Tag Archives: Richard Florida

Even Michael Bloomberg thinks Saskatoon is doing it wrong

As Richard Florida points out

As Michael Bloomberg recently wrote in the Financial Times, great urban centres, like New York, London and Toronto, can’t outpace the rapidly growing cities of Asia or Latin America simply by offering lower costs, tax breaks or other subsidies. “For cities to have sustained success, they must compete for the grand prize: intellectual capital and talent,” he said. “I have long believed that talent attracts capital far more than capital attracts talent. The most creative individuals want to live in places that protect personal freedoms, prize diversity and offer an abundance of cultural opportunities.”

Florida also asks the bigger question of why the best and brightest are not thinking about running in municipal politics in some cities.

A while back, at a dinner party, a friend who occupies a vaunted position in Toronto’s entertainment industry asked me: why is it that Toronto can’t attract the best and brightest to local office? World-class global cities face thorny problems that require top-flight leadership. In Boris Johnson, London has a media-savvy, Oxford-educated conservative mayor who cares deeply about the quality and diversity of his city. Rahm Emanuel in Chicago is an immensely experienced, extraordinarily capable former U.S. congressman and chief of staff to Barack Obama who is governing effectively from the left of the political spectrum. In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman, is a pragmatic moderate who calls on the best minds from all sectors and strata. Even Newark, the city of my birth, one of the most economically disadvantaged cities in America, now has the dynamic Cory Booker, a Stanford grad and Rhodes scholar with a law degree from Yale University, as its mayor. Here in Canada, Vancouver has Gregor Robertson, a former organic farmer and businessman who’s delivering on a green agenda and actively addressing homelessness, public health and affordable housing. And Calgary—to which Torontonians love to feel superior—has in Mayor Naheed Nenshi a young, Harvard-educated Muslim who’s intent on reforming council and growing his prosperous city in a fair and sustainable way.

While other cities are attracting effective mayors from across the political spectrum, our mayor has become a symbol of Toronto’s plight. Yet that plight is not of his making. Municipal governments across Canada have limited powers. Times are lean, which leads to shrill debate about how best to achieve these goals. Battles about bike lanes and library hours and plastic bags fill the daily media, but they distract us from the reality that the city’s future is being shaped by global forces we ignore at our peril.

Of course he ignores, that many did run but could not beat Ford but he does get around to the answer.

To start, Toronto requires the rudimentary governance tools needed to chart its future course. It makes little sense that this nation’s largest city can’t govern itself and plan its future. The mayors of U.S. cities have considerably more power, which is one reason the Bloombergs and Emanuels are attracted to the job. The political theorist Benjamin Barber has charted the highly innovative, pragmatic solutions on everything from fighting crime and improving schools to economic growth and climate change developed by this new breed of mayoral talent, and argues that much of economic and social life would be better “if mayors ruled the world.” Canada’s mayors cannot even rule their own cities.

Over the years, the federal government and provinces have downloaded many costs and obligations to the cities, but little authority. As the philanthropist and Maytree Foundation chair Alan Broadbent has pointed out, Canada’s cities essentially “rely on the kindness of strangers,” notably the provincial and federal governments. This, he suggests, leaves cities with essentially no control over their destinies. Canada’s cities need to become more like provinces—with real power and real revenue to solve their problems and build their economies.

Toronto has a wealth of city builders and city-building organizations. What it needs is more effective leadership vehicles that can braid their myriad efforts together as a real force for change. Richard Daley Jr., the Democratic mayor who spearheaded Chicago’s global rise for more than two decades, told me recently that the key to much of the success he had was progressive business leadership. In Chicago, that type of leadership goes back more than a century. The 1909 Burnham Plan, which envisioned a revitalized city centre, was supported by the Commercial Club of Chicago, a group of businessmen who responded to the need to make improvements to their fast-growing city. Today, a group of private sector leaders called World Business Chicago, whose mission is to build a “global economic powerhouse,” is focused on attracting new corporations to the city.

He also talks about the need for regional planning

One illustrative example comes from Silicon Valley. Not too long ago, this area south of San Francisco had little long-term strategy or vision, just a welter of competitive entrepreneurs intent on developing the next big thing. After the recession in the early 1990s, the entrepreneurs came together to form an organization called Joint Venture: Silicon Valley. As its name implies, it was formed as an inclusive network of business, political, labour and civic leaders, and organizations from multiple cities and jurisdictions—a stark contrast to the top-down organizations and old boys’ clubs found in older cities. It based its deliberation on data-driven analyses of the local economy, measuring variables that shape the region’s prosperity. Armed with such facts, and backed by many of the major institutions and players in Silicon Valley, Joint Venture became a highly effective agent of change, identifying key issues the region faced, and bringing state and federal attention to problems and opportunities it identified. It focuses on issues like unaffordable housing, transit, growing inequality and a burgeoning class divide. Sound familiar?

Toronto needs to act in harmony as one region, not a city versus its suburbs. Joint economic development would enable municipalities to grow together. It makes no sense for separate towns to compete for businesses that are going to locate in a shared region. Daley organized the mayors of greater Chicago’s municipalities and would actively help them land new business prospects rather than compete against them. By working together as a single region, we can stretch our boundaries, leveraging the broader capabilities that can enable greater Toronto to compete with much larger cities around the world.

There is a path to greater prosperity in Saskatoon but we just don’t want to take it.  Instead we hang on the mantra of lower and lower spending and taxes.  We are the Walmart of North American cities.

Why bigger cities are greener

Richard Florida looks at density and ecology in bigger cities

The size and density of cities confers considerable economic advantages. Denser cities are seed-beds of innovation and productivity improvement, as Jane Jacobs long ago argued. Pioneering studies of "urban metabolism" by Geoffrey West and his colleagues at the Santa Fe Institute find that as metro areas get larger their metabolic rate essentially speeds up, making them more productive and inventive

The environment benefits from density and size as well. Larger, denser cities are cleaner and more energy efficient than smaller cities, suburbs, and even small towns. Ecologists have found that by concentrating their populations in smaller areas, cities and metros decrease human encroachment on natural habitats.  Denser settlement patterns yield energy savings; apartment buildings, for example, are more efficient to heat and cool than detached suburban houses. Urban households emit less carbon dioxide than their suburban and rural counterparts. In his book Green Metropolis, David Owen lauds the dense, concentrated built environment of Manhattan – where most people live in apartments and use mass transit — as the greenest place in America. When it comes to greenness, size matters; as urban regions grow their populations, the rate of growth in their emissions actually declines.

Snow Cleanup

I have been enjoying this discussion over snow removal with some enjoyment.  As all of Saskatoon knows, we got hit by a massive snow storm earlier this month.  We called it a storm but anywhere else it would be a blizzard (although in Cincinnati it was once called a giant lizard).  Within three days, the citizens of Saskatoon were sounding like Torontonians and demanding “something be done” about all of this snow and ruts that made our side roads impassible.

Okay, I live on one of those side roads.  Since the bus routes changes, my street has fallen into the category of “never plowed, never repaired” roadway.  It’s not as much fun as living on a bus route but even my 1993 Ford Festiva with mediocre tires could navigate it and it has 12 inch tires.  Our van has no problems navigating it and it doesn’t have all-wheel drive.

The morning of the storm I made it to work despite having to blaze the path down Avenue E and 35th Street.  Even Avenue H was a mess.  The only deviation I took was avoiding Tim Horton’s on 22nd because I had already made some fresh Starbucks at home.  Yes it was some trouble getting around but it is worth higher taxes over?

A decade ago my mortgage payment was $95 per week and now it’s $130 per week, or about 25% higher.  All of that is because of mill rate increases (I haven’t remortgaged and our interest rates are lower now than the were when we signed up for our mortgage).  I am a big fan of Richard Florida and I agree that it is worth paying higher taxes for improved services for a better city.  As I walk along River Landing, I feel that I live in a better city and that I am getting value for what City Council has done.  I am sorry but I don’t think that a tax increase to clear snow is going to make me feel any better about the city.

I do want to qualify this opinion with one caveat, there is no way the city should have allowed Saskatoon City Transit to be immobilized for as long as it did.  People’s livelihood’s depend on their ability to take the bus to work.  Three days some bus routes were out of commission.  I talked to more than one person who was really hurt but this lack of revenue or having to pay for a cab to compensate.  One day of shutdowns is understandable but I can’t remember a multi-day shutdown like this.  As Elaine Hnatyshyn pointed out, it appears from comments coming from City Council, part of the problem was lack of experience in the snow removal department.  Well they have more experience now, let hope things go better during the next storm (and let’s try not to figure out how you work in Infrastructure Services and not have experience with snow storms)

Saskatoon Spending at a Glance

Saskatoon in the fall

In case you are wondering how much more the City of Saskatoon has been spending since 2002, Sean Shaw has done some homework and created some visuals.  The operating, capital, and debt servicing budgets have all been heading upwards.  Coincidently enough, so have our taxes.

While no one likes to pay taxes, Richard Florida does point out that if they make a city more livable, most of us tolerate them if we see the value.  While the Lake Placid site at River Landing hasn’t worked out, River Landing was a tremendous home to the Saskatoon Fireworks Festival and has been a wonderful gathering place for thousands of us over the summer.  Infrastructure along Circle Drive created the auto mall which allowed for the redevelopment of 8th Street.  I think all of us agree that this makes the city a better place to live.  The question that we all struggle with is does it make it a good enough place to live to justify the year after year increase in taxes.