It’s Christmas… In February

On February 8th, the first batch of the 2016 Census data is released. Although only the population and dwelling counts are being released next week, it is the first stage of a year long release…. pretty much Christmas all year long.

What does this mean for our region?

Well the bast way I can describe the population and dwelling count release is that it is little more than tease, offering up little more than top line numbers on population change, its change between 2011 and 2016, dwelling counts and number of dwelling occupied, land areas and population density. For some context as to what the numbers could look like here is the Windsor CMA broken out from 2011.

Windsor LaSalle Lakeshore Tecumseh Ahmerstburg
Population in 2011 210,891 28,643 34,546 23,610 21,556
Population in 2006 216,473 27,652 33,245 24,224 21,748
2006 to 2011 population change (%) -2.6 3.6 3.9 -2.5 -0.9
Total private dwellings 96,483 10,103 13,080 8,832 8,600
Private dwellings occupied by usual residents 87,830 9,901 12,331 8,657 8,124
Pop. density per square  km 1,441.30 438.6 65.1 249.3 116.1
Land area (square km) 146.32 65.3 530.32 94.69 185.68

The key thing to keep in mind when these numbers are released is that there is not a lot of context. These numbers provide us a what, not a why and there are underlying root causes that are far more important than the top line numbers themselves.  To imply knowing the why or connecting these numbers to a specific factor is premature and speculative. This isn’t to say that we can’t infer somethings from the data that comes out but without some of the broader underlying ethno-demographic and socio-economic data or their breakouts at a tract or dissemination area level its really hard to say what the causes or impacts are.

Important Things to Remember

  • Do not freak out a census is every 5 years, Windsor is 125 years old. A under preforming census isn’t the end of the world for any community.
  • Do not let anyone amplify a single line item within this initial data release to the point of crisis.
  • Remember all of the data was collected May-July 2016. This means it missed the second half of the year (auto contracts, hirings, FINA etc.).
  • The census is a point in time, the data today is already outdated but it provides a new benchmark moving forward. All population projections, growth charts etc. need to be re-calibrated.
  • Due to land areas of the communities not changing since 2011 (to my knowledge), the populations densities will fluctuate and people will make big deals of simple tweaking a numerator.

Some Bold/Educated Predictions 

  • Windsor’s population will get back above 2006 levels but the gap between dwellings and uninhabited dwellings will remain large.
  • Amherstburg will see positive growth in the 2-3% range
  • LaSalle will be flirting with 30,000 people with both it and Lakeshore breaking 4% population growth.
  • Tecumseh will growth will continue to lag as combos of geography and competition see it passed over by population grown and dwelling construction.
  • Looking further afield, Kingsville’s growth will probably compete with Lakeshore and LaSalle.
  • Leamington will be relatively flat from a growth standpoint.
  • Essex will probably continue to struggle, I suspect that the town itself does okay with marginal growth (~1%) but Harrow and southern Essex struggle.

Book Review: The Boundary Bargain by @zacspicer

For my birthday I was finally able to finish up Zachary Spicer book The Boundary Bargain. The book outlines  the evolution and nature of the cities and rural areas in Ontario and the consequences  of this divide.Boundary Bargain

Providing a historical overview dating back to the early cities of Upper Canada to outline the evolution of how towns grew into cities and how they interacted with the rural countries that surrounded them; Spicer set the contextual stage for many of modern challenges of sprawl and inter-governmental cooperation. To illustrate these challenges Spicer uses three case studies: London-Middlesex; Guelph-Wellington County and Barrie/Orillia-Simcoe County to illustrate the ongoing tension between urban centres and their surrounding rural partners. Each of these City/Counties face their own unique challenges: from London where suburbanization is being driven by county representatives along city’s fringes, which has led to the City refusing to provide services and to talk of annexation. To Guelph where a cooperative arrangement has been put in place to allow Guelph to expand as needed but questions of whether appropriate intensification will occur. To the Simcoe County where Barrie and Orillia are separated cities on different trajectories with Barrie being the fastest growing cities in Canada and Orillia growing at a negligible rate; within the rest of the County you find that it is split between rapidly growing suburban communities closer to the GTA and slower growing northern communities that struggle to maintain their economic base.

Spicer concludes by looking at the institutional mechanism  that can potentially overcome the artificial boundaries that exist between cities and their surrounding counties. Providing examples from the “New Regionalist” paradigm he examines the feasibility of potential institutional solutions to these boundary issues which range from: basic inter-departmental cooperation to department amalgamation across a region to the formation of single tiers of government.

Overall this book does a wonderful job at illustrating the institutional challenges that face many cities and counties across Ontario. With thirteen separated cities/counties remaining in Ontario, Windsor-Essex, being one of them; the book provide insights on how our region (and others) could potentially move forward to improve cooperation and coordination.

My only hope is that Spicer doesn’t spend too much time taking a closer look at the dysfunction state that is Windsor-Essex, as it will take away a lot of potential the material from this blog.

Housing Stock – Lets get depressing :P

In my previous post I took my dog for a walk and we had a wonderful time wandering my neighbourhood and seeing looking the state of house. At this point, we have to take a step back and look at the City as a whole. On Saturday night I tweeted out the first piece of data from this post I traded tweets with a nice fellow from Alberta:

Before we get into the sprawl discussion we have to look at the state of Windsor’s housing stock.

What is “Housing Stock”?

Across Windsor, there are beautiful homes that are lovingly maintained by their owners that being said there are many other homes that are less well maintained or appraised. When the term Housing Stock is used it is referring to dwellings within a community at macro level, little boxes on a hill side, not individual homes, street or even neighbourhood. This definition is also not exclusive to detached homes, when referring to dwelling or housing stock it includes apartments, condos, townhouses, row houses, cottages pretty much anywhere with a permanent address that people live in a permanent basis.[1]

Speaking about housing on a macro level is important is due to broader conversations that is needed in our community. Due to the unique geography of Windsor-Essex County you can’t talk about Windsor in isolation from the rest of the region and as a result Windsor’s Housing Stock not only needs to compete with but be a superior value to the rest of the region in order to help attract talent and investment to the city. Attracting talent is a complex situation numerous factors interacting to determine where individuals settle but Windsor is the location of majority of the jobs in the region meaning that it is a location of destination for most people on a daily basis. If the housing stock in a particularly neighbourhood or area close to work do not align with consumer preference or offer sufficient value than other options will be explored.

Given that Windsor CMA is home to some of the shortest commuting times in Canada, selecting a home outside of the city or at its fringes carries fewer negative consequences compared to other communities.[2] For many, a house is the most important purchase/investment that an individual or family will make and if a house in the city cannot provide comparative material and marginal value to owners when held up to a suburban location they will select the suburbs.

 Age of Housing Stock

The state of Windsor’s housing stock can be summed up in the following phrase: Generally speaking the homes in central Windsor –are smaller, less expensive and older than homes of the surrounding suburbs and in the rest of the county. Due to the developed nature of the City of Windsor and the natural geographic disadvantage that it faces from the border blocking development in a northern direction, has naturally resulted in new constructions gravitating towards suburban fringes and neighbouring municipalities around the city.

Table 1: Percentages of occupied private dwellings by period of construction[3]

Windsor Windsor Core Tecumseh LaSalle Lakeshore Amherstburg Essex Kingsville Leamington
1960 or before 44% 61% 19% 15% 22% 28% 35% 33% 35%
1961 to 1980 28% 26% 24% 23% 27% 30% 31% 29% 27%
1981 to 1990 7% 11% 22% 14% 10% 12% 12% 8% 12%
1991 to 2000 12% 4% 27% 30% 17% 17% 14% 15% 16%
2001 to 2005 7% 1% 7% 13% 17% 9% 5% 9% 7%
2006 to 2011 2% 0% 2% 5% 6% 4% 3% 5% 3%

As the table [4] above illustrates with greater than 1 in 3 dwellings in the City of Windsor been built before 1960, which translates into 38,315 dwellings, it places the city in a challenging position. This isn’t to say that every old dwelling are poor quality homes to live in or that they can’t it be a part of a revitalization. The various historical “districts” on Victoria Ave, Sandwich Towne and Old Walkerville do represent an important part of our community’s history but dwellings in these areas only represent 4,435 or less than 1 in 5 dwellings in the City core. This number likely skews to the high side as the census tracts are larger than then what most people would define as the heritage areas of these neighbourhoods and likely include types of homes that are not what you would equate with stately historic homes.

Outside of the historic neighbourhood and unless the older home is a historic design, many of the older homes in Windsor’s core are generally smaller in size, on a smaller lot, less likely to be aligned with modern preferences and as a result are not in a position where substantial appreciation of property values is likely to occur.[5] This does not negate historic housing stock from playing a key role in a revitalization, but efforts to revive large swaths of the city will need to extend beyond the minority of housing stock that classifies as historic.

When you focus on the Windsor’s core the percentage of old stock (Pre-1960) is 61%, representing 23,360 dwellings (of 38,420). To put it another way, City of Windsor nearly has more dwellings built before the 1960s than the two-thirds of all the homes in the rest of the CMA (towns of Tecumseh, LaSalle, Amherstburg and Lakeshore with 39,045 dwellings).This aged housing stock in the city core leads to a number of disconnects when attempting to attract people and developers to Windsor’s centre. With the core construction only growing by 5% since 2000, the age of the existing stock shows, as there are few new buildings with built in modern amenities being built to entice people to stay in that part of the city.

Types of Housing Stock

Windsor is by far the largest and most dense area of housing in the region, this is largely stating the obvious but the exact make up of that stock is important. When looking at our communities, single detached homes are the dominant form of habitation, for those desiring a more urbanist lifestyle this presents an immediate road block.

Table 2: Housing Stock by Type by Community[6]

Type of Dwelling Windsor Total Windsor Core Tecumseh LaSalle Lakeshore Amherstburg Essex Kingsville Leamington
Single-detached house 54,615 (62.2%) 21,955 (52.5%) 7,110 (82.1%) 8,615 (87.0%) 11,340 (92.0%) 6,915

(85.1%)

6,640 (85.2%) 6,625 (85.9%) 6,615

(67.1%)

Apartment; building that has five or more stories 11,525 (13.12%) 7,735 (18.50%) 420 (4.85%) 115 (1.16%) 0 (0%) 895

(9.07%)

730 (9.36%) 1,060 (13.74%) 2,715 (27.52%)
   Movable dwelling 15 (<0.00%) 0 0 0 235 (0.02%) 0 375 (0.05) 30 (<0.00%) 15 (<0.00%)
Semi-detached house 3,945 (4.49%) 940 (2.25%) 455 (5.26%) 565 (5.71%) 235 (1.91%) 110 65 (0.385) 200 (2.59%) 855 (8.67%)
Row houses 5,420 (6.17%) 1,945 (4.65%) 445 (5.14%) 135 (1.36%) 270 (2.19%) 330 (4.06%) 265 (3.40%) 410 (5.31%) 680 (6.89%)
Apartment; duplex 3,260 (3.71%) 2,750 (6.58%) 60 (0.69%) 50 (0.51%) 60 (0.49%) 85 (1.05%) 65 (0.83%) 80 (1.04%) 295 (2.99%)
Apartment; building that has fewer than five stories 8,920 (10.16%) 6,340 (15.17%) 160 (1.85%) 410 (4.14%) 180 (1.46%) 350 (4.31%) 325 (4.17%) 355 (4.60%) 865 (8.77%)
Total Dwellings                           87,830                              41,800                        8,655                      9,900                    12,330                             8,125                         7,795                     7,715                        9,865

In parsing Windsor and looking into the core it is home to the bulk of the high rise apartment stock (7,725 of 11,525); duplex apartments (2,750 of 3,260) and low rise apartment units (6,340 of 8,920) are in the core. At the same time, 21,955 of 54,615 of single detached homes are found within Windsor Core which is a sign of the suburban lifestyles that have taken root in our region.

Row houses and semi-detached homes are actually under represented across most of the region, with LaSalle being the only community that exceed the national average. Unfortunately for urbanists, much of that development is coming from new “sprawling neighbourhoods” that are being built on the fringes of Windsor.

When you compare local housing breakdown to the Canadian average and other communities in Ontario you can see the skewed nature of Windsor’s housing market.

Table 3: Housing Stock by Type Compared to Areas outside of Windsor Essex[7]

Windsor (city) Canada Average Hamilton London Kingston Kitchener Waterloo
Single-detached house 62% 55% 58% 51% 50% 50% 58%
Apartment, building that has five or more storeys 13% 9% 16% 20% 15% 14% 11%
Movable dwelling 0% 1% 0% 0% 0% 0% 0%
Semi-detached house 4% 5% 3% 4% 8% 6% 5%
Row house 6% 6% 11% 12% 7% 11% 12%
Apartment, duplex 4% 5% 3% 3% 4% 3% 2%
Apartment, building that has fewer than five storeys 10% 18% 9% 10% 17% 15% 11%

 Windsor finds itself certainly 7% more single detached homes and 8% less low rise apartments compared to national averages. The national measure for high rise apartments is skewed downwards in that they are predominantly found in cities but when compared to other communities Windsor lags behind many of them.  

If you add in what other groups and Statistics Canada call the “urban area of Windsor” which is represented by the CMA percentage of single detached homes skyrocket.

Total number of occupied private dwellings by structural type of dwelling Windsor CMA
Single-detached house 70%
Apartment, building that has five or more storeys 10%
Movable dwelling 0%
Semi-detached house 4%
Row house 5%
Apartment, duplex 3%
Apartment, building that has fewer than five storeys 8%
Other single-attached house 0%

When Councilor John Elliot in a recent City Council meeting said “sprawl is our future” in response to a discussion around the issue related to a proposed new hospital development.[8] Whether he knew it or not he was right, sprawl is our future because it is our past and present.

The fact of the matter is that this isn’t a problem that will be easily fixed, if it can be in the near term, particularly when you start looking at peoples housing preferences and broader geographic considerations.

Hi Human, I want to walk now!

Hi Human, I want to go for a walk now!

Citations 

[1] Statistics Canada. Structural Types of Dwellings and Collectives. Retrieved from https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/ref/guides/98-313-x/98-313-x2011001-eng.cfm

[2] Statistics Canada. (2015) Commuting to Work. The National Household Survey. Retrieved from http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-012-x/99-012-x2011003_1-eng.pdf

[3] Statistics Canada. (2011) Census of Canada. Retrieved from http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/index-eng.cfm

[4] NOTE about data: All of the above data is taken from community census profiles. For the Windsor CMA an additional extraction was made at a Census Tract Level. The “Core” is defined by extracting separating all Census Tracts that run from Sandwich Town to Lauzon Parkway, North of Tecumseh Road with the exception of some minor overlapping areas beyond that boundary. 4 Census Tracts due to poor response had their data suppressed by Statistics Canada.

[5] Grace Macaluso (2016) Housing boom should last two more years, says real estate board. Windsor Star.  http://windsorstar.com/business/local-business/housing-boom-should-last-two-more-years-says-real-estate-board

[6] Statistics Canada. (2011) Census of Canada. Retrieved from http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/index-eng.cfm

[7] Statistics Canada. (2011) Census of Canada. Retrieved from http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/index-eng.cfm

[8] Jon Liedtke (2016) OPINION: THE MEGA-HOSPITAL HAS POTENTIAL TO UNITE OUR REGION. Windsor Independent. http://www.windsorindependent.com/culture/opinion-mega-hospital-windsor/

So I Took My Dog for a Walk

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This is Lucy and she wants to go for a walk.

So summer is here and for me that means taking Lucy on lots of walks. Being a 8 lb chihuahua, the cool temperatures of the late fall through early spring  drains her interest in going outside and walking the neighbourhood. But now that summer has arrived several walks per day are the norm, which has led me to taking closer look at the housing where I live.

For those unaware, my wife and I currently live in the west end of Windsor and frankly we wouldn’t mind staying in the area as we look to move from our current apartment. So as I wander the neighbourhood with Lucy I find myself looking at the houses, thinking about what is inside them, seeing how prices are misaligned with expectations and seeing how it is a community gutted by absentee landlordism. This revelation isn’t news to anyone who has been around the University in the last decade or so. Universities always attract a body of lower cost, higher density student housing. The difference between Windsor’s student housing and other communities that I have experienced (Waterloo, London) is that little effort has been to preserve or enhance the housing stock in the West End. They have defined University districts, specialized zoning and unlike Windsor, other university communities have been trending towards increasing density through knocking down former single family homes and replacing them with more efficient and profitable multi-unit dwellings.

The conversion of a single family home to a student dwelling for the most part destroys the value of the neighbourhood. It also drives families out of a neighbourhoods and replaces the property owner (generally speaking) who is looking to maximize profits and minimize costs. Unfortunately there is a challenge presented in that we don’t know which homes are owned by these landlords and rented. To my knowledge there is no rental registry in Windsor and for the same reasons Vancouver and Toronto don’t know if foreign investors are buying up their condos, we do not know if investors (local or otherwise) are buying homes in Windsor to convert to income rental properties.

This is why I decided to count rental properties on my walk with Lucy. My count obviously isn’t scientific, with my threshold for determining whether the homes were absentee landlord rental properties beings as follows:

  1. Did it have a for rent sign.
  2. Did it have clear signs of student habitation beyond a normal single family ex. numerous cars all parked in the drive way, students sitting out drinking beer.
  3. Was the overall property maintained to a poorer quality to other homes on the street ex. unmowed lawn/overgrown garden, couch and other furniture on the front porch.

If I had doubts about a house, I didn’t count it. I also didn’t worry about apartment buildings as I was primarily looking at the transformation of what used to be single families homes into something else and something different. So what did I find?

Randolph –  University to Wyandotte Randolph – University to Riverside Rankin – University to Wyandotte Rankin- University to Riverside Josephine – Straith Park to University
Number of houses 79 14 87 32 32
Identified as rentals 34 10 39 26 19
Houses for Sale 0 0 1 0 1
Percentage 43% 71% 45% 81% 59%

That fact that greater than 40% of what were single family homes on these streets (by my crude estimate) is devastating to a neighbourhood. A 10 year study of inner city rental and homeownership rates found that for every 1 percent increase in homeownership rate translates into a $800 increase in property values in the neighbourhood.[i]  Using that  math, a 10% increase equals $8,000 increase in value and if that number or something like it holds true in our community $8,000 equals a 5%-10% of most homes value in the West End.

Many grand statements have been made about how to improve our city many without much in the way of local data to back them up. This post is the first of a series that will be released over this summer examining the state of Windsor’s housing stock and providing data about why things are the way they are (in my opinion) and how our community can change course.

In the meantime, I have to go walk Lucy!

[i] William M. Rohe & Leslie S. Stewart, Homeownership and Neighborhood Stability, 7 HOUSING POL’Y DEBATE 37, 66 (1996)

#Windsor2035 – Policy Suggestions for the Next 20 Years

To close out the #windsor2035 series I am going to offer some policies for the City to consider over the next 20 years. I had hoped to have this done in the summer but failed miserably, so now just I offer you some practical policy suggestions that will in my opinion improve the City of Windsor. Although there is a 20 year time frame on this series, many of these proposal can be implemented immediately.

Build Towards A Regional Government 

Windsor is the centre of a region that is politically divided but economically, recreationally and socially integrated. It is this political division that dampens economic growth in our region while preventing truly collaborative solutions to regional problems emerging. The debate over WEEDC being just one recent and prominent example of this division.

Over the next 20 years, the City of Windsor should do everything in its power to encourage regionalization, even going so far as to use economic/fiscal “incentives” to drive our neighbours towards common governance. Should they be reluctant, the city can impose additional costs on those communities and residents with specific user fees for County dwellers to use City services. Whether sewage surcharges to Tecumseh and LaSalle, extra fees for baseball, soccer or hockey leagues to use city facilities; to beginning  tolling roads or additional parking charges for commuters Windsor has many tools at it disposal.

Ideas like shared policing services for those who do not use the OPP; integrated firefighting services; an infrastructure fund for “region projects” and maintenance of shared assets; a regional transit authority; regional planning policy and Greenbelt; streamlining of certain back office services between municipalities a could be an easy path forward from which broader regionalization could emerge.

Narrowing Huron Church

The City can take advantage of the Gordie Howe Bridge while ensuring that Huron Church never returns to its existing state of gridlock. The City should plan sometime post opening of the new bridge to convert a lane in each direction on Huron Church to separated bike lanes from EC Row to the University of Windsor.

After the completion of the Gordie Howe Bridge and the anticipated diversion of the majority of truck traffic it would be a perfect opportunity to narrow the thoroughfare, provide bike connections to the University from the new Parkway trails and disincentive truck traffic towards a potentially twinned spanned Ambassador Bridge that could be forced upon on hesitant City. The result would not only be a major infrastructure improvement to the West-End of Windsor but also give the city a major bargaining chip when dealing with an ever combative Ambassador Bridge Corporation by potentially crippling a twin span’s financial viability.

Open the Sharing Economy

If Windsor wants to truly be forward thinking the City should move to properly enable the implementation and regulation of the sharing economy. Whether Uber or Lift to Airbnb or Homeshare all of these apps are going to move into Windsor. In the past few weeks, Airbnb has officially been legalized in Jersey City collecting a 6% tax to the coffers of the City.

There is no reason that legalization and fee collection could not be a source of revenue for the City, while enabling innovation in Windsor-Essex and protections for services users in our city.  At the same time, there needs to be some sort of regulation to give traditional industries a level playing field (look at Edmonton) while allowing these services to provide an opportunity for individuals in an economically depressed city to earn additional income.

More Accountable Council and City

Stream Council meetings to the World Wide Web; allow more than 4 weeks to review a 1,000+ page budget with more than one meeting to discuss said budget; electronic voting and tracking of Council votes so constituents know what their councilor voted for and against; more open data sources along with searchable agendas, minutes and Council documents. Most of these improvements can all be accomplished with procedural changes within City Hall at relatively low costs when compared to the overall cost of potential oversights in a $700+ million city budget.

A New Transit System

The current model of transit with a hub and spoke radiating out from Downtown Windsor doesn’t service Windsorites well and the County at all. The lack of an effective and efficient public transit system in Windsor is not only a hassle but a drag on our economy. So the question becomes how do we improve the system?

In my opinion, the model should shift from the existing hub and spoke network to a node network. Prioritize half a dozen or so hub locations: U Windsor, St. Clair College, Devonshire Mall, the eventual Mega Hospital, the Downtown Terminal and Tecumseh Mall. These locations would be connected by express route buses (possible dedicated bus/car pool lanes), that translate into a direct shot  with no stops. The idea being getting between each node in 10 or so minutes meaning a complete circuit in less than an hour. When you reach the node closest to your final destination that is where local buses run spreading out from the node in a circuit pattern before returning  to the nodes.

From what I hear, Windsor Transit has a plan(s) for a new system on the drawing board, what is missing is money. $5-15 million are needed to change the system, as moving bus stops, building new shelters and buying new buses all costs money. Given that Windsor Transit hasn’t had a major budget increase in years and fair hikes are used to cover rising operational costs without adding new services a clear opportunity looms from the Liberal governments infrastructure spending over the 4 years.

Regional Transit

Part of that investment process would be to take the improved transit system and bridge it out into the county. There is already some soft coordination with Tecumseh with transfers between their transit service and Windsor Transit at Tecumseh Mall, there is also some desire for this service to expand. So the question is how do we expand this service?

In reality to answer this question it depends if a truly regional transit system is developed or just a patch work of county based systems connected to the existing/enhanced Transit Windsor systems. On top of this the question of whether this regional system will work into the entire county or just the more population dense area on the north shore and east shore from Amherstburg to Belle River. A clear argument could be  made for a separate “South Shore” transit system that ties the southern half of Essex County together as the long routes connecting Leamington and Kingsville to Windsor will likely struggle with ridership and viability.

Simply put, many people like the idea of transit, might even be willing to pay a bit of taxes more for it but so long as their car is a quicker and more convenient method to get from point A to point B, they will use their car. Without some sort of demand side incentive to drive people from their cars and make transit more cost/time effective it is likely that regional transit will fail. As a result, road pricing, gas taxes and other demand side disincentives to driving should be put into place.

Cultural Districts 

Windsor is one of the most ethnically diverse city’s in Canada, yet the only group that has an ingrained itself in our City’s fabric is the Italian community with Erie St. being the formalized Little Italy in our city. The question is, why not create a similar districts for other groups in our city?  To a degree it is already occurring with clusters of shops and restaurants in certain areas of the city but expanding this concentration into specific district as a means for development of cultural communities in Windsor could be a powerful tool in attracting, integrating and engaging new immigrant communities to our city and Canada.

Wyandotte Street offers a couple of examples of what could be. Between Campbell Ave and the University a cluster of Asian restaurants and markets have a emerged to cater to international students and families. The arrival of the Multi-Foods Grocery store on Crawford further East anchors the west end of the city as being a major draw for immigrant communities. To the East, between the Downtown and Walkerville, Arabic is the predominant language on shop signs. Given its strategic location between what we hope is a resurgent downtown and a thriving Walkerville a bridge neighbourhood is needed to connect these two districts.

So the question is why not formalize these neighbourhoods, encourage cultural events and activities. Erie St get Via Italia why can’t these neighbourhoods get Eid or Chinese New Year Celebrations? This transformation could be led by local BIAs with City backing around infrastructure and local service delivery, allowing grass roots community first initiatives to take root and become ingrained. This engagement along with strategic placement of language and other supports will enable new arrivals and their families to more quickly situate themselves in our community while offering existing residence a greater taste experience of the world that can strengthen our community overall.

City’s Real Estate Business 

In general, I am not a fan of government intervention but when there is a failure in the local economic environment and when the community is losing a race to the bottom in terms of development with neighbouring communities, local government taking targeted action is appropriate for the betterment of the community. The one advantage that the City of Detroit has had in its revival has been the acquisition of vast tracks of property through tax leans and sales. The city then spent tens of millions of dollars to demolish vacant, blighted and burnt out buildings, in turn free up swaths of land to be removed from servicing, for greenfield redevelopment, as well as innovative uses like urban agriculture and naturalization projects.

Windsor never sank so low (fortunately or not) but we do have a city core that is hollowed out and faces a challenge in the current state of its housing stock. According to the most recent data, there are almost 6,500 dwellings in Windsor that are “Unsuitable” for habitation. In order to have a livable community, the housing stock in the city centre MUST be improved. Given the empty lots and parking lots that dot the core and have been allowed to remain “waiting to be developed” it is time for the city to become directly involved. The problem is that developers are all waiting from someone else to invest and be successful. There hasn’t been a major residential construction in the city core in years due to the fear by developers that if they build and fail it would kill their business.

All city property sales should be completed on the condition of imminent construction. To facilitate this the city should move to acquire key properties in the Core and elsewhere from other levels of government and ministries (school boards) to ensure that closed facilities don’t rot neighbourhoods, then flip cleared properties to developers. To sweeten the pot for developers the city could wave development charges, building permit fees, pre-approve zoning as a part of the sales or property tax holidays following the completion of construction. Even if the city has to take a short term net loss in tax revenue or sale value due to paying for demolition, the long term viability of neighbourhoods and the future tax revenues of a new higher assessed value property will recover this over the longer term.

A Hub City

Community Hubs, as I have written,  are a proven model in other communities tackling a wide range of issues. Whether encouraging entrepreneurs; providing health services for both physical and mental ailments; youth services like afterschool programs, homework help clinics or physical activity and sports; to employment; food security; technology the list of potential hubs goes on and on.  What is missing is the physical space.

Decentralizing services and locations to a neighbourhood approach would enhance property values, draw residents and build communities.  The city has capacity to provide space and the community hub model is proven to provide improve access to services to the citizenry in cities across Canada. So why can’t it work here too?

 

Conclusion 

These are just a few ideas, some are more realistic than others, what is important is a civilized discourse around the eventual vision that will be the 20 Year Strategic Plan and its effective implementation when it is finally revealed.

 

Book Review: Major League Winners – Sports for Economic Development

Written in an academic style Major League Winners  by Mark Rosentraub examines the use of sport stadiums and cultural districts as tools of economic development in a number of American cities. Providing in depth case studies from a number of US cities that have attempted to use Sports and Entertainment facilities as a tool of economic development and revitalization for their communities the book highlights the costs, outcomes and results of their ventures before offering some general recommendations for communities interested in undertaking this form of development. To be honest, this book was a bit of a grind but that is because it is probably not written major league winnersfor general public consumption, rather academics and nerds like myself.

For me there are several points that I takeaway from this work and they all bleed together to on extent or another. First, development of sports and cultural facilities cannot be exclusively the activity of local/state government. Sports and Cultural facilities for the most part are used by local residents in a city/community. Those residents regardless of their income, have a budget that they are able to spend on recreational activities whether a night out at the movies, going to a sporting event or a trip to an amusement park. As a result the construction of a new facilities by local government is in general not going to create new economic activity within a community, rather redistribute that activity from other facilities or events. In many cases, there may actually be less sports and entertainment spending due to the impact of increased ticket, parking and other prices that are often associated with new facilities.

This transfer of spending amplifies the impact of some communities giving developers large incentives to build facilities and/or surrounding districts to spur economic activity. Again the majority of the economic impact of activities (after the construction) are simply transfers within the city/regional economy. The incentive value paid upfront to encourage the construction, dilutes any tax revenue growth that may occur as a part of the development as the value of the subsidy must first be recovered before the local government sees any new revenue. Unlike some of the examples in the book where local sales/entertainment taxes are a tool available to municipalities, in Canada (and I believe Michigan) cities do not have the power to levy these taxes so these revenue sources would not be available to counter act the impact of waiving property taxes or development charges. Note: Assuming that there is some external income sources brought into the city as a result of the development.

Another key point the book points out is the negligible impact of providing facilities for one time events. Although these events have a “reputation changing” impact on a community, the value of this change in many ways is difficult to quantify. Although the book uses Superbowls as its primary example for this type of event, which is often a “reward” from the NFL for building a new stadium. Although many communities feel a sense of pride and are able to use the event to potential brand the city, the long term economic impacts are mixed at best. The economic impacts of a single event often leaves a community with an underutilized facilities that it then struggles to use over the following years, while having only a modest short term impact on the economy of a community.

Arguably the most important point that the book makes is that if sports/cultural/entertainment facilities are going to be used as a source of economic development, it needs to be apart of an “Uber plan”. Meaning that the development needs to be a government, private sector partnership that specifically targets underdeveloped neighbourhoods or other development needed areas. Government dollars are tied directly to a commitment from the private sector for direct investment and job creation in new development and/or the surrounding areas. These plans would then be overseen by joint public/private stakeholder committees that bring together residents, interest groups, business, investors and government to the same table to not only manage the initial construction but also the long term governance of the new area or district.

These were some of my takeaways from Major League Winners, if you are interest in an academic review of sport and entertainment facilities and their usage on economic development I would encourage you to take a look. It’s not the easiest read in the world but it certainly is informative.

How an Astronaut Made it More Expensive to Fly from #YQG

 

Porter Airlines plan was to expand Billy Bishop Airport by extending the runway into Lake Ontario. By doing so it could then fly Bombardier CS 100 Jets out of the airport and reach destinations like Las Vegas, Vancouver, Miami, Calgary and LA to name a few. Although the CS 100 series has suffered from a number of delays aircraft are due next year and it has the potential to be one of the quietest and fuel efficient planes on the market.

This is why it is disappointing not only to me but for Windsor as well that the Federal Minister has ruled out the Toronto Island expansion. The tri-party agreement that the Minister mentioned is signed by the City of Toronto, Province of Ontario and the Federal Government and is the governing agreement for Billy Bishop Airport.  The airport is operated as a partnership, with various levels of government involved in different operations and only through changing this three party agreement could the expansion go forward.. Although Toronto City Council has shown a willing to explore (putting forward a request for design and environmental impact assessment) the expansion, the unwillingness of the Federal government is likely grounded in politics not economics with condo owners in Downtown Toronto being some of the most vocal against the airport expansion. new-routes

The ripple effects of this decision will be broad reaching. Not only will 18 jets conditionally ordered by Porter likely be cancelled, costing Bombardier hundreds of millions of dollars, but the badly needed increased competition in the Canadian airline market has been stiffed.  The ability to fly, Windsor to Toronto Island to Vegas, or Miami or Vancouver would drive down prices out of Pearson, making it cheaper for Windsorites to go where they want to go.

Just last week Windsor heard from Air Canada’s Regional VP that due to high airport taxes and fees it is cheaper to fly from the US and limiting options to travelers. If government and airport authorities aren’t willing to lower those fees, then increasing competition seems to be the only way to lower prices for travelers.

Porter’s website states the expansion of Toronto island would not only result in the hiring of a 1,000 new staff but another 1,000 spin off jobs outside of their company and Bill Bishop Airport.  Some of these jobs would land in Windsor, with more flight options from YQG to Toronto Island it would not only mean more daily flights requiring more staff at the airport but also create the potential for more aircraft maintenance being handled in the city. It would also force Air Canada and West Jet to respond and enhance local service,  bringing better service to Windsorites and greater opportunities to connect to the world.

It’s a shame that it won’t be happening.