The New Brunswick Day weekend is a great time to celebrate our province, our unique quality of life advantages as a smaller province with scenic rural areas, beautiful natural vistas and vibrant cities. It is also a time to reflect on the new opportunities the 21st century economy offers our province as well as the challenges faced in New Brunswick.
In previous articles, I have reflected on these themes -- on the advantages and opportunities presented to New Brunswick as a smaller jurisdiction in the age of telecommuting and the internet, of reflecting on the type of growth and development we want and of the importance of preserving our natural heritage.
The most recent census showed population growth and, notably, a population increase in and around our province's three largest cities -- Fredericton, Moncton, and Saint John. There is a growing suburbanization of New Brunswick with municipalities like Dieppe and Quispamsis being among the most rapidly growing. This brings a new debate about the type of growth we want, it brings concerns about generic and automobile dependent sprawl that can fundamentally alter the nature of our province's landscape and diminish the unique character of our cities and communities. This raises issues about preserving forests, wetlands and farmlands.
Our province offers the advantage of city and town centres in close proximity to forests and rural areas. Smaller cities and municipalities can offer a strong sense of community as well as shorter commute times and a less hectic pace of life than in centres like Toronto and Montreal - these can be attractions to potential migrants and immigrants seeking an alternative to the big-city lifestyle.
Our town and city centres -- and their relatively low housing costs compared to larger cities -- are also distinct advantages. A recent RBC-Pembina poll showed that while there was a strong preference among Torontonians for downtown living, many were barred by the prohibitively high housing costs in Toronto's city centre. In the poll, 81 per cent of respondents said they would choose a smaller house if amenities like shopping were accessible by walking and commutes shorter and that 79 per cent said affordability influenced their choice of living location.
In light of this, city centre neighbourhoods like Uptown Saint John are an asset in promoting our province to potential newcomers.
Internet and new communications technologies permit business enterprises to be located away from large city centres, employees of a company in New Brunswick -- for example -- can now instantly interact with counterparts in New York City, Toronto, Tokyo and elsewhere. This new reality has proven key to the success of companies like Radian6 -- a social media marketing company that is a New Brunswick success story.
Academic and author Richard Florida has written about the rise of what he terms the "creative class." This creative class is a key driving engine -- where creativity is a "most prized commodity" -- of the 21st century economy -- from social media to computer programming, to scientific research, to urban planning -- and includes "people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and new creative content."
Vermont shows how a smaller jurisdiction can be a hub of the creative class in the 21st century. The state has been an attraction for people from New York City and Boston seeking an alternative to the big city lifestyle.
A vibrant creative class has grown in Vermont, with entrepreneurship that has given rise to renowned business enterprises such as Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream and Green Mountain Coffee which pride themselves on social and environmental responsibility. Burton snowboards -- a company crucial in the development of the modern sport of snowboarding -- is another Vermont success story. There is also a healthy IT sector in the state with IBM offices located in Vermont and linked to the rest of the work through internet telecommunications.
Vermont's unemployment rates have consistently been below the United States average (as of May 2012, as per the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, Vermont's unemployment stood at 4.6 per cent in comparison to the 8.2 per cent U.S. rate) - a testament to the success of this creative economy in a smaller jurisdiction.
There is a strong environmental movement in Vermont, and a strong emphasis on preserving farmlands and natural vistas, to preserve the advantages that have made Vermont an attractive place for tourists and new residents. This is important for New Brunswick policy-makers to heed. We do not want to squander our province's natural advantages with reckless sprawl. We do not want to push forward recklessly on an unproven technology like fracking which could damage our air and water supply and fundamentally alter the character of our rural areas, thus destroying the very natural advantages that can make New Brunswick an attractive place for tourists, and for "creative class" migrants.
Creative energies and innovation are not only applicable to sectors such as information-technology, but can be employed to keep traditional sectors like agriculture and forestry vibrant in the 21st century. Tourism and eco-tourism can provide a boost to our rural areas and small towns, given the advantages of our scenic natural vistas and welcoming small communities.
As well, poverty-reduction and social inclusion must be priorities, so that human potential is fully realized, so that those in poverty are not left trapped.
New Brunswick, as a smaller province, with small cities, towns and villages and scenic natural vistas, offers many distinct advantages that well-places us in the 21st century economic framework. We need to build on these advantages, in promoting economic and population growth, in building a vibrant and creative 21st century New Brunswick economy.
Follow Hassan Arif on Twitter: www.twitter.com/HassanNB