My recent The Atlantic article and multiple covers, including one on my adopted hometown, pose the obvious question: What about Toronto?
Prompting me on this are stories at Torontoist and The Toronto Star. I recently had a nice dialogue on the same with David Olive as he reports, along with nice quotes from Fareed Zakaria who visited recently, in his Star column today:
Looking further ahead, Richard Florida, the urban economics guru, sees Toronto angling for the same global heft as Chicago and Tokyo. “I sense we are in great shape to move up in the global ranks,” says Florida, now based at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Florida followed the example of his mentor, the late urbanologist Jane Jacobs, in relocating two years ago to Canada from his native U.S.
Like New York and London, Toronto is a finance, media and entertainment centre, forecast to be among the fastest-growing business sectors over the next generation. Unlike those cities, Toronto also has an abundance of technological research, and more social stability and ethnic diversity. And in recent years the city’s cultural amenities have expanded considerably.
Florida readily concedes that stubborn problems like income inequality and a deteriorating basic-industry sector have yet to be tackled. But in a cover-story essay in the current Atlantic magazine, the venerable U.S. public issues journal, Florida identifies Toronto among fast-growing “mega-regions” most ideally suited to rapid growth. Atlantic gave Florida’s article four covers, showing the skylines of North American cities with the best prospects for sustained prosperity – Toronto, New York, Chicago and San Francisco.
Yet Florida discourages U.S. comparisons. “Stop looking south for models,” says Florida, based for 17 years at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. “They ain’t there. The U.S. is in very deep crisis. It’s time for Toronto to break out and lead.”
The Atlantic piece was concerned with the situation in the States, especially New York, which has been hard hit by the financial crisis.
That said, I’ve been thinking a great deal in my work at the MPI about the opportunity space opened for Toronto, Ontario and Canada as a whole.
Crises are key times for nations and especially for cities and regions. They are the times when changes of position become likely and when nations, and in particular cities and mega-regions, can make their move. My sense is that Canada as a whole and Toronto and its mega-region are as well-positioned as any place in the world to prosper and improve their relative positions in this transformative period.
First off, Canada has a substantial advantage in its stable banking system. Toronto is the center of that system. At the YPO event with Zakaria, Frank McKenna from TD Bank made a joke that went something like this: A couple months ago his bank wasn’t among, say, the top 20 largest banks, now they’re something like fifth or sixth. And then the punch line: In a couple more weeks, even if his bank would likely be, say, third or fourth, through little or no action of its own, RBC is even higher. The World Economic Forum recently ranked Canadian banks the most stable in the world. For these reasons, Toronto is well-positioned to move up in the ranks of global financial centers. No, it won’t topple NY or London, but with banks this big and this stable, it will gain ground. And with employment opportunities eroding in these centers, it can make a big move on top global talent.
Toronto has the opportunity to occupy a relatively unique space among global cities, still beneath the largest global centers, like NY and London, but gaining ground on them, and in a relatively unique and advantaged position as the most vibrant of the so-called “second cities.”
Toronto has a very advantageous economic structure, comparatively speaking. Our MPI team has been collecting, analyzing, and studying data on the industrial and occupational composition of Toronto versus other U.S. and Canadian cities and some other global cities. Led by Kevin Stolarick, our goal is to have matched data on the micro-functionings of the U.S. and Canadian cities and regions, in terms of industries and occupations for every metropolitan level jurisdiction and city across the two countries.
From what we can glean – and expect much more on this to come – Toronto has one of the very fastest metabolizing occupational and industrial metabolic structures of any city with strengths in media, entertainment, design, and creative industries as well as finance. These are the sectors that move at the highest velocity. And it has real technological capability in its orbit with Kitchener-Waterloo and RIM nearby.
Toronto is as diverse, if not more so, then NY, London, or even L.A. Plus, it has an unusually high degree of social cohesion. Add to that great universities that are moving up, great and improving music and arts scenes, and relatively affordable housing, at least by world comparative standards. And you get the picture – a city ready to move up the global ranks.
Yes, Toronto certainly has issues and problems to overcome. Inequality has grown a la David Hulchanski and company’s remarkable “Three Toronto’s” study report. Parts of the region’s older manufacturing economy is suffering and the region as a whole is more geographically segmented and spiky then before.
But the assets are considerable. Leadership “gets it” from the Premier to the Mayor, other political leaders across the region – mayors, legislators, councilors, and economic development officials, university leaders, the non-profit sector, the arts and culture community, labor, environmentalists, and key segments of the business community – all of them are literally moving in the same direction.
You can literally feel the momentum.
There’s only one thing left to do. Stop looking south for models. They ain’t there. The U.S. and its key cities are in deep crisis. Toronto has a golden opportunity to become a model and lead not just for Canada but for North America and the world.
Will we take it?