From the archives circa 2010

Photo Courtesy Pat Jarrett Micropolitan Manifesto urbanescapee.com
Photo Courtesy Pat Jarrett Micropolitan Manifesto urbanescapee.com

The idea of creative economies and creative class is fairly new, barely 10 years old or so. The idea of a Creative Rural Economy is even newer, less than a decade old, this is bleeding edge stuff. The challenge with being on the bleeding edge is that you need “infrastructure” to catch up with you in order to be successful in fully implementing your economic development plans.

Infrastructure in a Creative Economy
Infrastructure can mean quite a few things in economic development, beyond the obvious it can include community and political mindset, support and buy in, marketplace (investor) readiness and it definitely includes the discipline of planning. Support and investor readiness are not major issues in Prince Edward County, however planning is. Zoning in particular is where the rubber hits the road in economic development and if your planning polices and zoning are not attuned to your economic development plans and the marketplace (investor) interests, while balanced with community needs, it creates tremendous challenges and in efficiencies.

In Ontario the two key drivers in planning are the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) and Official Plans. Both bureaucracy driven, have not surprisingly caught up with the emerging practice of Creative Rural Economy and the interests of entrepreneurs – while balancing community issues.

The Ontario provincial policy statement is being reviewed over the next 18 months, I have relationships with key folks in the province and I plan on sharing some of the challenges we are facing for rural economic growth with the current policy. I will be in good company as the newly forming Ontario Creative Economy Alliance (OCEA) which represents the better part of Southern Ontario economies and population will also be part of the process. There is something to be said for strength in numbers and together I think we can have a voice.

Planning is Paramount
In Prince Edward County we are fortunate to have a new planning commissioner who is very open to the idea of the Creative Rural Economy and the need to reflect what this means in our official plan. Our council is also supportive and open. Fortunately our official plan, which is almost 30 years old and out of date and out of touch with the new Creative Rural Economy is up for review and revisions. Timing as they say is everything

What we’ve found is that because we are on the bleeding edge of market trends, investment attraction is not an issue, we have plenty of investors waiting to invest. Our challenge is that many of their investments don’t fit into the confines set out by the provincial policy statement and our official plan.

One of the big issues is prime agriculture land, the PPS basically says this land is sacred and more or less only for growing crops and farming activity (have you seen the profitability charts

for growth crops lately? it’s not good), in fairness zoning does allow for some farm related added value, in our case road side stands, wineries (making and retail), etc.. It does not however allow for more flexible uses which could be wide and ranging and could include hospitality, events, overnight accommodation, film and television production, the list goes on really. Our official plan is roughly the same and needs to follow the PPS. This is less a criticism than it is an observation of the current reality.

Agricultural Lands and Creativity
I argue that a Creative Rural Economy, yes needs to protect agricultural lands, but needs to have some flexibility. We are selling undulating rural landscapes and quality of place, Many businesses want to locate on farm properties and leverage the back drop and scenery. Investors want to invest, create jobs, boost the economy and quality of life. The market wants to buy what our investors want to sell. Almost all want to fit into the landscape not disrupt it. There must be a way that we can allow more flexibility without creating a real or perceived threats to agriculture or the community. I argue that agriculture’s survival may be enhanced by more flexible alternative property uses that maintain 95% plus of the land into agriculture use but allows for complimentary uses and alternative sources of income in order to maintain and preserve agricultural land. We are not talking about paving over thousands of acres of land here, we are talking about a bit of flexibility.

The good new is, in terms of decision making our council seems in favour if this approach and our planning  department seems quite open. I along with OCEA need to help the province understand some of these emerging issues.

I am optimistic that as the discipline of Creative Rural Economies emerges we will see the supporting infrastructure (rules and regulations catch up), when that happens I believe rural economies will really get a chance to stake their economic claim.

Brief Background & Bio
As economic development officer, I pioneered the practice of Creative Rural Economy, Economic Development in Prince Edward County, Ontario for a decade starting in 2001. Now as the President and CEO of the Greater Peterborough Economic Development Commission and the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster my role has expanded to include both urban and rural creative economy work. I have a keen interest in the economics of urban-rural interdependence. I also speak regularly to groups, organizations and conferences in order to help them grow their economies, in Canada and abroad.

Want to Hear More?
I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise to help others on developing Creative Economies – Rural, Small Town & City. To book me for speaking engagements, facilitation, workshops and more click here or email here.

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