This Map of Toronto's Ethnic Distribution Raises Questions
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This Map of Toronto’s Ethnic Distribution Raises Questions

Sure we're inclusive, but are we equal?

A screenshot of Jeff Clark’s map of Toronto’s ethnic distribution.

At first glance it’s impossible to ignore: Jeff Clark’s map of ethnic distribution in the GTA (you can see a big, zoomable version on his website) shows that in large swaths of Toronto along the lakeshore, around the city centre, and up the west bank of the Don, Toronto the Good looks more like Toronto the Fair—or, at least, the fair-skinned.

But according to Clark, that’s just an illusion. The professional programmer created the piece as a way of exploring Statistics Canada census information, and also as a means of flexing his data analysis skills for prospective employers. At least to his eye, the map lives up to Toronto’s reputation as a multicultural haven, despite what appear to be several highly concentrated, homogenous areas around town. “If you zoom in very far on any area within the city, you will find members of different minority groups,” Clark said. “The distribution is certainly not uniform, but there does not appear to be any artificial separation to me.”

So, if you look closely enough, everything is alright, right? Even if one area has a more concentrated population of white people while another has a greater share of black or South Asian residents, it all comes out in the wash, right? Well…

See, the trouble is, Clark’s isn’t the only digital map illustrating Toronto’s demographic makeup. Check out this one, published by Global News in March, that tracks the average income of neighbourhoods in several Canadian cities. The divide between high- and low-income areas in Toronto lines up eerily well with the divisions between predominantly white neighbourhoods and predominantly minority neighbourhoods on Clark’s map.

And, of course, poverty comes with its own implications. “Patterns of wealth and poverty on maps are often the key to interpreting patterns on other maps,” writes Patrick Cain, of Global’s Investigative Data Desk. “Murder sites of male homicide victims in Toronto, for example, follow the classic checkmark shape of the city’s low-income neighbourhoods.”

Then there’s this map, also published by Global, that compares income in the GTA to standardized test scores among grade-three students. The match is a little rougher—and, granted, standardized test scores are not the be-all-end-all academic indicator—but school rankings, income, and homogeneity do appear to sync up.

Are the comparisons conclusively damning? No. We’re clearly not living in a segregated city. As Clark said, his map does prove that Torontonians of all colours live side by side, and the reasons for a city’s ethnic distribution are always complex. But the point is that there seem to be quite a lot more white Torontonians living beside other white Torontonians in the rich neighbourhoods with the good schools. Toronto’s ethnic minorities, meanwhile, tend to be relegated to areas where incomes are lower, rates of violent crime are higher, and schools are less reputable. The technical term for this sort of pattern is ghettoization. And whatever the cause, it needs addressing.

Before Toronto pats itself in the back for its inclusivity, it may want to ask whether inclusivity is the same as equality.