In Brief: Ottawa Sun Columnist Walter Robinson recommends a recent AIMS Commentary by Patrick Luciani be mandatory reading for city councillors.


Hola from the warm but a little wet Mayan Riviera south of Cancun, Mexico. With another New Year’s Eve over and done (no mas tequila, por favor) it’s time to turn our attention to the key questions and debates in which city politicians and leaders must engage in 2008.

Principal among these debates is the question of what sort of local infrastructure we need to build and what takes priority in this growing list. However before diving right in, city councillors (along with their federal and provincial counterparts) should gain some perspective on what makes cities tick by reading a recent piece by Patrick Luciani, senior fellow in urban policy with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS).

Luciani’s commentary provides a succinct overview of a divided debate between those who subscribe to the “new urbanism” of creative cities with a bohemian index and those that believe this approach is folly and fantasy and subscribe to the approach of “sewer socialism” espoused by bestselling author Joel Kotkin (The City: A Global History).

At the moment, our city’s development policy is heavily weighted to the new urbanism school of thought as evidenced by the priority projects on the docket, including the downtown concert hall, the intense lobbying for a new central library and the ever-present demand for a modern municipal archives facility. Moreover, the 20/20 Growth Summit, held shortly after amalgamation, featured keynote speaker Richard Florida, who is an ardent evangelist for new urbanism.

Florida and others posit (think Jane Jacobs) that an urban region rich in cultural institutions, amenities and one that is tolerant to a variety of lifestyles will ultimately win out in the global battle to attract highly educated, innovative and modern 21st century workers. In turn, these cities/regions will achieve above average — if not globally leading — economic growth, or so the theory goes.

Meanwhile, Kotkin and others like influential demographer and policy guru Wendell Cox argue that cultural institutions are a by-product of high performing cities that have focused on first things first, like roads, transit, sewers, bridges and other hard assets. Yours truly is more inclined to this way of thinking.

Luciani captures this sentiment well on his AIMS commentary by noting that, “Kotkin may be on to something. He makes the case that cities in the U.S. that are growing the fastest are family-friendly cities. According to Kotkin, the ability to lure skilled workers depends more on affordable housing and short commutes to their jobs rather than where one can get a great latte.”

With council set to approve a comprehensive zoning bylaw in March, engage in the Official Plan Review and continue to pressure senior orders of government for more funding to help erase the $120-billion (and growing daily) infrastructure deficit, a few days of debate on what our infrastructure priorities are (and why?) is a crucial task which should not be delayed or discarded.

From this scribe’s vantage point, transit, sewers and roads are the Top 3 priorities followed closely by fixing up the slum properties we ask many of our seniors and low-income families to live in. If there is an appetite for softer cultural amenities, a new municipal archives and a national portrait gallery in our city deserve attention and support.

This debate may also broach the question of what is core and what is non-core in terms of the local tax bill and this would be a welcome bonus … especially since the mayor and council ran away from this debate during this past December’s budget deliberations.


To read the AIMS Commentary, Are big cities really saving the Canadian economy?, click here.