City Dollars and Sense
, City Living
December 29, 2009 |
A big part of my job is to be the official worrier for all things Kent. I worry about crime, fires, potholes in the streets, water line breaks, snow fall, flooding, jobs – you name it and I probably worry about it. But I figure that the right amount of worry is a good thing — it keeps you motivated to prepare, anticipate and be progressive in your thinking.
I have to say that I’ve been worrying about the budget challenges for some time but maybe not for the reasons you might suspect. Sure I worry about how we keep providing the services residents expect from their City but I also worry about how we keep the long view in mind because the only thing worse than coming up short in the short term is coming up short in the short and long term.
We know that we have to change the way we do business to stay afloat in the short term but I worry about whether we are making the right changes. My goal is to make changes that not only help us survive the short term but position us to come out stronger for the long term. Those are tough objectives to fulfill which is why I worry so much.
I saw a news article last week that gave me more reasons to worry. The article gave me heartburn because as we are wrapping up our proposed 2010 City Budget we’ve been talking a lot about whether we can afford to sustain some of the program areas that have more to do with City amenities than core services. When I say amenities I am referring to a lot of the beautification types of programs, i.e., flower beds, downtown hanging plants, landscape maintenance, etc.
We think amenity programs are important parts of who we are as a community but at this point every program area that gets City funding has come under the knife, it’s just a matter of how deep do you cut, and amenities have been no exception. We know that we could make some amenity cuts in the short term but the harder question to answer is what effect those amenity cuts will have in the long term.
Usually we find ways to rationalize short term losses on the belief that it hurts to lose them but when things turn around we can restore them. Traditionally amenity cuts have fallen into the category of short-lived impacts that are temporarily evident but in small doses can be tolerated and brought back up to speed once things turn around. But the article that I read seemed to suggest that amenities may actually have as much long term impact as our core services.
In an age where more and more people can choose to work wherever they want thanks to the internet, more and more location decisions are being made based on how good a place looks. Beautification of a city may actually be a much higher priority than ever before, and if that’s the case, that just made our budget decisions that much harder. Great, something else to worry about.
Here’s the article:
From the December 7th edition of Spacing Montreal
Posted by Alanah Haffez
Urban economics guru Richard Florida recently set out to discover just how important physical aesthetics are when people choose a place to live, Florida insists, as well as social networking and services. But how much of our satisfaction with our neighbourhood can simply be attributed to living in a place we consider beautiful?
Apparently a lot. Florida’s team concluded that a beautiful setting is one of the most important predictors of people’s satisfaction with their community. The only stronger link identified in the study was current economic conditions. Good schools and the ability to meet people and make friends were also important indicators of community satisfaction, but not as positively correlated as residents’ perception that they lived in a beautiful place.
But isn’t beauty fleeting, changeable, and above all in the eye of the beholder?When I studied environmental science we learned that, once upon a time, mountains were considered ugly. People traveling through Europe centuries ago would draw the curtains of their carriages when they approached mountainous terrain. The mountains were uncivilised and harboured unseen threats, from bandits to wild animals. Only later were untamed landscapes romanticized (for instance in Emerson and Thoreau’s writing).
Today if you seach for beautiful Canada half the images Google turns up are of rocky, snow-capped peaks. And one photo is of Montreal’s illuminated skyline at dusk.
Through cluster analysis, Florida’s study found that people who described their community as a beautiful place also rated their neighbourhoods positively in terms of outdoor activities (like parks, playgrounds and trails) which suggests that the participants perceived naturey places as more beautiful.
But is there an innate attraction to living near nature? (Note that access to outdoor activities ranked 6th and physical beauty ranked 2nd terms of importance). Can we build places that satisfy our desire for beauty? Or perhaps a better question would be: can we define a kind of beauty that fits our desire for urban living?
My neighbourhood (NDG around Sherbrooke street) wouldn’t exactly win any beauty contests but I love the unique, shoulder-to-shoulder triplexes, the old trees, the laundry-crossed alleyways and the eclectic, colourful store-fronts. If someone called me up to survey me about NDG’s “beauty and physical setting” I would likely give it a thumbs up.
Which makes we wonder: are Florida’s respondents rating their communities against some “objective” or culturally-created standard of beauty? Or is the correlation so high because people simply have a knack for finding beauty in the places that they love?
As more people world-wide make our homes in cities, I believe that there is a growing sense of urban aesthetics in popular culture (I recently noticed huge black-and-white prints of iron fire escapes for sale at Ikea).
Now that the majority of urbanites no longer work gruelling factory jobs nor live directly beneath smoke-stacks, even industrial landscapes have acquired a certain majesty. Red-brick factories, with their high arched windows, and greystone triplexes that were once merely functional have become coveted real estate.
Of course it isn’t just a matter of learning to appreciate what we’ve got. We can surely add beauty to the city by insisting on quality architecture, creating green spaces, preserving views (for instance of the river and mountain), planting flower
Florida’s study may not offer much advice for urban planers, but it does confirm that people’s relationship with their community is based on attraction as well as utility.