By Victoria F.
In the neighbourhood of Moss Park, the presence of TTC Enforcement Officers was highly evident. Storming onto the 505 Dundas streetcar in pairs, the officers demanded proof of payment, as if they were searching for the odd one out who didn’t pay. Why doesn’t this happen on the 196 York University bus? The 36 Finch? The 84 Sheppard?
As the TTC police slither their way through the packed sardine-can-of-a-streetcar, the gentleman in the back left corner shifts his half drunken beer can under his seat and attempts to find his transfer. They scan the presto cards, analyze the transfer stubs, and assess the demeanors of the passengers as they go. You can tell they’re ready to reprimand someone at the drop of a dime. It looks like they’ve dealt with this many times before. It must be a common thing for people to evade paying fare on this route if they’re here during peak times. Even the passengers had that look on their faces like “here they are again”.
This presence of the TTC enforcement officers even lead some people to get off the streetcar. Maybe they paid their fare and maybe they didn’t, who knows. But, you could tell who was adjusting themselves slightly in their seats, who shifted their faces towards the windows, and who had a twitch in their eye as soon as the TTC police shouted “get your proof of payment ready”. They instilled a strict and stern sense of order, direction and regulation among the passengers. You knew if you didn’t have that little slip of beige recycled paper you were in trouble. If you didn’t produce your Presto card or other payment of choice, fines were coming your way. And as we sat there holding out our transfers with cold fingers, I realized that having this object in my possession was a luxury that many individuals in this neighbourhood cannot afford to hold.
After this streetcar escapade, followed by walking around the neighbourhood for hours, there was a basic but solid picture painted for us: the urban poor were struggling here. Many were seeking refuge on the streetcar and in other public places, but the TTC Enforcement Officers made it quite clear: you are not welcome here. This regulatory and punitive behaviour not only explicitly excludes those who are evading fare, but explicitly ignores the core reasons as to why fare evasion is so prominent in Moss Park. If people were not economically disadvantaged, marginalized, racialized, stigmatized, and constantly “othered” in this neighbourhood, I’m sure supports would be both available and accessible for these now criminalized fare evaders. Important to note is the fact that it wasn’t the pretty blonde in the pant suit and trench coat who was graciously escorted off the streetcar, but the person in the three-sizes-too-big coat with the pilled-up winter hat whose voice was a little too loud for most riders’ likings. The social inequities in this neighbourhood go way deeper than not being able to pay the $3.25 for a bus ticket. Tying this to the concept of gentrification, the emergence of a gentrifying neighbourhood can itself influence the location of new transit lines [and transit protocols], as those with material resources and political influence have greater success in persuading civic leaders to respond to their demands for a more robust transit infrastructure (Billingham, 2015).
Structural inequalities are what shape the choices that people make in Moss Park. Not in every circumstance do people really have a free choice to go buy bus tickets or load their Presto card or buy a metropass for the month; but, this is irrelevant when it comes to the rules of the TTC. Instead of losing out on $3.25, the TTC would rather disown and discard those who are in need of the refuge they seek on the streetcar. Not causing a disturbance, not being a nuisance, not harming anybody, just simply not paying a bus ticket. But, clearly cold, possibly hungry, definitely in need; yet this presence of the TTC police is just another form of gentrification in the real world of Moss Park. It is done in an outright movement to clean up the neighbourhood, to give the illusion that poor people don’t live here. Or barely live here, rather. Give the illusion that people aren’t shooting drugs in the alleyways. The illusion that people are thriving, not just barely surviving because the rest of the city couldn’t bear to pay a sliver of attention to the realities that are taking place right under their high-held noses. But no, what matters is that the criminal who didn’t put their token in the fare box is removed swiftly in an effort to not disturb other worthy riders. This is a clear cut example of neighbourhood and global processes of displacement which drive the poor out (Blomley, 1998), and can lead to displacement of lower income long-time residents due to the economic and social pressure that results from the influx of higher income newcomer residents (Billingham, 2015).
Thinking back to the image of the TTC enforcers entering the streetcar, I can only recall feelings of nervousness and hesitation. Of course though, being the socially and economically privileged white, educated female that I am, I did pay my fare and had nothing to worry about. But, still, the TTC police presence put people on edge and instilled a great fear. Not fear of harm, but fear of being removed and reprimanded and discarded as easily as people are in their everyday lives. This is a harsh reality for residents in the Moss Park neighbourhood, as they often cannot evade these feelings on the daily basis. This is an example of how public spaces tend to differentiate into those of freedom and surveillance, into flexibility and strictly regulated areas, and into areas of access and exclusion (Kotus, 2009). As well, it illustrates how this socially produced space is saturated with power relations; the objects of control are the social relationships, actions and experiences of people (Blomley, 1998).
As an effort of gentrification, the heavy presence of the TTC Enforcement Officers in the Moss Park neighbourhood serves as a mechanism to segregate, separate, and eradicate those who do not fit the intended picture of what it means to be living in downtown Toronto. In his article, Greene suggests that these shifts were implicated in the production and consolidation of new forms of socio-spatial polarization and segregation that dramatically changed the landscape of urban poverty (Greene, 2014). These greater social processes are heavily influenced by the city administration’s commitment to safeguard working-class, inner-city neighbourhoods and its middle and upper class residents (Filion, 1988).
This example effectively undermines the health of the residents who ultimately cannot afford much, let alone bus fare. This is a clear cut illustration of how health is effected critically by place, and how greater social, economic, and political forces drive these outcomes. It is moulded by leads to a development of a new culture, and the residential and political demands that follow from it (Hamnett, 1991).
Because of the place in which these people are situated, it dictates how the social relations are formed around them. It dictates how they are categorized, conceptualized, labeled, and ultimately treated. Billingham in his article maintains that urban scholars need to pay a closer attention to and better incorporate understandings of the scope of gentrification which includes demographic, geographic, and political factors (Billingham, 2015).
More needs to be done than simply monitoring the aisles of public transit in Moss Park. Suggested by Saville, there is a need for the creation of increased social capital that results in sustainable and safe neighbourhoods (Saville, 2009). More attention needs to be paid. More discussion needs to be had. More compassion needs to be shown, and more love needs to be spread here.
- Billingham, C. M. (2015). “The broadening conception of gentrification: recent developments and avenues for future inquiry in the sociologicla study of urban change.” Michigan Sociological Review. 29: 75-102.
- Blomley, N. (1998). “Landscapes of property.” Law & Society Review. 32(3): 567-612.
- Filion, P. (1988). “The nrighbourhood improvement plan: Montreal and Toronto: contrasts between a participatory and a centralized approach to urban policy making.” Urban History Review. 17(1): 16-28.
- Greene, J. (2014). “Urban restructuring, homelessness, and collective action in Toronto, 1980-2003.” Urban History Review. 43(1): 21-37.
- Hamnett, C. (1991). “The blond men and the elephant: the explanation of gentrification.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 16(2): 173-189.
- Kotus, J. (2009). “Fragmenting and isolating neighbourhoods: a way of creating flexible spaces and flexible behaviours?” GeoJournal. 74(6): 551-566.
- Saville, G. (2009). “SafeGrowth: moving forward in neighbourhood development.” Built Environment. 35(3): 386-402.