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.