With the arrival of spring, people shed their jackets and hats to once again take to the outdoors. In downtown Peterborough, the restaurant patios are busy, the streets are bustling, and "people watching" has returned as a seasonal pastime.
First impressions are that this is simply people enjoying the warmer weather and, perhaps, spending some of their hard earned income in anticipation of an active summer. The reality is that much more is going than meets the eye. The activities that we see are at the heart of the future of the local economy. It is from the interaction of people with diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives that economic innovation is begun.
Richard Florida of the Rotman School of Management, at the University of Toronto, and advisor on economic growth to the British Prime Minister, has attributed economic innovation and growth of cities to the role of the "creative class". Florida’s study of seven regions of 100,000 to 250,000 people in Ontario indicates that Peterborough is well positioned when compared to similar communities in terms of the creative class.
From rigorous measures used by Florida, Peterborough placed first in terms of its technological capacity—far ahead of Kingston and Guelph. In terms of the talent necessary to support growth, and cultural diversity and tolerance, Peterborough finished just behind Kingston and Guelph.
It is through venues where people gather together for social purposes rather than just employment that the creative class interacts. It is in places like downtown Peterborough, and the diversity of activities there that new ideas will come from interactions—planned and fortuitous.
Casual observations of the recent buzz downtown shows many young people working and gathering, and interacting with people of many ages and backgrounds. Art and music is thriving here in a way that is the envy of many other communities.
The attachment of young people to venues like those found in downtown Peterborough has positive economic consequences that are often overlooked by those who only see the activities as social, rather than economic.
The Municipal and Provincial governments are doing their part to develop the infrastructure—physical and social—necessary in supporting the activities of the creative class. Every local organization—private, public, and not-for-profit—needs to take into account the significance of supporting the creative class when making decisions that have community impacts beyond that of the organization itself.
Innovation, technologically and organizationally, is a reality even for small communities like Peterborough. It is time that we recognized the nature of economic growth in our time, practice innovation rather than just preaching it, and focus our efforts on promoting sustainable growth by nurturing the creative class.
[Contributed by PtboCanada's Tom Phillips Ph. D.]
[Editor's Note: This is Tom's first column for PtboCanada.com. He is Economist & Sustainability Director - Greater Ptbo Innovation Cluster]