The op­por­tu­ni­ties of growth

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - Blake Doyle

Of my re­cent ar­ti­cles, the one that con­sis­tently raises the most con­tention with read­ers is ad­vo­cat­ing for growth. It may be a cul­tural dis­po­si­tion of change, an in­nate fear of ad­vance­ment, or con­cern for dwin­dling in­flu­ence on en­ti­tle­ments. What­ever the rea­son, it’s volatile – there­fore a great sub­ject to con­tinue ex­plo­ration.

Whether you sup­port gov­ern­ment pol­icy, or not, there is a present com­mit­ment to grow our pop­u­la­tion. For the record, I see this as an em­pir­i­cal ne­ces­sity. West­ern economies all suf­fer from a baby-boom han­gover. Ex­cep­tion­ally high post-war birth rates re­sulted in sub­stan­tial eco­nomic ex­pan­sion. Birthrates have col­lapsed (P.E.I. projects birthrates to re­main at 1.3, which is less than the re­place­ment rate, so we are on a rapid de­cline curve) and emerg­ing economies sup­ported by ex­pand­ing pop­u­la­tions are to­day Asia to­mor­row Africa.

P.E.I.’s pop­u­la­tion growth can be at­trib­uted to one phe­nom­e­non, im­mi­gra­tion. This has largely ben­e­fited ur­ban cen­ters, pri­mar­ily Char­lot­te­town. More can be done to im­prove the dis­per­sion, but this will only oc­cur in an ap­pro­pri­ate en­vi­ron­ment.

The Brook­ings in­sti­tute in the US have ex­am­ined at why most U.S. small towns are lan­guish­ing, while a mi­nor­ity are flour­ish­ing. Not sur­pris­ingly, it re­lates to em­ploy­ment growth. Em­ploy­ment draws peo­ple, peo­ple draw peo­ple (mo­tion cre­ates en­ergy); but with pop­u­la­tion shifts there are net bene­fac­tors and net de­pleters.

De­mog­ra­pher Wil­liam Frey sug­gests the de­plet­ing com­mu­ni­ties are be­com­ing ap­peal­ing to Mil­len­ni­als who are look­ing for qui­eter en­vi­ron­ments to raise fam­i­lies and less traf­ficked streets, which are safer for chil­dren. Herein lies an op­por­tu­nity for gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.

Ac­cept­ing Char­lot­te­town’s cap­i­tal sta­tus pro­vides ap­peal, we can see sub­urbs of Strat­ford, East Roy­alty, West Roy­alty and Corn­wall also ex­pand­ing. The next evo­lu­tion is for sec­ond ring ra­dial com­mu­ni­ties to po­si­tion lo­ca­tion ben­e­fits for at­trac­tion. Cen­tres of Summerside, Mon­tague can sup­port serene neigh­bour­ing com­mu­ni­ties with high-qual­ity school­ing and leisure ac­tiv­i­ties, are the ra­dial com­mu­ni­ties do­ing this.

The fastest grow­ing small towns in the U.S. are amal­ga­mat­ing with prox­im­ity cen­ters. This should be con­sid­ered for P.E.I. It is not an iden­tify loss, but a col­lec­tive strength­en­ing and con­sol­i­da­tion of re­dun­dant re­sources.

I would ar­gue that com­mu­ni­ties need to think big, think strate­gi­cally and think longterm. There are no quick fixes to pop­u­la­tion de­cline. It takes 20 years to make a 20 year old. Our abil­ity to vi­sion is lost in the my­opia of two-year elec­tion cy­cles.

A small farm­ing com­mu­nity in Vineland, Utah ex­pe­ri­enced a con­struc­tion in­vest­ment in hous­ing and retail de­vel­op­ment. The con­se­quence was as pop­u­la­tion boom from 139 peo­ple to 4,000 res­i­dents. We have par­al­lel com­mu­ni­ties to Vineland all over P.E.I.

Mayor Daryl Eidinger of Edge­wood, out­side Seat­tle, saw his pop­u­la­tion grow nine per cent last year. He at­tributes this to high hous­ing costs in nearby cen­tres. The Is­land as a whole have rel­a­tively sta­ble res­i­den­tial in­creases, ra­dial com­mu­ni­ties are not ex­pe­ri­enc­ing es­ca­la­tion to the same de­gree as ur­ban cen­tres.

Rel­a­tive scale is vastly dif­fer­ent on P.E.I., but the par­al­lels are strik­ing. We need lead­er­ship from ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, a will­ing­ness to em­brace new res­i­dents and po­lit­i­cal align­ment at the high­est lev­els to en­sure our many com­mu­ni­ties achieve un­tapped po­ten­tial and thrive.

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