Having seen Glen Murray, the former mayor of Winnipeg, speak at the Amazing Possibilities conference in Guelph last May, I was expecting a speech that would generate thunderous applause. I wasn’t disappointed.
Glen Murray is now an urban strategist and he is known for his vision to build culturally dynamic urban centres. The manufacturing economy is in decline and the knowledge economy has taken its place, but only in those places that have invested properly. The key to understanding how to build successful cities and city cores is to recognize the connections between economic development, culture, and land use (which includes zoning, maintaining heritage and authenticity, and planning for environmental and energy contigencies).
As mayor of Winnipeg, Glen Murray was responsible for revitalizing the downtown, and that included building the Winnipeg Millennium Library. Originally there was only enough money to replace the roof on the existing main library, but the economic vision he promoted quickly leveraged that initial downpayment into a much larger investment. What happened next was quite amazing. The focus on cultural investments led to the spread of a new knowledge-based downtown economy that now generates significant tax revenue for the city.
After his speech, during the question/answer session, he asked people from Guelph to raise their hands. He cited the civic involvement of groups like the Guelph Civic League as an example of doing everything right in meeting the goals of shaping a culturally and economically vibrant community. Get involved with municipal politics, he said. Run for office, help candidates, or supports groups that encourage civic responsibility. Considering the thunderous applause that Glen Murray received just moments earlier, it was a remarkable experience to see such a spotlight put on Guelph in front of the largest annual gathering of librarians in Ontario.