is more inequality with 54 percent of the 2006 CMA population living in tracts that either gained or lost more than 15 percent of their income relative to the metropolitan average over the 35-year period. Equal numbers of people, about 565,000, lived in the gaining and losing tracts.”

So what does this mean for New West? Well, the report illustrates that in the current economic climate, to those who have, more will be given. And to those who do not have, even what they have will be taken away.

I think this illustration shows New West in a favourable position within the Lower Mainland. While the actual income numbers continue to show significant lower income populations here than in many other more affluent parts of the city, it shows that most citizens have either maintained their incomes or increased them – which is significant in an era when so many have seen incomes eroded. Income inequality in surrounding areas appears to be worsening, and that will result in social issues that will impact us all.

There are troubling implications when you look at who is gaining and who is losing. The report says: “City #1 is overwhelmingly the home of the native-born. In contrast there has been a marked increase in immigrants in the remainder of Metro Vancouver, and especially in City #3, which has shifted from a majority native-born in 1971 to an immigrant majority in 2006. City #3 also includes a plurality of visible minorities (61 percent) while City #1 does not (23 percent).” I don’t have enough information to be able to interpret this nugget, but it does raise questions whether opportunities for immigrants are shrinking or if some other factors are at play.

During New West’s renaissance, the City appears to have consciously tried to guard against simply pushing out lower income populations through protecting and supporting local nonprofits, protecting low-income housing and taking the initiative to house the homeless (rather than just complaining about how it’s the job of the Province to take care of that problem). As a result, we are likely to continue housing and caring for a large number of the region’s lower income families. Is that bad? While I think many people automatically think about the most abrasive marginalized people when considering the issue (those who are hardest to empathize with), we do well to remind ourselves that low-income families include seniors, new immigrants, single-parent families and others who have simply been dealt a raw hand. We can’t just pretend these people don’t exist, and we can’t write them all off as having ‘made their own beds’ to lie in.

Juxtaposed with regional trends indicating worsening income inequality, it’s good to remember that many of us in the middle risk sliding into that red zone, whether through corporate downsizing, developing health problems and being unable to work for a time, lack of financial literacy (leading to taking on too much debt – another significant problem), retiring with inadequate savings or any number of other misadventures. We all believe these things won’t happen to us, but the reality is that we’re not so special or so smart that it can’t. Every one of us could make a mistake or fail to spot and address a potential threat that could set our families back economically. Wouldn’t you prefer to live in a city where there was somewhere to turn for help, if the worst should happen?

12 Replies to “What does growing income disparity in Metro Van mean for New West?”

  1. Interesting information. How do you think this shift in demographics will affect say the small businesses if at all? Or the question of whether or not a small business owner should go ahead and open up in New West? Will this demographic support the small biz owner? This is very crucial to the growth and excitement of the city. When I first moved to the Lower Mainland, many moons ago I first lived on the Burnaby New West border then moved into New West and I loved it ever since….I have had high hopes for it thinking that is was on the brink of a change….over the last 20 years or so more building have popped up but really the excitement has become reality. I feel this is in part due to people not supporting the local businesses. I feel now might be the time…with the market ont he Quay being revitalized etc. But really what would it take for New West to be another exciting place like say Portland Or?

  2. I've said this a few times in the comments on various posts about local small business, but I feel compelled to say it again: I would shop locally 100% of the time if the local shops could fulfill my needs 100% of the time. There are a lot of businesses that open in New Westminster that I really don't understand how they made their decision to do so – for example, there was a pizza joint that opened in Sapperton that was less than 2 blocks away from a well established chain pizza joint. The new pizza joint didn't offer fabulous pizza or even cheaper pizza or even fabulous service – I don't know why anyone would be surprised when 4 months later they shut their doors. They just reopened this week with no fanfare (perhaps new owners) but again, I question their choice to do so. I can't afford to "charity shop" just because it is a New Westminster business – they need to actually offer me something I want to buy.

    1. Jen, you are correct in your statement that businesses should please you 100% of the time. However, many small businesses are started by the immigrant population as part of their commitment to come to this great country. Some do not posses the skills or knowledge needed to satisfy such needs. However, another factor, and this plays into the bottom line of those who are meeting those needs, is the current (however quickly changing dynamic) number of Social Agencies we have catering to those without. When you have a large population with only 2 nickles to rub walking the streets, some not taking their medication, pan handling on every corner, and basically scaring the crap out of legitimate shoppers, you will find even legitimate businesses will continue to fail. Look at Columbia Square, do they have regular business failures? No they do not, nor do they have a constant transient population. It's our city council that has thrown out the welcome mat, and they should be careful of what they wish for. Small business is a tough business! If they received half the support our social agencies receive, more would succeed and give you and others 100%.

      1. Actually, John, I didn't say that the businesses should please me 100% of the time. I said if the shops (plural) could fulfill my needs, I would shop locally 100% of the time. I don't expect any one business to have exactly what I want every time I go in there. However, if I am looking, for say, a pair of black dress shoes, I would buy them in New Westminster if one of the shoe stores was able to fulfill my need in terms of quality, price, and selection. Maybe one store doesn't offer them, but if another does then great! I can buy them here in our city. For shoes there is, let's say, 5 stores I can check out to see if they have them. But what if I need a new office chair? Or want to buy a new faucet for my bathroom? Significantly less places for me to choose from. As a whole, New Westminster does not fulfill all of my shopping needs, and so I need to take my dollars to other communities.

    2. Offering you something you want to buy is one thing but 'no business' can fulfill 100% of your needs. I do agree with you however that sometimes people make really strange decision like that pizza place owner but then you've often seen hamburger joints opening up next to fast plastic food places and they are appealing to a different client. We just have to remain open minded about what a small local indie biz can offer us. One thing is for sure, as a local owner they too should be open minded and willing to listen to what customers have to say and tweak their biz offerings as they move forward.

    3. Even if they do offer "something better", it's not a guarantee of success.

      Look at the Cone Zone. Two blocks from DQ, arguably a New West institution.

      But the Cone Zone had a better product, even if it was a bit more expensive. Their Italian ice cream was great, and if the kids could convince me to go out for a treat, I took them to the Cone Zone, knowing it most likely had less salt, high-fuctose-corn syrop, etc.

      But last week, the for-lease sign went up, and they're gone. I guess ice cream just doesn't sell well in the winter. DQ can fall back on burgers and fries. That's too bad – it was a nice shop.

      1. Funny, I saw that too today, and thought of this blog post! I went there once, and it was closed so I never got the chance to try it.

        1. It's a bit far from where you live, but it was good, and the kids were devastated .

          There is a health-food store (supplements), and a Bell store, beside the Cone Zone, and I suspect they are both soon to follow. All three were subdivisions of the photo place (Blacks?) that couldn't translate their 1980's business model to a world where everyone took pictures on a digital camera, but no one ever got them developed.

          1. alas, real ice cream and gelato uptown has come and gone. Tig and I went there frequently in the summer… But I wondered what their winter plan was. they were branching into novelty and nostalgia candy, but I lament it wasn't enough. I was glad they survived one winter, two was asking too much. Whoever you were, thanks for trying! And thanks for the cones! good luck in your next venture!

            for the rest of us left behind, I'm glad there is a gelato opportunity in the River Market now… We will have to walk downhill instead of uphill next summer.

  3. I'd say what this means is that people like me will move here and become total New Westminster champions. In a few short months I have become so passionate about this wee city I extol it's virtues daily…to the point that I have converted a few people to looking to buy here as opposed to elsewhere. I think it is ripe for growing small business opportunities, but they need to be smart about it as Jen said…I too would be 100% shopping local if I could…and hope to be able to do so in the near future…

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