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Economic geographers spend much of their time trying to build our understanding of what draws people and companies to particular places. The overall bundles of amenities that people look for when deciding where to live or where to go on vacation and that companies look for when choosing where to build a factory, open an office, or conduct some other aspect of their operations will, of course, differ to some extent. However, in all three cases much of this decision-making is focused on the notions of “quality-of-place”, “sense of place”, and “quality-of-life” that I introduced in my Week #1 Instructor Commentary. Government officials (such as economic development officers and tourism marketing staff) and politicians (such as Mayors and municipal councilors) spend a lot of time trying to “sell” their communities to potential residents, employers, and visitors. Much of this is done through branding and marketing activities that today include the creation of documents, brochures and visitor’s guides, websites, videos (e.g., on YouTube), and social media accounts on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Another way in which people’s sense of place about particular places might be influenced is through the many different “rankings” that different organizations and media outlets publish on a regular, often annual, basis. A quick Google search of “Canada place rankings”, for example, leads to dozens upon dozens of websites and lists of things like “Best Places to Live in Canada”, “Best Places to Raise Kids”, “Best Places to Find a Job”, “Best Places to Visit”, “Best Cities for Canadian Youth to Live, Work and Play”, and so on. Other lists are less positive, such as those ranking “Canada’s Most Dangerous Places” or “Most Expensive Cities to Live in Canada”. Some of these lists are a bit obscure, but a select few often become front-page news across Canada when they are released – especially if a place in question ranks highly or near the bottom of the list! One of the most 2 popular and well-publicized such lists is published by Maclean’s magazine, which was previously published each year in MoneySense magazine until 2018. In the most recent (2019) Maclean’s rankings, the top five communities in Canada were: 1) Burlington; 2) Grimsby; 3) Ottawa; 4) Oakville; and 5) New Tecumseth (located between Toronto and Barrie). Interestingly, those and fourteen other places that ranked in the top 25 were located in Ontario, while five were in British Columbia and one was in Alberta.
As you might imagine, communities respond quite differently depending on whether they rank highly or poorly on lists such as the Maclean’s one and in other rankings. Municipalities like Burlington and Oakville, both of which consistently seem to do very well in almost all ranking exercises, highlight their top or high ratings in much of their promotional material, especially when it comes to trying to attract business investment. (Notice that these are usually framed in the context of those municipalities having a high “quality-of-life” or “quality-of-place”. )
In other places a low ranking might stimulate the press to write editorials that ponder the problems that have led to such a poor showing and some of the means by which they might be improved, such as in Newmarket and Niagara. People in some places, particularly local politicians, may become defensive and argue about the methodology or indicators that were used to generate the rankings. And these methodologies can vary quite significantly; for example, Mississauga ranked 256th out of 415 places on the 2019 Maclean’s list of “Canada’s Best Communities”, even though it placed near the top of ReMax’s 2019 “Best Places to Live: Canada Liveability Report”.
As another example, St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik has routinely responded to the MoneySense and Maclean’s rankings, which have seen his city rise as high as 99th place and as low as 234th. Given his reaction and the steps he has sometimes taken to counteract any negative sense of place or poor perceptions that potential residents, visitors or employers might hold about St. Catharines, we can see that place rankings can be more than just a fun or meaningless exercise – they may have significant implications for communities that are trying to sell themselves for residential, tourism or economic development purposes. Consider that Mississauga’s ranking in 256th place stands out as especially troublesome given that the two municipalities to the west of it are Oakville (ranked 4th) and Burlington (ranked 1st) and they are all in many ways competing within one another for economic development. The same sort of local or regional variation has been seen in Niagara each year including 2018 and 2019.
Your assignment this week is to take a closer look at place rankings in order to compare and contrast the indicators they use to assess what makes a great or not so-great, and also to compare these rankings tools with the factors that matter the most to YOU in deciding what constitutes an ideal place to live.
Your first task is to compare and contrast several (at least five or six) different place rankings by identifying the variables they use to measure the quality of these places and the methods they use to calculate the scores. These can include the ones I’ve listed above, but you should also make the effort to look for others. There are LOTS of them out there! Questions to think and write about here include:
What variables, or characteristics of places, seem to matter the most among the different rankings?
Is there a balance of economic, environmental, social, and other concerns?
What seem to be the most common characteristics of the places that rank the highest? If there are places that seem to be near the top of all the lists you’ve looked at, why might be the case? In other words, what do they have that other places don’t?
Do you think the authors of each set of rankings has used reliable and trustworthy methods to calculate their rankings? Essentially, this section of your paper should give us a good summary and critique of your selected “Best Places” ranking.
Your second task is to consider the rankings as they relate to your own perceptions of what constitutes a good quality-of-place and quality-of-life, given your current stage on the life-cycle.
What are some factors that you think make a place great?
What are some things that you feel influence your quality-of-life?
Did any of the rankings that you analyzed resonate particularly well with you? That is, did you find any of them measured several of the things that matter the most to you? If so, which one(s) and how? If not, why? What was missing, and how might you measure the greatness of a place differently?
If the community you currently live in is on one or more lists, how does it rank? Do you agree with this? Are you satisfied with the quality of place and quality of life in that place? Are your needs generally well met in this community?
If you haven’t settled down permanently in a particular place yet, what will you look for when that time comes? For many of you, I’m sure it will be “where I can find a job”, but think beyond that. For example, what if you had competing job offers in different cities but the position and pay were similar? What factors might influence your decision-making?
This section should give the reader a good idea of what you think constitutes a great place to live, why these things matter to you, how well this is working out for you in your current living situation, and, if applicable, what this all might mean for where you choose to live in the future.
As always, there are no firm rules on how this is to be written (e.g., essay style, report style with sub-headings, etc.). But please include a title page, an introduction and conclusion, and a reference page (including the textbook, websites you visit, any reports you download, etc.). You are not required to cite the textbook this time around, but should nonetheless do so if you are able to make any direction connections to it. You MUST use the APA referencing style.
Once again, you are encouraged to include tables, figures, photos, and/or other illustrations as you see fit. From what I have seen in the completed assignments so far, students who have incorporated these into their work have often produced more engaging and interesting papers!
Your paper should be a minimum of two pages long, but you can go longer than this (not more than four pages). It must be double-spaced, use a 12-point Times New Roman font, and have a 1” margins. It MUST be in a PDF format.