This story from last month caught my eye today. The title, ‘Walkable Neighbourhoods Key to Creative Industries’, is innocuous enough. However, as the story states, the source is more surprising. The report, Walkability and Economic Development: How Pedestrian and Transit-Oriented Environments Attract Creative Jobs in Hamilton was released by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. Walkable neighborhoods are well-established as coveted residential and commercial space; the Chamber report goes further in clearly stating the case for walkability as an economic consideration, writing on page 18:
More specifically, walkable environments should be viewed as necessary economic infrastructure that attract employment and should be invested in accordingly. That means that just as investments are made in suburban business parks have the required infrastructure to make them the centres of private investment, walkable environments need to be created, enhanced, and maintained in order to attract jobs for other sectors.
The maps show, respectively, the links between creative industry locations in Hamilton and walkability and transit.
This is promising on two fronts. First, that creative industries (especially the performing arts) are growing in areas like Hamilton, long dependent on industries that are declining in employment numbers (such as manufacturing). Second, that they are looking to locate in the urban core, and bring with them the additional economic and social activity.
It’s encouraging to see groups like the Chamber of Commerce embrace the quality of life factors like walkability and sound transit that an increasing number of people are finding desirable. I believe that quality of life considerations and economic activity are becoming increasingly intertwined, and will soon be inseparable. Cheap and/or plentiful land will have its appeal for some, but more and more people and groups will make economic tradeoffs if need be to locate themselves and their organizations in urban environments.
For older cities like Hamilton, this provides an opportunity, as they developed around a time when density was greater in new developments than it has been in recent decades, thus providing in most cases a greater stock of already (or easily convertable) walkable areas. It’s proximity to Toronto (it’s connected by GO Train) and other major centers can serve as an additional competitive asset. The business community in Hamilton has been progressive on many fronts, notably by embracing poverty reduction initiatives. By embracing walkability and sound public transit – for both social and economic benefits – Hamilton is taking steps towards the factors that will go into making a vibrant urban centre in the coming years.