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Cars drive in traffic on the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

The gap between rich and poor is growing in Toronto, and the city's "tenacious divides" are making the problem worse, a new report says.

The Toronto Foundation said in the report, released on Tuesday, that income inequality in the city – second-worst in Canada behind Calgary, and increasing at twice the national average – is exacerbated by enduring divisions among the pre-amalgamation cities. The report, which relies heavily on research from University of Toronto professor David Hulchanski, says these divides are then played out at City Hall.

"We're becoming a divided city in a lot of ways, between the haves and have-nots," Toronto Foundation president Rahul Bhardwaj said in an interview. "It's created a new reality in Toronto."

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He pointed to a shrinking middle-class and giant swaths of the city, such as Scarborough, that have in the past few decades transitioned from predominantly middle-income to lower income. Meanwhile, household income in the richest neighbourhoods grew by 80 per cent, while it rose by just 2 per cent in the poorest neighbourhoods.

According to Mr. Bhardwaj, matters will only get worse until there is a significant "culture shift" into thinking of Toronto as one city. He said the enduring divisions from before amalgamation mean that often, policy discussions of transit, employment and affordable housing happen along geographic divides – leaving some parts of the city behind.

"We're still acting like those six cities," Mr. Bhardwaj said, pointing to recent debates at City Hall on the future of the Gardiner Expressway and Scarborough subway – in which opinions were deeply divided between the old city of Toronto and its suburbs.

"The future of the city is we need to get beyond the old model of looking at it from six different points of view and really start to look at a holistic, one big city."

The report, which is published annually, measures the city's progress along a variety of indicators, including its economy, diversity and livability.

The divides detailed in the report are not exclusively geographical, either.

The report sounds the alarm on six "chronic" issues, which the foundation says are interconnected – although often treated separately – and require an integrated approach. Those issues include housing affordability, traffic and congestion, precarious employment, declining health, an aging population and youth joblessness.

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"If we start thinking of integrated solutions," Mr. Bhardwaj said, "we can start looking at things like transit as more than just hard transit, but also connecting communities that are being disassociated with the city, and for people who can't get to jobs. We can start seeing transit as connected to health."

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