Fitting the Knowledge Economy Jigsaw Piece for Belleville, Ontario: Benchmarking Performance with Canadian Cities and Underpinning the Role of Downtown
urban planning , economic development , creative class , downtown regeneration , Belleville
The research question of this report is, how can Belleville, Ontario develop a role in the knowledge economy? A thorough review of Belleville’s city planning documents found no evidence that Belleville’s role is defined for the knowledge economy, highlighting the rationale for this report. It is debated that capitalism goes through distinct phases, and the ascendancy of the knowledge economy implicates a transformation of the structures, principles and mechanisms that underpin capitalist development (Amin, 1995; Macleod & Goodwin, 1999). What is truly defining capitalism of today is how knowledge and learning create economic wealth (Gertler, 2001). Inherently, just as Fordism required Americanism to spur the post-war boom, there is the need to embed the knowledge economy in a knowledge society or a society with a reciprocal institutional ensemble (laws, rules), cultural norms and social relationships (Harvey, 1989; Amin, 1995). In the industrial age, the corporation was the organizing unit of economic growth (Florida, Mellander, & Adler, 2010). In the knowledge economy, the knowledge worker owns the means of production and it is on the urban scale “that the productive capacities of territorial organizations are mobilized” (Brenner, 1999, p. 446). These ideals raise major economic and social policy questions, and have major implications for how to plan our cities. In effect, urban planners provide the tools to facilitate capitalist accumulation, with power to shape the social qualities and properties of urban places. <----------> Belleville, Ontario is a smaller Canadian city that by location, by built form, and with regard to the current planning context is a city of potential in the knowledge economy. Unfortunately, Belleville’s downtown has experienced serious decline as a result of suburban growth; however, current environmental and economic development thinking are creating a climate for downtown revitalization (Filion, Hoernig, Bunting & Sands, 2004). A leading method about urban development in the knowledge economy is Richard Florida’s creative class approach. Florida’s thesis of the creative class approach is that “in the post-industrial era, successful regional economies need to cultivate an ecosystem incorporating high levels of talent, high technology industry concentration, low barriers to entry for talent, and high degrees of social heterogeneity (or tolerance)” (Florida et al., 2010, pp. 2-3). A place can be evaluated for its “fit” to the creative class using a number of performance indices based on these 3Ts of economic development; however, the 3Ts of economic development indices produce dichotomous results by city size. Since the scale of a city-region is generally a competitive advantage in the knowledge economy, the indices produce results that essentially categorize larger cities as winners and smaller cities as losers (Donald & Morrow, 2003). In response, Lewis and Donald (2010), in their work: “A New Rubric for Creative City Potential in Canada’s Smaller Cities,” proposed a new model that will highlight the strengths of smaller Canadian cities. Their alternate path begins with a vision focusing on “quality of life,” specifically livability and sustainability (rather than talent, technology, and tolerance). Lewis and Donald (2010) presented seven measurable indicators of city performance with their new quality of life themed model.<----------> This study conducted a performance analysis of Belleville, Ontario relative to nine other Canadian cities, as measured by four of Richard Florida’s 3Ts of economic development indicators and six indicators of Lewis and Donald’s (2010) model, which for this report is termed the “quality of life” model. The information for this study is secondary source and based on two sources of evidence. A few chapters should be elaborated on for their sourcing. The information of Chapter 1 is documentary information and is the product of an extensive literature review. Chapter 2’s background information on Belleville is also documentary information and is both the product of an extensive literature review and also uses planning documents that were obtained directly from the Belleville Downtown Improvement Area (See RFA Planning Consultant Inc., 2010; Office for Urbanism, 2006). The primary source of evidence for “Chapter 4: Results” is archival records, which is the data for the performance analysis. This constitutes the data based upon Lewis and Donald’s quality of life model that is from Statistics Canada’s 2006 Census and the 3Ts of economic development data that is from the Martin Prosperity Institute of the University of Toronto. The non-scientific nature of the study’s methodology could not lead to an unequivocal conclusion about what model best fits the community. Nonetheless, the report benchmarks Belleville’s relative performance and identifies Belleville’s relative developmental strengths and weaknesses. In benchmarking Belleville’s relative performance on the economic development indicators, its character was found to be similar to other smaller Canadian cities and distinct from larger urban centres. There were several implications of the results, which revolved around that Belleville should in no way attempt to simulate values, but should be adopting its own development model: one that works to attract creative capital and also builds on the distinct advantage of quality of life. The latter was expressed through the notion for small city solutions to big city problems. <----------> Notable enough that it merited its own section in this report, downtown Belleville was argued on several dimensions as a key resource for Belleville to improve its attraction and retention power of knowledge workers and knowledge-based firms and improve overall quality of life. Downtown Belleville has an award-winning master plan that was adopted by city council in 2006, but subsequently shelved. In response, RFA Planning Consultant Inc. (RFA) was retained by the Belleville Downtown Improvement Area (BDIA) to review and synthesize the master plan’s recommendations. On November 10, 2010 RFA presented a document to the Mayor’s Downtown Task Force on behalf of the BDIA that is built around four downtown development themes to empower downtown planning. The themes are: Downtown as an Attraction, Downtown as 8 - 80 District, Downtown as Residential Area, and Downtown as Employment Centre. This section examined Belleville’s downtown through these themes and rationalized these themes for their relevance in the knowledge economy. Of particular emphasis was that the civic infrastructure of downtown is of an urban character that could attract and retain knowledge workers and facilitate economic growth for knowledge-based firms. However, it was also acknowledged that there is a hierarchy of needs involved in the regeneration of a downtown and that built form is only one of many important considerations. Future research and action to develop Belleville’s role in the knowledge economy will be to further articulate and operationalize a distinct development model for downtown Belleville. While this should be encouraged, it should be carefully directed. Urban creativity strategies have been highly contagious over the past decade, but some have been poorly planned out - putting a knife-edge between regeneration and decline. Interview(s) could have been a source of evidence to validate and enhance the reliability of the report’s findings. However, due to trouble coordinating deadlines interviews were not conducted.