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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Suburban (dis)advantage : views of suburban life from low-income immigrants in Surrey, BC Miro, Jacopo


A defining feature of changing patterns of spatial inequality in Canadian metropolitan regions is the growing dispersal of low-income households into suburban municipalities. Closely related to this process is the suburbanization of immigrant settlement, as more and more recent immigrants settle directly into the suburbs. Although local dynamics are complex and difficult to generalize, evidence suggests that Canadian suburbs are housing an increasing number of lower-income immigrant households. Behind these changes are processes of urban development and gentrification, which are deemed to be ‘pushing’ lower-income households out of the urban core and into outlying areas. Much of the current literature suggests that suburban location compounds social and economic disadvantages, arguing that historically marginalized populations in the suburbs become cut off from needed services, employment opportunities and community supports. Focusing on a case study of Metro Vancouver’s largest suburb (Surrey, BC), my research reveals a more complex picture of how residents experience life in the suburbs, and what informs their decisions to move there. I show how studies that emphasise a narrative of exclusion, displacement and unequal access to opportunities are not fully consistent with the experiences of local residents. My findings both confirm and upend current understandings of the rise of low-income suburban areas, conveying a picture of neighbourhood change as a process of both push and pull factors. I make the case that alongside challenges and barriers, moving to the suburbs affords lower-income newcomers with opportunities and benefits that go overlooked in the established literature. I also argue that narratives of displacement and social exclusion are ultimately rooted in particular ideas about what constitutes good planning and good neighbourhoods. I make the case that urban scholars project their own ideas about what constitutes good planning onto a culturally diverse group of people whose varied wants and needs do not always align with those of today’s leading urbanists.

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