Urbanity

Just about whenever we talk about urban growth in New Brunswick, either we reflexively jump to the ‘urban’ or the ‘rural’ position on the matter.  There continues to be this mindset that there is a fixed size economic pie and everyone has to fight for its share of that pie.  Effective economic development is about growing the size of the pie such that there is more pie to go around.

It is likely that urban areas will grow faster than rural areas – even in my conceptual model but I still think that we can get to a model where people can live in smaller communities if they choose and have economic/career options – either in rurally-based industries like forestries, fishing, agriculture, mining, gas, manufacturing and a limited amount of services or live in the smaller communities and commute to the urban centre within an hour’s drive. 

There are hundreds of thousands of people across Canada that have a one way commute to work each day of between 30 minutes to an hour. 

My theoretical model assumes we have a series of dynamic, concentrated urban core areas around New Brunswick such that the vast majority of the population lives within the influence of an urban centre.    As I have stated before, rural population growth across Canada in communities within the influence of an urban centre was a healthy 4% between 2001 and 2006.  Rural population outside that influence declined and in New Brunswick, I would argue because of the lack of strong urban centres, rural population is declining rather sharply.

So the destiny of urban New Brunswick and rural New Brunswick is tied – IMO.  And yet we still get this binary choice – urban OR rural.  After my column the other day, I got a number of emails/calls from urbanites (a mayor, several councilors, economic developers) congratulating me on making urban growth an issue and I got three fairly nasty anonymous emails (posts to this blog) decrying me for being a patsy of the urbanites and ignoring rural pain.

I just look at the data on this folks and I think we have to look at what might work.  We can’t just assume there is an endless supply of cash to pour into communities and rural areas that are struggling to prop them up.  Either we try and fix the economic foundation or we have the fortitude to let the communities grind down to a new, smaller equilibrium.

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5 Responses to Urbanity

  1. Hurban says:

    City folks love wacos. They like to have someone to look down on, because of their insecurity. I lived it and saw it.

    Zosia Bielski

    From Friday’s Globe and Mail
    Published on Thursday, Sep. 09, 2010 4:42PM EDT

    Last updated on Friday, Sep. 10, 2010 1:47PM EDT

    People living in urban neighbourhoods are more likely to develop psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia and paranoid disorder than those in rural areas, according to a new report in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

    The researchers believe the causes include poverty and poor social cohesion – that’s community spirit, or “the level of trust, social networks and bonds,” says lead author Stanley Zammit, a senior lecturer in psychiatry at Cardiff University in Wales.

    “ There are some ways of organizing neighbourhoods that are not necessarily good for health. ”
    — Patricia O’Campo, St. Michael’s Hospital

    Prof. Zammit and his colleagues write that although most of the risk for developing a psychotic illness emerges from individual characteristics such as family history or drug use, a person’s environment is important.

  2. mikel says:

    Couldn’t find the article, but as a longtime reader I have noticed the ‘urban centric’ tone so I can imagine the frustration. It can even be identified here, with the mistaken assumption that rural jobs have to be related to natural resources. In fact, its counter to your main theme of generating good long term export oriented jobs. The logic here is that cities provide other jobs simply because they are currently there.

    However, there is no reason manufacturing can’t be done rurally, often the materials needed for manufacture are already ‘local’. In cities, the job growth is there only because the tax growth is there, meaning more government spending. It also means more growht in ‘local’ companies, those service oriented companies that only sell locally.

    So rural CAN grow just as much, with hi speed internet I’d suggest they are even more desirable places to live than currently. It is programming that opens up the world, and its developed so far that new programs can be developed by one person, and large company wide products by a small team.

    So statistics only prove what rural people have been complaining about-that resources go to urban areas which develop and give them an unfair advantage. In todays age the main issue is education, and again, look at the stats. The province closed dozens of rural schools, even while studies consistently show that kids that have to travel further to school typically do worse. Meanwhile, in this age of video conferencing, you still can’t get a university education from home. This would save rural students a huge amount of money if they didn’t have to pay room and board, and its ridiculous, in fact I can get a university education online without spending a dime-of course it would never get recognized.

    So don’t get too confused when you say ‘rural within the influence of urban centres’-those are called ‘suburbs’ and are a completely different kind of beast.

  3. richard says:

    There have been extensive subsidies to rural areas, not just in terms of infrastructure but also in terms of direct aid to businesses. Those programs have not been successful in stemming the decline in most rural populations; sufficient jobs have not followed those investments to stem that decline. Declines in population are followed by school closures and health care facility closures – it isn’t the other way around (and the same things happens in urban centres when the demographics of a neighborhood change). The province is not in a fiscal position to keep schools and other facilities with declining enrollments open. That does not mean that we cannot have a number of community forest projects or similar measures where resources are suitable; we just need to have a proper focus. Right now we have a grab-bag of policies aimed at keeping people quiet rather than really doing anything positive.

    The rural areas where populations have grown most consistently are those adjacent to cities; former farming and forestry communities have been converted into locations where people reside but depend upon the urban area for jobs, either by commuting or by establishing service industries. As carbon fuel costs increase we can expect that some of this land on the edge of urban areas will revert again to farm land.

  4. mikel says:

    There have been extensive ‘subsidies’, but not programs, just like we can argue New Brunswick can’t complain federally because the feds spend more in equalization than the population warrants. Why not just close down the east coast?

    As for closures, thats not true if you look at the track record. Often it has not been simply because of enrollment numbers, often they are political decisions. And there are cases where rural communities have shown how a school can be viable only to see it closed anyway. And again, we are mixing up costs here, education is directly linked to economic development, and as I’ve said before, Vermont had similar problems as NB, but went in the opposite direction and ‘subsidized’ their rural schools. The effect was a rapid increase in test scores for those students.

    So one policy impacts another, and of course as David says above, you can’t simply cut out the broader picture. Include those community forest models and there’s a good chance that a lot of the people don’t leave, which means no reason to close the facilities. So you can’t starve a population of its resources and wait for people to leave and then say ‘well, you don’t have enough people to warrant our spending cuz we can’t afford it’. THAT is why you get a rural-urban divide and letters like the ones David is referring to. But as is so often the case, its those that live in cities that make these kinds of judgements.
    And don’t confuse turning forest and farm land into suburbs as a cure all, the reality is that most people simply dont’ WANT to live in cities, which is why grassroots organization of rural areas is so much easier.

  5. richard says:

    ” Often it has not been simply because of enrollment numbers, often they are political decisions.”

    Let’s see some data to back that up. More often, political pressure keeps open schools that should be closed due to declining enrolments.

    Its fine to say, let’s do X to save rural economies. Trouble is, there is darn little evidence to show that X actually works. Rural communties have not been straved of cash, they’ve been subsidized w/o success. And yes, that’s true for much of the east coast, which is why political support for transfer payments is collapsing. We need to be more rational not emotional is designing policies.

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