Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Does Windsor have what it takes?

Does Windsor have what it takes to survive in the competition to attract cultural creatives?

This is a question that we intend to explore a lot more intimately in the days and weeks to come. But first, let's define just what the "Creative Class" is and why it is an attractive goal for our little ol' municipality to bring them into our midst...

The creative class, as defined by Richard Florida in his book "The Rise Of The Creative Class", are the segment of the population who make their living utilizing their personal creativity and resources. Those individuals whose talent is to create meaningful new forms; such as the artists, architects, information technologists and entrepreneurs - the purveyors of new ideas. This group of individuals, traditionally identified as college educated 25 to 34 year olds, have recently graduated college and have yet to set down roots in any one particular community. They have yet to develop the cynicism that infects the older generations. They are unafraid to experiment with new ideas and concepts - those ideas and concepts which are looked upon as the seeds to new economic "revolutions".

They are drawn to culturally vibrant communities, rich in diversity and tolerance with a low cost and high standard of living. They need access to markets and populations to feed off. This "Young And Restless" demographic, as labeled by CEO's For Cities, will be seen as the driving factor in a cities economic and cultural health in the years to come. The questions then arises; Does Windsor Have What It Takes To Attract The Creative Class?

Geograpically, Windsor is situated on a 685 square mile peninsula, across from Detroit, Michigan. With a metropolitan population of 350,000, we are only a one hour drive away from 4.5 million Americans, two hours away from 11 million and six hours away from 25 million, of which over nine million travel here to visit.

In the 2001 Canadian census, the city had a population of 208,402 and its official metropolitan area had a population of 307,877. Windsor attracts many immigrants from around the world. It is the fourth most diverse city in Canada with over 20% of its residents being classified as foreign-born. University of Windsor electrical engineering prof Majid Ahmadi says this area can become a high-tech hub with it's culturally diverse population, proximity to the U.S. and research talent. According to prof. Ahmadi, we could duplicate Vancouver's success in attracting high-tech giants like Microsoft.

Windsor has one of the lowest median housing costs on the continent when compared to other urban metropolitan areas. Young upstarts normally seek out affordable areas so they have more available resources to devote to their business'.

Whereas this target demographic has never traditionally sought a specific climate (chilly Denmark and Sweden are excellent at attracting these folks), Windsor's climate is one of the warmest in Canada - posessing what's called a humid continental climate. Being away from the lake effect, Windsor is one of the cities receiving the least amount of snow and it's summers are some of the warmest in Canada, seeing how we're on the same latitude with Northern California.

Foreign Direct Investment Magazine, the London, UK based publication devoted to establishing itself as the most trusted source of information for those companies involved with cross-border expansion, named Windsor, Ontario as North America’s leading “small” City of the Future, scoring well for business-friendly policies and a strong development programme that includes several large-scale projects involving public and private investment.

Yet, Windsorites seem to be ignorant of their potential. Numerous international publications have identified our favourable climate, access to markets and economic environment as "just what the doctor ordered" with regards to economic success, yet we fail to see it. True, we have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to increasing our liveability. Our city council seems to dither on implementing necessary changes. Council's neglect of the Capitol Theatre and the arts community as a whole is a hint of their cavalier attitude. Segments of our residential populations are averse to change, as proven by the residents of Riverside Drive's campaign against bicycle infrastructure and active transportation. Our declaration that the downtown core should become an "Urban Village" replete with mixed-use residential land use and emphasis on public transportation was a bright spot in 2006 , yet where is the physical evidense that this is anything but wishful thinking? The University of Windsor's Engineering Department was said to be investigating moving to this downtown site, joining St. Clair College's Cleary acquisition in bringing over 2000 students and faculty into the core. Yet, nothing but tumbleweeds have appeared to date.

We have a ways to go, yet numerous groups and individuals believe our future is indeed bright. Meaningful change happens at the transitionary periods of history, and Windsor is by no means an exception to this rule. The University of Windsor's Lloyd Brown-John wrote in his June 18 Windsor Star column; "Windsor can reinvent itself. To do so will take the talents and imaginations of its most creative and innovative minds. These are not always apparent - simply because one occupies a position does not ensure creativity. Where are those creative and innovative minds? How can they be identified or self-identified? How will those imaginative minds which have the capacity to take this city into the future manifest themselves?" Those are some of the questions that we need to ask ourselves, for it will take the open minds - those who are not dwelling on the status quo as savior - to see our way to this bright future.

Windsor will not only survive the latest economic woes, but will flourish - only if our attitudes and mind-sets change with the times.


city hall insider said...

I recently overheard one of the City of Windsor Senior Planners explain to a former colleague, he is retiring. He explained he has waited for so long for "It" to happen in Windsor. He didn't mean his retirement. He went on to explain how he hoped Windsor would "turn the corner". But sadly his whole career it didn't. He said "there is life beyond Windsor". I think many feel the same way. So if our City Planners are loosing hope where does it leave the rest of us. Honestly I am think of moving on as well. It just seems better everywhere else.

Topher Holt said...

This kind of news leaves me sad, indeed.

I know quite a few people in the Planning Department, and there are some very aware, progressive minds there. Talking with Jim Yanchula during the City Centre West planning meetings had given me hints of hope that there may be a better day in the future for this city. He knows what direction this city needs to head.

Unfortunately, the planners have City Councillors as employers, and they have to pander to the general (uninformed) public every four years (now) for job extensions. Things aren't going to get any better until the voters are at a place where they can accept some of the novel and necessary ideas put forward in forums such as this.

Only then will council gain the courage to let these good people in our city departments do what they know is best.

So, we must educate, educate, educate...

And educate some more.

Doye said...

You know a lot of people around here keep missing one very large aspect to this discussion regarding why citizens of Windsor do not support artistic endeavours here. Detroit Michigan. When Windsorites have almost instant access to name entertainment why would they come to anything here? Unfortunately, the majority of our citizens are not as artistically intellectual as other cities, they want to see the "big name" entertainers that come to Detroit, and that's about it. Considering the price of US entertainment it stands to reason that fact decimates whatever disposable income they might have to spend here. We cannot compete with Detroit because taxpayers here do not wish to subsidize the arts and that is the only way it can survive here with heavy subsidization. We are not Stratford and never will be, we don't have the class. I'm sorry if that offends, and I don't mean to, it's just a fact. Plain and simple a fact.

Topher Holt said...

Don't worry about offending, Doye. This forum was meant to examine our options and you can't do that if you continue to "play it safe"

What we're talking here is potential. Personally, I don't really care if Windsor attracts the "big names" to our lil' old city. Let Detroit handle that. What I'm talking about is the finer weavings of the fabric that makes a city liveable. As far as the arts and entertainment go, Windsor has a healthy scene without the financial subsidization of the municipality. Go downtown one of these nights, and you will be able to hear some excellent homegrown music (Phog and Sky Lounge are just two venues that continually impress me with their bookings), stop by Artcite and you will most definitely see a new exhibition and numerous people milling around. There's a grassroots artistic movement here that many do not see, and that's a shame.

There was an article in The Star recently about the denial of a licence for a gay strip club. In it, numerous US patrons of The Tap on Wyandotte were interviewed as to why they come to this side of the border. They all stated safety as their prime concern, and that is something that we cannot ignore. Windsor is a safe place to stroll the riverfront and downtown.

These are all foundations that we can build upon. Leave Celine Dion in the US where she belongs. I much prefer arts and entertainment that reflect the region and we can find that here in Windsor. Now, let's make it stronger.

Anonymous said...

I think that Florida has some valid points. The question is usually how do we change to benefit from them. The answer can't been defined and applied because the variables are different everywhere. I feel that good planning can generate a great starting point. However the City of Windsor seems way behind. I can only assume its a budget thing. Other Cities I visit seem to have clearer plans and goals for the future. Windsor not so much. I think its time to rally the politicians for more cash to be spent on planning. The other thing we tend to do in Windsor, is have plans and then not stick to them. We crab at whatever we can instead of having the patients to see it through.

Anonymous said...

And how do we make these politicians see the value of good planning? (an expensive bridge over Little river, opening up MORE vacant land to suburban sprawl is NOT good planning)

I agree wholeheartedly that we don't seem to have any long-term plans - PERIOD, and having a lame-duck mayor in his final self-imposed term-limited stint as head honcho doesn't help. But then again - I will probably get better when he's gone.

The voters NEED to see the value in good urban design and our elected officials NEED to notice the voters valuing it. The voters are the ones that will, in the end, chose the direction this city heads. What is needed is a money-is-no-object advertising campaign showing the long-term benefits of good urban design.