Friday, 16 September 2011

A Future With No Direction - The Regional Economy of Metro Vancouver

In a recent post I talked about how in the absence of a dominant industry, Vancouver has become obsessed with real estate.  This theme has been excellently, but worryingly, developed by Frances Bula in the current edition of Vancouver Magazine (see here).  In her article, Bula struggles to define the Vancouver economy in contrast to other Canadian cities.  If Toronto is finance, Calgary is oil and Ottawa is politics - what is Vancouver?  She settles on three possibilities - freight movement, tourism and technological entrepreneurs.  But in my mind all three have inherent problems in taking the bigger step to dominating the Metro Vancouver economy.
  • Freight - with rail freight close to capacity do we want more trucks on our roads?
  • Tourism - an unstable industry that can be impacted by external factors.  Hasn't the city already become a resort-type environment in parts of Downtown?
  • Technological entrepreneurs - does the city have the necessary business support structure (and suitable workspace) to upscale small enterprises?  

Clearly there is uncertainty.  The most worrying fact is the lack of an official economic development strategy for the region.  Metro Vancouver cover land-use.  TransLink cover the transportation system.  But who covers economic development?  During my time in London it was clear that the regional economic development strategy would be produced by the Greater London Authority.  In addition, the strategy had to be in conformity with the land use plan (London Plan) and the Mayor's Transport Plan.  This allows a joined-up approach which can clearly articulate the economic development strategy and what this means for future land use and transport decisions.  One may disagree with an economic development strategy dominated by the growth of financial and business services, but at least it as clear as day. 

Unfortunately in Metro Vancouver there is no governance structure to either develop or articulate a coherent economic strategy.  And it is unlikely the Province would ever grant these powers to the region because of the threat of Metro Vancouver becoming more powerful than the Province.  But until this issue is resolved economic planning will remain the role of municipalities and the city will struggle to develop a consistent and competitive economic character. 

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