The world is becoming more competitive – spikier – every day. And as we learned late last year, trying to grow an economy with financial capital alone leads to economic turmoil. Cities and regions increasingly need to invest in, and build up, their real capital – the kind that comes from the energy and talent of their people.Canada’s two biggest mega-regions – basically, the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor and the West Coast – clearly put the country in the global game. Yet they pale in comparison with the world’s largest mega-regions and cities, such as Greater Tokyo, Greater London or the powerhouse that stretches from Amsterdam to Antwerp and Brussels.
This country has done a reasonably good job of accommodating global talent, but it will have to do even better. To succeed, its cities must become destinations for the world’s best and brightest. They must ensure that newcomers can use all of their skills and talents to contribute to the nation’s economic prosperity.
Moreover, for all their exemplary social cohesion, Canada’s urban centres show signs of stress. Major cities, including Toronto, have sprawled relentlessly, adding rings of bland, sprawling topography around energetic urban cores.
Traffic congestion in urban centres is appalling, on par with the worst U.S. cities. Housing in the city cores, and in many suburbs, has become unaffordable in the major urban centres, pricing out precisely the creative types that give a city innovative and entrepreneurial energy.
Canadian cities have been spared, for the most part, the financial tumult and economic and social polarization that have marred so many American cities.
This means greater diversity in the urban centres, and many more families living in the cores. It means more social dynamism and a real sense of equality at street level.
However, a landmark report by the University of Toronto’s Centre for Urban and Community Studies documents the transformation of Toronto into three separate cities: an affluent core, a poor periphery and a declining middle-class zone. The same basic trend can be seen in Vancouver. Things have yet to reach the extreme level of economic, cultural, class-based and ideological segmentation seen in the United States, but the challenge is growing. And that is something Canadians need to be concerned about.
There is much to be done to strengthen the position of Canada’s mega-regions – and to overcome stale rivalries left over from the past century. Pitting East against West, or urban against rural, will stymie change here, just as the red-blue divide in the U.S. has distracted Americans from the far more urgent matter of getting ready for the world that lies ahead.
The “spiky” world is one of increasingly concentrated opportunity and greater social, economic and geographic inequality. The greatest challenge of our time is to find new strategies to overcome this accelerating morass of social polarization and economic inequality.
Toronto is one of few places in the world able to become the model of a full-blown, creative community, one that is sustainable and inclusive.
Some have suggested that my theory about a creative class is relevant only to a pampered elite -”yuppies, sophistos and gays” is how one critic put it – but they are missing the point. The most fundamental aspect of my work is the belief that every human being is creative. The real winners of the 21st century will do more than just provide an attractive climate for high-tech innovation, cutting-edge arts and entertainment (although that will help).
True success will turn on harnessing the full creativity of every single human being. This is not wishful thinking. It is part and parcel of the grand logic of economic development that requires more intensive, effective and productive use of human talent.
Right now, the most economically dynamic regions in the world tap the capabilities of less than half of their populations. But they are islands of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship surrounded by a sea of untapped capability. What about the other 60-plus per cent?
In particular, how do we harness the full capabilities of the millions of workers in the service industry; how do we make their jobs more creative, productive and fulfilling; and how do we ensure that their wages rise, making them the equivalent of those good, high-paying, secure manufacturing jobs of the past industrial age?
Harnessing the full talent of everyone is the real key to sustainable prosperity. Those places that manage to harness this talent most thoroughly will emerge as the key success stories of the new century.
With a long history of openness and tolerance, of investing in people, of inclusiveness and social justice, Canada’s cities and regions are among those with the best opportunity to accomplish sustainable prosperity. But Canada will require a new kind of social compact – a “creative compact” that goes beyond the provisions of social insurance, health care, basic education and the like, which defined the twentieth century.
This new creative compact starts from two key principles: that all human beings have a fundamental right to use their full talents and creative abilities; and that in doing so they all have the right to self-expression, which is the basic building material of creative and productive endeavours. These rights are not the icing on the cake of prosperity and progress – they are the cake itself.
Making the most of this opportunity requires leadership and sustained effort, but the benefits are beyond comprehension.
This article is adapted from the newly released Canadian edition of Who’s Your City? © Richard Florida. Published by Random House Canada. All rights reserved.
Richard Florida is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management
La dolce vita
In the new Canadian edition of last year’s Who’s Your City? Richard Florida sizes up the best places to live north of the border, depending on who you are.
SINGLES (Age 20-29)
7. Guelph, Ont.
8. Canmore, Alta.
MID-CAREER PROFESSIONALS (Age 29-44)
FAMILIES with CHILDREN
7. Quebec City
EMPTY-NESTERS (Age 45-64)
9. Parksville, B.C.
RETIREES (Age 65 and over)
8. Quebec City