Research Report 2008

Living large by creative capital

Artists. Musicians. CEOs? Most urban areas of Newfoundland and Labrador are teeming with actors, singers, painters and writers. We have a seemingly never-ending network of creative talent. Yet, no one ever talks about the economic movers and shakers that have also made places like St. John’s or Happy Valley-Goose Bay their home base. The common belief is that economic prosperity attracts people to a city. But for Dr. Robert Greenwood, there’s a flip side to that equation.

Cities and towns with a highly creative society also attract economic innovation.

Understanding how the social dynamics of a particular place affect economic growth and expansion is the first step in creating policies that will optimize socio-economic development. Dr. Greenwood sees a direct link between innovation and enterprise so he’s examining why creative and innovative thinkers are attracted to certain city-regions and how Newfoundland and Labrador cities stack up against other Canadian cities in what they offer.

Dr. Greenwood from Memorial University’s Leslie Harris Centre of Regional Policy and Development is leading the provincial leg of a national study on how cities use social success to succeed economically. Social Dynamics of Economic Performance: Innovation and Creativity in the St. John’s City-Region and in Smaller Urban Regions in Newfoundland and Labrador is part of a national project that is investigating the social dynamics that shape innovation and creativity in cities across Canada.

The project is based on the theory that cities are the key source of economic vitality and innovation by looking at three dimensions of social dynamics and their relationship to the economic drive of cities. They are the social nature of the innovation process, which examines knowledge circulation and linkages; the social foundations of talent attraction and retention, where highly educated and creative workers are attracted to and stay in areas that offer outstanding employment opportunities, a high quality of life, cultural activity, and social diversity; and the degree of community inclusiveness and civic engagement, documenting the impact that new forms of socially inclusive governance has had on the nature of development strategies and economies of these cities.

These three themes will be researched through interviews with workers, managers, entrepreneurs, and members of support organizations such as economic development agencies, financial and legal services, unions, and educational and research institutions.

In Newfoundland and Labrador the research, which is in year two, includes the St. John’s city region, and will be supplemented with research from several additional smaller urban areas, including Labrador West and Happy Valley – Goose Bay and two other locations on the island.

Dr. Greenwood and his team are hoping to produce breakthrough insights into the reasons that innovation and creativity are concentrated in certain locations, and to inform policy makers about the local, provincial and national initiatives that are most effective in shaping a city-region’s economic potential. As well, they’re hoping that once these processes are better understood, the research will provide information for economic development policy around initiatives that enhance the circulation of knowledge, that define effective new governance methods, and that shape urban areas.

“Government, businesses and employers will learn best practices and key requirements to attract and retain knowledge workers, and to maximize the use of research and development infrastructure, colleges and university” explains Dr. Greenwood. “The average Newfoundlander and Labradorian will benefit if lessons are adopted through higher productivity, sustainable jobs, more wealth generation, and more sustainable public finances, creating a virtuous circle of investment, greater competitiveness and wealth creation.”

The Memorial research team includes Ann-Marie Vaughan, Distance Education and Learning Technologies, Dr. Josh Lepawsky, Department of Geography, Dr. Reeta Tremblay, Department of Political Science, and Chrystal Phan, a Geography Graduate Student. The national research project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada as a Major Collaborative Research Initiative.

Copyright © 2008 Memorial University of Newfoundland