Smart cities attract smart people, who in turn create smart companies. Done right, the process feeds a virtuous circle – more cool jobs, more creative people – and the next thing you know you have an Austin, Tex., or a Silicon Valley, centres where cash and creativity abound. But how do you kick-start it all? There was a time when landing a big factory, or failing that, a call centre, was seen as the catalyst to economic growth. It started with big subsidies and ended with zoning amendments. That view has given way to one that champions cafes and ballets, and preferably, a ski hill nearby.
Kevin Stolarick, research director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, says you need all of the above. Whether the industry of choice is IT, fine arts or life sciences, building a cluster from scratch is very difficult, Dr. Stolarick warns.
“I always say the hardest thing in the world is to attract the first immigrant to your community, and the easiest thing is to attract the second one,” he says. “And the same is true for these industries. If you have the first one, that’s fabulous, and if you have some already, there’s something you can do with it.”
For Dr. Stolarick and his colleagues at the institute, which studies the role of location and city regions in economic prosperity, this is well-worn territory. (Director Richard Florida wrote the 2002 bestseller The Rise of the Creative Class.) But understanding the many factors that made a place like Austin a magnet for creative types is tricky, Dr. Stolarick says. “Even looking back, it’s hard to figure out what all of those conditions were and how things happened.”
Earlier, Dr. Stolarick made a valiant try, helping us get a better understanding of how some centres of ingenuity were established, and how we can help create them today.
With files from Nick Rockel.
The following is a transcript of the conversation:
nhulsman - Hi I'm Noel Hulsman, I'll be hosting the discussion today with Kevin Stolarick. We will begin in 10 minutes. Feel free to send in your questions now. Thanks.
12:54 [Comment From Kevin Stolarick]
12:57 nhulsman - Kevin, thanks for joining us today. We appreciate your time. I've got a number of questions to ask, but will defer to the readers first. We'll start with a question about Toronto from George Ennis
12:57 [Comment From George Ennis ]
How would you rate Toronto's performance in attracting the "cool jobs" relative to other cities globally, in Noth America and Canada.? What is that Toronto is doing right, what does it need to do better and what is it doing wrong? Finally what role have more senior levels of government played in the success of the cities winning the race to attracting creative people, jobs and industries?
12:57 [Comment From Kevin Stolarick]
Thanks for such an easy first question! :)
12:58 [Comment From Kevin Stolarick]
The biggest advantage that TO has now is its diversity. Not just the immigrant populations, but its across-the-board diversity (perfect a couple of days after Gay Pride).
1:00 [Comment From Kevin Stolarick]
Trying to figure out what to improve has been keeping my sleepless for the four years that I've been here. I don't think there is a single thing that needs to be fixed, changed or improved -- mostly I think Toronto needs to believe in itself more (OK -- this is the 'huckster' from the US saying this).
nhulsman - From a competitive advantage perspective, is diversity enough? Vancouver and Montreal are also diverse, to say nothing of New York, San Francisco, L.A, etc
1:01 [Comment From Kevin Stolarick]
The biggest way to attract people to your city is to have residents who believe in it, love it, and can't wait to share that love.
1:02 [Comment From Kevin Stolarick]
No, diversity is not enough. You also need Technology/jobs and talented skilled people (already there and attracted). And, attracting people means amenities (talking about transit could keep us busy for hours).
1:03 [Comment From Ian Brown ]
Hi Kevin. Once a city or region attracts lucrative trade, what steps or initiatives need to be undertaken to ensure the community doesn't back-peddle. I.e. drug and crime problems in Alberta's oil sand regions. It seems many of these places take one step forward, and two steps back.
1:06 [Comment From Kevin Stolarick]
Success brings its own challenges. The trick is to be mindful that your are successful and keep an eye out for possible downsides. There are lots of places that wish they had the kinds of 'problems' the oilsands have -- what city in the Maritimes would give their left arm for a little growth? It's when you are successful that you have the opportunity to make things better and not just rest on your prior success. The 'virtuous circle' starts by turning success into more.