Re-branding #YQG

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.

5 thoughts on “Re-branding #YQG

  1. Hip and cool cities have flourishing farmers markets. While it’s true that Windsor has one too, it’s not at all clear that all our councillors support it. That’s why it was so difficult to get Council to agree to waive parking fees for vendors and the rental fee for the space itself. In the end a private donation was made and we have a viable market for the 2015 season. Whether anything changes for 2016 is anyone’s guess at this point.

    I mention this as an example of a public space that currently attracts spenders to the downtown area at a time when the space is virtually guaranteed to otherwise stand empty. The DWFM has incubated a number of hip and cool bricks & mortar businesses. You’d think it was the epitome of the kind of economic engine we’d want to encourage. However, the opposition from a number of councillors suggests they aren’t yet ready to step over into the hip and cool domain.

    Unless Windsor starts embracing initiatives like the DWFM, I see rebranding efforts simply being a waste of money

  2. Thanks for the reply!

    It goes deeper than just farmers markets. Windsor has several markets besides the Downtown Windsor Farmers Market – Ford City, Sandwich Town and the University Markets all come to mind. I don’t entirely agree with that Council is against the Markets, the problem with Council is a broader philosophical debate on Taxation. Given the efforts to hold the line on taxes it has left the city forced to pull revenue from other sources, so extracting fees from the DWFM becomes a requirement. Is about a broader social, economic and cultural shift that is missing.

    Since Windsor lacks the private investment of Detroit to spur and shape the ideas of what “cool and hip” is, and we never reached the depths of despair that Detroit did that allows creative destruction to occur. Although some neighbourhoods have seen changes (Walkerville) it seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

    • I would agree with you – and of course it’s part of the broader revenue issue – except that it makes little sense to extract fees from a not for profit barely break-even operation in a location that doesn’t have any other hopes of extracting fees.

      On a dollar for dollar basis, as a value for money economic development agency, the DWFM’s track record far exceeds that of the $2 million/year WEEDC. I’m glad it’s being put under the microscope now even though I don’t know enough about its achievements to have a strong opinion about continuing to support it.

      But beyond WEEDC, what I’m seeing is rather a cavalier attitude to big dollar construction and development projects, (pools have been a big one lately) but more of an inclination towards penny-pinching at the community level, particularly as regards environmentally-themed initiatives, like markets. I’m not at all keen on dishing out handouts when the budget is tight, but that’s different than making community spaces available for community activities.

      Walkerville is successful because of its street-level community. It has trees and sidewalks. Where I live in Riverside, we don’t have a bikeable neighbourhood. Riverside Drive is used more for driving along than walking and jogging, and there are few neighbourhood-wide celebrations or events. That will change if the city stops allowing the outward expansion, without really encouraging the filling of the ugly holes along our streets instead.

      The prevailing thinking seems to be that “construction builds the local economy” whereas in my opinion, lots of small community-based activity improves neighbourhoods. This is more likely to attract new residents (or stop the loss of residents, especially our young adults), which in turn will boost the tax base so there’s less pressure to raise our already high land taxes.

  3. What an excellent read, especially on the 6-5 split that tends to go along core vs suburbs with Councillor Elliot forgetting which one he lives in. At least we got Hackforge front and centre, maybe we can build on that by supporting its existence and growth and with a core location for science centre

  4. Pingback: #Windsor2035 – Transportation | gingerpolitics

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