By Ryan McGreal
Published May 14, 2008
I'm reading Richard Florida's new book Who's Your City?, and it's an absolute banquet of insights into how cities work and how to make them work better, backed by robust statistical data from a variety of innovative sources (yes, statistical analysis is a creative endeavour).
It's already opened up several new (to me, at least) avenues of research and focus, but I'd like to jump in with one section that seems particularly a propos given the major cusp on which Hamilton currently balances.
It's tempting to comment (snidely) that Who's Your City reads like a litany of what Hamilton is doing wrong, but aside from being trite, it's not strictly true.
Hamilton is a seething mess of ambivalence, conflict and cross-purposes between the local, regional, and global trends and movements buffeting us. Whether and how we decide to respond to these forces will go a long way toward determining whether we slide into crisis or flourish in an urban renaissance.
With that in mind, I'll quote a section (pp. 162-3) that addresses what our goals ought to be:
[S]ome urban experts and community leaders remain convinced that only basic needs matter. They key to a great community, they contend, lies in good schools, safe streets, and upt-to-date infrastructure. Anything else - parks, trails, museums, or other amenities - is a luxury, aimed at the affluent, yuppies, and the privileged classes. Or they say it's something that comes only when a community is already rich. Jobs and basic services are what's needed to generate wealth and income. The rest is what we pay for with the resources so generated.
...[T]hey're wrong. The places that make us truly happy don't get trapped in any such tradeoff. they do it all, providing great schools, safe streets, and nice parks, to boot.
Far from being the product of great communities, such amenities are actually a cause and requirement for great communities. Florida's research identified five major essential community dimensions that contribute to success (in order of significance):
Basic services - schools, health care, housing, roads, infrastructure, public transportation.
Beauty and aesthetics - beautiful buildings, streetscapes, trees, parks, trails, air quality, opportunities to create and share beautiful things.
Openness - tolerance for and acceptance of people with various lifestyles (families with children, gays and lesbians, bohemians, seniors, people living in poverty, recent college graduates, immigrants, minorities), opportunities to meet people and form relationships.
Physical and economic security - safe, clean neighbourhoods, good job opportunities, a growing economy and general optimism.
Leadership - leaders are honest, accountable, positive, forward-looking, effective, and responsive, and citizens feel engaged.
To be perfectly clear, Florida argues that successful cities do well in all five of these categories, and by corollary that all five are essential to a successful city.
How does Hamilton measure up on these five categories? What are our strengths? What do we need to improve? What are the obstacles to progress? How do we get past those obstacles?