This weekend the CBC posted a story about the Mayor’s plans to re-brand Windsor with the crux of the discussion being can Windsor follow in the footsteps of Detroit and become “cool and hip”. Article spawned a discussion on Facebook between Councilor Holt and Brotolin and the community about how the City can change course and rebrand.
The big issues in my opinion is that Windsor shouldn’t compare itself to Detroit. The fact of the matter is that Detroit’s emergence as a “hip and cool” place has been driven by the depths that it sunk in the depression and the economic revitalization that has followed. Detroit sunk to a level in the mid/late-2000s that Windsor never reached: entire neighbourhoods vacant and burnt out, high rises empty and a city truly hollowed out from a demographic and social standpoint. This created the space for re-birth and revitalization, for pennies on the dollar you could buy property and even after paying backed taxes end up with money to invest in improving the space. Entire neighbourhoods had disappeared, abandoned and bulldozed making room for urban farms, creative spaces allowing a new vision of Detroit to emerge. Detroit became “hip and cool” by sinking to a level so low that any idea with a little bit of money behind it became viable and reasonable, they allowed hipsters and young people to build the place in their image to meet their needs. Where did these young people come from, they came from an economic revitalization driven by creative ideas and industries. The fact that thousands of tech jobs have been moved downtown Detroit with Quicken Loans was the impetuous for the “hip and cool” transformation. This brought the workforce, disposable income and the creative will to implement the change.
Windsor hasn’t seen that level of creative destruction or revival. In fact I would argue that the revival that we have seen, all though important economically, is actually detrimental to our community changing paths. The resurgence of manufacturing hasn’t brought jobs for young people, rather just reemployed many laid off workers who were in our community anyways. Not to disparage them, but many of them do not have the skills to broaden our City’s economic base. Although there are a few neighbourhoods that people would call cool, they are islands in a sea of mediocrity. Most of the city core has been hollowed out while the suburbs have swelled. Overall the city has declined but it hasn’t shrunk or degraded to the levels of Detroit. Although some would argue this is a good thing, from a rebooting the city standpoint, the fact that some of the old guard remains present makes it difficult to completely rebuild or re-imagine an area.
Then there is financing the change and that requires private capital which is missing from Windsor. We do not have a Dan Gilbert or Mike Ilitch who is willing to invest tens of millions of dollars (hundreds of million?) into rebuilding our downtown or neighbourhoods. Although City Council has invested in some major facilities and want to build an “iconic” City Hall, municipal construction isn’t going to re-brand or revitalize Windsor.
So this leaves us with the re-branding itself. In July, a guest column was in the Windsor Star making the case for Windsor to be known as a “Maker City”, the CBC column offered up “In the W”. Frankly whatever term we choose doesn’t matter, the challenge that we face is that we can re-brand our city as many times we want, but without evidence of actual economic, social or cultural change it won’t matter. So far our city’s leadership hasn’t shown a cohesive decision-making capability to, in my opinion, effectively re-brand the city, as it needs to be followed up by action. A 6-5 votes against Bulk Garbage pick up; a 6-5 vote to research an underpass under Riverside Drive that leads to no where; what I am predicting to be a divisive budget battle and whether taxes are going to be increased; a 6-5 vote to continue a city hall that is going to cost nearly $50 million all the while our city has the highest rate of poverty in low income neighbourhood in Canada.
If the Mayor and Council wants to re-brand Windsor Ontario, that is their prerogative but he will need to unite what I think is a divided Council and deliver on economic, social and cultural change so that our city can actually become hip and cool.