Weeks on from the Toronto shooting, how is the city coping?

Residents of the Danforth commemorating the shooting in late July 2018. Image: Getty.

We’re several weeks out from the latest episode of mass casualty violence in Toronto, and the city is still grappling with the impact of the shooting that left two dead in the bustling area of the city known as The Danforth.

The shooting came just three months after the van attack that killed 10 people in Toronto’s north end, traumatising a city unaccustomed to such acts of mass violence.

In the first four weeks after the July 22 mass shooting, events included two funerals, a benefit concert, community vigils and the creation of temporary memorials along The Danforth.

As an expert in disaster and emergency management at York University, not far from where the latest attack occurred, I’ve been making detailed observations at the scene in order to both document and understand the first month of this newest disaster recovery for Toronto — a city that is unfortunately becoming too well-versed in mass casualty disasters.

Public mass shooting

Danforth Avenue was the site of the shootings in Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood. It’s an area of the city known for its vibrant public spaces and busy patio culture.

The motives of the deceased shooter remain unknown as the investigation proceeds. But we do know that for some reason he targeted one of the city’s most high-profile neighbourhoods, symbolic of Toronto’s summertime festival culture.

Like the van attack, terrorism came to mind as a possible cause in the immediate aftermath of the violence. After the shooting, ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant) issued a communique claiming responsibility for the event, but authorities indicated the claim doesn’t match what their investigation has uncovered.

The shooting on The Danforth is best defined as a public mass shooting. These incidents occur in relatively public places, usually involving four or more deaths, and a gunman who somewhat indiscriminately selects victims. A public mass shooter’s agenda stems from their specific personal experiences and psychological conditions, not broader socio-political objectives.


The initial response

Like the van attack, the mass shooting resulted in a large crime scene with multiple deaths and injuries at different locations. The rampage occurred along a 400-metre stretch of Danforth Ave. and involved sites ranging from a public parkette to individual businesses.

At the time of the incident — approximately 10 p.m. on a Sunday evening — it was initially difficult for those in the middle of the mayhem to identify the type of crisis that was occurring around them. A roving gunman randomly targeting people was completely unexpected in that setting.

Immediate civilian responses included rapid first-aid provision to the wounded, followed by actions to evade the gunfire, including evacuation, sheltering in place and lockdowns. Out of necessity, ordinary bystanders improvised lifesaving medical assistance until first responders converged on the scene within minutes. Some of the bystanders acted heroically and sustained injury as they attempted to save others.

A 10-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman died from their wounds, and 13 people were hospitalised with various prognoses for physical recovery.

The shooter, identified as a 29-year-old man, died from a self-inflicted wound when confronted by police. As in the van attack, hundreds of people on the street were directly exposed to trauma by witnessing the carnage.

Organising recovery

The disaster response efforts obviously began immediately following the shooting. Police response protocols relating to gun violence incidents transitioned to first responder actions to manage mass casualties. These immediate actions were followed by subsequent crime scene investigation and cleanup, all of it taking place within hours.

Given the multiple urban functions (recreation, retail, residential and transportation) of Danforth Avenue, it was necessary for normalcy to return to the street quickly.

In the week after the shooting, one business, a popular dessert café where one of the casualties occurred, remained boarded up, though it has since reopened. Other businesses that were impacted quickly repaired bullet holes, erased remnants of the violence and resumed business as usual.

While the physical recovery of the neighbourhood was accomplished in short order, social recovery will take much longer as the neighbourhood comes to terms with what it means to be the site of a public mass shooting.

One of the ways that the Danforth is coming to terms with the public mass shooting is via memorials. Residents of the Danforth, businesses in the neighbourhood, the local business improvement association and churches worked quickly to reclaim the streets after the violent attack. An evening vigil held three days after the attack was one of the first public events. Temporary improvised memorials to the victims also materialised.

The main site of grieving was a city-owned parkette, the focal point of Greektown. At the Alexander the Great Parkette, a memorial grew around an existing fountain and garden.

In addition, two sidewalk memorials also emerged, and the temporarily boarded-up dessert café became a collection point for items of grief expression. At a third site, in proximity but not directly related to the tragedy itself, the blank plywood boards of construction barricades provided a canvas for mourners to memorialise the dead.

After the van attack uptown from The Danforth, a temporary disaster memorial was in place for 40 days before being completely dismantled. On The Danforth, makeshift memorials were relocated due to the annual Taste of The Danforth festival. The event is one of Canada’s largest street fairs with an estimated 1.6n people in attendance.

The long-term fate of the disaster memorials will involve a balancing act between the need to remember and the need to move forward.

Looking ahead at a new normal

Following the van attack, I suggested that there was a new normal in place for Toronto and I posed the question: what can we expect in the weeks and months ahead and beyond?

The answer to that question is now becoming clear: The greatest strengths of Canada’s largest city also represent significant weaknesses.

One of the factors that makes Toronto a desirable place to live, work and visit is neighbourhoods like The Danforth. The open, active public life at street level provides for many opportunities ranging from creativity hubs to opportunities for social and cultural diversity and the promotion of active local economies.

But those neighbourhoods also represent “soft targets” to exploit by people driven by antisocial and violent motives. These are places that are by their nature open access, not well-defended — and security posture is not top of mind.

The question now is: How does Toronto maintain its active and bustling neighbourhoods while also defending itself?

The Conversation

Jack L. Rozdilsky, Associate Professor of Disaster & Emergency Management, York University, Canada.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Five ways in which the rest of the world can avoid the homelessness crisis plaguing the US

Housing for all. Image: Nicobobinus/Flickr/creative commons.

Homelessness is a growing problem in the UK, where the number of people sleeping rough has doubled since 2010, yet it is dwarfed by the scale of the issue in the US. More than 500,000 homeless were found across the US during just one night, compared to the UK’s 2017 count of 4,751. Changes in the definition of homelessness and flawed methodologies suggest that the true number for the US could be anywhere from 2.5 to 10.2 times greater.

Millions more live in overcrowded or slum housing, forced to choose between the damage that poor conditions do to their physical and mental health, and the street. All of the US’s housing issues – from foreclosures to evictions to poor conditions – hit communities of colour the hardest.

This is due to a legacy of discrimination, which continues to undercut any commitment to safe and decent housing for all residents, whether in the private or public sector. In my recent book, City of Segregation, I explain how the long, violent history of creating spaces for the white and privileged classes is embedded in a number of practices, which continue in US cities to this day.

Exporting inequality

As private developers and investors seek out urban land in major cities around the world to secure their fortunes, real estate patterns and practices developed within the US are increasingly being observed elsewhere.

In cities as diverse as London, Sydney and Durban, community groups which have been working for decades to improve their neighbourhoods languish with little public or private resource. Meanwhile, developers create spaces for foreign investors and new residents, who anticipate certain protections and privileges such as greater security, high quality amenities and neighbours with similar interests and backgrounds.

This is a driving force behind rising evictions and the criminalisation of homelessness, alongside gated communities, hostile architecture, “broken windows” policing with its focus on prosecuting activities such as graffiti or jaywalking and the growing privatisation of public spaces through regeneration.

But there is still time for other countries to choose a different path. The UK, in particular, can build on the legacies of the post-war political consensus that all residents should have access to quality housing, and its acknowledgement of institutional racism and some history of government anti-racist campaigning.

Both legacies should be improved, but a renewed commitment to a programme of housing and anti-racism are central to increasing equality, prosperity and well-being for all. Based on my research, I’ve come up with five steps which the UK and countries like it can follow, to ensure that future development reduces – rather than drives – homelessness and inequality.


1. Build social housing

Unlike the US, the UK acknowledges a right to a home, and within living memory provided it for a huge swathe of British society. Social housing – whether in the form of traditional council flats, cooperatives or community land trusts – provides a variety of housing types and keeps rents from rising too far beyond wages.

When social housing is widely available, it makes a huge difference to people who – for one reason or another, and often through no fault of their own – become homeless. With social housing to fall back on, homelessness is a temporary condition which can be safely resolved. Without it, homelessness can become a life-destroying downwards spiral.

2. Preserve and expand community assets

Severe segregation in the US stripped entire communities of access to quality food, jobs, education, green spaces, services, banks and loans. Poverty is endemic, and can easily tip into homelessness. While far from perfect, the UK’s post-war commitment to universal provision of services, such as education and health care, and building social housing across all neighbourhoods underpinned a surge in upward mobility.

This achievement should be salvaged from the damage done by Right To Buy – a policy which sold off social housing without replacing it – and austerity, which has prompted a sell-off of public assets and land, as well as the closure of childrens’ services, libraries and community centres.

3. Decommodify housing

A market geared towards building apartment blocks for the portfolios of investors who will never live in them cannot produce the kind of housing and neighbourhoods which residents need, much less at a price they can afford.

While London has been badly affected for some time, this trend is now spreading to other areas of the UK and Europe. Local and national governments must act to prevent global demand for housing as investments from driving prices beyond the reach of those who need real homes.

4. Build communities, not walls

Gates, bars, armed security and homeowner restrictions are all ugly traits of private housing developed within the US context of desperate inequality and racism. The UK has a long and vibrant tradition of community development, creating a supportive built environment and social infrastructure of schools, libraries and other municipal services for residents.

Community assets. Image: Helen K/Flickr/creative commons.

This kind of development, and the social mobility and growing equality it fosters, safeguards public health and safety – not big walls, barbed wire and security guards. The private rented sector in the UK should be regulated to bring it more in line with Europe, where tenants prosper with security of tenure and strong regulation of rents and rent increases.

5. Raise your voice

Those who are bearing the brunt of our current housing crisis must be at the centre of efforts to change it. From tenants’ associations and renters’ unions, to campaign groups such as Justice for Grenfell, it’s vital to support those voices advocating fairer housing rights.

This also means rejecting austerity’s constant cuts to public services, funding social support for physical and mental health and ensuring that homes are safe, decent and secure, to create a safety net for those who are working to improve their communities.

The Conversation

Andrea Gibbons, Researcher in Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.