Bio-Gentrification: Vulnerability Bio-Value Chains in Gentrifying Neighbourhoods Forthcoming in



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The calculative milieu
The discovery of the problem of vulnerable populations shaped a key hinge upon which the University of British Columbia would become a major human development research milieu: The Early Development Instrument (EDI). The EDI was designed as a survey tool to measure children’s development vulnerabilities (Janus and Offord 2007, 2010). It was formalized in 1997 (copyrighted in 2000, see Janus 2010) and comprised roughly 104 questions relating to “physical health and well-being; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive development; and communication skills and general knowledge in relation to developmental benchmarks rather than curriculum-based ones” (Offord Centre for Child Studies, nd). These five fields were defined as the “core areas of child development that are known to be good predictors of adult health, education, and social outcomes” (Human Early Learning Partnership, nd).

The EDI was normatively directed at promoting “social mixing” policies and programs in relation to neighbourhood effects theoretical premises, which define human conduct, good or bad, as contagious. It was aimed at finding “the one number,” the child vulnerability rate. This rate was contrived as having a statistical ebb and flow in relation to a norm of 10 percent. Deviations were brought into view through counting, tracking, and mapping. Densely clustered deviations, such as those that might appear in an urban locale were regarded as especially problematic (Kershaw, Anderson, Warburton, and Hertzman 2009, 14, 28). By definition, such places were understood as lacking the requisite epigenetic conditions to promote “normal” development. The solution to this problem would be, in part, interventions aimed at reducing negative and promoting positive neighbourhood effects.

The creation of the EDI also took form in relation to the urban considerations woven through human development sensibilities. First, the instrument was the product of Mustard and his associates attempt to gather together “world class developmentalists, educators, cognitive scientists, and neuroscientists” in common cause to advance human development studies (CIFAR 1992, 53). This plan had been set out in The Early Years, which made the case for “an independent, non-political body, with academic affiliation” to spearhead the human development research agenda (McCain and Mustard 1999, 161). Such a milieu would need to be urban based because the requisite experts would be overwhelming located in Canada’s major cities. Second, EDI surveying would bring urban space into visibility in new ways because densely clustered vulnerability rates would only be apparent in densely populated areas, such as cities. Third, the policy and programmatic recommendations and activities generated through this field of study would further reinforce this emphasis on cities, as cities would be the major field for programmatic innovations.

The EDI’s creation emerged from CIFAR’s human development research activities and in large measure from the personal influence Mustard wielded in advancing this area of study. As head of CIFAR, he had secured approval from the federal government to link Statistics Canada databases for the purposes of analysing child development indicators, leading to the establishment of the National Longitudinal Survey on Children and Youth, an intellectual tool itself shaped by human development thought. Sixty-percent of the National Longitudinal Survey’s base set of questions would be incorporated into the EDI (Janus and Offord 2007). The EDI official co-creators, David Offord and Magdalena Janus, were recruited by Mustard. As the Vice President of Health Sciences and Dean of Medicine at McMaster University, he approved Offord’s appointment to the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neuroscience and suggested to him “the idea of an EDI.” Mustard also sought out Janus to support the initiative. She was an ideal fit, having completed a doctorate on Rhesus monkey behaviour under the supervision of renowned Zoologist Robert Hinde (Mustard 2010).

Vancouver’s emergence as a major center of EDI research and experimentation took shape under the direction of Clyde Hertzman in his role as head of the Human Early Learning Partnership, a research consortium for the study of early development in British Columbia. Hertzman was Mustard’s former student, a medical doctor, epidemiologist, a former key player in CIFAR’s Population Health Program, and also one of the “unofficial” architects of the EDI (Brown 109; McMaster University 2009). In the late 1990s, he had received generous financial support from Human Resources Development Canada and from the Vancouver-Richmond Health Department for EDI mapping in Vancouver. The Vancouver Sun published some of these maps, which showed the east end as a hot bed of EDI-based child vulnerability (Gram 2001). Hertzman was reported to have said that “all hell broke loose. No one had ever seen a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood map on the state of children’s physical, social and emotional development or their language and cognitive skills” (Canadians for Health Research 2011). University Affairs quoted him as saying that the publication of the first EDI maps “created a huge response because people could see the information so clearly, and it represented their children in their neighbourhoods, rather than a random sample of the population in a hypothetical neighbourhood.” He added that the response of “parents, the school officials, the neighbourhood planners, the politicians was way beyond normal.” Before the maps, Hertzman and his colleagues “had to beg the school board to let [them] to the research.” After, “all of the school boards in the province wanted him to examine their schools and neighbourhoods” and began offering them money to do so (Mullens 2004).

This “discovery” of the properties of population-level child vulnerabilities aligned with the provincial government’s priorities to generate value through globally acclaimed university research (British Columbia 2010), and this was the context within which a university-government research agreement was struck facilitating Hertzman’s research to expand province-wide. The mapping project required a specialized labour force to undertake methodological honing, data collection, analysis, writing, knowledge translation and consultancy, as well as activities aimed at developing knowledge networks and promoting the merits of EDI surveying and its governmental uses. The research agreement expressly stated that it would enhance UBC’s status as a cutting edge university (UBC 2010), which as a matter of practice would include attracting external funds (fellowships, grants and endowments) and international students paying higher tuitions (British Columbia 2009a, 37). International students were “a potential pool of candidates for labour force participation and permanent residence...” (Canada 2011), and contributed an estimated $878,807,000 to the provincial economy, most of which was generated in Vancouver where the province’s two largest universities were based (Roslyn Kunin & Associates 2012).

In its first ten years, beginning in 2001, Hertzman’s provincial-wide mapping study received from the provincial government $27 million earmarked exclusively for EDI surveying. During this time, British Columbia began mounting the most ambitious EDI-based research program in the world with fully government funded, province-wide, periodic sampling. This augmented UBC’s status as a high-ranked university in Canada and abroad, a status heightened by Hertzman’s citation record, purportedly the highest in the field of early childhood development (Canadian Institutes of Health Research 2011). By 2005, HELP’s reach became decidedly worldly when the World Health Organization’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health designated HELP the Global Knowledge Hub for Early Child Development (Einboden, Rudge, and Varcoe 2013). By 2011, roughly thirty countries had adopted, considered for adoption, or in the process of adopting the survey as a performance measure tool. This was in addition to Canada, where, since 1999, every province and territory had undertaken EDI surveying, all but one pan-territorially, and in five cases (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Yukon) more than once (McCuaig 2003). In short, by the new millennium, UBC was at the center of a globalized value-generating human development calculative network.

Public funding comprised, however, only one part of the contributions made by the provincial government. Public officials also facilitated access to kindergarten teachers who were recruited to complete the EDI checklist (UBC Request for Decision, 2). Provincial authorities also ensured the seemingly endless expansion of the mapping program by permitting analysts to link child vulnerability rate findings to other data sets -- crime rates, voter turnout, and children’s services, as well as to birth, dental, medical, education, and child protection data -- some of which had been hitherto privileged (British Columbia and the University of British Columbia 2009). And, when the provincial government adopted the survey findings as a performance measure (British Columbia 2003; Abbott 2011), it simultaneously secured a market for EDI research findings. The EDI research agenda had shaped a new terrain of value, and as the next section shows, this terrain required a level of human insecurity for its continuance.




The vulnerable milieu
As they took hold in Canada, human development mentalities hinged on four key express and implicit premises, each of which would contribute to the production of new urban forms trained on vulnerable populations in Vancouver’s east end. First, regulating reproduction and parenting were key problem fields because “responsible” reproductive choices could never be assumed, particularly where sub-optimally developed humans were concerned. Promoting human development would therefore require the direct involvement of women who might become pregnant or parents (usually mothers) who had young children. The question of normal child development was therefore uncoupled from the needs of working parents for childcare (McKeen 2009; Wiegers 2002). Second, neighbourhood effects premisess served as a guiding policy frame. Hertzman once said, for instance, “[w]e are not only disadvantaging the kids who are disadvantaged. We are also disadvantaging the non-disadvantaged kids in the same communities because we’re basically creating environments in which expectations are low” (Gram 2001). As this quote suggested, threats to human development were defined as undermining the conditions needed to produce the knowledge workers of the future. Even the otherwise potentially “high performers” of the tomorrow (Kershaw et al 2009) could not escape the neighbourhood effects contagion where it lurked. Hertzman relied on such mentalities when he made an explicit case for manipulating Vancouver’s demographic mix:
In two neighbourhoods where middle class and non-market housing have been carefully mixed together, developmental outcomes are better for all children. It would seem that children whose family backgrounds put them at risk, but who live in mixed-income neighbourhoods, tend to be protected compared to their counterparts in low socio-economic segregated neighbourhoods (Hertzman 2004, 8).

As this quote indicates, the centrality of poverty and low-come was a paramount matter, despite the otherwise frequent professions to children’s vulnerability as a cross-class problem. A third premise related to the presumed benefits to be gained by harnessing public-private partnerships in the creation of early childhood development service hubs. The Early Years insisted that a “centralized, bureaucratic model” would not suffice and that universal entitlement programs were out-of-date. Collaborative for- and non-profit private sector interventions were seen as allowing for flexible, locally sensitive strategies. Such flexibility required perpetual mapping to ascertain the location of high-need areas, and also where the participation of racial, “cultural, ethnic, [and] linguistic” groups could be best secured. Racialized spatial profiling was therefore a fourth aspect of this frame (McCain and Mustard 1999, 3, 6, 20, 38, 151).

These four interlocking premises, based as they were on the Mustard-Hertzman understanding of human development, influenced the clustering in Vancouver’s east end of new set of federal, provincial, and municipal early development programs and policies, oftentimes with non-profit organizations as partners and collaborators (see Table 2). The federal government took the lead, in 1993, not long after Mustard’s influence in government policy circles was becoming widely apparent. In that year, the flagship human development undertaking under the rubric of the Children and the Community Action Program for Children (targeting parents of children up to six years of age), which was also the model for the federal government’s Canadian Prenatal Nutrition Program (1994) (for parents with newborns and toddlers) and the Aboriginal Head Start program (1995) (which had an urban component). The provincial government, in 2002, by then already deeply involved in the EDI research agenda, also collaborated on many federal initiatives, and established provincially specific programs, including the Aboriginal Infant Development Program (2002) (focused on children from birth to the age of three), Strong Start BC (2006) (a program for pre-Kindergarteners that included strategies for targeting Aboriginal people and other at risk groups and dedicated Aboriginal Strong Starts), and full-day kindergarten. Non-profit organizations sometimes independently launched endeavours with a clear affinity to human development approaches, as was the case with the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youth (HIPPY) program, which began in Canada in Vancouver. HIPPY was incorporated in 2001, expanded to include an urban Aboriginal program in 2005, and obtained $3.5 million from the federal government in 2009.

Officially pitched as pan-territorial, in Vancouver, apart from full-day kindergarten, which was mounted in every school in the province, these early development programs were overwhelming clustered in the east end (British Columbia 2008; Canada 2010; HIPPY Canada 2010; Office of the Provincial Advisor for Aboriginal Infant Development Programs 2013; Tarbell 1999). As Table 2 shows, four out of five times, these initiatives were located in the eastern districts exclusively. In some cases, they were the first of their kind in Canada, including the HIPPY. The east end’s environs had a high proportion of the city’s nineteen Strong Start BC programs, and a front-line endeavor of each of the Urban Aboriginal Hippy and Canadian Prenatal Nutrition Program. This centering of human development services augmented the east end’s long established position as a dominant milieu for human service delivery in the city, comprising more than thirty percent of services offered in Vancouver (Ley and Dobson 2008).


Insert Table 2 about here


Human Development Programs in Vancouver

and the East End as at 2013, by Year of Creation



and Lead Organization
The City of Vancouver, through its urban planning, design, and land use policies, played a role in how the east end came to be defined and acted upon as a vulnerable milieu. This was particularly apparent in relation to the early child development programmatic sphere. The organizational template articulated in human development research, namely the preference for early childhood development service hubs, aligned one of the municipal government’s plans developed in the early 1990s during an acute childcare crisis fostered by provincial and federal funding cuts (Mahon 2006; Pratt 2003). At the time, municipal officials declared that they wanted to face the “new reality” of the “majority of Canadian women with children from birth to twelve years of age employed outside of the home.” It was in this setting that a Civic Childcare Strategy focusing on the “development and support of licensed childcare” was mounted in 1990. The strategy elucidated the importance of focusing on “high need areas,” but this spatial mentality was expressly intertwined with the objective of securing childcare services to assist parents in the workforce (City of Vancouver 1990a and 1990b). Within two years, by1992, the importance of securing childcare for working parents had receded. Human development through the creation of early learning centres aimed at parental training had come to the fore. This was evident in A Childrens Policy and Childrens Agenda (City of Vancouver 1992), which laid a blueprint for privileging “public policies to strengthen and protect the ability of families and communities to care for their children” by ensuring “that neighbourhoods [were] planned and maintained in a manner that provide[d] safe, secure and supportive environments.” The report proper never used the word “childcare,” and when Mayor Gordon Campbell, one of Canada’s most faithful neoliberal ideologues, spoke about “childcare” in announcing the new vision, he was sure to clarify that he was not referring to supports for working parents, but rather to a “a continuum of choices in each neighbourhood.” Emblematic of the difference, his definition of childcare included in-kind subsistence programs, specifically “school-based hot lunch program[s].” The next year, in 1993, city council formalized the human development hub model in Childcare Design Guidelines. The guidelines favoured clustered services as a means “to create safe and secure urban childcare facilities that [would] provide a range of opportunities for the social, intellectual and physical development of children.” Over a decade on, in 2005, the city council approved Moving Forward Childcare: A Cornerstone of Child Development Services. By then, the writings of Hertzman and Mustard were front-and-centre in rationales for further formalizing children’s services hubs (City of Vancouver 2005). A few years on, as the first decade of the new millennium came to a close, EDI findings were integrated into the city’s planning process. These findings were offered up as scientific proof for designating one eastern part of the inner city, Grandview Woodland, a high-priority planning area (City of Vancouver 2012a and 2012b).

Through a mix of programs, planning, design, and land use policies, the vulnerable neighbourhood was being brought into visibility in the heart of the gentrification landscape. Indeed, gentrification pressures emerged contemporaneously with the shaping of human development policies and programs in the city’s eastern side, an area deemed attractive for middle-class gentrifiers and land speculators because of its proximation to the financial district, large “stock of attractive heritage structures,” and abundance of ocean and mountain vistas. “Land prices in the area, according to David Ley (2012 66), were “anomalously low.” Importantly, grassroots groups offered up intense struggles against gentrification, but their resistance did not extend to the spaces shaped by human development knowledge. Not only was there a lack of resistance to these programs, but also there was a broad-based embracing of human development research, policies, and practices as sites for progressive change. The Community Action Program for Children in the Downtown Eastside and Strathcona even cited Mustard on its webpage:


It is recognized that providing supports to vulnerable parents of very young children reduces the risk of those children developing physical, mental and social health issues, or problems in school, later in life. For every dollar spent in the early years, it saves $7.00 down the road (DTES 2008).
This support extended to the public sector teacher’s union, which backed the mounting of StrongStart BC programs in every school (British Columbia Teachers’ Federation nd). Many childcare advocates regarded EDI findings as tools to advanced egalitarian aims. Studies of street-level bureaucracy show that official policy and programmatic expressions are never straightforwardly adopted (Lipsky 2010). Organizations seeking public funding were expressly required to accept human development norms, including, when available, EDI survey results; and, no doubt, many people working and politically active in the east end were “enlightened reactionaries” seeking to adapt to conditions privileging markets over people (Polanyi 1957 [1944], 165-166). The field of early childhood development services promised a source of significant job creation, particularly for women. Human development services offered a modicum of support to poverty-related initiatives. Nevertheless, the consensus around human development research and programs, hinging as it did on a valorization of the “science” that transcended ideological position, ran deep. To challenge claims that the EDI research agenda contributed to rational investments to support parents raising children was tantamount to dismissing the truth. Regardless of motives, the actions of street-level agencies entrenched the east end as a vulnerable milieu linked directly to the value generated through the calculative milieu on the other side of the city and indeed capitalist urbanization more generally. The next section examines more fully the character of this “vulnerability bio-value chain.”

The vulnerability bio-value chain
The previous sections have discussed elements of the vulnerability bio-value chain, depicted in Table 1, with respect to how the human development research agenda aligned with government and corporate goals of privatization, deregulation, and marketization, as well as how the calculative milieu generates a demand for knowledge that requires and attracts a highly skilled labour force and urban consumption. This section rounds out the argument by discussing further aspects of the vulnerability bio-value chain that link the calculative and vulnerable milieus together.

As Table 1 shows, a crucial node in the vulnerability bio-value chain is the existence of conditions of poverty and disadvantage as key risk factors for vulnerability. In this context, it is easy to understand why depictions of the east end as an archetypical “at risk” neighbourhood focused so much of the human development research agenda. The east end was the ideal research laboratory. Overrepresented by Census-defined single parents (usually mothers), low-income groups, new immigrants, and Indigenous peoples, it fit perfectly the human development vulnerability profile (City of Vancouver 2002, 2012a, 2012b, and 2012c). In the first few years of EDI surveying, it was clear that improvements in the east end’s vulnerability profile would be a compelling validation of the human development research agenda, while any decline would prove the need for more research. Thus, in the first years of surveying, Hertzman routinely drew upon findings from the first sampling periods. Astonishingly, between the year 2000 and 2004, 18 of 23 (see Map 1) “social planning neighbourhoods showed a reduction in [early childhood development] vulnerability,” while five districts saw an increase. The “most compelling” part of the story, he would say, were results from two of the eastern districts: the Downtown East Side and Grandview Woodland. Initially, each area’s vulnerability rates were almost identical, but, in 2004, rates spiked in the Downtown Eastside to 75 percent while dropping in Grandview Woodland to 37 percent. The “fundamental difference,” he would argue, was that Grandview Woodland had a community centre that was “one of Canada’s best multi-service [early childhood development] hubs” (Hertzman 2005). A few years on, this compelling comparison evidently lost its appeal, perhaps because the underlying assumptions about Grandview Woodland were not supported by evidence about the effect of broad based institutional changes that had taken shape in the area (Murray 2011). At the same time, it was becoming apparent that EDI surveying was producing often wildly contradictory results. These inconsistencies were not taken as an indictment against the research or its methodology. They were taken as proof of the need for new research activity, fine toning methodological tools, and greater attention to education and training of EDI surveyors. The mapping project not only allowed for failures, but embraced shortcomings as evidence of the need for more data, more maps, more analyses, and so on. Such data limitations did not, however, dissuade Hertzman from using the east side results to make the case for more EDI surveying and programming. He would sometimes show audiences graphics depicting male icons as symbols of concentrations of vulnerable children. “You can see,” he would say, “an army of the vulnerable marching towards you, a cause to not sleep at night” (Hertzman 2011). This mentality captured how vulnerable people (namely racialized mothers singled out as poor and otherwise disadvantaged) were, as was the case from the earliest days of the human development research agenda, almost synonymous with dangerous, threatening, and insecure places.

Contrary to gentrification studies that emphasize dislocation and removal of disadvantaged peoples, the form of biopower produced through human development research both inspired and promoted new institutions whose raison d’être required the existence of densely clustered vulnerable populations, even, and perhaps especially, in areas marked by heightened gentrification pressures. In Vancouver, the east end street-level milieu created under the mantel of human development operated in large measure through exchanging program participation for what might best be called “poverty knowledge” geared towards directing people towards the basic necessities of life. The Canada Action Program for Children, for instance, posed a series of questions to participants in a program review. Had they learned how to “plan and make nutritious low cost meals?” Had they exercised frugality in food purchasing? Had they learned how to find “low cost or free food?” (Children Need Care Now CAPC Coalition nd). Were they now making healthier food choices? Were they using herbs in cooking? Poverty, as these questions suggested, could be lived better, properly, and, importantly, seemingly without end. The aim of the program was not poverty amelioration, of course, but rather parental training and remediation. Echoing the assumptions of the founders of the human development research agenda, these street-level practices assumed that children’s vulnerabilities were most heavily determined by parental conduct.

Another example of this dynamic was evident in the work of Sheway, a program partially funded by the Canadian Prenatal Nutrition Program, which harnessed poverty conditions for administrative and legal purposes (Sheway nda). With a mandate to provide services to women who were “pregnant or parenting children less than 18 months old” and “experiencing current or previous issues with substance use,” Sheway offered the basic necessities of life, including “daily nutritious lunches, food coupons, food bags, nutritional supplements, formula, and clothing.” Once brought into the service remit, participants would be asked to affirm in writing that they were “open to outreach” (Sheway ndb), thereby allowing front-line workers to seek out seek out people, usually racialized women, deemed at risk. Essentially, this consent was akin to submitting to racial profiling, the purpose of which was no doubt linked to legal obligations of organizations as stipulated under the Child, Family and Community Service Act [RSBC 1996]. Under the act, anyone with knowledge about a potential threat to children’s wellbeing would be obligated to report these concerns to officials. This obligation applied even “if the information on which the belief [of harm was] based [was] privileged (other than solicitor-client privilege) or confidential and its disclosure is prohibited under another Act.” Reaching out to potential clients without consent might be construed as entrapment, particularly since the target group was already defined as suspect concerning their ability to bear and raise healthy children. The line between voluntary participation and coercion was, however, already blurred because of the inability of many of those served to meet the basis necessities of life.

A third example concerns the operation of StrongStart BC, which used legal tools and poverty conditions in an even more coercive manner. The School Act (1996) legally obligated a parent (or loco in parentis) to accompany a child participating in the program. Parents had to register and provide proof of identification, such as an Aboriginal Status Card, passport, or visa. Since the programs typically ran mid-day, this parent-child requirement, as a matter of practice, ensured that participants would be overwhelming drawn from non-working people, including people on public income assistance (British Columbia 2011). Strong Start’s promotional materials highlighted the provision of “healthy snacks” (British Columbia 2009a). This would be more of an enticement to the low-income, racialized populations, the program’s overwhelming concern. Access to this subsistence hinged on participants willing submission to the legal conditions of the program, which similarly had potential ramifications relating to the Child, Family and Community Service Act [RSBC 1996].

This circularity -- studying vulnerability as a means to reduce it while contributing to the policy discourses that promote policies and programs that ensure the maintenance of the conditions of its existence – also meant that the images of “normal” reproduction and parenting would always be visible in relation to what it is not, namely the world of the vulnerable. Responsible reproduction and good mothering were indistinguishable from an ideal of self-reliance, autonomy and productivity that was the emblem of the “optimally developed.” Images of vulnerable mothers and their children clustered in the city’s east end potently highlighted these norms. Those unwilling or unable to abide by such ideals were the primary focus of efforts to assess, regulate, and coerce, even, at times to the point of child relinquishment. Be productive, capable, and responsible through self-sufficiency. Do not hope for collective support for bearing and raising children. The vulnerable milieu and its pronounced visibility made clear this message, not by design, but in effect. And by doing so, it supported and justified privatization, deregulation and marketization.

Of course, it is readily apparent that while this paper began by juxtaposing gentrification with biopower, but they are not so easily disentangled. The forms of biopower produced through human development research, policies, and programs supports gentrification through regulating people deemed diseased, disruptive, and disorderly, but rather than operating on a logic of removal from space, they operate according to a different logic of a removal. Anthropologist Gordon Roe refers to the condition of disadvantaged people in the eastern districts being “fixed in place.” We can add that many people are “fixed in time” and therefore removed from the future of the neighbourhood, city and nation at large. This is not a physical removal, but rather a practical dislodging from any hope of creating a different kind of existence outside of the net of regulation, supervision and coercion shaped by human development programming, at least that seems to be the case for those individuals whose optimal development has already been called into doubt, such as the women and mothers whose reproductive and parenting choices have brought them within the authoritative gaze.


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