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.