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Winners and losers in the mid-size city battle

Jonny5

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I read this article in the New York Times which is a comparison between Nashville TN, and Birmingham AL; two mid-size US cities in close proximity which for many decades had similar growth rates and economic successs. That is until about 10 to 15 years ago when Nashville took off and Birmingham was left in the dust.
Forty years ago, Nashville and Birmingham, Ala., were peers. Two hundred miles apart, the cities anchored metropolitan areas of just under one million people each and had a similar number of jobs paying similar wages.
Not anymore. The population of the Nashville area has roughly doubled, and young people have flocked there, drawn by high-paying jobs as much as its hip “Music City” reputation. Last month, the city won an important consolation prize in the competition for Amazon’s second headquarters: an operations center that will eventually employ 5,000 people at salaries averaging $150,000 a year.
Birmingham, by comparison, has steadily lost population, and while its suburbs have expanded, their growth has lagged the Nashville area’s. Once-narrow gaps in education and income have widened, and important employers like SouthTrust and Saks have moved their headquarters. Birmingham tried to lure Amazon, too, but all it is getting from the online retail giant is a warehouse and a distribution center where many jobs will pay about $15 an hour.
I have not been to either city myself, though I know people who have been to Nashville and tell me how it really has worked hard to establish what can be described as a modern urban centre that is comparable to Toronto, if on a somewhat smaller scale. I don't actually know anyone who has been to Birmingham (maybe that itself says something) but I would love a report on the accuracy of this article's evaluations of both cities.

What I was really wondering was if we had any similar comparisons in Ontario, or even all of Canada, adjusting of course for a "mid-size" Canadian city being about half the size. Would K-W and London be an effective comparison?
 

JGHali

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I like the K-W and London comparison. London has the old university and the old industry, but even while it's a major medical centre, I don't think it has any thriving industries really. But it may be even more useful to compare Kitchener and Waterloo directly. The latter has both universities and until the last ten years most of the advantages. I haven't been there for almost ten years, but there's a big difference "south of the tracks" down in Kitchener itself, complete with one of those failed mini Eaton Centres. I think stuff like opening the medical campus and regular GO service may have helped the K in K-W, though.
 

Johnny Au

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Professional sports went to Nashville instead of Birmingham.

The ability to attract and maintain professional sports franchises is one of many indicators of mid-sized city success.

Many small towns in the United States have universities with NCAA membership.

Having a successful college sports program and having sufficient population size do not guarantee professional sports franchises.
 

Northern Light

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I like the K-W and London comparison. London has the old university and the old industry, but even while it's a major medical centre, I don't think it has any thriving industries really. But it may be even more useful to compare Kitchener and Waterloo directly. The latter has both universities and until the last ten years most of the advantages. I haven't been there for almost ten years, but there's a big difference "south of the tracks" down in Kitchener itself, complete with one of those failed mini Eaton Centres. I think stuff like opening the medical campus and regular GO service may have helped the K in K-W, though.
I'm not sure this is apt.

London has a vital downtown with a fair bit of hirise residential going up.

Also in addition to health and education, it has a fairly significant financial services sector.

They are a bit more blue collar heavy relative to some peers, or at least were. But they are not a 'loser' in the mid-size city war per se, at least not yet.

Likewise K-W and Waterloo, downtown Kitchener has lots of redevelopment, intensification and buzz these days.

Its still not at an ideal density, but it is improving and has nice streetscapes, some good restaurants and the LRT, is of course, imminent.

All that and a new regional transportation hub is in the offing as well.

Most Ontario cities over 100,000 are not doing badly over all.

The combined effects of provincial equalization of health and education; along with local leadership in various communities has greatly reduced disparity.

Not to suggest there is none. That would be silly.

But most of these communities are on the upswing.

The least successful might be Sudbury (downtown) but overall the community is doing well; and Windsor, though again, its a steady economic performer overall with an under performing core.

But both of these communities have actually improved in the last several years, so its difficult to imagine them as overt losers because of recent developments.

Even Brantford, which had to be the epitome of struggling places is not only growing, but its downtown has seen a minor revival in recent years (with some distance yet to go).
 

Northern Light

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I read this article in the New York Times which is a comparison between Nashville TN, and Birmingham AL; two mid-size US cities in close proximity which for many decades had similar growth rates and economic successs. That is until about 10 to 15 years ago when Nashville took off and Birmingham was left in the dust.


I have not been to either city myself, though I know people who have been to Nashville and tell me how it really has worked hard to establish what can be described as a modern urban centre that is comparable to Toronto, if on a somewhat smaller scale. I don't actually know anyone who has been to Birmingham (maybe that itself says something) but I would love a report on the accuracy of this article's evaluations of both cities.

What I was really wondering was if we had any similar comparisons in Ontario, or even all of Canada, adjusting of course for a "mid-size" Canadian city being about half the size. Would K-W and London be an effective comparison?
Off hand I'm not sure there's a good comparison.

As what you would would be looking for is a clear divergence in trajectory.

But most mid-sized cities I can think of in Canada are growing, at least somewhat; are improving, at least somewhat, and the overall standard of living and employment rates don't diverge massively from median Canadian levels.

There are smaller towns/cities where there are more problems, places that clearly haven't had traction for three decades or more; but most are in the under 50,000 population class.

That's not to suggest all places are equal, but I can't think of a clear pair of places where the trajectory of one (in the midsize category) is vastly poorer than that of a nearby rival.
 

mjl08

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According to Wikipedia, Birmingham has an African-American population that is more than twice the size of Nashville’s. The legacy of racism and poverty likely contribute to a smaller STEM graduate pool and less private investment in Birmingham.
 

Hopkins123

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I don't know what any of this has to do with Canada, but as far as winners and losers go, let's compare Mississauga to Brampton.

Mississauga has developed nicely from just a bedroom community next-door to the largest city to one of the leading centres for trade, commerce and employment with several Fortune 500 companies having their Canadian headquarters located there, the largest airport and bustling downtown in the Square One area that's well connected via transit and highways. But contrast to the city just north of it and Brampton just seems like a sprawling wasteland with too many cookie-cutter townhouse complexes and no sense of urbanity much at all.
 

JGHali

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There's certainly lots of traffic around Square One, but I don't know that the term "bustling" applies to Mississauga's "downtown", let alone "urbanity".

Probably too many quotes there.
 

lead82

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Neither Brampton or Mississauga have any true urbanity feel to them. They are both sprawling suburbs that are maturing. Mississauga is ahead but it’s downtown is a joke. Sure there is density but no one walks and few take transit. Most of the streets are wide and have high speeds. There are some pockets of urbanity like Port Credit area but the rest is sprawl with pockets of density.
 

junctionist

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Mississauga's city centre is seeing more and more pedestrians. It's like we're just seeing the seeds start to germinate into a vibrant downtown. They're just tiny sprouts, but it's not a barren desert.
 
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