I was going through my old music cassette tapes a few days ago and uncovered one of my favs from the 1980s. “The Politics of Dancing” by Reflex. There’s a line in there that says “The politicians are now DJs”.
I don’t know why but that line popped in my head which I watched this. It is a comment by John Ibbitson to some 21Inc. folks about the need to focus economic development on the three urban cities in New Brunswick.
Instead of “The politicians are now DJs” – I heard “The journalists are now economic developers”. How has John Ibbitson emerged as a great thinker on economic development in Canada?
First, let’s be clear about a couple of things. One, I heard Ibbitson speak in Toronto back when the “cities agenda” was a hot topic (circa 2003) and he declared that Canada needed to focus on its urban areas and he went on to mention the big 6-7 cities in Canada. Of course, when he comes to Atl. Canada ‘cities’ can be smaller – here he talks about Fred/Mon/SJ.
You know my opinion on this. Urbanity does matter. Urbanization is important and should be part of government economic development policy.
But there is no reason why Northern New Brunswick can’t have an urban centre or two and there is no reason why people couldn’t live in smaller, rural communities if they wanted and commute into their jobs in the uban centre, or at the Port of Belledune or some other industrial/commercial zone.
That’s the problem with Ibbitson’s logic. He is stuck in a paradigm where size matters – but he defines size in terms that he knows – i.e. Toronto. As I said in a previous blog, scale does matter but I don’t think there is evidence that only cities the size of Toronto or Calgary are destined to grow.
The problem is simple. If government policy is tailored to the largest urban centres, then we will have one of those self-fulfilling prophecies.
I think there is a future for small urbans. They need to have 21st century industries. They need to have a very strong focus on incubating and attracting talented people but they can survive.
Don’t think I am invalidating Ibby’s points. Urbanization matters. Creativity matters. Human talent matters. I just don’t buy the premise that you need a million residents crammed in 20 city blocks to get it done. But I admit you are what you eat and I have been eating New Brunswick for 20 years.
Oh, one last point on Ibbitson. He said that urban centres are where universities are located. Except Mount Allison, Acadia, St. FX and half the best universities in the MacLeans survey.
Ooops. I guess Ibby is not exactly correct on that point either.