Archive for the Demographics category

December 5th, 2011

Catholic Shrines of Carroll Gardens

Posted in Art and Design, Demographics, Society and Culture, United States by Christopher Szabla

At Court Street and Fourth Place is the Van Westerhout Cittadini Molesi Social Club’s Madonna Addolorata

Jesus has risen again on Brooklyn’s Wyckoff Street. His hand outstretched toward passersby, Christ silently sermonizes from a lightbox that both protects him from the elements and casts a holy aura around his colorfully-painted, ceramic torso. He’s also a home improvement with which the Joneses can’t keep up — the small stone statue next door (it looks a little like popular images of St. Francis of Assisi) is literally outshined and overshadowed by the devotionally double-padlocked shrine that’s built around him.

Wyckoff Street is technically in Cobble Hill, a largely gentrified slice of brownstone Brooklyn bordering tony Brooklyn Heights. Further south is Carroll Gardens, where awnings grow more metallic, siding more aluminum, and residents are more consistently old timers, many of them Italian. Carroll Gardens has seen its share of wealthier newcomers, too, but not to the extent of Cobble Hill.

The density of its shrines is a testament. Spreading out in Carroll Gardens’ unusually spacious front lawns (which give the neighborhood the second half of its name), boldly occupying prime real estate even on Court Street, one of the area’s main drags, Catholic iconography stands guard against the aesthetic imperatives of newcomers whose taste for prosciutto is more affected than acculturated.


April 11th, 2011

How Canada Votes, Street by Street

Posted in Canada, Demographics, Maps, Politics, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

Election signs in Calgary, 2006

Canada is in the midst of yet another federal election, one that will, if the current trends hold steady, result in a third minority government for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. It’s a pretty dismal state of affairs. But even the most delicious truffle looks like a turd, so things might still turn out well, especially if Canadians finally wake up and grow tired of having a petty tyrant as prime minister.

In the meantime, my friend Cedric Sam has created a pretty good way to kill time: Google Maps of 2008 federal election results based on data from each and every polling station in the country. Since each polling station serves no more than a few hundred voters, the level of detail is extraordinarily precise, especially in dense urban areas. You can check it out at the website of the Montreal newspaper La Presse, which has published the maps in English.

Sometimes the maps can be surprising. Who knew that the well-heeled streets of Outremont held so many NDP supporters, while the immigrant-dominated, working-class north end of Côte des Neiges was so heavily Liberal? Other times, it looks exactly the way you would expect: in Edmonton Strathcona, the densely-populated streets around Whyte Avenue and the University of Alberta voted NDP, while more suburban areas to the south and east voted Conservative. (The NDP won in both Outremont and Edmonton Strathcona.)

2008 results in Outremont, Montreal


October 20th, 2010

Say Goodbye to Old Hong Kong

Old buildings bought for redevelopment are displayed in the window of an acquisition company office on Victory Avenue in Ho Man Tin

There goes the neighbourhood. A new government policy on compulsory sales in old buildings has led to a property gold rush in Hong Kong’s older districts, putting homeowners on guard and worrying many that well-established communities will be uprooted and destroyed.

Before April, acquisition companies working for developers had to buy 90 percent of a building’s units before they could force the remaining owners to sell. Now the government has lowered that threshold to 80 percent for buildings more than 50 years old.

The impact can be felt in places like Ho Man Tin, where up to 20 buildings in the few blocks just east of the MTR’s East Rail Line are now targeted for redevelopment. About half are being acquired by Richfield Realty, a company whose controversial acquisition methods include the hanging of large red banners over targeted buildings, a tactic that many homeowners say creates an atmosphere of intimidation.

“We’re very angry and upset to see those banners all over the place — it’s like a cancer that’s spreading throughout the city,” said Kobe Ho, a bookstore manager who lives on Waterloo Road in Ho Man Tin. Some of her friends in the neighbourhood have already been displaced by Richfield’s acquisitions.

“The new legislation has really sped up the process of urban renewal in Hong Kong,” said Wong Ho-yin, a member of the Minority Owners’ Alliance Against Compulsory Sales, which works with homeowners who do not want to leave their homes. “But urban renewal has so many negative effects, in terms of urban planning, social networks and protecting the rights of homeowners. It’s bad enough with the Urban Renewal Authority, but when the private sector gets involved, things are even worse.”


October 3rd, 2010

A Window into Kuala Lumpur

Posted in Asia Pacific, Demographics, Public Space, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

Two weeks ago, my girlfriend and I were celebrating Malaysia’s national holiday at a street party in Bangsar, an upscale neighbourhood of Kuala Lumpur. We had just walked there along broken sidewalks, the sun beating down on us — Kuala Lumpur is not the most pedestrian-friendly place — and we were in desperate need of a drink, so we popped into a bar and ordered a couple of beers. We found ourselves in the midst of a panel discussion about what it means to be Malaysian. “Are we a nation or a collection of peoples?” asked the moderator, an earnest young journalist of Indian descent.

One of the speakers, a young half-Chinese, half-Indian man dressed in a traditional Malay outfit (with the addition of red heart-shaped sunglasses) gave a witty and entertaining presentation about the ambiguities of national identity. His delivery was upbeat, but his message was serious and thoughtful: Malaysia could hardly be described as a true nation, he said — otherwise the government would not have to invest so much in convincing everyone that there is such a thing as “1Malaysia” — but it is also more than the sum of its Malay, Chinese and Indian parts. Like Canada, which is also prone to existential crises and frequent periods of self-doubt, Malaysia is a country that exists in a perpetual state of in-betweenness.

This lingered in my mind for the six days we spent wandering the streets of Kuala Lumpur, a city that few travellers spend much time in and even many Malaysians seem to dislike. For all its importance as an economic and administrative hub, KL doesn’t present itself on a platter like Penang, the darling of Malaysia’s tourism industry. It’s a sprawling, disjointed place that makes casual exploration difficult, but I enjoyed its unpretentiousness and the way it opened a window into Malaysia’s cultural complexities.


September 27th, 2010

Mapping Segregation

Posted in Demographics, Maps, Society and Culture, United States by Christopher DeWolf

Four decades have passed since the end of formal racial segregation in the United States, but as anyone can tell you, informal segregation remains a part of everyday life in many areas of the country. That becomes especially clear when you look at Eric Fischer‘s new maps of race and ethnicity in major American cities. In each of these new maps, one dot represents 25 people, and each dot’s colour represents a racial or ethnic group as defined by the US Census: non-Hispanic white is red, black is blue, Hispanic is orange and Asian is green.

Every city in the world is divided along some lines, be they ethnic, linguistic or economic, but what is shocking about Fischer’s maps is how many American cities remain starkly divided according to race. Just look at Detroit, where 8 Mile Road is visible not only as the border between city and suburbs but as the line of demarcation between black and white.

(Along with ethnicity, the maps also illustrate population density — the more densely-populated an area, the more opaque it appears on the map. What surprises me about the Detroit map, along with the starkness of the city’s racial divide, is how the city proper remains just as dense as the suburbs, despite massive depopulation.)


June 12th, 2010

Mexican Bohemia: Chicago’s Pilsen

Posted in Architecture, Demographics, Society and Culture, United States by Christopher Szabla

From the Loop, the Pink Line El bursts west, floating among the rooftops of a low-rise industrial district. As the city’s wall of downtown skyscrapers drifts away and the train enters an expanse of limitless sky, it’s as if the Pink Line is darting toward far more distant destinations than its terminus in neighboring Cicero. The slightly undulating horizontals of the warehouse roofs take on the characteristics of the rolling, arid Plains and desert beyond, stretching almost ceaselessly to the south and the west.

Stopping at 18th St., though, it’s more apparent the journey transports mentally further than it has physically; the Sears Tower still looms totemically, as it does over most of pancake-flat Chicago’s south and west sides. But something else has happened: the station is covered in a riot of color; art infuses every step and crevice. Alighting here, the rider descends this urban canvas into Pilsen: first settled by crafty vrais Bohemians, resettled by Mexicans and increasingly claimed again by bohemians of a different sort, Pilsen is a neighborhood where artistic traditions run deep.


May 6th, 2010

Noodles and a Sex Shop

Posted in Canada, Demographics, Fiction, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

DCorbeil | Noodles in West Downtown, Montreal (2010)

J’avance, j’arrive à ce qui semble être les confins de ce quartier.

Un dimanche soir pluvieux. Mi-printemps boueux, 23h42.

L’odeur est très désagréable, ça me prend au nez. Pas étonnant, un îlot complet à récemment été calciné. Quel gâchis ! De grands bâtiments aux arcades encore sensibles, qui tombe en ruine, qui semble prêt à tomber. Dans la rue, je suis désormais presque seul.

À l’intersection, une ample place. Métro Atwater : un immense forum, un cinéma gargantuesque et puéril.

Elle m’étonne : malgré que je sois si prêt du centre-ville, à un jet de pierre de la tourelle de la bourse, cet espace est vide. Vide. Et vide de sens.

Dans un angle de la ville qui semble vide de tout sens d’urbanité. Je suis déstabilisé.

Je retourne sur mes pas, je n’aime pas les limites.  Sans pour autant éprouver le moindre désir à me voir traverser cet îlot à nouveau, incinéré, laissé pour compte, et où l’odeur de la poussière est si forte qu’elle me prend à la gorge. M’étouffe ! L’indigeste sentiment est d’autant plus fort lorsque je balaye ces vitrines, brisées, d’où émanent, d’un coup de bourrasque, ces souvenirs d’une nuit enflammée.


March 15th, 2010

French Expats, Here and There

Posted in Asia Pacific, Canada, Demographics, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

World cup celebration

French football fans celebrate in 2006 on the Plateau Mont-Royal
Photo by Oliver Lavery

It’s been a long time coming, but the French — in the words of a shop manager on Mount Royal Avenue — “are taking over the Plateau!” French immigrants have been coming to Quebec for decades, but the past few years have seen an especially large influx. This year, Canada will issue 14,000 temporary visas to French people between the ages of 18 and 35, most of them on working holidays. Many choose to live in Montreal, and especially on the Plateau Mont-Royal, where French accents have become common enough to elicit half-joking exclamations like the one above. According to the French consulate, there could be as many as 100,000 French citizens living in Montreal.

In today’s La Presse, Émilie Côté takes a look at the growing community of young French émigrés on the Plateau. Many of the people she encountered say they want to stay in Montreal long-term, but finding permanent employment has been difficult. There’s also some lingering prejudice against “les maudits Français,” though some admit that the animosity could be well-deserved, considering that French people “have a chauvinistic streak” and are “notorious whiners.” In any case, the French influx is beginning to reshape the social fabric of the Plateau in some potentially fascinating ways.

Though Montreal is unique in that it is the only large, economically-developed French-speaking city outside Europe, it is not the only place with a growing French community. More and more French people are moving to Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver; a number of American cities, including Boston, San Francisco and New York, have been popular destinations for quite some time now. According to the French magazine Les Echos, there are 210,000 French expatriates in Canada, 175,000 in the United States and 158,000 in the United Kingdom. But here’s a surprise: the country with the absolute largest number of French expats is China, with 252,000.


January 23rd, 2010

Indiana Jones Arrives in Catania: Taxi Driver

Posted in Demographics, Europe, Fiction, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

DCORBEIL | L’Etna fume la pipe : 2006

« Je suis à peine débarqué de cet avion trop petit que je pose mes pieds sur la piste. Le bus m’attend sous une pluie froide battue violemment par un vent gonflé d’une chaude humidité. On embarque, on débarque. Dix mètre à peine, tour de bus inutile et paresseux.

Les douaniers me parlent avec mollesse et estampillent mon passeport canadien sans me jeter le moindre regard. Je ne comprend rien de leur anglais, et ils n’essaient même pas de me parler en italien. Traitement éclair, acceptations hâtives. On me force à dégager le maigre espace dédié aux étrangers et je m’engouffre dans les couloirs du terminal, les secousses du vol encore au ventre.


December 14th, 2009

A Hasidic Exodus from Park Avenue?

Posted in Canada, Demographics, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

Hasidic Jewish procession

The Montreal Gazette reported this weekend that the Hasidic community in Outremont and Mile End is suffering from a housing shortage. In 2002, there were about 4,200 Hasidim in the neighbourhood; today there are more than 6,000. Rising property values mean that many new Hasidic families are finding themselves priced out of their own Montreal heartland. Apparently, the hunt is on to find a new neighbourhood with suitable and affordable housing.

If the Hasidic community does move on, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a Jewish community has come and gone. The entire swath of city from Chinatown right up to Little Italy is littered with former synagogues that were abandoned when the original Jewish community moved west. But it wouldn’t be a good thing if the Hasidim leave.

First of all, a Hasidic exodus would be a disaster for Park Avenue’s economy. Hasidic Jews make up more than 25 percent of Outremont’s population, and even they have their own Yiddish bookstores and kosher eateries, they still rely on non-Hasidic businesses for everything else, like drugs, hardware, stationery and fresh fruits and vegetables. Most of those shops are on Park Avenue; imagine the impact if they lost a quarter of their business.


June 18th, 2009

The Teenage City

Posted in Asia Pacific, Canada, Demographics, Public Space, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

“The thing to do on prom night 1998 was to take the rented limo up to the lookout on Mount-Royal after a soirée of underage bar-hopping to see the sun rise,” writes Alanah Heffez on Spacing Montreal. “We didn’t make it. Dizzy on newly-discovered drinks, my date and I watched the sun come up from the rooftop of a grocery store around the corner from home.”

The teenager’s city is one of escape, adventure and a constant search “for something to climb, for a hole in the fence, for an undiscovered place, a final frontier to push against,” she writes. Too old to play at home and shut out from other venues (movies get expensive and bars are for the pleasure of the 18-plus), teenagers begin to see the entire city as a playground. “If my experience was any indication, teenagers rely on public space more than almost any other demographic,” Alanah notes.


February 11th, 2008

Riga: Language and the City

Posted in Demographics, Europe, Society and Culture by Donal Hanley


Having travelled in other parts of Eastern Europe when younger, I was excited about my first trip to Riga, Latvia, a few months ago. I was not sure exactly what to expect but had an idea that it would feel more developed than other parts of Eastern Europe while still bearing quite some traces of its communist past. The prosperity of the city surprised me – it feels like a wealthy Scandinavian city and, indeed, it has many cultural and business ties to Scandinavia. I did not feel during the course of my week there any hint of a communist inheritance.

I was also curious to see how the ethnic Latvians and ethnic Russians co-existed in this Baltic city. Having read up on Riga before my trip, I knew that Riga is about 42% ethnic Latvian and about 42% ethnic Russian, and thus was not surprised to hear quite a lot of Russian spoken in the streets. It did not take me long to find out that there is indeed some antagonism between the two groups.

What I was not prepared for, however, was the complete lack of any signage in Russian. I do not know what the law is there, but it does not appear to consist of having a Latvian sign at least twice as big as a Russian sign. I saw plenty of English signs. Russian was most noticeable for its absence.

I cannot decide if this is a good or a bad thing – the Latvians were unwillingly taken over by the Russian-dominated Soviet Union, and their culture almost destroyed. Independence provided them with a precious chance to protect and restore their culture. On the other hand, Russians are, unless they are willing to Latvianise, clearly treated like second class citizens. I met one Russian who used a Latvianised spelling on his business cards, but used his native Russian spelling to sign his e-mails.

I sympathise with both groups and cannot help but compare and contrast the situation in Riga with that in Montreal, which it seems to resemble more greatly than that in other bilingual cities such as Brussels. Is it the difficulty in reconciling the conflicting demands of justice for a minority within a minority?


January 28th, 2008

Chinatown’s Jewish History


If Chinatown’s Jewish heritage isn’t obvious, it’s probably because it has been erased by time and redevelopment, swept away like Chenneville St. and its quietly imposing synagogue.

Makom: Seeking Sacred Space, an ongoing exhibition at Hampstead’s Dorshei Emet synagogue, examines the historical traces of Montreal’s Jewish community with photos of former synagogues near the Main.

“The exhibition raises some really interesting questions about the way that spaces that are claimed by one group of people or one community are also claimed, in their own way, by other communities,” said Leanore Lieblein, a retired McGill English professor who helped organize the exhibition. Even in a synagogue that has been renovated and used for something else, she added, “you can feel the presence of past lives in that building.”

Chenneville’s synagogue was a case in point. Located on a small street (now shortened and written as Cheneville) between St. Urbain and Jeanne Mance Sts., below Dorchester (now René Lévesque) Blvd. and above Craig (now St. Antoine) St., it was built in 1838 by Montreal’s oldest Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel.

In 1887, when Shearith Israel moved to a much larger home on Stanley St. – following the westward migration of Montreal’s older generations of Canadian-born, anglicized Jews – the synagogue was rented by Beth David, a congregation of Romanian immigrants who arrived in the late 19th century, part of a huge wave of Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe. Over the next three decades, the area around present-day Chinatown – with Bleury St. to the west, Sanguinet St. to the east, Craig to the south and Ontario St. to the north – became the heart of Jewish Montreal, a haven for Yiddish-speaking immigrants who established businesses, synagogues and many of the Jewish institutions that still exist.

Israel Medresh, a journalist for the Kanader Adler, a Yiddish-language daily newspaper, sketched a portrait of the neighbourhood in his 1947 book Montreal Foun Nekhtn, translated into English in 2000 as Montreal of Yesterday.

“The corner of St. Urbain and Dorchester was the very heart of the Jewish neighbourhood,” he wrote. “Nearby was Dufferin Park, then a ‘Jewish park’ where Jewish immigrants went to breathe the fresh air, meet their landslayt (compatriots), hear the latest news, look for work and read the newspapers.”


December 10th, 2007

Indo-Fijians, Filipinos and Romanians

Posted in Canada, Demographics, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf


Winnipeg: it’s a long way from the Philippines. Photo by Jezz

I’ve been pouring over the new 2006 census data on language and immigration released by Statistics Canada last week. Nationally, all of the attention is being paid to the fact that one-fifth of all Canadians are foreign-born, one of the highest rates in the world. Here in Montreal, the focus is on both a surge in immigration (especially from North Africa and China) and the changing linguistic makeup of the city.

Francophones — people whose mother tongue is French — are now a minority on Montreal Island, thanks mostly to high levels of immigration from non-francophone countries. The number of anglophones, meanwhile, has increased for the first time in 30 years. Arabic, Spanish and Chinese have become the fastest-growing non-official languages in Montreal.

But enough with the big picture news; it has already been dissected ad infinitum in the media. What interests me are some of the odd, surprising and overlooked trends in immigration that are having an impact on Canada’s cities.

Indo-Fijians in Vancouver

Looking through the census data, I wasn’t surprised to see that nearly 17 percent of Vancouver’s population now speaks a Chinese language, and I certainly wasn’t surprised to see that China and India were its top sources of immigrants. I was a bit surprised, however, to note that there are more than 17,200 immigrants from Fiji who live in Vancouver. Most of them arrived before 1991, but enough came between 2001 and 2006 (1,670) to make the tiny Pacific island Vancouver’s fifteenth-largest source of new immigrants, after Mexico and before Afghanistan.

People from Fiji have been immigrating to Canada since the 1960s and most of them have landed in Vancouver. The vast majority are Indo-Fijian and they have a distinct sense of cultural identity, not unlike other immigrants of Indian descent from countries like Guyana.

Filipinos in Winnipeg

Winnipeg is not normally a major draw for immigrants, yet it has become one of the principal centres of Filipino immigration to Canada. Winnipeg is home to Canada’s third-largest Filipino population despite being the eighth-largest city (even then, at 694,000 inhabitants, it has only a couple of thousand more people than Hamilton). 6,885 Filipino immigrants arrived in Winnipeg between 2001 and 2006, more than three times as many people as the city’s second-largest source of new immigrants, India. One-fifth of all immigrants in Winnipeg, or roughly 25,000 people, come from the Philippines.

The reason why so many Filipino immigrants settle in Winnipeg is obvious: friends and family who are already there. That’s the case for most immigrants across Canada, whatever their origin and wherever they choose to live. But what is especially notable is that Winnipeg has maintained such a large Filipino community despite continually losing people — both native- and foreign-born — to other provinces.