cities | March 18, 2013

Shawn Micallef: In Cities, Innovation is Coming From The Suburbs

While cities speaker Shawn Micallef agrees that the "shiny, centers of the city" should be celebrated and are important, the suburban spaces also hold a great deal of untapped potential. "That's where the future of the Canadian economy is, sitting in a suburban basement," he explains in an exclusive interview here at Lavin's Toronto office. One of our newest speakers, Micallef has made a career analyzing the way cities operate and drive the economy—and where the most innovative spaces are within them. As he tells us in the interview, there are benefits to both suburban and downtown life. Cheap rent and space in the suburbs create low barriers of entry for start-ups and mom-and-pop store. What the city has to offer, on the other hand, is a diverse social layer where people can interact and feed off the creativity of those around them—something not as easy to find in the suburbs.

For a long time, the economy used to be driven by manufacturing centers and the large scale companies that operated in them. Most of those existed in cities. Now, however, he says that small businesses with less employees based out of the suburbs are driving the economy forward. One of the reasons for this is that these smaller stores and organizations are unique, whereas many of the organizations downtown are becoming extremely alike. "The problem isn't really central rot anymore, it's central ossification or golden ossification," Micallef explains in the interview. "The downtowns are becoming so desirable that they become so overly gentrified [and] they all sort of become the same. That's the new problem with downtown: How do you keep your downtown interesting so it has variety, but the second part is how do you keep if affordable?"

These are the questions he tackles in his Toronto Star column and in Spacing Magazine (which he co-owns). He has also spoken at The Walrus Talks and at TEDx on the suburban-urban divide, and has lectured internationally on what makes cities tick. His books, Stroll and Full Frontal TO are accessible looks at both the city of Toronto, and at the issues facing cities all around the world.

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social change | March 17, 2013