Vice for Sale: Neighbourhood Change and Illicit Markets

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Geography Politics and Sociology


ESRC : Anna Yates : ES/P000762/1

Since the 1990s, neighbourhood gentrification in Toronto has been accompanied both by a decrease in violent crime and increasing class segregation along racial and ethnic lines. The consequences may, however, be different for nonviolent crime. This research project will focus on the impact of gentrification on different types of illicit markets including sex work, drug selling and gambling. These are markets that employ marginalized citizens and are typically in conflict with the goals and aesthetics of gentrification. We aim to learn how these illicit markets are changing over time in urban centers, and how neighbourhood change impacts the safety and health of those working in illicit markets. Ultimately, the findings can be used to inform urban policies that prioritize public health, safety, and dignity in work, albeit criminalized work.

Specifically, we will ask:
(1a) What are the social geographies of illicit markets in Toronto, and (1b) how have these changed over time?
(2) What is the relationship between gentrification and neighbourhood illicit markets?
(3a) Who, in terms of race, class, and gender, is impacted by changes in illicit markets, and (3b) what do these changes mean for marginalized urban communities?

To do this, we will conduct detailed archival research to track the types, number, clustering, of legal (but illicit market adjacent) businesses over time to see if they are similarly impacted by gentrification. These vice-adjacent businesses have archival records from which we will measure the location, clustering, and longevity of these businesses within neighbourhoods. Dr Smith and I will use city, archives, yellow pages, and out-of-print businesses directories available at libraries in Toronto to establish the 30-year history of licit vice-adjacent businesses. After we have collected and organised the data, we will code the data and use RStudio to map these markets and their changes. Ultimately, these findings will be used as the basis for a co-authored publication and presented at conferences.


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