Except for pockets of rich in the west and poor in the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver was home to middle class folks in the 1970s.
But fast forward to 2010 and a starkly different city emerges.
The middle class shrunk to 53 per cent from 71 per cent, more people are rich or poor, neighbourhoods gentrified and poverty shifted east along the rapid transit line, according to UBC geology Professor David Ley’s research on disparity in Metro Vancouver.
“It’s a real suburbanization of poverty,” Ley said. “I don’t think our public image of cities has quite caught up with that.”
His preliminary report released this fall, “Divisions and Disparities in Lotus-Land: Socio-Spatial Income Polarization in Greater Vancouver, 1970-2005,” looks at the average income in different census tracts to see if it falls above, at or below the city’s average.
By 2005 more neighbourhoods in the west were rich while the poor – traditionally concentrated in the inner city – were priced out of the centre and moved along the SkyTrain to South Burnaby and North Surrey.
While no one reason can explain why, gentrification of neighbourhoods such as Yaletown, Fairview and Grandview-Woodland displaced people and caused homelessness, Ley said.
And numbers from 2010 income tax returns that Ley received this week show accelerated polarization between rich and poor, especially in the Downtown Eastside.
Vancouver’s experience is opposite of Toronto when it comes to transit, Ley said, as high income residents concentrate around transit in Hogtown.
It’s a phenomenon Martin Wyant, CEO of Tri-Cities social services organization the Share Society, can see simply by looking at the increase of residents that need Share’s food bank – a 59 per cent rise since 2007.
In the suburbs, new condo developments hide the poverty, he said, but most people are forced to commute for higher paying jobs.
“You’ll see the same things going on here, but they’re a little bit more hidden,” he said.
Share helps a lot of refugees, as many can’t afford to settle downtown. But Wyant also sees many whose lives have been rattled by a lost job or major sickness.
“The reality for most people is they’re maybe one or two paychecks away from needing a food bank,” he said. “It can happen to any of us.”