East-west gap closing: 'We can't really talk about east side and west side any longer,' prof says

By Charles Hamilton, The StarPhoenix, February 4, 2014 - Until three years ago, Jim Nellis and his wife owned a house on Saskatoon's Nutana neighbourhood. Their decision to sell and move across the river to Caswell Hill was as much about lifestyle as it was real estate. "We always thought we would move over here. As much as we can, we like to be on the leading edge of the curve," Nellis said. According to new data released by the City of Saskatoon, people like the 40-yearold entrepreneur and his wife are helping erase the decades-old paradigms of an east-west income divide in the city.

The data paints a portrait of a changing Saskatoon, where traditional income disparities between the east and west are being erased and a new gap is forming between suburbia and the inner city.

"We can't really talk about east side and west side any longer," said Nazeem Muhajarine, a researcher with the Community University Institute for Social Research at the University of Saskatchewan.

Muhajarine said neighbourhood by neighbourhood analysis of the data from Canada's 2011 National Household Survey - a voluntary sampling of the population that replaced the mandatory long-form census - shows the traditional demarcation line of rich and poor neighbourhoods that ran right down Idylwyld Drive is blurring.

Six of the 15 neighbourhoods with the lowest average household incomes are now east of Idylwyld Drive, and four of the city's 15 neighbourhoods with the highest average household incomes are on the west side.

Experts point out that because the NHS was voluntary, response rates were not as high in certain neighbourhoods. City-wide, the more than 22 per cent of the people surveyed did not respond.

While not perfect, the new income data differs greatly from a decade ago, when the vast majority of lowincome neighbourhoods were on the west side and an overwhelming majority of affluent neighbourhoods were located well to the east of Idylwyld.

The shifting income levels means neighbourhoods like Caswell Hill and Mayfair are becoming more economically mixed, according to the data.

It's something Nellis sees first hand. Young people aren't afraid to knock on his door and ask to do odd jobs like yard work or shovelling snow. On one occasion, he bought new hockey sticks for kids from the nearby apartment complex after he noticed them playing on the street.

Muhajarine says people like Nellis and the new data both show a movement toward more mixed-income neighbourhoods, especially in the inner city, where homeowners are improving property values by building things like infill housing.

"Older neighbourhoods are, by and large, very mixed income-wise ... they are some of the most livable, interesting neighbourhoods," Muhajarine said. While the income gap between east and west may be closing, wealth is still mostly concentrated on the edges of the city, in sprawling suburban developments. The Willows, for example, has an average household income of $318,539 - nearly double the next-wealthiest neighbourhood, Abour Creek, which had an average household income of $161,882.

Muhajarine says it's not surprising that all but two of the 15 neighbourhoods with the highest incomes are on the outskirts of the city, where newer, more expensive houses have sprang up.

There is, however, a shift happening in the suburbs as well, and it's partly by design. City planners have now adopted an enthusiasm for new neighbourhoods designed as "urban villages," with a mix of commercial and residential as well as high-and low-income housing.

While the wealth is concentrated in places like Silverspring and Briarwood, newer developments like Stonebridge and Hampton Village have average household incomes around under $100,000, with a mix of single-family homes and condos.

New neighbourhoods in the planning stages for the city's northeast, including the recently named Aspen Ridge, are expected to have even more apartments and condos and even fewer single-family homes - a planning strategy that could lead to even more mixed incomes in the suburbs.

"I think if we do neighbourhood development properly, it's going to be vibrant for everyone. It's going to be vibrant not just on the east and the far west, but also north to south and all across the city," Muhajarine said.

Other experts point out that just because wealth is spread geographically throughout the city, that doesn't mean the income gap between rich and poor is shrinking.

"The top one per cent are certainly still gaining ... inequality, I don't think it has lessened much," said Paul Gingrich, a retired University of Regina professor who wrote a paper in 2009 on Saskatchewan's growing income gap.

The numbers are there to back him up. Income data from 2011 shows Saskatoon's so-called "one per cent" earned more than $191,000 a year, while the city's largest income bracket earned more than $51,305 a year. Meanwhile, a large chunk of the population - 44 per cent - earned just $27,815 a year or less.

For his part, Nellis says he is happy living in a neighbourhood that is mixed economically. While he is a homeowner with an expensive snowmobile and two dirt bikes in his garage, many of his neighbours are middle-income or even lowincome renters.

He says he wouldn't have it any other way.

"Out there, you don't get young teenage kids coming and asking to do odd jobs. There is much more community in this neighbourhood," he said.

INCOMES BY NEIGHBOURHOOD

Highest average household income:

The Willows: $318,539

Arbor Creek: $161,882

Briarwood: $157,611

Lakeridge: $149,124

Erindale: $147,048

Lowest average household income:

Nutana Suburban Centre: $37,070

Pleasant Hill: $40,295

Confederation Park: $46,695

King George: $47,209

Central Business District: $51,888

-----

Most immigrants: Meadowgreen: 1,315 Confederation Park: 1,215 Wildwood: 1,000 Lakeview 925 Lawson Heights: 890

Fewest immigrants: Kelsey - Woodlawn: 0 The Willows: 15 Rosewood: 25 Richmond Heights: 55 Holiday Park: 75

Most people identifying as aboriginal: Pleasant Hill: 1,605 Confederation Park: 1,145 Pacific Heights: 975 Riversdale: 935 Caswell Hill: 870

Fewest people identifying as aboriginal: Lawson Heights Suburban Centre: 0 Richmond Heights: 0 The Willows: 0 Lakewood: 50 Nutana Suburban Centre: 55

Most people who take the bus to work: University Heights Suburban Centre: 6.6% Holiday Park: 6.6% Caswell Hill: 6.2% Central Business District: 5.6% Brevoort Park: 4.8%

Source: Statistics Canada; City of Saskatoon Neighbourhood Profiles

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix