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Tristan Cleveland: Why moving NSCC into Sydney is good planning that is needed in Halifax

Bringing large attractions like a college into an urban centre can only boost the economy and help density.

The NSCC Marconi campus.

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The NSCC Marconi campus.

On Friday, Stephen McNeil initiated the first steps for moving the NSCC in Sydney from an isolated forest to the centre of town. It is a brilliant decision, and one government should repeat for institutions in Halifax and across the province.

The move will bring about 2,000 more people into Sydney. Many of them will be staff paid by the province or students on government loans. All those millions already being spent yearly on education will now contribute directly to Sydney’s economic success as well. That is smart planning.

The decision is the opposite, in a sense, of putting a hospital in Bayers Lake instead of Clayton park. Since putting an institution anywhere will produce at least some economic benefits, governments are too often lured to cheap land.

It is critical to understand why putting the NSCC in the heart of Sydney will achieve many times more economic goals, so we will make good decisions like this one more often in the future.

For the 2,000 new people in Sydney’s core, it will now take less time and money to get from one store to another, because so many are right there next to one another. A sidewalk provides free, 24 hour rapid transit when destinations are close enough, reducing the demand on roads, transit, parking, gas, and car maintenance for everyone involved.

A bigger local customer base means businesses do not have to compete on price and parking with every other business in the region. 2,000 more people nearby strengthens local business, who are better able to compete with international chains on convenience, atmosphere, and good service.

Of a dollar spent on a local business, about 45 cents is spent again in the local economy, compared to 17 cents for international chains. Businesses with a local customer base can also save on advertising, since a window display can partially accomplish that goal.

Studies show, furthermore, that nothing attracts people to a street as much as people. The word “vibrancy,” after all, basically just means “people.” In terms of attracting tourists, you’d better believe a vibrant main street does better than Walmart.

So here are some virtuous cycles. The bigger the local customer base, the more local businesses can open, giving more people reason to spend time on the street, which itself makes the place more attractive, giving more people reason to spend time there. Meanwhile, more money recirculates locally, and everyone spends less time and money on transportation or advertising.

As added bonuses, when more people walk, there is less pollution, people are healthier, and streets are safer. This isn’t magic; these are all just the benefits of proximity.

The government can spend money on trying to prop up local business, convince tourists to come, get people active, and provide transportation, or it can locate existing government jobs on main streets and make far greater progress on these goals at a fraction of the cost.

About 22 per cent of jobs in our province are public sector employees, and paying them accounts for about two thirds of government costs. Combined, the single biggest impact the government has on the economy may well be its employees.

The purpose of a college may be to educate people, but the purpose of its location must be to maximize the economic success of communities. On Friday, the Liberal government showed they understand this principle. They deserve praise. The economic success of every community in the province depends on more good decisions like this.

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