How your Councillor Voted 2015-18

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The Excel file below holds a record of all recorded votes by Windsor City Council from January 1 2015 to September 17, 2018. All of this data was mined from City Council Minutes that are posted on the City of Windsor website.

The file is sorted into sheets by year and tracks Yay, Nay, Abstain or Absent votes. In Columns O and P you have basic counts of the number of “Yay” and “Nay” on a particular item.

A few points to note:

  • Minutes do capture NAY votes on non recorded votes. These votes are included in this document, it is not clear if all other Councillors voted in favour, abstained or were absent for these votes and should not be interpreted as such and cells for non “Nay” voters are left empty.
  • Motion/votes related to In Camera items that are taken in Council are not captured.
  • Votes on Committee items are not full captured ex. items/minutes from committees end up in some council minutes, within those minutes/item are additional votes and results are included.
  • As some agenda items are several paragraphs in length, I only captured the item number and initial description. Please refer to the specific Council minutes for full description of the motion/measure/decision.
  • A “Nay” vote may in fact be supporting a measure as it depends on the wording of the specific motion/question/decision. I would encourage you to read the full minutes of the items. Logical a “Yay” vote may also be blocking an item

 

You can download the file below

Windsor-City-Council-Recorded-Votes-2015-2018

#Knowyourward- County Edition: Essex

townofessex

The Town of Essex is first of the communities that I am working on that has a ward system. As you can see from the map above, there is not a exact alignment between the Census boundaries and the municipal wards. The difference although visually large, from a population basis they tend to extend one roadway or concession over. As a result the variation between the wards is not significant enough to cause major variation in this data but due to the Ward not not being equal from a population standpoint apples to apples comparisons are more complicated.

Town Total Ward 1 Ward 2 Ward 3 Ward 4
Total Population 2016 20,427 7467 4422 6221 2317
Total Population 2011 19,190 6955 3990 2317 2365
Average Population Density (Per Square KM) 977.81 1730.85 529.28 70.33 1357.15
% Pop under 19 21.80% 24.30% 19.45% 20.50% 21.20%
% Pop over 65 19.10% 19.11% 19.54$ 18.10% 20.54%
Total Single Parent Families 870 390 140 225 115
% of Female Led Single Parent Families 78.90% 87.30% 72.10% 74.10% 70.80%
Income
After Tax Median Income  $        32,787  $        32,526  $        37,252  $        37,423  $        32,816
After Tax Average Income  $        37,527  $        35,729  $        37,928  $        41,855  $        32,724
Low Income Rate (LIM) 9.40% 11.52% 7.30% 7.84% 9.93%
% of population in the bottom income decile 6.09% 7.25% 5.28% 5.05% 5.82%
% of population in the top income decile 7.54% 6.32% 8.17% 10.25% 4.34%

 

% of Public Transit Users to reach Employment <1% <1% <1% <1% <1%
 Total – Occupied private dwellings by number of bedrooms 8080 3100 1600 2405 995
   No bedrooms 10 10 0 0 0
1 bedroom 580 330 90 95 65
2 bedrooms 1910 745 400 550 195
3 bedrooms 3630 1330 755 1060 485
4 or more bedrooms 1950 685 355 700 210
Household Wealth
Number of Households with and income greater than $150,000 250 65 55 120 10
Employment in Essex
    31-33 Manufacturing 21%
    62 Health care and social assistance 13%
    44-45 Retail trade 11%
    23 Construction 7%
    72 Accommodation and food services 6%

#knowyourward – County Edition: Amherstburg

Amherstburg.png

The Town of Amherstburg doesn’t have Wards, so I divided the community into 3 areas of close to equal population based on Census Dissemination geographies. The following table “Wards” show the Amherstburg total plus the socio-economic breakdown of the 3 areas.

Town Total Rural Amherstburg/ South Shore Downtown Amherstburg River Canard
Total Population 2016 21,936 7,271 8,603 6,062
Total Population 2011 21,325 7,115 8,660 5,550
Average Population Density (Per Square KM) 1037.18 285.66 1878.1 576.55
% Pop under 19 22.58% 22.64% 20.60% 26.40%
% Pop over 65 18.65% 16.40% 22.33% 14.70%
Total Single Parent Families 14.70% 10.80% 20.70% 9.10%
% of Female Led Single Parent Families 71.40% 64.80% 78.11% 69.20%
Income
After Tax Median Income  $35,311  $37,269  $31,068  $40,861
After Tax Average Income  $41,394  $46,304  $35,118  $46,581
Low Income Rate (LIM) 8.81% 6.03% 13.44% 3.75%
% of population in the bottom income decile 5.30% 3.40% 7.80% 2.90%
% of population in the top income decile 10.20% 12.60% 5.40% 16.30%
% of Public Transit Users to reach Employment <1% <1% <1% <1% <1%
 Total – Occupied private dwellings by number of bedrooms            10,690              3,420                3,305            1,605              2,540
   No bedrooms                     –                     –                       –                   –                     –
   1 bedroom                  205                    65                      75                  10                    55
   2 bedrooms              1,430                  365                   475                270                  320
   3 bedrooms              4,865              1,565                1,320                755              1,225
   4 or more bedrooms              4,130              1,225                1,390                585                  930
Household Wealth
Number of Households with and income greater than $150,000 450 160 65 225
Employment for Amherstburg
    31-33 Manufacturing 22%
    62 Health care and social assistance 13%
    44-45 Retail trade 12%
    61 Educational services 8%
    72 Accommodation and food services 6%

#Knowyourward – County Edition: LaSalle

LaSalle

The Town of Lasalle doesn’t have Wards, so I divided the community into 4 areas based on Census Dissemination geographies. The following table “Wards” show the LaSalle total plus the socio-economic breakdown of the 4 areas.

Town Total Near Windsor Matchette to Malden + Todd Lane Matchette to the River “Rural” LaSalle
Total Population 2016 30,180 5,164 9,512 8,923 7,091
Total Population 2011 28,643 4,008 9,101 8,843 6,691
Average Population Density (Per Square KM) 1,566 2,234 1,524 1,938 502
% Pop under 19 24% 25% 24% 25% 23%
% Pop over 65 18% 14% 20% 13% 18%
Total Single Parent Families 13% 17% 11% 14% 13%
% of Female Led Single Parent Families 76% 65% 79% 84% 69%
Income
After Tax Median Income  $ 43,241  $  38,409  $ 44,301  $  44,448  $ 43,210
After Tax Average Income  $ 55,818  $45,532  $ 59,687  $  53,858  $ 60,737
Low Income Rate (LIM) 6% 8% 5% 5% 6%
% of population in the bottom income decile 4% 47% 3% 3% 3%
% of population in the top income decile 18% 12% 24% 15% 20%
% of Public Transit Users to reach Employment <1% <1% <1% <1% <1%
 Total – Occupied private dwellings by number of bedrooms            10,690              3,420                3,305            1,605              2,540
   No bedrooms                     –                     –                       –                   –                     –
   1 bedroom                  205                    65                      75                  10                    55
   2 bedrooms              1,430                  365                   475                270                  320
   3 bedrooms              4,865              1,565                1,320                755              1,225
   4 or more bedrooms              4,130              1,225                1,390                585                  930
Household Wealth
Number of Households with and income greater than $150,000 1100 210 515 85 290
Top 5 Industries of Employment LaSalle – Total
    31-33 Manufacturing 20%
    62 Health care and social assistance 14%
    44-45 Retail trade 10%
    61 Educational services 10%
    72 Accommodation and food services 6%

Note: there was little significant variation (+/-1%) in employment by the divisions that I applied to LaSalle.

The Windsor Research Project: Clogged Arteries

In a previous post on Sprawl I mentioned how what took 50+ years to build, couldn’t be undone easily or cheaply. So I figured that I would dive into that discussion a little bit. Which brings me back to a quote from 2016:

Forget about the fact the streets are all four lanes, they’re too wide and the cars are going too fast, that’s one thing,” James Howard Kunstler, author of Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency, told CBC News. “But the buildings themselves are so amazingly ugly, it’s like somebody came in and beat the city with an ugly stick.” CBC Windsor

Although I find much of the work of Kunstler extreme in its descriptions and consequences, the comments that he made about Windsor do hold some water. Windsor major arteries are ugly and a significant challenge to overcome from a safety, aesthetic and environmental standpoint. Arguably the city is defined by six major North-South (Huron Church, Ouellette/Dougall, Howard, Walker, Lauzon and Banwell) thoroughfares, three major East-West (Tecumseh, Wyandotte and Riverside) corridors and EC Row Expressway. You can argue that CR 42/Cabana Rd could also join this list but given the geographic location and that large areas are currently not developed it is one to watch for the future.

These are the arteries through which the lifeblood of the city flows. Although some would argue the purposes of these roads, what they should be for, for the most part these roads were built for the car and designed to satisfying a community and region built on sprawl. The only major artery that “fits” a “main-street design” would be sections of Wyandotte St. (in Walkerville and near the University) and it could be argued that elements are missing from those areas (protected/separated bike lanes as an example). The road diet on Riverside Dr. did offer what a temporary glimpse of what the streets could be but there is a bigger disconnect not only in the road designs themselves but in the building stock that sits next to them.

So what did I do? I counted buildings along Tecumseh Rd from Huron Church to Lauzon and Walker Rd from Provincial to Riverside Dr.  This evaluation of the building stock isn’t scientific but it does illustrate the nature of the problem. Buildings were classified in one of eight categories: residential (single and multi); commercial (single or multi business); mixed use (ground flood commercial with apartments above); institutional, parking/lots and abandon/vacant.

 

 

To try and transform these arteries into something other than race tracks the building stock must be changed. It is true that road diets, bike lanes, traffic calming would help, but without places to go, buildings that are adapted to roles other than servicing cars or people living on these roads, the purpose of these throughfares won’t change which reinforces the current status quo. Given that only about 16% of the buildings on Tecumseh Rd (2% on Walker Rd) feature some sort of mixed commercial/residential usage, the question becomes where are the people and places to slow down these street? This lack of mixed usage is compounded by vacant lots, car lots, standalone parking lots which contribute to 15% and 24% of respective “building spaces” on Tecumseh and Walker Rd. The bulk of establishments (greater than 55%) on both Tecumseh and Walker Roads are are non-mixed use commercial, the vast majority of those being single story construction.

Beyond Walker and Tecumseh Roads; almost every other major thoroughfare in the city all face similar stock challenges. With large stretches of poorly aligned building stock low density residential; overbuilt car centric commercial segregated by swaths of industrial properties both active and brownfield. Although not all portions of the major arteries in Windsor are designed to be dense mixed use construction, there is almost no evidence beyond a few condo developments on Wyandotte St. that redevelopment is a priority for developers. I would surmise that part of this lack of interest has to do with many of these arteries being lined with vacant commercial spaces and brownfields that are difficult and expensive to re-purpose.

Yes surrounding neighbourhoods have people, but if they aren’t going to places on these roads now and business aren’t utilizing the existing vacant land or commercial spaces, will just having more/different abilities to access these spaces transform these areas or is something more drastic in order? Arguably Wyandotte St. is the closest major thoroughfare to a “main street” with the BIA areas (plus Wyandotte West near the University) being the clusters of attraction and activity to emulate. These BIAs are built around mixed sub-communities along the artery and are currently missing some connective tissue to tie them together, separated bike lanes as an example.

I would argue that this is a model that could to be emulated on sections of other major thoroughfares and although not all of the roads are conducive to this change something probably needs to be done. What is needed is a building stock that is conducive to mixed activities and that is missing on most thoroughfares. Although I doubt the Costco plaza of South Windsor on Walker to be a main street, but why can’t the markets near Ottawa Street be connected to a future development at the GM site by one?

To bring a “main street” to these arteries is a monumental challenge that as long as the existing building stock is maintained, no amount of road diets, bike lanes or tree plantings will solve the underlying issues. As these roads are the skeleton that the rest of Windsor is built on, what needs to be done is a radical transformation of the housing and building stock in core areas of our community. Without change these roads are barriers to connectivity that segregate and isolate parts of our community from one another, the car will remain king, infill will remain illusive and sprawl will perpetuate.

The Windsor Research Project – Sprawling

The Trouble Defining Sprawl 

A fundamental issue with the debate around urban sprawl in our community  is that it emerges from the nebulous term of sprawl itself. When academics speak/write on the subject of urban sprawl are publishing definitions: “Sprawl means different things to different people” and accepting such vague terms as a basis for a position it causes significant challenges in having a rational debate. Beyond the vagaries of the particular definitions as the topic of urban sprawl intersects and is analyzed through numerous different lens: urban planning, social psychology, economics, public policy, finance to name a few; the quantification challenges are multiplied by different schools of thought applying their own lenses and language to the issue (Hayden, 2004). The results are that most generally accepted definitions of sprawl contain elements such as: uncontrolled greenfield development that results in lower density, car centric development at a greater geographic distance from a city centre that results in poorer health and environment and at a higher cost to society.

On the urban side, similar definitional challenges face defining “good urban” areas.  Walkable neighbourhoods, complete streets, a healthy environment, density of design although measurable using various quantifiable tools they tend to only provide a snapshot of a portion of what makes a community complete. Although there are many strong urban standards that can be pointed to that contribute to a “complete” or “walkable” community to find the exact point at which a community is complete is often found in the eyes of a beholder with individual preference and necessity trumping any quantifiable measure. Although there is research available that has attempted to quantify good urban areas (Knapp, Song, Nedovic-Budic) and general tools like “Walkscore” provide snapshots these efforts have been limited and face challenges.

The inability to define, measure and pinpoint tipping points in a manner that allows effectively communication in a transparent manner allows for nebulous grey areas that enables individual lens or ideologies to drive debates. Any number of debates ranging from “the war on the car”, density related NYIMBism, school closure to name a few are in many ways driven by a lack of understanding and measurement of where, why and how people live in a community.

This lack of understanding then amplifies the rhetoric with both sides seeing a particular decision through an increasingly polarized point of view. Much like the “willful ignorance” that suburbanites are so often accused of living, or the “moral superiority” projected by those choosing to live an urban lifestyle creates an ideological gulf in communities, as residents cannot understand why other who choose to live the way they do. What is a dense community of row houses to some, is an impractical place to live for a family with four children. What is historic and stately home in an established neighbourhood for a middle aged empty-nesters, is too burdensome for retirees. Or a comfortable neighbourhood of newly built ranch, perfect for aging Torontoian transplants is little better than blight to an urbanite due to its location at the fringe of a small city. So much of what determines where people live are those intangible items that cannot be easily measured.

Where someone chooses to settle is an inherently individual experience and the culmination of dozens of inputs, perceptions and compromises. It is this human element that unfortunately leads to polarization of debates around sprawl and urbanism. Each new project and decision regardless of impact (actual or perceived) are lensed through the personal point of view of individuals, forcing the dialogue within the community to greater and greater extremes. It is this tribalism, inherit between the different groups and ingrained in choice that then skews the use of data on this subjects (and so many others). If a clear and wide accepted definition of sprawl existed and this definition enabled a line to be drawn universally across all communities showing where sprawl begins and ends this discussion would be moot but as it doesn’t, if Windsor is to have any hope, compromise is required.

Windsor’s History of Sprawl 

Windsor (as with many cities) was born out of a history of sprawl. From the 1930s the “City of Windsor” amalgamated with surrounding towns and townships, steadily growing outwards as its population and importance within the region grew. Efforts by these surrounding communities to resist this outward expansion of Windsor proper were largely rebuffed with Walkerville taking its case to Great Britain’s highest Court in an effort to maintain its autonomy and resist a forced amalgamation by the Province (Stanton). This pattern of forced amalgamation has played out numerous times across the province as municipal governments exist largely at the whim of the province and if it weren’t for the practical necessity and conventions, they might not exist at all.

Beyond the original founding streets/neighbourhoods in each original community (Old Sandwich, Victoria Ave in Windsor, Old Walkerville, Old Riverside in East Windsor) the entire City of Windsor is the result of sprawl. The war-housing neighbourhoods that fill segments of south Walkerville ringing the Chrysler Assembly Plant, bordering Erie and street, the Marbourough, St James and Bridgeview neighbourhoods (where I live) in West Windsor, Ford City sandwiched between industrial complexes. It was in the 1960s in many cases when these neighbourhoods emerged as Windsor experienced a population boom like no other:

Year Windsor Population Percentage Change
1961 114,367
1971 209,300 83.00%
1981 192,083 −8.2%
1991 191,435 −0.3%
1996 197,694 3.30%
2001 208,402 5.40%
2006 216,473 3.90%
2011 210,891 −2.6%
2016 217,188 3.00%

NOTE: It was pointed out to me by Doug Schmidt that additional municipal amalgamations occurred between 1961 and 1971 that I missed. After digging I was unable to find a separate growth rate for the City of Windsor for that period (if someone finds one let me know). Overall amalgamation rather than a crazy growth rate makes more sense. I don’t feel that this amalgamation given when they occurred significantly changes my perspective. Thanks for the clarification Doug! 

From 1961-1971 censuses the population of the City of Windsor grew at a rate greater than 6% per year or by 83% over the decade! This decade was the tale end of the baby boom and influx newcomers with national population growing by 18% on top of the 30% growth that occurred from 1951-61. So it is no surprise that the regions’ housing stock looks like this:

Updating Housing Stock

For many Windsor’s growth and evolution was a relatively steady one when in fact it was driven by a surge of outward growth in the 1960s that distorted development patterns and closed the core off to broad-based redevelopment. This was followed up by the construction of social housing projects in the 1970s and 1980s which certainly added density but it also created pockets of socially isolated and marginalized peoples. This surging development pattern wrapped itself around industrial and commercial areas that in other times and cities would have remained isolated and properly transitioned.

It is from this core that the  were the first rings of “sprawl” emerged, filling gaps between the various neighbourhoods and beginning the outwards creep towards the county. Not only has housing crept outwards but the diversity of our community is helping perpetuate it.

 

The maps above show percentage of self identified immigrant populations in our region. Although it true that Windsor core has remained home to significant newcomer populations between 2001 and 2011 there has been a significant shift in where first generation Canadians live in our region. There has been a growing outward migration, to significant parts of South/Central Windsor, LaSalle, Tecumseh and Lakeshore have become homes to first generation Canadians. These areas are not low cost areas of our community nor are they home to significant urban density.  This shift has likely been driven by a few factors. The children of immigrants who came to Canada in the 1960-1990s and grew up in Windsor’s core are now at the stage where they can live the Canadian dream. Aspiration is a vitally important element that needs to be considered when looking at housing choice. With a home ownership rates that are nearing 70% buying a house remains a cornerstone of life in this county. Although that is becoming more and more difficult in some communities, in Windsor it remains a viable and attractive option.

These trends of aspiration hold true when compared to the US where African American populations are growing dramatically in the suburbs and other research has shown that immigrant suburban movement is actually breaking the cloistering effects that traditionally have been associated with suburban life. In a great paper on the “Canadian Dream” Jill Grant and Daniel Scott outline the steps in the home ownership ladder which you climb up and then down again in your lifetime. It firmly places a single detached home as a part of a life cycle of housing that a significant portion of the population still strives towards and lives through based on their aspirations and needs.

housing ladder.png

Unlike large urban centres where young families are priced out of the top rungs of the housing ladder that issue is a much smaller factor in Windsor-Essex,. The fact that there has been little new condo or apartment development in the City has been driven by and is a consequence of this low cost of living. Once a rent in a apartment hits a certain threshold it no longer makes financial sense to rent. As a result, young families move up the housing ladder and out to the suburbs.

What is “Sprawl” in Windsor?

This brings us back to the question of what is “sprawl” in Windsor? Compared to large urban centres, with 1 hour + commutes to call Windsor a sprawling city is laughable, particularly through the lens of just the City of Windsor. When a broader region is taken into account there is little question of outward growth. Although it can be argued it is urban sprawl as their is no regional measure for this growth or any inter-municipal cooperation, each municipality expansion can be seen and arguably is viewed by its own narrow evolutionary lens.

The question that needs to be tackled is when/if will sprawl in aggregate alter behaviour in our region? To a transplant from Toronto, a 20 minute jaunt to a store, doctors office or dinner is a cakewalk compared to battling the GTA traffic. To the nuclear family in LaSalle that commutes into the City on a daily basis there is little incentive to move back into the core given the housing stock, size of homes and property values (a topic of another blog post). To young people couple, assuming they stay in the community, why buy a fixer upper when you can buy new and still be downtown in about 20 minutes?

On the flip side is our downtown or core “urban”? Although dense compared to the rest of the region, Windsor downtown and core not only fail to meet a density standard of many truly urban cities and town but they lack services and amenities that bring many people to a thriving downtown. Go a few blocks off of these are thoroughfares you will find semi-suburban cloisters featuring two cars in a driveway. To some the sprawl debate is little more than an argument undertaken by those who are already affluent and have met their needs. There are many in Windsor’s core who would love the opportunity to own a home or car, send their kids to university or college, live the Canadian dream

There will always be people on both sides on this debate, the question that must be answered is where is the “centre” of the population. I would put forward that they arguably they don’t care as they experience only marginal negative impacts directly on their lives. The benefits that they would reap from a more urban community and lifestyle not resonating with the majority of the population.  Municipally, the competition between them is further encouraging this outward expansion. One of the best, lesser stated arguments for the development of the Sandwich South lands is that it is needed in order to keep Windsor competitive compared to the surrounding municipalities in the home construction market and attract retirees transplants from Toronto with high assessment valued new homes.

The biggest issue for opponents of sprawl in our region is that there is no easily implementable, politically viable solution to this issue. What took 50+ years to build cannot be undone without bulldozing of city blocks, reconstruction of neighbourhoods and redesigning the regions traffic network. The small wins of bike lanes here or basement secondary suites their are a drop in the bucket in comparison to the larger overall challenges. All of which leads back to an infamous quote from a City Councillor “Sprawl is the future“.

 

 

The Windsor Project – Mid-Sized Cities Gambling on the Future

As previously mentioned there is very little in-depth research on mid-sized communities in Canada (some emerging research here and a great blog here) or the challenges that they face. To small to receive the limelight, media attention and resources of large urban centres; yet they are too big to be highly nimble in a short period of time or able to be reliant on a sole sector . In many ways medium size cities are unique systems stuck in a socio-economic-demographic limbo, with some commentators going so far as to claim that they are doomed.

Windsor-Essex will always remain an “important” due to its geography and proximity to the United State but whether that means that our region will remain competitive or just a “drive through community” remains to be seen.

Gamblers Ruin

So why do mid-sized cities like Windsor struggle? A major missing component  is the lack of private capital, clustering and economies of scale. In 2008 Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on the impacts of economies of scale and trade patterns. Although his work was developed around the modeling of trade flows in the 21st century. As the Nobel Prize committee outlined (underlying mine):

Traditional trade theory assumes that countries are different and explains why some countries export agricultural products whereas others export industrial goods. The new theory clarifies why worldwide trade is in fact dominated by countries which not only have similar conditions, but also trade in similar products – for instance, a country such as Sweden that both exports and imports cars. This kind of trade enables specialization and large-scale production, which result in lower prices and a greater diversity of commodities.

Economies of scale combined with reduced transport costs also help to explain why an increasingly larger share of the world population lives in cities and why similar economic activities are concentrated in the same locations. Lower transport costs can trigger a self-reinforcing process whereby a growing metropolitan population gives rise to increased large-scale production, higher real wages and a more diversified supply of goods. This, in turn, stimulates further migration to cities. Krugman’s theories have shown that the outcome of these processes can well be that regions become divided into a high-technology urbanized core and a less developed “periphery”.

Lets be clear, Windsor Essex as a mid-sized community is the periphery in this scenario and in many ways the self-reinforcing process of population, wage growth and economic diversification is struggling to occur here. Transportation costs that emerge from being close to markets are important but the elasticity of these costs are highly variable and those costs are shrinking. This means that as the word continues to get smaller, location, although still important, matters less and less.

Recently, Krugman applied some of his Noble winning theory to some of the challenges that small/medium sized cities face in a NYT op-ed by tying to the concept of Gambler’s Ruin. What is Gambler’s Ruin in the context of mid-sized cities? Imagine two players (two cities – small and large) at a card table with a dealer (global economy) playing to attract new business, investment and talent to their community by betting on the cards that they have been dealt. The large city due to its scale has more cards to play (no one said this game was fair) then the smaller one and every hand there is a cost to play.

For a small community the best play is to actually not to play every hand, all things being equal the smaller city is at a distinct disadvantage when compared to their larger counterparts. Yes there is a cost to be at the table but by sitting out most hands, it can rely its nimbleness or quaintness to exploit a niche to pick its hands to win.  When the perfect hand (opportunity) comes along, the small community faces a handful of possible outcome, it can go all in and potentially be outbid by the larger player and lose its cards, the dealer could win trumping all players with effort being wasted for no gain or it can win the hand (attracting a business/investment).

Unfortunately whether winning a hand or sitting out does come at a cost: the cost the attraction effort, the opportunity cost of other non-explored opportunities, the cost of maintaining a basic level of infrastructure (physical, social, capital) to keep playing the game. Due to the size of the resources available, based on the cost of the effort the return of one hand is almost never large enough to secure their long term future (winning HQ2 or a new OEM plant would be the exception) which is why many smaller communities don’t play this game.

For the large city, their additional cards create additional strategies. They can play many small hands and one by one gobble up small wins (attracting many smaller firms, entrepreneurs and talent due to economies of scale and competitive advantages) much as Krugman describes . Or they can go all in areas of advantage in ways that are beyond the capacity for smaller players to dream of competing (ex. Superclusters). Through their size they can leverage political, geographic and social scale to create future advantages in upcoming hands and to position themselves further ahead as economics centres of gravity, speeding up future amalgamation of resources.

The trap for mid-sized communities/regions is that they are too big to specialized in just one niche, but to small to bully and leverage their economies of scale compared to many rivals. They have to play the game, due to internal market pressures with the big boys, pay to compete with them but in many ways be outclassed. Although niches/competative advantages can be exploited to create a foundation, in the context of a rapidly changing global economy the question is whether or not a handful of niches is enough? Over the long term, the outcome is clear, unless the mid size community is able to create scale or specialization that allows them to compete with global leaders at some point mid-sized communities go bust because the house always wins. This is Gambler’s Ruin (stretched a little).

The Windsor Context

Of course economic development, economic clustering and competition between urban areas is far more complex then this analogy but it does help illustrate the game theory behind where and why businesses/people/investment settle. In the Windsor-Essex context there are a number of identified clusters in our region. To carry the analogy forward the question becomes how many cards does Windsor and Essex County have to play with within these sectors on any given hand? So much of competing in the global economic relies on factors beyond the control of our community. Federal and Provincial incentives/grants, quality of the talent pool and local skills, geographic advantages, quality of life etc many of which are shared with jurisdictions we compete with.

As a mid-sized region (that is decentralized without a regional government – further hindrance), our region doesn’t have enough cards to play every hand, and to be frank we will likely struggle to compete for “game changing” investments. I hope to be proven wrong, but out region has been bidding for the same kinds of investments for a long time and our hand hasn’t come up. On the other side, our chosen niche automotive that allowed our community to grow and prosper to its peak in the early 1990s, appears to be on the downward trend. Given the current climate one has to ask ourselves what does Windsor or even Canada look like without an auto sector? It happened to Australia, and dozens of  rust belt communities just across the border. Given that 20.2% of our local employment is tied to manufacturing, the risk is real and illustrates why mid-sized communities can’t rely only on one sector. Of course, our region has diversified beyond auto but the given the declines in median income, I question if those positions pay as well or employ as many people as our historical manufacturing base. So simply sitting out hands and hoping for the best isn’t an option. We need to play for something, the question is what?

If we are at the global economic card table and playing with limited number of cards, are we betting on the right things that will payoff for the next 20+ years? Are we betting on ensuring that we have a foundation that can keep this region competitive so it can effectively pivot to our future state economy? Are we playing the hands that win us long term social and political capital instead of chasing the short term quick wins? One thing is certain, when you gamble, you eventually go bust. So what we need to ask ourselves is, as a mid-size city do we have the capital (social, economic, political) in the bank the cover the next bust when it comes?