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Who needs casinos? Five better ideas to rev up communities

What sun-starved Canadian wouldn’t want to spend their tourism dollars in an indoor tropical facility, such as the Ocean Dome, a former indoor water park in Japan?

Seagaia Resort

In order to be competitive, Canada's cities need to be livable places that attract talented people and offer opportunities for people to create businesses and be magnets for investment. Some communities are far from that ideal. So we put the question to notable Canadians: What big project, other than a casino, would you propose to revitalize a stagnant area? An indoor tropical resort was one suggestion.

Build a dome and the tourists will come

Scott McGillivray

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Real estate investor, contractor, writer and host of HGTV Canada's series Income Property (new season begins September 19).

We're talking Canada right? I mean seriously, the hardest part of overcoming the tourism situation is the winter. Other than offering people skiing or skating or some sort of winter festival, it's all still cold and basically eliminates a big portion of the population. How much money do you think Canadians spend travelling to tropical places in the winter?

Why fly all the way to the Caribbean when we can just build the Caribbean here. Imagine a theme park, the size of Canada's Wonderland, but in a glass dome. You don't put in roller coasters, you put in palm trees; it's large enough to be a full-on resort. It's total vacation … within the city. The Pleasuredome.

You could have an indoor beach, a man-made lake with salt-water controls. Its somewhere you can stay, you can go outside in your shorts. It's about having an escape from the environment and the reality of the city. It could have a running track – think of all the people who like to go running but all winter you're stuck running in the slush and the snow.

It's a special entertainment zone, where all-inclusive rules exist: It has its own unique liquor license, like an open-bar concept with one set price, just like a beach resort.

It doesn't need a lot of energy [for heat]; you're basically creating the greenhouse effect with the glass roof. This would be the Truman Show of domes, maybe two Sky Domes [stadiums] worth. That's doable.

The dome is a critical element. Now, I don't know if you're ready for this … but there is another option. You could theoretically launch a satellite that has a large reflective surface, and is constantly reflecting the sun at this point so that it's always daytime. It doubles the amount of sunshine coming in the winter. You could have sunshine until midnight all year round. I think I saw it on Discovery Channel once. Well, maybe it was on the Simpsons I saw it, not the Discovery Channel.

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Think about how many people go on these vacations and they have to travel so far… This is all the conveniences of home with all the pleasure of the Caribbean holiday. I dream I live in this place.

Canada needs to be a tech powerhouse

Chris O'Neill

Managing director of Google Canada and frequent speaker on the topics of innovation and digital media.

We need to start by taking stock of the breakthrough technology being developed in Canada, where we have the potential to be global leaders, whether that's mobile technology or quantum computing or something else altogether. Then we need to double-down on the development of that technology, supporting our innovators through failure and success, setting audacious goals and delivering radical, world-leading innovation.

World-class talent is also a key ingredient. The highly-skilled people who will take on these breakthrough challenges will be drawn to dynamic cities that have an electricity of opportunity running through the air. To be competitive, our cities need to think of transit, greenspace planning, bike-friendly commutes and other community-building projects as key investments toward attracting and retaining creative, young innovators from Canada and around the world.

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Public broadband is a necessity

Dan Mathieson

In his third term as mayor of Stratford, Ont., and recipient of Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance's techn innovator medal.

The use of broadband connectivity needs to be treated as a basic infrastructure need.

In the future economy, the data that flows across those networks is going to become part of everyday life, if it hasn't already. If you can't entice commercial entities to do it, then government should look at how they can play a role in advancing public broadband.

In our case, we used a fibre optic network that we had in the city as a backhaul for our utility data, that helped to create a business model that made it more inviting for corporate entities that wanted to come in. It helped us on a number of fronts: It attracted the University of Waterloo's significant investment with regards to their digital media campus in Stratford; The Royal Bank of Canada built a national data centre in Stratford; and we are fostering the growth of technology companies at Stratford Accelerator Centre … Their underlying need will be connectivity going forward and it's important that we have it.

We've also tried to make sure the existing manufacturers – automotive, aerospace and others – are using the broadband for their quality control. We have one company hooked right into one of the largest auto makers in the world with regard to outputs and just-in-time delivery, and it helps.

You have to continue to market yourself as a destination. If people have an ability to work anywhere, they can look at Stratford for its quality of life and its ability to give them some things they wouldn't get in a larger centre while not leaving them at an economic disadvantage. I think those are the leading premises that you have to operate under.

I think if we're not careful and we don't advance connectivity in communities of all sizes, we're going to see the further erosion of small rural communities. We need to make sure that communities don't lose the opportunity for employment, for skilled workers within those areas.

Free basic Internet service for every resident, business or visitor of our city – making sure there is no socio-economic barrier to access – is something that can happen, and possibly will happen, as we plan the next phase of our expansion.

Exploit the potential of the food business

Ilse Treurnicht

CEO of MaRS Discovery District, heading up the mandate to create successful global businesses from Canada's science, technology and social innovation sectors for eight years.

Food is a huge opportunity for Canadian communities, and a huge need in the world.

We have a trade deficit in processed food, we import more than we export, and that's something we can easily turn around. Why should I be buying my soy milk in a carton coming from somewhere in the U.S.?

I'm a believer in looking at what local economies actually need. Lots of communities struggle to coalesce around some sort of a strategy that's authentically rooted in the local strengths and communities. Where you see that happen successfully, you see lots of great examples of economic renewal. People build jobs around building their own communities. Germany, for example, has built this huge sort of grassroots economy around solar energy.

One of the challenges about Canada is that it's a large country with low density in population, so food is attractive because we have so much land that [operations] can be scaled up and down. What you can do around food production, food distribution, food processing is develop economic growth locally and potentially build an economy that can serve other surrounding communities or export communities.

I have to tell you it was a bit of a surprise to me when I started to look at the number of people employed in the food processing sector in the GTA, which you don't normally think of as a food Mecca until you realize it's a huge part of the economy.

There are a large number of very high-growth businesses that are providing food services locally, such as the entrepreneur from Freshii. It's becoming more and more innovative, and there's an opportunity to tap into the diversity of our population. A lot of really interesting companies prototype products for global markets locally, and build very successful export products based on what they process here.

These are not projects that can be led by any one group: Government plays a role in creating an enabling environment that makes it easy for people to start businesses, to operate, to attract talent, to get skilled labour. We're believers that the impact of these networks become much more significant and amplified if you have the collaboration of business innovators, of government and of local community leadership, and, critically, partnership with the educational institutions from high schools all the way to postsecondary institutions.

Think big to fill holes in big cities

John Stanton

The founder of The Running Room and Walking Room is also the author of several books.

The first thing that jumps to my mind when you think of Canada are what are the successful things that are good for the community and economic and social and cultural development in cities.

I'm thinking in Halifax there's the Bluenose [historic ship] and buskers and what happens there.

When you think of Quebec City, you think of Winter Carnival.

If you think of Ottawa, it's probably Canada Day on Parliament Hill.

If you think of Edmonton, it's the Fringe Festival that happens in the park.

If you think of Vancouver, it's something that happens in Stanley Park.

All of these things involve public space that's accessible and affordable. They involve engagement of the population as a whole and entertainment that's affordable, in most cases.

Every major city in Canada has a derelict area where land values are not there because commercial development is not happening.

Building a stadium is pretty limited because they target sports and concerts, but something where you have affordable green space downtown is for the whole community.

Look at Toronto's Caribana [Caribbean carnival]. It started off as an ethnic segment and is now a Toronto celebration.

Events like that could be expanded if turned loose in big green spaces.

[Planning] needs to be more grandiose, like the encapsulation of the whole waterfront. You can have big concerts and events [that are] accessible.

In Winnipeg, they've been struggling to rebuild downtown. It's partially there – you've got the Aspers who have funded this new museum [of human rights] at The Forks [historic and recreation] area.

Make it big: areas where you could have concerts, fireworks and festivals, along with other downtown amenities.

With a report from Christina Varga

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About the Author
Technology reporter

Shane Dingman is The Globe and Mail's technology reporter. He covers BlackBerry, Shopify and rising Canadian tech companies in Waterloo, Ont., Toronto and beyond. More

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