Richard Florida, one of the world’s leading urbanists, is Founder of Creative Class Group, a researcher, and Professor and Director of Cities at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute. We asked him about the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Canadian economy and how cities and business can display resilience.
How can we minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our economy? What’s the importance of business resilience in doing so?
Communities with more resilient economies experience less shock. And economies that are both resilient and high-growth experience shorter recovery periods. This pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to take measure of our regional and city economies and to better understand the fundamental drivers. A key to our future resiliency is the continued growth and development of diverse, export-driven economies across Canada. Surprisingly, some clusters across Canada have an opportunity for expansion during this time — transportation, e-commerce, and health sciences — while others will need support. Economic development officials across Canada must assess the sectors that are most vulnerable in the short to medium run, evaluate the impacts this will have for their labour markets and communities, and plan accordingly to make their economies more resilient and robust.
What strategies must government officials adopt to ensure a positive shift in our economy?
We can’t simply just open our cities and economies. We have to take this opportunity to address how we can build more resilient and inclusive communities in the future. This pandemic has exposed the great divides in our communities. We need to work together to address the inequities that plague our communities and economic development efforts.
What actions need to be taken to ensure the well-being of small- to medium-sized businesses?
The small businesses that add character to our cities are at severe economic risk right now. Loan programs from governments, foundations, and the private sector as well as support from small business and technical organizations will be essential for ensuring these businesses survive. But economic development and small business organizations will also need to provide technical assistance to these vital small businesses so they can safely reopen and weather the storm of any future lockdowns. For example, restaurants and cafes will need advice on proper spacing for social distancing and on required compliance with health and safety provisions. We can’t just provide financial support; we also have to help our businesses navigate the challenges that social distancing and increased health protections bring as we start to reopen.
How can cities adapt and lead the recovery process?
Leading with inclusion. The economic fallout of this pandemic will hurt most for the least-advantaged neighbourhoods and their residents. Concentrated poverty, economic inequality, and racial and economic segregation are not only morally unjust — they also provide fertile ground for pandemics to take root and spread. Economic inclusion and more equitable development are critical factors for more competitive communities in the future.
What do you think the outcome of the pandemic will be and what will it mean for the future Canadian economy?
If Canada moves forward with a commitment to a more resilient and inclusive approach to development, it will strengthen its global position. Cities like Toronto and Vancouver are already critically important global, innovation cities. Let’s build upon their strengths and capabilities, positioning our cities as leaders developing inclusive, innovative ecosystems.