School Board Stuff: Educational Development Charges

For a while, I have been interested in Development Charges and their impacts on growth. The announcement that the Greater Essex County District School Board was reviewing their education development charges (EDC) was certainly interesting, partially because I didn’t know that they existed.

Originally set back in 2014, the charge of $305 per residential unit applies to all of Essex County, including the City of Windsor and Pelee Island. These funds are then at the disposal of the school board for the acquiring of property for new schools. These charges are imposed for 5 year periods after which point they need to be renewed. This renewal requires a 15 year projection for land use and student enrollment growth as a justification for the EDC (the projection will actually be very interesting to see). In the case of the Toronto Catholic School Board, they expect over the next 15 years to need $2 billion to acquire land for new schools.

These charges are collected by the corresponding municipalities and deposited to the School Boards, in a similar manner to the education property tax. Strangely I could only find a listing of these charges on the City of Windsor website which creates some confusion and probably why I was unaware. This lack of listing does raise some questions on whether or not the EDCs are being transparently imposed across the region.

The Money Stuff

According to the School Board’s and budget EDCs are expected to allocate approximately $230,000 from these funds towards land purchases this coming year. From the Board’s last audited statement they generated $363,901 in revenue. Generally speaking based on previous audits this account seems to be drawn down each year as the EDC off-set grant funding from the province.

At $305 per residential unit and reported revenues of $363,000 that works out to 1,190.16 unit being charged the EDC (2017 saw $517,131 equating to 1,695.51 units). From CMHC data just in the Windsor CMA in the 2017 calendar year there were 1,187 residential units permitted (when the charge would have been imposed). Now the data does have some issues related to calendar (School Board data based on a August 31 fiscal year and CMHC using annual calendar) as well as CMHC data misses Essex, Kingsville, Leamington and Pelee Island as they are not apart of the CMA. The primary takeaway is that it is very hard to say if the Board is maximizing its revenue potential from this tool or if it is allowing for fees to be waived in jurisdictions. Areas of Windsor Core for example have a blank waiving of development charges, it isn’t clear if the school board charges are also waived in this area. It is also possible that they are collecting partial charges in certain areas where municipal reductions are in place.

The school board currently does not charge non-residential changes. Simcoe County District School Board as an example charges 35 cents per square ft charges to commercial and industrial buildings.

The Ministry

To complicate matters the Ministry is involved in approving School Board EDCs. The underlying justification for EDCs and the background report must be submitted to the Ministry. In many high growth areas, EDC regulations have been challenged as unfair and constraining, resulting in school boards leaving millions of dollars that could be utilized for new builds or repairs. Some advocacy groups have also called for reform in EDC to allow repairs to be financed through EDCs.

According to the presentation provided to GECDSB by Watson Associates, the Ministry is conducting a full review on EDC and the finding should be release by summer/fall 2019. It is possible there will be an update on this at the public meeting in the coming weeks.

Progressive Educational Development Charges

A review by Watson Associates, the same consultants for the Public Board here locally, for the Halton District School Board stated that:

  • EDC by-laws may be uniform across the jurisdiction or area-specific.
  • EDCs may be a single charge for all types of residential development or the Board may wish to impose different charges on different types of residential development.
  • Boards can allocate net education land costs to both residential and non-residential developments.

My takeaway is the possibility that the EDCs for GECDSB could play a role in shaping broader development patterns in our region. By adjusting it’s charges from a flat rate for all of Essex County to a more targeted approach. Although its not entirely clear if exemptions are provided to the current charges, large areas of Windsor do not have development charges in an effort to encourage new development. In contrast, high growth communities (LaSalle, Lakeshore) where new development will create pressures for new schools, could/should have higher charge rates.

Given that these charges seem to be set based on expected growth patterns, that will shape the size of the charge that can be imposed, some careful calculus would need to be undertaken based on the projections developed by the consultants. The charges could in theory be only deployed on high growth areas of residential development and by not including even nominal charges for other areas it maximizes the developmental impact of the charge. For (a very crude) example:

Let’s say the consultant’s say 15,000 new residential units will emerge over the next 15 years (between Jan 2013 to Jan 2018, 4,921 residential units were built). Based on that housing growth, a student growth multipler would result in approximately 3,000 new student needing accommodation from that new housing stock. If 3,000 student equates to 5 elementary schools and a high school needing $5 Million in land acquisition costs, that amount can be applied to the new residential units via EDC at $333 per unit. Or the School Board could decide that Lakeshore units are $1,000 and Windsor Core are $0 per unit.

Calculations are crudely applied based on Watson Associate calculation for the Simcoe County District School Board

Since the charge can only pay for land needs, setting an equal charge across the whole region when certain parts are growing faster than others, actually places undue burden on part of the community by stunting potential growth with additional cost. Obviously there are political ramification to using changes in this manner but by putting a damper on outward expansion it could also help mitigate pressure to close or realign existing schools in core areas. If 10% of those 15,000 units become infill within existing school boundaries of the next 15 years, the capacity issues of certain core schools could be mitigated as high cost to develop new residential vs low infill is a proven (if often bluntly applied) tool to shape economic behaviour.

The addition of a commercial or industrial sq-ft charge would also shape this calculus. As the total amount that can be collected is based on the total land acquisition costs, adding a commercial or industrial charge would lessen the residential charge burden.

Conclusion

To be perfectly honest, I don’t fully know if the above is actually in the power of the school board to implement. A reading of the Education Act on EDC provides less clarity than I would hope. If the Toronto District School Board gets it way, these charges could actually have much more power in the future to finance building repair and other capital projects. That being said, this EDC issue is one of those issues that is flying under the radar in our region. With all of the the oxygen being sucked up by other “mega” issues, the potential impact of EDC on our region’s future is significant and won’t get the discussion that it deserves.

It’s issues like these are why we elect school board trustees, it will be interesting to see where they land. So I would encourage you to head to the public meeting on April 2nd.

2019 City of Windsor Budget Hot-Take Part 2: Capital

Capital Budget

First thing I have noticed is that it is a 7 year budget compared to the 6 year budget proposed in 2018 and 5 Year in 2017. I don’t recall the shift to a 10 year plan that is coming but I think it is a good thing in principle. The items up for approval in this year’s budget have been (for the most part) sitting in a queue for years. What are talking about in this document is if something is being pulled up or pushed back or being added to be completed sometime in the mid-2020s.

That being said the discussion portion of the document outline a number of interesting factors. First that the City’s purchasing power is being pressed, hense the recommended transfer of operational dollars to capital in this years’ budget. This paragraph shows the potential shortfall:

Based on this review process, new projects and or increases to previously approved in principle projects have been brought forth within the 2019 – 2023 period. There is approximately $121.44 M in additional capital project funding requests within this time frame, of which approximately $67.86M was funded….Several projects listed in Appendix A were able to be funded by dedicated reserves and or development charges. As a result, there was no impact to other projects to accommodate $24.67M of the $67.86M in funded requests.

Capital Budget pdf pg 7

To combat this some dollars have been freed up – $15M for the Paul Martin Building are recommended to be reallocated; the Pedestrian tunnel under Riverside seems to be dead with the recommendation that the $2.5M be transfer to the redevelopment of City Hall Square and Civic Esplanade. Ongoing inflationary pressures will continue to be a challenge for the City. In a low tax environment how those cost pressures are managed over the long term is a significant challenge.

Pre-commitment

The other big shift is a request to begin tendering multi-year projects in a single tender. The example used is the Cabana Rd. widening which is a $46M project, which by pre-committing funding and tending the whole project it would battle inflationary pressures, allow for larger project components to be undertaken and fewer start/stops in work which would reduce overall project costs. The same logic is applied to bulk purchases like playground equipment or new buses where if a large set of funds is utilized to buy all of the assets at once, better rates can be negotiated.

This long term allocation of funding is interesting and potentially can drive cost savings that I am all for, but I am not clear on the mechanics, from the example used:

For example had Cabana been funded at $46M the first year it started it would have consumed almost half of the entire capital budget for that year. Allocating funding over the 10 years leaves sufficient funding room for other projects to proceed.

pg 6

So are they paying the $46M in 10 equal installments to the builder and work is being completed immediately? Are they utilizing reserves/credit to pay entirely upfront, then repaying the reserve/credit line? Or are they paying for X years of work with payment being paid out over the period of work as it is completed? This isn’t clear to me in this proposed process.

There is also a significant political element. If project funding is pre-committed over multiple years does that not constrain future councils in their ability to reverse course or alter a project? Using the example above, would it be too late to go and add in separated bike lanes on Cabana after the multi-year tender had been issued and accepted? If it it a 10 year funding horizon, yet City Council only sits for a 4 year term will future councils find their ability to alter course or prioritize hamstrung by past council decisions? Some of this is dealt with in the risk discussion within the budget but the implications still seem hazy to me.

2019 Projects of Note:

Again, not every project. There are literally hundreds more, so you should read it yourself at your local library or on the City Website.

MAY-001-19 – Branding – $500k in 2020, 2021

HCS-001-19 Meadowbrook Housing – $12M

Investing $12M to get $38M in value for the first new community housing units in the City in decades. A bargain!

ENG-006-16 – Coventry Gardens Peace Fountain Capital Repairs – 100k in 2022

A great excerpt from the project description

…the lighting is run by a DOS based software program that is understood by very few.

Pg 172

OPS-001-07 Road Rehabilitation – $8.1M in 2019

I have nothing against this list other than I bike to work down College Ave and it needs to be done, but now I need to find another way to work.

OPS-001-11 – Minor Alley Maintenance – 200k in 2019

32km of 80km of alley were deficient as of June 2018.

OPS-005-07 – Railway Lands Fencing – 100k in 2019

This will probably be used to keep people from crossing the ETR line to the College Ave bus terminal… Oh wait.

OPS-005-19 – Gravel Alley Drainage Improvement – 400k 2026+

Leveraging alleyways for drainage in 7 years. If only there was a strategy around these spaces.

Page 500 to Page 509 of the PDF – Past ECB funding requests from 2016 & 2017

OPS-002-19 – Property Development at 2890 North Service Rd. – 790K 2026+

More or less to create a storage area for flood damaged materials next to the public drop off on North Service Rd.

PFO-006-12 – Community Parks Initiatives – 500k 2019

This year’s community park project is the Bridgeview Path Shelter Lights Park Redevelopment…. I don’t know where that is or what that means. It’s followed by Forest Glade projects in subsequent years.

PFO-007-12 – Neighbourhood Parks Initiative – $1.25M 2019-21

Mitchell and Bruce park in the City Centre will be getting major upgrades over the next few years.

PLN-018-07 – Neighbourhood Studies and Design Guidelines – $225k from 2019-21

Planning and study on Neighbourhood design ranging from CIPs to by-law reviews, to creating urban design manuals for neighbourhoods. No specifics on the potential neighbourhoods.

OPS-006-19 – Food and Organic Waste Study – 65K in 2021.

More or less to study the process for Food Waste diversion (Greenbins) from the Landfill by 2022 as mandated by the province.

OPS-001-19 Pedestrian Crossovers – 100k in 2024 and beyond.

Looks like pedestrian crossovers aren’t coming for 5 years so be sure to look both ways before crossing the street.

OPS-014-07 – City Wide Bikeway Development Initiatives – 600k per year for 3 years then 200k in ’22 and ’23 and 400k in ’24-26.

No locations determined it depends on road reconstruction (see screenshot above for this years projects). That being said just over $2M was reallocated from this fund for the Dougall underpass project to solve the “death trap”. This work will begin this year.

OPS-021-07 – Traffic Calming Initiatives – 169K in 2019 & 106k in 2020.

Does not speak to specific locations or priorities.

TRN-001-19 – Public Transit Infrastructure Fund Phase 2 and Project Management – $144M Total

Yes you read that right, $144,775,004 with $46,552,185 spent between now and 2025. This is the transit infrastructure modernization that will likely be triggered by the Master plan that is due back to Council in the fall. Opportunities for BRT and the overall system reimagining and technological improvements.

That being said over the next 7 years all of the funding is targeted to Provincial and Federal Grant so the City of Windsor doesn’t expect to fund any of this until after 2026 when it has held $36M

FRS-003-13 – New Fire Headquarters – $23M 2025+

Placeholder for a new fire headquarters

LGL-002-16 – Environmentally Significant Land Acquisition – $1.5M in 2020

A report will be forthcoming but this is the placeholder for a potential purchase of Ojibway Shores from the Port.

LGL-003-17 – Confidential Property Related Matters – $4.55M

$4.55M on confidential property purchases….

EDG-001-11 – Lauzon Parkway & Cty Rd 42 Infrastructure – $1.5M

Design for the realignment of Lauzon/Cty Rd 42 realigned with property acquistion beginning next year.

PBG-003-18 – Annexed Land Growth/Development – Storm-water Financing Study – 670k in 2022

Studying how to manage storm-water 3 years from now.

ECB-042-18 – Theme Districting – $5.25M between 2019 and 2023

Districting, its coming Walkerville!

What I Didn’t See

Things that I don’t see in this capital budget:

  • Central Library Branch: If the Mission is taking over that location this coming June, where is the plan or budget for the new location. I get that the Library has it’s own budget etc. they are going to need City money to build their new facility. I guess that request is coming outside the budget process?
  • The Councillors for Wards 2, 8 & 9 all ran (from my recollection) on platforms that called for new community centres or libraries in their wards. Although this budget was largely a carryover of the last Council, could a table drop be in the cards? If not, they all have one less budget year to get their projects on the books. As the budget horizon grow next year, will voters be satisfied with a new library in 2028?
  • Alley Lights: no mention or plan around alley lighting is mentioned in the budget. There is $250k for “Alley funding” but no specifics on what that will be put towards beyond Administration has compiled a priority list based on technical needs. All other alley investments relate to ongoing maintenance and some future drainage planning.
  • Active Transportation Master Plan: No funding pre-approved beyond existing capital projects for implementation of the active transit strategy that is due back fall 2019. Given the scope of the work, wouldn’t proactive investment/reserves to help jump start the recommendations be prudent?

2019 City of Windsor Budget Hot Take

According to the Mayor and Administration news conference (some audio issues for the first few minutes) there are two big items that are missing from the budget documents. Due to the timing of the budget along with council’s strategic planning session tree trimming and economic development are not included and currently have a largely unspecified costs (some estimates for tree trimming which I have commented on here). Given the Mayor’s goal of getting the total tax levy increase down under the proposed 3.3% increase, and these additional costs, it means that cuts will have to occur to the proposed budget just to hold the line and include these items.

Below are a list of items that caught my eye on my first view of the budget. By no means are they the only items of interest and upon future reflection other items may rise or fall in priority. I would encourage you to go to your local library, City Hall or read the documents here. After you do that, reach out to your City Councilor here with any question, comments or concerns. Budget deliberations are April 1 & 2 at City Hall.

ABCs

The Agencies, Board and Committees budgets are somewhat “meh” from budgetary standpoint, there are a number of interesting tidbits within the 2019 priorities from these entities. What averages out to 6% increase across all of the entities, 5 of the 13 show no increase. The largest driver was a $5.5M rise in policing costs which represents 80% of the total ABC budget increase; followed by Community Housing and the Health Unit (board approval pending) and in total represent 94% of the ABC budget. ERCA budget is still outstanding (board approval required) but is requesting $38,000 (2.4%) increase; while handy transit is requesting $81,000 more due to fuel cost increase, collective bargained wage/benefit increases and some other ridership factors; and WSO is getting an extra $25,000.

For the five entities not receiving funding increases (Artcite, Arts Council, Life After Fifty, Safety Village and Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island) four are receiving fixed grants that seem to not have budgetary increases year over year. TWEPI on the other hand seems to be waiting on the hotel tax revenue as a means of revenue upside.

The one unknown in this section is the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corp budget as the Mayor has already stated that an increase would be coming but is not included in this document.

Operating Budgets – Recommended

The department operating budgets are an interesting space to view how changes impact the day to day operations. I personally find the recommended and non-recommended items insightful then the department specific budgets. Codes below can be used to search budget documents to easily find the items.

2019-0375 [A] Annualization of Senior Economic Development Officer – $140,883

The City’s economic development positions have to date been funded from the surplus returned from WEEDC a few years ago. The request is to make this position permanent with the tax levy becoming the funding source. It will interesting to see how this Senior position will interact with WEEDC and the regions other economic development entities as well as the overall WEEDC enhancement.

2019-0306 [M] Service Enhancement Addition of one Legal Counsel – $136,560

Only in a city budget could hiring a lawyer be considered a “service enhancement”. I am not sure how the average citizen will see any enhanced services. That being said the report does make the argument that the department is already understaffed and due to demographic outlook hiring a new staff person makes sense from a succession planning standpoint.

2019-0382 [M] Implementation of Two Factor Authentication – $90,000

The Doug Sartori special…. 3 cyber security breaches in 2018, via a guessed password and phishing. It make sense.

2019-0152 [I] Revenue Increase New Fee For Enforcement of Fence and Swimming Pool Bylaws – $25,600

The new fee is $260 for fence and pool violations. This wasn’t as funny as I originally thought it was going to be.

2019-0088 [I] New User Fee – Uber – $32,000.

Uber will pay $30,000 license fee with an additional 11 cents per trip fee being changed. They are actually estimating nearly $52,000 in revenue but the variation is only showing $32,000. Quick someone call an auditor!

2019-0286 [I] New User Fee- Dirty Yard Work Order – $168,750

This is actually really interesting. A $75 property standards fee for by-law to impose on properties with “Dirty Yards”. The fee would rise over the next 2 years to $215 in 2021. In 2017, there were over 10,000 property standard complaints the fine could be a interesting tool to change behaviour around property maintenance. I have lingering questions around whether it will impact areas of absentee landlords or student housing but it certainly will be interesting to watch!

2019-0358 [M] Addition of Friday Branch Hours – $98,412

IMO Library’s should be open every day, glad to see they are adding additional hours.

2019-0033 [I} Increase in Sidewalk Cafe Encroachment Fee Revenues – $1

Although not generating revenue, the cost of encroaching on a side (cafe, patio) is raising form $1.50 per square foot to $2 and rising to $3 in 2021.

2019-0104 [M] St Clair College Increase to Transit Revenue – $277,472

This is what happens when Institutions don’t talk to one another.

As of April 2018, over 3,000 new students were attending St. Clair with most using Transit Windsor service to travel to and from. Additional unscheduled and unbudgeted service was added to meet the needs of students and residents with many overloaded buses. By the summer of 2018, transit passenger ridership boardings on the Dominion 5 had increased by 188%, 203%, 224% for the months of May, June and July respectively. Passenger boardings for the South Windsor 7 route increased by 220%, 201%, 217% for the months of May, June and July respectively

2019-0354 [M] Holiday Light Displays – $235,500

More Christmas lights headed too Jackson Park, Gino and Liz Marcus Community Centre, Mackenzie Hall, WFCU Centre, Charles Clark Square, Dougall and Howard Ave Gateways, Dieppe Park and City Hall Square

2019-0153 [A] Annualizing Open Streets – $61,500

All the Winning! Probably the best event of the year IMO in the city is going to be permanent.

2019-0148 [G] Windsor Water World Operations – $50,000

Keeping Water World open for another year pending the catholic school board building a new school. Interestingly enough usage in 2017 has increased from the low in 2016 following the closure of the pool in the previous year.

2019-0387 [G] Increased Demand for Emergency Shelter Services & Potential Deficit in 2019 – up to $500,000

To offset the cost of housing individuals and families in hotels where there are no shelter spaces available.

2019-0180 [M] Funding to Expand Street Outreach Services – $68,555

Every best practice says bring services to people and having more trained outreach workers on the streets will help.

Operating Budget -Not Recommended

There are a number of these items that are little real risk of being accepted ex closing libraries, eliminating student hiring, removing bus routes etc. that would be needed to reach a 0% increase. They act a little more than placeholders int he process as they have been in the last 3 budgets and never were considered.

In-Camera

One thing that caught my eye was the 80 pages (by my count) of the 202 page document that were In-Camera issues and pages were left blank.

2019-0139 [L] Bulk Item

Not proposing elimination of bulk item is a win particular given the recommended fees around yard maintenance.

2019-0175 [M] Addition of an Active and Sustainable Transportation Coordination – $134,426

A preemptive recommendation around a staff person to implement the Walk Wheel Windsor recommendations when the report is completed in 2019. They recognize that establishing this position early on can help facilitate commitment to the study outcomes and implementation

2019-0118 [I] Transit Fare Increase – $250,000

Probably not a good idea which is why recommending against it is a good thing.

2019-0242 [K] Reduction in Forestry Contract Work – $534,837

Although a significant investment, this is likely going to grow considering the outcomes of the Strategic Planning Process.

2019-0168 [M] Increase of the Arts culture and Heritage Funding – $62,800

This quote sums it up:

For MBNCanada Culture measure Arts, Heritage & Festival Grants Only per Capita, Windsor has a result of $1.05 which is below the median of $6.76

Conclusions

The operational budget, baring the outstanding items, is a pretty steady as you go sort of budget. The devil will be the details, of whether the majority of the council agree that the total final rate should be 3.3% or not. If additional items come forward, it may put pressure on the the pathway to reduction.

The other piece that is missing is for many councilors some of their campaign planks are not included in the operational side of this budget. Items like by-law enforcement increases, enhancing art and cultural funding, preemptive maintenance on parks, trails that would enhance green spaces find themselves missing or not recommended. It will be interesting to see how these items play out.

The levy was pegged $90 dollars per year on a $150,000 (about 25 cents per day) I feel that from an operational side there seems to be value for that. Could more value be extracted, sure. That is why there is a delegation day on April 1 & 2 where you can share your ideas.

Tomorrow, I dig into the capital budget.

Out to the Woodlot…

The latest bugaboo in Windsor is around a wetland/woodlot/clumps of trees in Ward 10 ie. the South Cameron Woodlot and the surrounding lands. Just prior to the weekend the Mayor Dilkens celebrated the province removing the significant woodland/wetland designation, which would in theory allow for development. Social media has been a flutter with discussion condemning this development (pun intended) with a change.org petition calling for the green space to be protected having over 1,300 supporters in a few days.

The circumstances that lead to this debate are complex: City Council prioritizing flood mitigation and tree cover in their strategic planning sessions barely two weeks ago. At the same time the mayor’s celebration of the issue, one which was originally raise almost 2 months ago in the media as a development challenge for part of Windsor that will create new housing stock in the central part of the city and increase population density.

This isn’t the first time a woodlot has led to controversy in the face of development. Eagle nests were removed in Ward 7 in 2016, while Windsor’s Greek Community got into a spat with City Council over the removal of woodlot trees for their new Community Centre in 2014. The challenge that this sort of issue is that it twists people in knots. In many cases, as progressively minded individuals suddenly become NIYMBist and the hierarchy of priorities between infill development and environmental protection clash.

A facebook post by a resident of the area (wouldn’t embed properly) outlined many of the reasons why this change in designation could be seen as concerning. On face value I agree with author’s position, where I challenge her on this issue is that many of the points. Unfortunately she utilize are similar to those used by NIMBY advocates in major cities preventing density and affordable housing in affluent neighbourhoods: traffic congestion, little transit usage, changing the neighbourhood character by removing green space, there are “other areas” (brownfields) where this development could go. As I feel that twitter is the worst place to have a policy debate, I decided to unpack this issue a bit.

~paragraph above was edited

Density

Lets be clear, new housing will bring density and infill to the city. This area of the City is made up of 3 Census DA (codes: 35370339, 35370866, 35370867) with a total population of 5,556 spread over 1,611 private dwellings in 2.34 square km. As Don points out on twitter below:

If we take that 300 new units with the associated average family size of 3.8 people per dwelling, assuming they attract a similar socio-economic demographic it gives us approximately 1,200 people. The 1,200 people raises the population density of these Census DA from 2,374 people per km to 2,884 people per km in what would be high tax assessment new build constructions. It would actually lead to a overall population density of the ward by 52 per sq km to approximately 2,367.

We are not talking about thousands of new homes, and although there is a opportunity to bring more people with additional density in a potential new development (town houses as an example). As Ward 10 is the third least dense ward in the city, that’s not a bad thing.

Traffic/Transit

Another element of objection emerges from the already snarled traffic along Dominion and Northword. Traffic relief can emerge from connecting thoroughfares that currently service the area. Ojibway street connecting from Dayton Ave (one block of Huron Church) could be extended all the way to South Cameron. Kenora St. could run across Randolph all the way to Mark Ave. connecting Huron Church to Dominion. Mark Ave, could now bridge to Totten and suddenly Dominion and Longfellow are no longer the only North/South access to the area while creating a Northern drop off point for Holy Names School, albeit on the far side of the sports field.

Yes new housing would come with these streets, but it doesn’t mean that the whole woodlot is lost. A single row of housing along a connecting street is not a significant change in the density or populations but new roadway that can support both existing and new development would be created.

As for the lack of transit, there is nothing stopping residents in this area, the Dominion 5 runs through this neighbourhood. The reason why transit isn’t used in this neighbourhood is the same as the rest of the city: culture, convenience and perceived/actual poor quality of service. The solution to these problems are in my opinion, not impacted by whether or not new development goes onto these lots. In fact, the most effective way to ensure that transit usage would be to build affordable housing units. The unknown with this plan is whether or not affordable housing going into a middle income area would trigger its own NIMBY issues.

Development on Brownfield

As I have said on this blog, and something that I personally believe, the core housing stock in the central parts of Windsor (areas north of EC Row, more so north of Tecumseh) are fundamentally broken in the context of modern community need. Now certainly infill onto vacant and brownfield lands is desirable but in many cases in our city, they lack the economies of scale to be truly attractive to developers.

The question that has to be asked, is how big of a role do taxpayers want to play to incentivizing and subsidize developers into filling in missing teeth. The CIP with all of its success today is to be honest, corporate welfare to developers. The City is forgoing hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars in forgone taxes, fees and direct cash transfers to get developers to build in places that they wouldn’t build otherwise. Now I am not disputing the benefits of that development and the Downtown CIP has encouraged approximately 300+ units being proposed in the city core. This 50 acres of land would also support 300 units with a maximum development charges, zero tax abatement’s and all fees being collected.

Yes the woodlot is in the City’s Environmental Plan (take that at face value) but no one has discussed the fact that just because 300 units could be built, doesn’t mean that 300 units WILL be built. Even a developer can recognize the selling point of actually putting in less density, and leaving tree coverage/wooded areas. Don is right, the county is outbuilding the city and CMHC data shows that the county has build over 1,000 more detached home than the city over the last 5 years or so. If you actually want to tackle broader climate challenge, looking beyond “city sprawl” to “regional sprawl” is a logical jump that needs to be made.

Flooding

Flooding is an issue and there is no doubt that this area of Ward 10 has suffered:

City of Windsor Basement Flooding Map

No infrastructure can handle catastrophic flooding rains of the past two years, there would have been flooding no matter what. Research by cityfloodmap.com which is written by Robert J. Muir, the Manager of Storm Water for the City of Markham Ontario finds that the rain events that occurred over the past couple of years are a statistically significant declining event based on older Environment Canada data. Now this isn’t to say that we won’t get these storms or downstream flooding nor that impacts from climate change won’t reverse this trend. In the same post, the following is stated:

Consider this: when your design standard is so low (Essex Region has the minimum 100-year flood standard in Ontario according to the Provincial Policy Statement on natural hazards), the importance of expanded development and intensification in existing development areas is an even more important factor when considering increased runoff and flood risk. Why? Because pervious land uses can absorb some fraction of ‘small’ 100 year storm but not much of the large storms used in other regions. Those using Hurricane Hazel design storms which saturate the ground with anecedent moisture conditions (US Soil Conservation Service AMC III conditions to be exact) do not have as significant an increase in runoff following development. Those using 100 year storm, like Essex Region, use the drier AMC II conditions in hydrologic models, meaning that the soil-vegetation surface can absorb relatively more … until it is paved over.

https://www.cityfloodmap.com/2016/10/windsor-and-tecumseh-flood-reporting.html

People should read a slidedeck about Markham flooding by the Robert, its pretty interesting. Modern development patterns have made flooding in these extreme rain events more likely regardless of infrastructure. What matters more is a combination of hydro-logical factors that I am not going to try and understand or explain here. Time, amount of water, how moist the soil is, elevation, soil composition, number of trees and plants that are around, etc. all play a roll in whether or not flood situations occur. Whether or not the existance of this woodlot would stop or mitigate future events given the surrounding residental make up is a question I can’t answer but we can’t assume is true.

The simplest of these factors is elevation and looking at this area of the City the woodlot area is actual high ground.

elevation map

Although the change in height is only a few metres that is all water needs. In an extreme rain event, yes the woodlot would absorb rain but its also high ground and water is going to run in a surface and subsurface manner to the surrounding streets where municipal infrastructure can’t handle it.

From City of Windsor
http://www.mappmycity.ca/Html5Viewer/Index.html?configBase=http://www.mappmycity.ca/Geocortex/Essentials/REST/sites/Sewer_Atlas_Upgrade_22/viewers/Viewer_HTML5_20/virtualdirectory/Resources/Config/Default

The above map shows is the storm sewer flow for the area of Ward 10. Almost all of the water that falls in South Cameron area flows south towards EC Row. This is the challenges when there is a historic rainfall in the areas downstream, there is no where for the water in and around South Cameron and Dominion to go, so it sits and ends up in basements.

A new progressively designed development actually creates an opportunity to build a relief value for this area. The fact that Dominion doesn’t have storm sewers according to this map is a joke to begin with, but a new east-west connector on some of the streets I mentioned above, with additional pumping capacity suddenly the upstream pressure to get water to ECRow is relieved. This coupled with an actual Dominion North/South storm sewer line may solve some of the problems better leaving all of the woodlot area intact.

This is Why Social Media Can’t Have Nice Things

The all or nothing nature of social media is why it is shit for policy debates, as it allows only all or nothing positions to be stated in the character limit. You can’t build here because I can only explain this one point; while the other side says you have to build as it is actually infill, is going to increase density and your a hypocrite for not recognizing it, debate rages in circles.

I think partially what happened here was a messaging issue, one that if you are conspiratorial may have been manufactured as future wedge. Mayor Dilken’s number one priority has consistently and to his credit been creating jobs and economic opportunity in the City of Windsor. Allowing this development to occur fits that mandate. The ask was put out to the premier and government (reported publicly in general terms) back in December. Given what we know now, I don’t know who is surprised that this provincial government came back with this approval.

The approval came from a government that could be generously called regressive on environmental (and other) issues, to a region that did not elect representatives to help form this government. I would be surprise if there were almost any announcement made by this government that would not create a vocal response from the local population against it.

Finally the inherent polarization in our community lingering over from the municipal election, a shift on council with high expectations for progressive change and a number of divisive issues circulating community meant that this announcement was primed for outrage, and that is what happened. This outrage rippled through Windsor relatively echo-y social media sphere painting a picture that 50 acres of trees and wetlands are in imminent risk of all being bulldozed and that the Mayor was plotting more flooding for Ward 10.

Personally, I don’t have a stake in this and I can see both sides. The fact is that any development going into the South Cameron area will have to be approved by City Council. There is nothing stopping a thoughtful and measured Council from approving development that will improve traffic access, sewer infrastructure and flood mitigation and preserve green space. There is a middle ground here, that brings more people to Windsor without negative repercussions to existing residents. Taking a breath and looking for that Win-Win is important.

Priorities, Opportunity Cost and Courage

The past week or so has been interesting, as the direction of the City has been shaped for next 4 years. It began with a “strategic planning” meeting on Tuesday where City Councillors outlined their priorities for the term as part of the second fifth of the City’s 20 Year Strategic Plan. To my embarrassment, I wasn’t even aware that this prioritization was occurring so I read Brian Cross’s piece with interest, particularly the rankings that occurred.


Tied with nine stickers each were implementing the sewer master plan, ordered following disastrous floods in 2016 and 2017, and increasing the city’s tree coverage and eliminating the long wait time for tree trimming. Projects with eight stickers included: improving the city’s branding, such as the Welcome to Windsor signage as motorists enter the city; economic diversification; and implementing the soon-to-be-completed Active Transportation Plan which will lay out network of bike lanes and paths to increase cycling and walking.

Seven-sticker projects included: an aggressive traffic calming policy; adding more community events; and strengthening the property standards bylaw. Six-sticker projects included: intensify the population of people living in the city’s core areas by 25 per cent; and helping more neighbourhoods get streetlights and sidewalks.

Projects receiving scant or no support included: a new skateboard park (no votes); a long-envisioned pedestrian ferry service to Detroit (one vote); initiatives for families and youth (one vote): improving community policing; publishing the recorded voting records of councillors (one vote); eliminating the alarmingly high number of people waiting for public housing (one vote); and reducing poverty by 20 per cent. The projects with two or fewer stickers were eliminated from the strategic plan.

“They’re all valuable points, but I’d say the ones that have eights and nines are ones that will be coming back at budget time,” said Dilkens.

Brian Cross, Windsor Star from here

I could spend pages digging into these priorities and my perceptions, but then another piece by Brian Cross related to 6th Concession and the need for its redevelopment despite it not being in the long term capital plan. It’s not that I think that neighbourhoods shouldn’t be complete, but the fact that the story popped up when it did was somewhat ironic in my opinion. A priority for a Councilor, that may or may not be met as a part of the overall vision and shares a spot in the ranking with urban intensification of the city core. Which given the location is likely going to undercut that other priority making them very much a zero sum situation.

Friday then brought two more stories. Anne Jarvis provided an excellent overview of what the top priority – Tree Trimming – could look like, with a $4 per tree assessment and ~$2 Million per year just to maintain existing coverage. The other news of the day was that the City wouldn’t be facing financial doomsday as the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund (OMPF) would not be cut, saving the community a 6% tax increase.

This new is obviously important as the need for large tax increases just to maintain the status quo has largely been removed from the picture and fiscal restraint platform that the mayor ran on will likely be applied to all of the priorities outline above going forward. The result could be an interesting series of political horse trading for various councilors to get their priorities met, while still keeping tax increases at inflation or so. Although there is certainly room for a “budgetary coup” that drives up rates to meet additional priorities it is more likely that these ranking will now be political tool to push certain issues, many of which I support, at the expense of those not listed or perceived as a lower priority.

Finally, on Sunday morning (causing me to re-write this post) there was this story on AM800 by Teresinha Medeiros stating that the City was launching a fundraising campaign to build the shelter for the restored street car. I guess the fundraising began back in November, they are now shelling T-shirts and although I can recall the shelter being a part of the conversation from the beginning of that process, I always assumed that the shelter was included in the restoration costs. There wasn’t a conversation that I recall around the City not paying for that shelter and although I do think that sponsorship etc. can be a tool to mitigate the cost, if not forthcoming, is an extra $100,000 for a shelter something that Council or residents were aware of when the restoration process began? Maybe I missed this but to me this fundraising effort shows the potential unintended consequences that can emerge from ad-hoc priority shifting and attempting budgetary restraint at the same time.

Opportunity Costs

Don’t get me wrong, I like trees, sewers and our economy does need to diversify I also think it is a great thing that our elected officials could agree upon some priorities for this term. My question is what is the opportunity cost of this prioritization? Based on the reporting above, low priority items are not only a not seen as a priority for this council but have also been removed from the overall 20 year plan. What does that say about us as a community?

You can desire density in the city core, but without a strategy or priority to solve the poverty, homelessness and opioid issues that are present in the core, will developers build without taxpayer subsidy? Will resident want to move there compared to suburban or other areas of region, particularly if investments in their livability are being made? We can work on branding the city, but if underlying challenges aren’t solved and negative news stories keep coming out, is it worth the money? If activists continue to agitate for change and speaking for those who aren’t normally heard, will that de-rail economic diversification efforts because it’s off message?

I would argue many of the priorities outline above, are not strategic needs, rather that are tactical wants of constituents and their councilors. By forgoing the hard strategic conversation for these tactical items there is an opportunity cost. So what are some of the opportunity costs of tree trimming?

  • $2 million is annually a 10% down payment for a mortgage held by WECHC to build a 70 unit community housing project (estimate based on $38 Million for 145 Units in East Windsor). Amount could be scaled over multiple years depending on project sizes with the goal of eliminating the 4000+ person wait-list for affordable housing.
  • $2 Million per year could massively scale outreach and support efforts by both City run and not-for-profit initiatives that are part of the City’s Housing First efforts, battling opioids and mental health issues and helping the city’s most vulnerable. At $50,000 per year you could put 4 social workers in every ward of the city based out of libraries and community centers.
  • Put another way, Pathway to Potential the region’s municipal poverty reduction strategy operates at approximately $2 million per year supporting programming and subsidies across the region. This funding could be doubled.
  • A standard non-bendy City bus is approximately $600,000 and is about 3X the amount for a regional transit pilot being put on by Leamington. We could actually lead on Regional Transit with this money.
  • Investment in the infrastructure deficit whether roads, sewers or active transit are an option with $2 million per year likely supporting/completing a number of projects.

Courage

Maybe it is time to have a conversation about what our city should or shouldn’t be doing? Yes there was just an election, yes that election did frame the priorities outline above but my question is what kind of city do we want. One that lurches from the tactical cycle over cycle or one that stays strategic.

If we are looking to “Future Proof” our local economy as some have suggested, we are going to need to think outside the box. The Town of Strathroy is funding skill trades programs for youth directly in partnership with their school board. The City of Toronto is funding coding programs for at risk youth (and beyond). City Councillors in Ottawa, are attempting to battle their homelessness crisis by putting forward a 1% levee to build more affordable housing . Norfolk County leveraged provincial main street funding, not to put out garbage cans, but to give free storefront space to small businesses to help revitalize a small town downtown. Or Vancouver which is considering allowing anyone under 18 ride transit for free. To a community land trust in Parkdale Toronto that is buying land, both publicly available and through tax liens, to ensure that residents have a voice in the gentrification occurring in their neighbourhood.

Trimming trees and building sewers is not going to build resilience in our economy. As reported above we won’t be seeing a 6% tax increase this year as provincial funding came through (this year), but maybe we should. A Friday editorial in the Toronto Star called into question whether that city facing a growing list of priorities and challenges can effectively manage them through fiscal restraint and a hope that other levels of government will come forward with funding. Put simply, Windsor (most municipalities) faces a revenue problem. In general municipalities lack revenue tools leaving them with the option of raising property taxes/user fees or not spending. Paul Giroux said to Anne Jarvis:

Do you want to cut down your oak tree because you don’t like the acorns?

“A very proactive, progressive city would say, ‘I’m sorry. I’m not going to give you a permit for that,’”

Anne Jarvis Windsor Star

He is right, there shouldn’t be a permit for that, but a progressive city also doesn’t leave people behind. For many in our community, acorns in their backyard are the least of their concerns. Which begs the question, given the breadth and scope of the challenges our city faces, and the priorities that we have apparently set, think of what we could do with $20+ million per year.

On Tech Wages, YQG Perception and Leadership

Last week (Jan 23) the Brooksfield Institute put out a report that outlined wage and employment in Tech in CMAs across Canada. Windsor came out of the report ranked with the highest wage gaps between men and women in Canada.

On January 30th a rebuttal emerged. Now I have a lot of respect for Yvonne and her organization WE-Tech Alliance, I don’t agree with every position she takes, nor would I expect her to agree with me on every position I take. I also understand the position she takes as the head of an economic develop agency in our community. Fundamentally Ec-Dev organizations are at their core place-based marketing firms. They exist to sell a town, community or region to businesses, investors and people. I experienced this first hand when Sandra Pupatello chewed me out for this story in the Windsor Star, which hit the media just prior to starting a short term contract role at WEEDC. A learning experience for me, absolutely, but it hammers home the role of Ec Dev orgs. to make a place seem the most attractive and positive location as possible. The question becomes in my opinion should that positive first narrative drive our community conversations or not.

When I look at the post I agree that there are many great opportunities and resources for women in Windsor/Essex but I also feel it misses an opportunity to show adaptive leadership in our community. The missed opportunity is that post put the emphasis on others to do the work. She calls on employers to change, women to do more, the community at large to adapt, educators and parents to learn and teach. What the post fails to recognize is that many of the opportunities and she outlines requires a level of privilege and opportunity that isn’t available for many women (or men) in our community. I mentor and support women in my day job, but there are not enough Richard Peddie, Frank Abbruzzese in our community to go around. Both Yvonne and I are lucky to have had parents, who inspired, mentored and supported us to achieve what we wanted in life except there are 17,000 single parent households where might not be as true for the next generation.

I am privileged in my upbringing as a white male from an upper middle class nuclear family that enabled me to go to post-secondary education and 2 masters degrees. My partner is a brilliant PhD graduate is Biology who can’t find permanent work in our community and spent her holidays working retail because “I will be damned if you (Frazier) pay for my own Christmas gifts”. I too am not an expert on Tech or HR nor I don’t claim to be perfect or that I haven’t made mistakes but I recognize that I have had tons of opportunity and am where I am because both of my privilege and hard work. Equity means rolling up our sleeves, setting aside the advantages that we have and lifting up those who don’t have that same chance. That is missing in my opinion from the suggestions that were made. 

I don’t view the Brooksfield research as an attack on our community they are simply stating facts based on data. Could it have been framed in a different way, sure; could the media reported it in a more balanced manner, I guess, but we have acknowledged that our community faces a challenge in diversifying our economy and women face structural barriers to success. If we are worried that a tech company or woman won’t come to this community because of a bad media report, maybe we should develop a plan to solve the problem that they are writing about instead of burying our head in the sand. Do we want to attract them here and have them find out that we sold them a flight of fancy and things aren’t as they seem? What is the reputational risk of that?

Research like that from Brookfield gives us a baseline through which we can compare ourselves in the future. I do agree that this report (or any report) cannot capture every nuance of our community. That being said it does allow apples to apples comparison to other communities to be made. From this baseline we can determine if all of the activities and opportunities listed are they actually moving the needle in our region and allows us to measure change, re-calibrate and continuously improve. If we aren’t moving up the rankings next year or census then we need to try something else. We need to bring actual outcomes based data to the table; something the post also fails to do, to see if we are moving the needle as spinning positive message and not talking about our challenges only goes so far.

That being said, I do take exception to elements of one of the points.

Don’t always believe headlines “Windsor is the Worst Place For Women“.

First, in this era of #fakenews the post comes very close to calling parents and teachers to ignore respected academic work and the news media that reports it. The “Windsor is the Worst Place for Women” is a striking headline but research that has been conducted by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives which is a respected progressive think tank which has published a wide range of research on universal child care, wage and gender gaps across the country, pharmacare to name a few topics, which are policy solutions that would help close the wage gap that started this discussion. If we don’t believe that headline from a reputable news organization (CBC, Windsor Star, CTV) should we ignore “Windsor’s unemployment rate drops below national average” and do some additional research on that number? No leader in 2019 Canada should be calling on people to question respected media sources or research organizations.

Do your own research.

You ask parent and educators to go do research on what is being reported to them. We all know that they don’t/won’t do that as people don’t have time, energy or effort to do that and that is why Donald Trump is President of the United States. This is one the great challenges facing our society today, but to blanket any opposing statement as potential falsehood and create distrust by driving people to research and find potentially false truths in the media is also a risky endeavor. As a society we rely on expert opinions like those of Think Tanks to conduct research inform debate and policy. As this is what I do for a living and you asked me to do my own research, I did. These are facts from the 2016 Census for the Windsor CMA (the same geography and base data as the Brookfield’s Report):

  • 3,710 women (compared to 2,405 men) live in our region and speak neither English nor French. – Creating barriers to accessing education, employment or services.
  • Median income for women after tax $27,050 (vs $40,881 for men); average $31,364 ($44,208) – they make less money.
  • Female income percentage from employment: 64% vs 72.6% for men – women are more dependent on government transfers for income than men. There is some qualification bias here.
  • 81% of lone parent families are led by women. – single women are raising more kids then men.
  • After tax 7,300 women over the age of 15 have 0 total income (5,860 men)
  • 52% of women live in the bottom half of the income distribution vs 48% of men.
  • 30,120 women and girls are living in low income (LIM-AT) compared to 26,635 men and boys.
  • Workforce participation rate for women in the census was 56.1% compared to 64% for men.

Women in the Windsor CMA face greater challenges then men, this is a fact. The Census does paint a bleak picture for women in our community via statistical data. All you can say about this is that it may have improved since 2015, when the census was taken. On the other hand, it may have gotten worse we won’t know for sure until 2022 when data from the next census becomes available. It wouldn’t surprise me if CCPA came out again with its rankings and Windsor remained near the bottom.

A shift in thinking is needed from success being measure based on outputs around good headlines, great events and one off engagements to a system of longitudinal system level outcomes being tracked. It takes a generation to transform an economy and a region. A negative headline per year over 20 years of progress is nothing in grand scheme of things. As a leader, Yvonne can implement many of her own suggestions in her own organization and replicate best practice research and measurement: do a local study on closing the salary gap in the local tech industry; diversify her own organization board of directors, conduct focus groups with women in tech and share their stories both good and bad.

I am happy to share positive stories on our community and region. The problem that I struggle with is without data, how do we know that the story isn’t masking a bigger problem; and without robust dialogue around solutions and true and transparent buy in from industry, it is kind of hard to move the need.

The Windsor Research Project – Where are the People?

Where are People in Windsor-Essex?

As was mentioned earlier in a previous post, there is a lack of literature on mid-size Canadian cities and urban/sprawl issues which creates challenges in finding comparative context for our community. The vast majority of literature, research and best practices on sprawl focus on large urban centres. Large cities are home to the most acute cases of sprawl that present symptoms so severe that research has focused on solutions to the problems and individuals are willing to pay a price for greater convenience/lifestyle. Due to the lack literature on small and medium sized communities (of which Windsor-Essex is one) it limits the ability to accurately measure the impacts and consequences of outward growth in these communities.

That being said some research has emerged, with a professor from Queens University presented at 2017 Canadian Council of Urbanism Conference showed how mid-size urban centres in Ontario are transforming. Between 2006-11, urban cores of mid-size centres in Ontario shrunk by just under 10% while “auto suburbs” saw population growth nearing 90%, “exurban areas” growing by nearly 15%. The mid-belt “transit suburbs” only growing just by 5% with the technical definitions of each of these area being found in the report linked above. Over the same period, in large CMAs urban areas cores grew 6% while featuring significantly less suburban and exurban growth. Although there are comparative challenges in drawing conclusions between various mid-size urban centres due to their particular circumstance, the broader trend illustrated is clear, mid-sized urban cores face significant challenges in Ontario.

Gordon produced an updated paper with 2016 Census data in August of 2018. Looking at the Windsor CMA (this includes Amherstburg, Lakeshore, Lasalle and Tecumseh) we find:

untitled

The conclusions that are drawn from Gordon’s report show the uphill challenge faced by mid-sized urban areas across the country in revitalizing their centres. Although from his analysis based on Census Tracts some quibbling could be made around which tracts fall into what category given local context. The ability to apply practices and policies to smaller communities that do not face the same overt costs and challenges of larger centres remains a significant barrier in attempting to revitalize the cores of those communities.

Windsor and broader Essex County as a whole, will never face the vast distances of traffic gridlock that the GTA endures. As a result we will never face the same social, physical or economic costs of the scale of sprawl which in turn makes justifying and financing infrastructure change or policy shifts that much more difficult. With a average commute time of 18.8 minutes and 80.8% of people commuting to work arriving in under 30 minutes, Windsor CMA has one of the shortest commutes in all of Canada, who is to say to people that they live too far away from a city centre or their place of work? 

Flows 

Windsor-Essex County has a population of 398,953 people, divided between 8 separate municipalities. From a scale standpoint, Windsor dominates the region with being home to 52% of the population, this municipal division is little more than an illusion of artificial (some might say tribal) boundaries. With a drive time of an hour or so you can reach almost any point in the region in a reasonable amount of time which in turn has enable people to move outward.

On a typical day 2/3 of worker living in the town of Tecumseh and LaSalle leave their communities and cross into Windsor; they are joined half of Amherstburg and Lakeshore workers. In other words the rest of CMA is largely just a housing many of the employees of Windsor. Essex is home to a slightly lower rate of commuting to Windsor with just over 1/3 of its working coming to the City. Tecumseh is Essex next largest employer and I would suspect that the Old Castle tool and die cluster being the primary draw down highway 3.

Kingsville and Leamington are the outliers in our region, as Leamington holds a significant portion of it’s working population within their municipality. This is likely due to its relative distance, larger size and limited access to Windsor that makes it more of an employment anchor. It is anchor facilities, like Erie Shores Health Care and the Greenhouse sector, which also enables it to attract approximately 1,800 people from Kingsville (about the same portion that commutes to Windsor from Kingsville) and about 1,000 from Chatham-Kent. The outstanding balance of the work force are employed in the other municipalities or across the border in Detroit. What is important to read in these numbers is the scope of the commuting into Windsor.  There isn’t anything explicitly wrong with this migration as these flows of people are simply reacting to the perceived advantages of living in one community and working in another. 

The Creative Class

Given these population flows the question that must be discussed is who is living where. Although not without controversy, Richard Florida’s research and views on the “Creative class” have embedded themselves in social political culture. The idea of the techy, hipster living downtown and revitalizing the community via trendy coffee shops and hip attractions/amenities is the vision for most urban downtowns. Although Florida’s own mec culpa recognizes and attempts to reconcile his brand of what I would call elitist urbanism with its impacts on existing populations. Drawing people downtown remains the focus of politicians, community groups and local champions in our region. Mark Boscariol and I had a number of conversations on how Windsor could attract people and students downtown as well as the potential trade-offs of that attraction. Having listened to RCP year in review show and having finished reaching Florida’s book for a second time, it got me thinking about Florida’s creative class, and Mark’s belief in downtown. 

The question becomes who is living downtown and where is Windsor’s (Essex County) “creative class”? Florida generally defines the creative class as more education professionals who are responsible for the creation of intellectual property. The “creative class” (generally) are not those who create (physically build) the widget but rather those who design the widget. Unfortunately employment data that Florida has used to measure the creative class is not readily available for our region. 

As a result I looked at 3 proxies. First, where do people with greater than a University degree reside in our region. This isn’t to say that a BA isn’t sufficient to be a member of the “creative class” (BA in Computer Science as an example) but unfortunately this is how census data is parceled. The two maps below show, by total number of individuals over the age of 15 who hold educational level greater than a bachelor degree by census DA.

The map on the left shows the portion of the population with a degree above a BA while the map on the shows the total number of degree holders. Given that a post-graduate degree in our community is worth almost $17,000 per year compared to a BA in average wages ($98,700 vs $81,800) in the Windsor CMA. The presence of these concentrations of higher income degree holders creates an pockets of populations where needs are met, there is greater disposable income and in turn greater time to access community amenities and advocate for services. Unsurprisingly Old Walkerville and near the University are home to higher rates of post-graduate degrees (as a percentage) but from a raw number standpoint more live in Wards 1, 7 and 10 than the core (green map). These higher totals spill over into LaSalle and Lakeshore.

Another way to look at the data is by occupation area. Statistics Canada tracks ten occupation classification in public data: Management; Business, Finance and Administration; Natural and Applied Sciences; Health Occupations;  Occupations in Education, Law, and Social, Community and Government; Occupations in Art, Culture, Recreation and Sport; Sales and Services; Trades, Transport and Equipment Operators; Natural Resource Extraction and Agriculture; and Occupations in Manufacturing and Utilities. 

If we were to group these categories using Florida’s rough guidelines of creative vs non-creative employment sectors: we would find the first six categories (Management through Art, Culture and Rec.) generally aligning with the creative class and the last four generally do not. 

The map above illustrates percentage of population that reports being in the creative occupational categories. With a relatively strong correlation of 0.64 between the presence of a “creative” occupations and a rise in average income (median income scores 0.59). What is striking is when this is compared with 2006. When you compare the 2006 and the 2016 data (setting aside the shapefile differences creating distortion) you see dramatic shifts in our region. Part of this has to do with the changing nature of our economy through the Great Recession but when compared with other communities there is still work to be done.

Comparing Occupation classes by Census

Beyond our region we find, that we lag our peer communities and competitors in the global talent races which of course has consequences for economic diversification.

A third measure of the “creative class” is by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Unfortunately at a sub-municipal level to ensure privacy of the responses only general industrial sectors (2 digit) are available. Given that there are 20 industrial codes compared to the 10 occupation codes it does allow for a more refined measure of types of jobs that are available. I divided the codes into two groups:

From these categories we find:

Due to measurement changes and available data not all 2006 rates are available.

What can be taken way is that due to the greater precision of the 20 categories, the actual “creative” levels in our economy decline from the 10 occupational categories. Our region in 2016 still lags Provincial and peer communities.

Within the mapping what we find is yet again an overall shift in the our region toward the more creative but where these people are living matters most. The biggest winners of the decade from a industry perspective were the suburban and semi-rural municipalities while core areas of Windsor (West Windsor, Wyandotte corridor) continued to struggle. Through a basic corollary analysis we find a weak negative correlation (-0.35) presences of the creative class employment and prevalence of low income. In other words, neighbourhoods with high rates of “creative” economy members, there tend to be lower rates of poverty.

The biggest taken away from this crude analysis of the “creative class” is that overall circumstance have improved but we are not catching up to the rest of the province. In an age of globalized work forces this puts our region at significant risk.

Density for Who?

Based on Florida’s arguments, the “Creative class” when in significant concentrations will drive urban revival. Growth of “creative” clustering outside of the city core has an important impact. From the Occupation data we find that in 2006, there is only 1 DA had greater than 75% concentration of creative employment, compared to 2016 Census DA with a 93%. In other words, the employment homogeneity of our neighbourhoods is shifting.

In 2006, only 16 DA in Essex County were home to greater than 2/3 of residents being in a creative occupation, in 2016 that is 44. Of those 44 DA, 21 reside in Windsor with only 5 being in the “Core”, 4 clustered around Walkerville and 1 closer to downtown. The remaining 16 are clustered in Ward 1 in and around Roseland; Old Riverside in Ward 6 and new developments in Ward 10. Contrary to Florida’s prediction, concentration of creative classes have not moved towards the city centre, demanding greater urban services. In fact in 2006, 11 of the 16 DAs with highest concentrations (66% or greater) were in Windsor, 4 in the core. Two of these DAs maintained their “creative” populations (Walkerville) while two lost populations, one near Ouellette Campus and one near the University in ward 2. In other words, there are more “creative” people in Windsor but they are not clustering in the core.

What we live in is a modest sized region that is then artificially divided into smaller governing units. It comes from these artificial divisions that a true debate of whether the sprawl like development occurring in our region and whether it has reached a point where actual measurable negative consequences can be found. Of course road traffic into Windsor from the surrounding communities carries a cost to the infrastructure of the City but those costs are unavoidable given the context and nature of the region. Even if Essex County was a single municipal government (like Chatham-Kent) those same costs would have had to have been bore and much of the development that has occurred would have likely occurred anyways and the fundamental nature of Windsor housing stock and layout would have still have encourage peripheral development.

per square km

The above chart illustrates population density by municipality but it removes the vast tracks of rural areas surrounding their own urban areas. For each of the communities, these developed areas make up a clear majority of the municipal population and in many ways show how concentrated people are.

In many ways the smaller municipalities of Essex County are actually better placed to develop more compact, urban communities than Windsor is. When you look at 2016 population density data for the developed areas of each municipality you see that in many cases these communities are denser from a population standpoint then Windsor.

These comparable population densities actual give the small municipalities of Essex County a significant advantage when compared to Windsor. A single amenity (bike lane, library, community centre etc.) in these communities is a far more impact on quality of life and connectivity then in Windsor. Items like the redevelopment of Amherstburg downtown. improving Leamington Waterfront or a new bike lanes connecting communities will transform these communities while a major project like the Riverside visit project or Ouelette ave redevelopment are pieces of a much bigger puzzle.

Windsor for its part does have the economies of scale to take on more projects due to its larger tax base, but it is burdened with the costs of maintaining an aging infrastructure. Looking at the proposed and bold active transit strategy for the City of Windsor the the time frames involved (20+ years) to reach some of the targets, show the scope of the challenge as culture change takes time and decades of investment.

In the meantime people are voting with their feet and wallets. More affluent suburban communities are comparably dense to Windsor, are home to higher concentrations of community amenities and all within a drive that is one of the shortest in Canada to their job. Even within Windsor, the trade offs between tackling the needs and wants of our community are at odds. Home to one of the highest poverty rates in Canada we fret over bike lanes, give subsidies to developers to build unaffordable units downtown while not fundamentally investing solutions to some of the broader social challenges.

Although not entirely mutually exclusive, given the resources constraints of pending cuts at a provincial level, and a mantra fiscal responsibility at City Hall choices will have to be made and questions will have to be asked. A truly urban centre can be built, and it can be connected to surrounding neighbourhoods through innovative and active transit solutions. If we don’t solve some of the underlying social issues in those same areas will they actually attract the “creative” individuals and companies that we are hoping to attract when they can get an equivalent lifestyle with less hassle in another part of the region.