Finding strategic direction

Economic development in the post-industrial city


Hamilton’s future place marketing efforts could be more effectively focused on reconstruction of the city’s post-industrial image than simply on inter-regional competitiveness. Competitiveness and economic development are usually the focus of place marketing resources. Although a primary goal of economic development is to create new employment opportunities and expand the tax base, the process cannot occur in isolation. It exists within the context of the local community and its composition, under the influence of a worldwide economy that is beyond its control.

To be effective, local economic development (LED) must involve the community (individual citizens and local organizations), businesses (large & small, local & international), and politicians (municipal, provincial, federal) to facilitate positive change. The goal, or goals of local economic development must therefore be flexible, and able to change with the changing times and circumstances we find ourselves in. One way to reach these goals is through asset-based community development, by engaging and focusing on the strength and heritage of the community rather than focusing on needs, deficiencies and problems [7].

The drive to increase the local tax base at the expense of long-range planning and strategic vision is a common theme among the literature related to economic development, and is easily observed in Hamilton as well. An uncooperative or disengaged community can also stifle efforts to improve the quality of life. Outside influences such as higher levels of government with ultimate control over municipal structure and power, and the impending problems of environmental change, peak oil, an aging population, and increasing worldwide demand for resources, are imposing new challenges for cities that require creative solutions. Citizens need a vision they can rally around and become engaged in.

Hamilton's strategic vision is "To be the best place in Canada to raise a child, promote innovation, engage citizens and provide diverse economic opportunities.", according to the City's economic development strategy (2012). Would this vision not apply to almost any city? Would better understanding of the community and Hamilton's unique strengths and challenges result in a more specific vision the city and its citizens can rally behind with a sense of pride?

There is a tendency to treat places as objects rather than environments [13]. The abstract notion of "the best place in Canada to raise a child [etc.]" is imposed independently of Hamilton's context—objectifying it rather than embracing the multi-faceted qualities of its environment.

The stories of the place have to be communicated, but "not by simply adding them next to the name or trying to imply them by isolating beautiful images of the place" ([67]. Clear communication is the main tool in overcoming these barriers. There are often conflicting messages competing for attention. It is easy to get people engaged when there is something to complain about. But often their anger is focused towards leadership. Turning the argument around, so the problems collectively become questions to be answered, is a much more congenial and cooperative approach that goes a long way to change anger into engagement [7]. An individual community will have different characteristics, needs, resources, and challenges compared to other communities within the region. For example, the 2011 Census shows significant demographic differences between suburban and downtown communities in Hamilton. These differences must be recognized and communicated to promote a better understanding̶—a role The Hamilton: Brutal Beauty - Hidden Heritage can fill.

The most effective regional development strategies take a place-based approach, which recognizes that regions and communities vary from one to another, have different growth potential and innovative capacity [121]. Local strengths need to be identified and enhanced, but this cannot be achieved through a "one size fits all" approach. Resilience must therefore be city-wide, acknowledging there are always some areas poised to be up-and-coming, as others naturally decline but will eventually renew again.

Related Articles:

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Hamilton's Community Profile

Concepts for Hamilton

The preceding is adapted from the academic research paper that accompanied the book, Hamilton: Brutal Beauty | Hidden Heritage - The making of a guidebook to the City of Hamilton as a practical exercise in context-sensitive place marketing and community economic development. (Dunlop, 2013)

© Copyright Ian Dunlop, University of Waterloo, 2013
Published by Strategic Interchange (Div. of Dun-Map Inc.)