In the third and final part of this series I review my top 5 priorities and draw some general conclusions. You can read Part 1 and Part 2.
5) Highlight Locally Relevant Curriculum
The fundamental issue here is striking a balance between the highlighting the relevant local curriculum and ensuring the broader needs of satisfying the interests of young people. Education itself is a tool of self-improvement but the foundation of that improvement needs to be passion and interest. If local institutions do not provide the options to satisfy the interests and passions of young people, they will go elsewhere. Although students should have the option to learn skills that are applicable to the jobs available in the region, to only offer those skills closes too many doors for young people.
This is why I am torn by the announcement between the Ontario Government and the University and Colleges of Ontario. The agreement partially outlines that University/Collages will be forced to choose “specializations” which would then determine which programs would be expanded in the future based on their applicability in the local/regional job market amongst other factors. On paper it sounds like a good idea, but it could also mean the limiting of choices for young people who are hoping to attend university forcing them out of the region.
4) Destigmatizing Public Transit
Unlike cities like Toronto or Vancouver where driving downtown is impossible during peak times, Windsor will never have the level of congestion that forces people from their cars. Windsor was long considered Canada’s automotive capital and although that industry has dramatically shrunk in size, the city was designed for the car and is still ruled by the car. Destigmatizing public transit is a problem of societal change that not only requires a change in mindset but a change in the transit system itself.
Simply put, in order to get people on to transit and to change their mindset, it needs to be more efficient and convenient then driving. Given the lack of economies of scale in the Windsor-Essex area this will pose a major challenge. According to the Pathway to Potential Transit survey the majority of their respondents drive to work (68%) and 21% take transit. Which means we are still a long way from changing people’s views especially when viewed with the Statistics Canada National Household data from the 2011 census, where transit use in Windsor represented only 3% of individuals who travel to work. Depending on your point of view, the challenge destigmatizing public transit could be much bigger or smaller then we suspect. (For the record I think it is bigger).
The fundamental problem is that owning a car is aspirational, a sign of freedom and security in society. In order for public transit to succeed you must convince the average person who owns a car, to get out of their car and get on a bus. Which leads us to a Catch-22, where people don’t like transit because the car is more convenient; and because the car is more convenient they don’t want to spend money (taxes) on improving transit to make it more convenient. This destigmatization must come not only before any regional transit plan is implemented but as a part of an overhaul of the existing transit infrastructure. More routes, more buses and faster service all must be implemented before the hearts and minds of Windsorites can truly be won over. People for their part are cynical and will want to see proof of the transport utopia that many people claim can come from public transit before they abandon their cars.
3) Communicate and Promote Local Professional Opportunities
I would argue that opportunities available in Windsor-Essex are communicated; the issue is that they are not widely known nor aggregated to a single convenient source. Between the University and College job boards, Linkedin, the Job Bank, placement agencies, twitter and various corporate hiring websites there is lots of communication of potential professional opportunities. What is missing is a central repository that collects and promotes them. Since people are forced to jump from website to website hunting for jobs it becomes a hugely time consuming and sometimes downright depressing task. At the same time they often guided to professional opportunities outside of the Windsor-Essex region which they then apply for as they are already taking the time to search. Although some community organizations do advertise Windsor-Essex jobs on their Twitter or Facebook pages they seem do so in an ad-hoc manner and the jobs are not specifically targeted at young people.
The building of a central registry of jobs in the region would be a powerful tool to attract and retain young people, but it does face a number of challenges. First, you need to build the registry. This is no small task as there are hundreds of jobs currently available in the Windsor-Essex area. If we are going to try and usurp traditional job posting locations or create an aggregation of these sources it needs to be navigable, searchable and easy to use.
Second, we need employer buy-in. There is a simple question of why should employers use this service over existing placement agencies, websites (Linkedin, Job Bank) or word of mouth hiring? Having companies support a Windsor-Essex job registry will be a major challenge since for a company, finding the right employee may not mean looking for people in Windsor-Essex. If the repository is forced to search our jobs itself, the project threatens to be bogged down in aggregation as so many jobs are posted so widely that the organization/system/repository won’t be able to run effectively.
2) Diversify Business Types (Downtown) by Recruiting More Retail, Especially a Grocery Store
There is a simple reason why the businesses established downtown are not diverse; it is because the downtown isn’t good spot to open a business. Although the BIA would beg to differ and does have incentives to draw businesses downtown (they pay half the rent for a year). Location, available parking, ability to attract customers and price all help dictate where people shop. So the ability to attract and recruit businesses downtown are limited if customers are not willing to go shop there. The downtown is moving in the right direction, with the University establishing a campus and further development hopefully following. The foot traffic will help improve the marketability of downtown locations but geographic and demographic challenges persist as wealthier families live in the suburbs.
As for the grocery store, there is a reason why existing grocery stores in Windsor are closing; the demographics and profits are not able to support a store. The core of the city and the surrounding blocks are much poorer then the suburbs, which is where the major grocery stores are. This issue is compounded by last year’s buyout of Shopper Drug Mart by Loblaws. Simply put, why would Canada’s largest grocery chain (or any of its subsidiaries) compete with itself by placing a new store in close proximity to an existing Shoppers Drug Mart?
This means that the best hope for a grocery store downtown comes from an independent retailer(s) or a company like Whole Foods. Smaller independent stores can work, but they will face an uphill challenge. Profit margins in the grocery industry are notoriously small and large box change can use economies of scale to boast those margins; this means higher prices in smaller stores. Given the lower income demographics of the downtown area and the lack of parking options there are questions of whether such a store would be supported over the long term or attract a clientele from around the city and region. As for Whole Foods, they traditionally target a wealthier more affluent cliental which currently isn’t present in the downtown. Before they come, the overall economic conditions of the city core would likely have to improve.
1) Invest in Diversification of Riverfront Development
Again a definition of what “Riverfront Development” means is needed before a clear plan can be put together. A marina has long been discussed as an option for the riverfront, with community discussions having been held. The big issue with the riverfront is that the available land for development has dramatically shrunk over the last decade. The Sculpture Park was expanded, Riverfront Plaza built, playground installed and running paths expanded. A 25 year plan was put in place in the year 2000 it clearly shows what the next steps probably are.
With the exception of the parkland from Glengary Ave. to about Moy Ave. most of Riverside parkland has been developed meaning any new additions will mean a subtraction of something existing. The practicality of hollowing out the hills on Riverside west of the downtown is going to lead to a number of challenges from cutting down mature trees to blocking the views of the river of the local residence. The Sculpture gardens have been appraised at millions of dollar in value, the city isn’t going to rip them out to install beach volleyball courts.
Young people can take heart that in the next 11 years the Riverfront will receive additional development. A report went to council during the week of July 28th surveyed over 600 windsorites who attended information sessions on the next steps forward for riverside. The big take away? Cleaner bathrooms, more shade trees for the day and lights for the night, pedestrian tunnel under riverside, maybe a marina, maybe seasonal vendors and a no “active sporting areas” (basketball/volleyball courts). So the question is, are these developments enough to keep young people in Windsor particularly when I bet their input on these riverside development ideas where minimal.
Many of the priorities that were outlined at the YCYI event were not new for Windsor-Essex as some of these issues have been around for years if not decades. During the city’s hay day as the “Automotive Capital of Canada” issues like a relevant local curriculum were just as important as they are now and the question of what should we do with the riverfront was debated.
What I think can be taken away from this overview is that young people both know and don’t know what they want from their city. Part of the issue is simply keeping young people informed on the opportunities within the city. Even in this interconnected age, many of the priorities involve informing the youth about what is available for them. With many young people being uninformed about the opportunities in Windsor Essex, it hard for them to set unique and achievable goals for the region, the YCYI event is a microcosm of this point. The individuals who showed up to the event are those who are most interconnected with the region. Yet 70 young adults are hardly a representative sample of the thousands who live in the city and the tens of thousands who attend the University and College annually. What right do we have to dictate the future of the city for everyone?
It is this same ill-informed state leads to the biggest folly for many of the priorities that were outlined at the YCYI event. Many of priorities are built around vaguely worded catch all makes it hard for us to push for practical and achievable outcomes. The idea of an International Health Care hub is great, but what does it mean and how do we know when we are successful? Same can be said for “Development of the Riverfront”, “Regional Public Transport Network” and others. What are need are specific goal ex. Beach Volleyball Courts on the River or a bus route that services X street/location, a mega hospital in the city core.
This brings us to the next step in my opinion, I have taken the time to rank the 15 priorities and offered some of the reasons why I have ranked them as I have, what is needed is for other young people to do the same. In my opinion the YCYI event was a starting point and we have developed 15 priorities and goals that can make Windsor-Essex a better place to live, work and play. It would be naïve to believe that we can accomplish all of these goals when there are so many other needs and interests within the community. As a result the next step is to prioritize which of the priorities are most important us. We need to discuss and decide which of the priorities can have the biggest impact on the City/Region we love and which priorities we should focus on right now. The clock is ticking as every day that we don’t act, someone else is and decisions that we would like input on are begin decided for us. So I leave you with a simply question what do you think should be our number 1 priority for Windsor-Essex and why? Because if we can’t decide on that, we have already failed!
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