There has been less longing, in recent years, to be part of our own country’s version of a rust belt – the one that comprises such Southwestern Ontario cities as Windsor, London and St. Catharines, and patches of Eastern Ontario. Young people have fled in droves as the region’s employment numbers have tanked, seeing the loss of more than a quarter of manufacturing jobs in the last decade.
The plight of the region has been a driving force behind a provincial deficit that remains at over $10-billion, as well as a net loss for Ontario in the migration of people within Canada, and an alarmingly aging population.
Even with Alberta driving the national economy, the country could ill afford Ontario’s struggles; it’s hardly healthy for the largest province’s per-capita GDP to be lower than the rest of Canada’s, and it helps explain why the federal government has remained in the red.
With oil’s current slide, Canada really can’t afford for it to remain a drag – and in fact there is some expectation that Ontario will instead reclaim its old role as the leader of Canada’s economic growth. Its premier, Kathleen Wynne, recently expressed optimism that plummeting oil prices and a sinking dollar will prove a boon to manufacturing. “I don’t wish for low oil prices and a low dollar for Alberta,” she said earlier this month. “But at the same time, we want our manufacturing sector to rebound. So if that [low oil price] helps, then that’s a good thing.”
While they could indeed help in the short term, it’s difficult to imagine those volatile factors leading to the lasting revival of traditional sectors competing with consistently low-cost jurisdictions such as Mexico, China and even the American South.
For sustainable renewal, Ontario’s old industrial towns will have to work harder at reinvention – and they should be looking to some of their counterparts in the U.S. A two-week road trip through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan revealed in often surprising ways how our neighbours are much further along in reinventing their most hard-hit cities, and how much we have to learn.
“The wind is at the back of these cities in a way that it wasn’t before,” says Jennifer Vey, a fellow at the Brookings Institute who studies the revitalization of old industrial centres. And although many of them will remain smaller than in their industrial heyday, the numbers bear that sentiment out. When the Manhattan Institute ranked America’s 100 biggest U.S. metropolitan areas for their economic performance in the wake of the Great Recession, mid-size Northeastern and Midwestern cities accounted for nine of the top 20.
As Mr. Piiparinen and others are quick to stress, jobs will always be the cornerstone of any regeneration. But employers themselves can be drawn to a city by affordability and infrastructure, and like to set up shop where highly skilled people want to put down roots. The renaissance of former industrial powerhouses is fuelled by attracting and keeping well-educated, entrepreneurial citizens committed to community-building and capable of creating wealth and quality of life around them.
Of course, direct comparisons between the U.S. and Canadian experience is never exact: The places I visited tended to be larger than their Canadian counterparts; and although they may have such superior amenities as major-league sports teams and world-class museums, they also suffer from some entrenched disadvantages – notably an appalling history of race relations that has left a legacy of poverty, crime and troubled public schools.
So why is it that a younger generation is finding opportunity in these Rust Belt cities (or some of them, at least; nobody sees Flint, Mich., or Gary, Ind., as models) more than in places like London or Windsor, which have some decent bones themselves? As Ontario attempts to take back Canada’s economic reins, it would do well to learn from what’s worked, and know what it’s up against.
Jerry Weiers lives less than two miles from University of Phoenix Stadium, where the New England Patriots will play the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Sunday. Weiers also happens to be the mayor of Glendale.
Yet as politicians, chief executives and tens of thousands of well-heeled fans rub shoulders that day in the stadium in Glendale, a western suburb of Phoenix, he plans to watch the game on television in his living room, because he has not been offered a ticket.
“It was on my bucket list, but it’s not going to happen,” Weiers said. “If I had my druthers, I’d rather be in the stadium. I’ve had people say that if I was a team player, I might have gone to the game. But I’m a team player for my city.”
Weiers is not shy about making that point, so he is not surprised that he was snubbed. Critics have called Weiers ungrateful because the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl will draw thousands of visitors to his city, and some of them will visit restaurants and hotels there. Glendale will also receive lots of free advertising during game broadcasts, though a vast majority of people visiting Arizona for the Super Bowl will visit the city only on game day.
James Cassella, the mayor of East Rutherford, N.J., was also criticized after he complained last year that his borough had been overlooked even as the Super Bowl was played at MetLife Stadium there.
But the friction in Glendale is acute because the city has a reputation for betting big on sports — and paying a price for it. In the last decade, the city spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a hockey arena for the Coyotes and a spring training complex for the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The hope was that the facilities would prompt residential and commercial development. But when the recession hit in 2008, the Coyotes went bankrupt, the mall next to the arena foundered, and the city was overwhelmed by its debt payments and was forced to slash public services.
“The city of Glendale is the poster child for what can go wrong” when a city invests heavily in sports, said Kevin McCarthy, the president of the Arizona Tax Research Association. “You don’t want to be building stadiums and not be able to hire police officers.”
Glendale is by no means the first city to have sports facilities turn into albatrosses. Cincinnati and Miami, to name just two, built stadiums for wealthy owners in deals that backfired.
But the scale of spending in the city of 230,000 residents is unique. According to Moody’s Investors Service, Glendale’s debt is equal to 4.9 percent of its tax base, nearly four times the national median and twice the average rate for cities in Arizona. More than 40 percent of the city’s debt is dedicated to paying off sports complexes.
What the NFL does to Super Bowl host cities is a crime. NFL owners want to host a big party and the taxpayers pay for it. It is insane.
As for his Super Bowl ticket?
Whether that attitude gets Weiers invited is another question. Cassella, the East Rutherford mayor, said that after stories surfaced that he, too, had been unable to get a Super Bowl ticket, Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, invited him as his guest. John Mara, an owner of the Giants, sent him a parking pass.
Way to go WestJet. Incredible idea. Incredible video.
Some really good news for Mayfair and Caswell. From the City of Saskatoon news release.
Saskatoon City Council has recently made possible the final step in creating Saskatoon’s newest Business Improvement District (BID), which includes both sides of 33rd Street from Alberta Avenue to Avenue G.
“We are tremendously excited about establishing a BID for 33rd Street. The business owners in this area have worked very hard to achieve this goal, and it has now become a reality. We couldn’t be more pleased with Council’s decision,” says Nicola Tabb, representing the 33rd Street BID Organizing Committee.
At its November 24, 2014 meeting, City Council approved Bylaw No. 9235 – The 33rd Street Business Improvement District Bylaw, 2014. A BID is an area of commercial and industrial property owners and tenants who work in partnership to create a thriving and competitive business area.
Over the past two years, a group of dedicated business owners on 33rd Street have worked toward organizing a BID, which is made up of a variety of unique businesses such as restaurants, shops, services, and a major grocery store. The business group saw the potential in forming a BID to improve and enhance the appeal and viability of the district now and into the future.
“The creation of a BID benefits not only the 33rd Street commercial district, but the city overall,” says Alan Wallace, Director of the City of Saskatoon Planning and Development Division. “The success of other BIDs in Saskatoon has directly resulted in thriving, attractive areas where residents and visitors alike can come to work, shop, and play. The 33rd Street BID will certainly create the same positive impact for their commercial area.”
The 33rd Street BID will begin operations in 2015.
Great job by the businesses that reside on 33rd Street. If they can accomplish a fraction of what has been done by the Riversdale BID; Mayfair, Caswell, and of course some businesses in the area are going to benefit greatly.
In the nineteen fifties, people with money began leaving the cities in unprecedented numbers. They were getting married, getting jobs, starting families, and buying houses—they were moving to the suburbs. A Time Magazine article in 1954 observed: “…since 1940, almost half of the 28 million national population increase has taken place in residential suburban areas, anywhere from ten to 40 miles away from traditional big-city shopping centers. Thus, to win the new customers’ dollars, merchants will have to follow the flight to the suburbs.”
They did, and the suburban shopping mall was born.
But the original idea for the mall was not just about retail. Victor Gruen, the father of the suburban shopping mall, envisioned something much bigger. He wanted outdoor areas, banks, post offices, and supermarkets; he wanted to give the suburbs a soul, one inspired by the public squares of European cities. But that never happened. Instead malls were faceless, sprawling. Gruen was so disappointed with what malls became, he gave a speech in 1978 in which he said, “I refuse to pay alimony for those bastard developments.” Malls turned out to be the very monoliths of soullessness that Gruen had tried to overcome.
It’s not just that there are better malls than Collin Creek in the Dallas area. It’s that there are so many malls; Dallas has more shopping centers per capita than any other city in the United States. And according to some estimates, fifty percent of indoor malls nationwide will die over the next two decades—partly because some shoppers are opting for newer, better malls, but also because, as a recent Guardian article put it, “the middle class that once supported” mid-market malls is dwindling. Or, put yet another way, by retail consultant Howard Davidowitz: “What’s going on is the customers don’t have the fucking money.” Which, of course, wasn’t always the case.
As these old malls die off, they’re being replaced more and more by upscale, outdoor shopping centers—with lofts, grocery stores, offices, public meeting areas, and day cares. At least four have popped up in Dallas within the past ten years, and they’re always packed. Sixty years after Gruen’s ideas were bastardized by short-sighted developers, they are finally seeing their day. Inklings, maybe, of the suburbs finding their soul.
To counter this, maybe there is some life for malls in winter cities.
You can hardly blame the Finns for wanting to shop in giant, self-contained malls. After all, winter tends to start early in Finland (like, November) and end late (say, in April). Temperatures in Helsinki, which is at the nation’s extreme south, with a relatively mild maritime climate, rarely get above freezing in the coldest months, and have been known to go as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. In late December, the sun in Helsinki doesn’t rise until well after 9 a.m., sets soon after 3 p.m., and stays low in the sky — only getting to about 6.6 degrees above the horizon on December 27, for instance (compare that to New York, where it reaches an altitude of 26 degrees on the same day).
So it’s no surprise that the idea of walkable urban centers are a hard sell in Finland. Still, some in the nation are calling for Finland to rethink its love affair with the shopping mall.
Yet recently I have been shocked at how quiet Confederation Mall is (a ghost town), Lawson Heights Mall, and Midtown Plaza is when I am in there. Then you look at how busy at the same time other places are. Maybe we are growing tired of malls as well.