There is no doubt investing in and creating public spaces can make an area more attractive to both developers and residents, and according to Mayor Dilkens, the former is the primary reason for the proposed development of a Riverside Drive underpass – sort of.
After a $4 million land swap, taxpayer incentives, and continuous promises from Shmuel Farhi since 2006 of “big plans” for the site (usually reiterated in the lead-up to a municipal election), the properties remain vacant after 10 years that only another $15-million in incentives will rectify – maybe.
According to the Project For Public Spaces, while place-making can be “a vital part of economic development” in “formerly-maligned urban core neighborhood(s) [sic]”, there is also another key component to any successful economic development initiative: transportation.
Recently, a young single father I know received a promotion and an increase in pay at a local manufacturing company to $25K a year (the Ontario average for a single parent family is $42K).
Now as anyone not dumber than a sackful of anvils knows, $25K doesn’t do much, especially when supporting a family; however, after years of chronic under and unemployment this was welcomed news and provides some additional stability.
Yet, there remains one obstacle to this promotion; he can no longer leave work early to catch the last Crosstown bus home.
His employer, up until now, has allowed him to leave early to catch the last bus home, but not in his new position which ends at 2:00 am.
The California Department of Transportation’s Transportation Economics Committee says that, “increases in public transport service increases a community’s access to other areas. This increases businesses’ labor [sic] pool, reduces their costs to obtain input materials and services, and expands their potential market”.
Furthermore, improving accessibility can increase access to “education and employment opportunities” and of course, with this increase in income, people can access recreational and cultural opportunities “increasing their welfare”.
Yet, Mayor Dilkens seems to believe offering more incentives to a developer is more important than ensuring low-income families can access employment opportunities. However, at least this time our political leadership is saying what the ‘boo-birds’ have been saying all along regarding the true intent of these types of “developments”.
Rather than having a rational and evidenced-based discussion, critics are again labeled as “boo-birds” with an “inferiority complex”. This ironically by those comparing Windsor with tourist destinations, or cities with millions of inhabitants; essentially saying we’re inferior to such locales.
These legacy projects have a long history in Windsor, often promoted by the entitled crowd. But, one thing they all have had in common, from the Chrysler building to the new arena to the aquatic center, is that they drain vital financial resources, approximately $3 million a year, which could support public transit and other basic amenities the working poor depend upon.
Yet there are rays of hope.
Recently, University of Windsor full-time students voted in favour of a mandatory bus pass, injecting more than $1.5 million dollars into public transit, allowing Transit Windsor to extend hours and expand service.
Extending service until 2:30 am would take far less funds and people like my friend could provide his 4 year-old son with a greater sense of stability and a better life.
While offering millions of dollars in more incentives “may” attract development, a million dollars a year in additional funding to public transit will provide immeasurable benefits to low-income families in the form of access to employment and services.
Additionally, public transit also offers would-be employers access to a broader range of skilled employees while allowing employees and residents to easily access and support local small businesses.
Isn’t that the goal of economic development?
Perhaps our elected officials should be reminded that economic development also includes developing what is known as the “social capital” of a municipality.
It makes no sense to attract jobs if people can’t access them.
The Riverside Drive underpass has waited decades, and it can wait awhile more.
Give the working poor an opportunity to access jobs and supporting existing infrastructure will do much more to put Windsor on the map, and food on the table for Windsor’s low-income families.