Tax incentives vs fixing urban spaces first

What would be more effective in attracting a new cluster? Tax incentives? or improved urban infrastructure to attract and retain more people?  Or both?  What’s working (or not) in your city?

The province of Ontario (Canada) has announced tax incentives in order to build a digital animation cluster to rival those in Vancouver and Montreal.  This sector includes video game programming as well as movie special effects / post production work.

Presumably, they expect the focal point of this cluster will be in Toronto.  As nice as St. Catherines and London ON are (where a couple bigger animation firms are currently located), young computer graphics whiz kids will probably prefer to live in more urban, higher density and amenity-rich Toronto.

In fact, according to my friends at the Martin Prosperity Institute, people with creative occupations in SW Ontario disproportionately live in Toronto along the metro line corridors–yet I’ve heard most of them don’t take transit.  MPI’s map:

And I wouldn’t blame them for not taking the metro. To me it feels “scary old.”  It’s dark, dirty and rickety and I wouldn’t want to take it every day (and I’m a metro lover: I’d happily take Vancouver’s 25 year old sky train every day; I’ve lived in Mexico City and done that Metro every day too).  As a result of under investment in this system, I suspect many more people in Toronto drive than would do so if a clean, modern metro existed.

This further contributes to the crippling congestion in the Toronto area. The drain on the economy and quality of life must be enormous.  If I were a company considering taking the government up on their tax incentive offer, I would worry about retaining workers.  Toronto is a cool place, attracting talent to give it a try shouldn’t be a problem (plus a company can recruit from students at the local universities and technical colleges).  But will these people stay if their commute option is gridlock, old ricky metro, or a long go-train commute from a suburb (or a combination of drive in gridlock and go-train).

If the Ontario government has money to spare, and can subsidize industries, perhaps they can kick in a little more to partner with the city of Toronto and fix the transportation infrastructure.   This would also benefit their goal of being a more prominent global financial centre.

5 comments

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  2. Darth Yoda says:

    Perhaps when those of us with transportation options get over our sense of entitlement more money can be reinvested in “old rickety systems.” Why should a transit agency reinvest in a system that no one currently wants to ride? Get over yourselves well-to-do Torontonians. You all are lucky enough to live near a transit station yet turn your noses up at older train cars. “I want to ride a new one! Mommy, I want a new toy!” The map above shows that poorer working classes must travel much farther with presumably less transportation budget and options than the creative classes. It’s time to get some perspective, creative class. “Let them eat cake, too.” Wake-up already people! Money doesn’t grow on trees.

  3. Richard says:

    Would it be possible to change the font (size) that this blog is displayed in? It’s huge, and requires a lot of scrolling to read just a couple paragraphs.

    I like what you have to say, but it’s uncomfortable to read it.

    Richard.

  4. Wendy Waters says:

    Hey Darth Yoda. Thanks for the comment. I don’t live in Toronto, FWIW.

    Transit gets used by all income levels when it’s clean, comfortable and easy. When it’s none of these things, then only the poor end up having to use it. Why shouldn’t the poor be entitled to nicer transit?

    And Richard. Thanks for the tip about the display font in IExplorer. I use Firefox (where the display hasn’t changed), but I do see what you mean when I loaded up IE.

    I couldn’t figure it out, so have asked a consultant for help. Hopefully it will be solved within a couple of days.

  5. Global Urbanist says:

    Wow, mixing up a bunch of concepts in this posting. Just to clarify Toronto’s setup. Canadian companies (banks, law firms, accounting firms, marketing firms) mostly headquarter with in the city. Foreign branch offices like Walmart, IBM, ING Direct, and Suburu are in suburbs, near the IBM tech cluster in Markham or airport in Mississauga. The Canadian bankers, lawyers, accountants, and marketers have a good deal of their customers in these suburban branch offices. So a few days a month they have to travel to the suburban offices to meet with clients. This means people in the purple areas need a car to commute for part of their job. Some still break it up and take the metro, while others just take the car downtown as well (cause you never know if you’ll have to go to a client’s site that day).

    Not sure where the idea of subway ridership is being deterred comes from. Sounds more like urban legend. The facts are that TTC ridership has increased year over year since the 1990′s reaching a record ridership last year. The TTC is not pretty, more utilitarian, but it is pragmatic. At a capacity of 1,500 passengers a train every two to three minutes, only the NYC system comes close to matching it.

    Increasing transit capacity is essential to city growth and is the most influential on intensifying land use. But seeing that the purpose of a city is to manage land use, I would not want provincial or federal government money that would influence transit development to their areas of interest rather than the city’s. Example is the current subway expansion into the City of Vaughn instead of intensification along the Eglinton cooridor.

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