CONTESTING THE LIMITS OF SOCIAL POLARIZATION IN URBAN COMMUNITIES:
THE CONSTRUCTION(S) OF TENT CITY, TORONTO
On September 24, 2002, private security staff hired by Home Depot Canada cleared the community of Tent City, Toronto. While a number of factors contributed to the eviction, several characteristics make the case particularly intriguing, including the nature of the community, the timing of the eviction, the role of private capital (in a social policy decision), the intensive but short-lived media frenzy, and the varied portrayals of—and reactions to—the series of events. Troubling questions arise pertaining to distinctions between public and private space, socio-economic opportunity, inclusive social spheres, the definition of community and social policy. How might we make sense of what happened?
This paper provides a possible theoretical framework through which to understand the events around Tent City. Against a backdrop of heightened social polarization and sanitization, and in the interests of economic stature and security, urban areas are increasingly marked by visible splits between “pretty pictures” and “urban blight.” Such interests, and fears, underpin a fierce drive to protect space, and ensure against its’ being soiled. The discursive creation of a range of “others” that cause and reflect the impurity of space channels policy decisions and further shapes public opinions. Ownership of space, and of the resources and technologies to successfully define the normative assumptions and imaginings attached to space become crucial in order for one’s own identity and sense of community to be fostered.
After tracing the evolution and eviction of the Tent City community in the paper’s second half, it is suggested that this settlement, regardless of its own sense of community and initiative, was unable to meet more mainstream definitions of capital and community that would be necessary for its survival.
Mike Bulthuis completed his MA (Political Science) at Carleton University, in February, 2001. His research interests primarily focused upon policy approaches to social inclusion, including a discursive analysis of the concept of “social cohesion,” and the role of, and means for, neo-liberal economic systems to foster feelings of belonging and attachment in local and national communities. His current interests around Tent City and other squatting settlements extend from emerging interests in urban social realities and the implications of intensive and diverse communities. Currently a policy analyst with Human Resources Development Canada, he is exploring a number of urban studies/social policy Ph.D. programs to pursue in the future. His work presented here pertains solely to his personal research interests, and is not connected to or a reflection of his employer.
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