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|November 12th, 2007, 11:51 PM||#1|
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Vancouver's Woes! | News
Vancouver must heed warning signs on horizon
Globe and Mail Update
November 12, 2007 at 6:18 AM EST
VANCOUVER — What must a city do to maintain its quality of life?
In Vancouver, quality of life has meant ocean, beaches, parks and mountains, thriving arts and culture, and the general peace and prosperity that have come from a post-Expo, pre-Olympics boom.
However, the sustainability of Vancouver's much-touted quality of life is at risk. The risk comes not because of potential ecological disaster, or because the downtown eastside is getting out of hand.
Quality of life - everything from social services to creative spaces and recreation programs - requires tax money, particularly taxes paid by business. And there are signs that Vancouver is at risk of losing its business base.
The Vancouver Economic Development Commission (VEDC) recently released a report on the state of the city's business climate, which details the many warning signs on the horizon.
Labour productivity, gross domestic product, exports, employment income in British Columbia lag behind the rest of the country. Yet Vancouver housing prices continue to soar beyond the means of most working families. Companies that want to do business in the city often can't find the space, or the employees. As for location safety, Statistics Canada lists Vancouver among the highest in Canada for violent and property crime rates.
These are the factors that are starting to drive businesses, employees and infrastructure to places such as Richmond, Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford. In the recent economic boom, jobs in Vancouver are growing at less than 2 per cent, compared with 10 per cent for Metro Vancouver's 21 municipalities. Combine all this with downturns in the export industry from the rising dollar, and it spells trouble for this growing city.
In the VEDC report, business and community leaders speak about a hollowing out, the prospect that Vancouver could be a bedroom community enjoyed by the wealthy, owned by absentee condo owners who prefer to do business elsewhere.
How will Vancouver keep businesses from voting with their feet, and taking their jobs and tax payments - and thus quality of life - with them?
Of 40 total recommended actions in the VEDC report, three barriers to business growth and retention are targeted as priorities for Vancouver City Council to deal with - regulations, crime and taxes.
More than a simple list of recommendations, the report is call-to-arms, detailing the real change that can be made in a short period of time, with little dependence on other levels of government.
They are also realistic actions to take, doable in a relatively short time span. The mere announcement that the city is starting them would send a strong, positive signal to the business community that the climate for business in Vancouver is about to get better.
But as important as these actions are, they're pieces of a bigger picture. The reality is that all cities have a quality of life to maintain and protect; Ottawa, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal are often not far behind Vancouver on international quality of life surveys, and the new rising stars are cities like Abbotsford, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Sherbrooke.
The lesson for business, community and municipal leaders across Canada is that quality of life is not the result of a shortlist of features or amenities. Quality of life is the sum total of social, environmental and economic factors that integrate and work together to support one another for the long haul.
In Vancouver, measures to address the economic side of the equation are long overdue, mainly because we've been able to coast on the strength of the city's social and environmental qualities. But people and business won't come just for beaches, skiing and restaurants any more. A strong and growing economy must be here: head offices, commercial and industrial space, and jobs.
And so it goes across Canada. Environment, society and economy must be integrated to achieve balance, and sustainability. In Vancouver, the economy has become the risk to quality of life. What is it in your city?
"The time to fix your roof is when the sun is shining," said John F. Kennedy. In Vancouver, nobody ever waits until the rains come - the rainy season is too long and the effects on society and one's environment are too severe to simply wait and react.
The sun may not shine in Vancouver for very long, and for the business community, the time to fix the roof is now.
Dr. Roslyn Kunin is special adviser to the board of directors of the Vancouver Economic Development Commission, and director of the BC Office of the Canada West Foundation.