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July 06, 2007

« Florida-ville Invades Colbert Nation | Main | There's Something Happening Here... »

Roger Martin. Dean of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management,and Gord Nixon, President and CEO of the Royal Bank of Canada, outline a detailed strategy for Canadian competitiveness in our era of "transformational globalization."

In a 2005 Atlantic Monthly article titled ‘The World is Spiky', Richard Florida countered Mr. Friedman's flat world hypothesis by showing that economic activity in the world is incredibly spiky as is innovation activity, measured by patents. Mr. Florida showed convincingly that talented people agglomerate in a limited number of regions in the world where they work for innovative organizations that dominate their industries. ...As these industries get intensely spiky, a country is either a player or not; there is not an in-between. ... We think that Canadian policy is largely indifferent to, if not ignores, the transformation that is going on today. While things may turn out fine with a policy of indifference, we think that the likelihood of that is sufficiently low and the downsides so devastating for Canada that we will argue that Canada needs to take positive action now.

The full story in the Globe and Mail is here.

While this debate is taking place in Canada and elsewhere around the world, America's attention is drained away by Iraq and the so-called "war on terror". Major global transformations come together in rapid tipping points. The opportunity costs of lapsed attention can be great.  We're not there yet, but the clock of history continues to tick away. Or as Paul Romer likes to say, "A crisis is a terrible thing to waste."


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Michael Wells

What a great match with the previous story about Microsoft opening a research center in Vancouver, BC to attract global talent. I'm afraid that the current US administration is so clueless and focused the needs of its cronies that any planning of this type will need to come from the states and cities for the next couple of the years at a minimum. Even without Iraq, the Bush administration has been so focused on protecting the industries of the early 20th century that they have no idea what to do about the 21st. I personally think the US will remain a major player despite their incompetence, but that this will become known as the decade of lost opportunity.


That quote is curious. As someone who lives in Canada and monitors urban economic development trends closely, I'd disagree with the authors' assertion that policy makers in Canada are indifferent to the importance of cities, clusters, and attracting and retaining global talent.

This year there have been tremendous federal government investment announcements for urban infrastructure for the major cities (Toronto and Vancouver, especially). And this is on top of infrastructure projects already happening -- again Vancouver and Toronto stand out as receiving particular attention and these are two cities who are particularly important to the overall Canadian economy.

Both contending federal political parties have (or had) rival visions for helping the competitiveness of Canada's major cities. And the public dialog about the importance of Canada's cities is ongoing.

Further to Michael's point, I tend to find it baffling that there isn't public discussion in the USA about the importance to the economy of major hub cities, and more discussion of what role the federal government should do about it.


I'm another Canadian who follows urban development issues closely, and my view is slightly different than Wendy's. I agree that among municipal politicians, academics and urban activists there's a robust public debate here. I also think there are two areas where we could do much better.

In Toronto (where I live), the dominant development model outside the City of Toronto is still the spread-out suburban wasteland that doesn't lend itself to the kind of vibrant urban environment Florida calls for. There are lots of good ideas being developed in the public discourse about Toronto's urban core, but progress has been much slower in the inner and outer suburbs. Urban planning and municipal zoning in the Greater Toronto Area needs a fresh approach. And we need a better dialogue between the developers who build the city and the urban advocates with the innovative ideas. There are ideas out there that would mean more profits for developers (long-term) if they would only expand their horizons beyond the lowest-common-denominator suburban model.

Looking beyond the municipal level, the distribution of provincial and federal ridings still significantly overrepresents the rural population. Urban issues are debated extensively in the media because it's clustered in major centres, but the actual political power is overly concentrated outside of cities and suburbs. It's a structural problem that results in a lot of good urban initiatives not being funded.


I'm a Torontonian who follows urban development issue closely as well. In addition, I am the a co-founder and active member of an urban design collective here in the city.

I would agree with Wendy there has been "tremendous federal government investment announcements for urban infrastructure." Take the few billion benchmarked for public transportation in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). In the same breath, I would also have to disagree. The federal government (rural based Harper Conservatives) got it all wrong for two reasons.

Firstly, as Ian mentions, there is a greater focus on the surburban wastelands than on the true urban core. A multi-million subway line is being built out into the suburbs where demand for use is low. Although this line will service York University students, it will not generate enough ridership to keep the Toronto Transit Comission (TTC) in the black.

Why build a subway where ridership will fail to support TTC finances? Not unlike the failed Sheppard line? It is noteworthy to understand how the provincial government (urban and suburban based McGuinty Liberals) are contributing to this cash sum as well - the new TTC subway line is travelling right through provincial finance minister Greg Sorbara's Vaughan-King-Aurora ridership. And we all know what a great thing subway lines do for real estate value and votership.

Which brings us to the second reason. The TTC is in greater need of a long-term commitment: to operating funds that keep existing lines and routes operating at optimum, and that keep the TTC books out of the red. What the TTC is getting from the Conservatives and Liberals instead, is one large lump of capital funding. This looks great for Harper, McGuinty and Sorbara come election time, but the people of Toronto are still underserviced in the downtown core.

Overall, I would agree more with Ian. We need a better dialogue so that politicians and developers better understand and act upon real urban needs.


Michele: thanks for adding this angle to the discussion - it's an important one and I agree with you 100% about the futility of the subway extension to Vaughan.

While transit in the core should be better, I support the Transit City LRT plan's focus on the decaying inner suburbs. That's where the poor neighbourhoods are located that will benefit most from rapid transit. It's also where the opportunities for denser redevelopment are greatest.

I'm hoping that the new generation of longer streetcars and better transit priority in the core are enough to carry us over to 2020, when a new downtown subway will be more urgently needed.

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