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Tristan Cleveland is an urban planner who has also worked in Montreal, Guyana and Venezuela. Cleveland grew up in the south shore of Nova Scotia and has been an advocate for sustainable planning in Halifax since 2012.

Tristan Cleveland: Invest in communities, not corporate welfare, to create jobs in Nova Scotia

'If we don’t have places people want to live in Nova Scotia, we have no economic future,' writes Metro's Halifax columnist.

Tristan Cleveland says money should be going into small communities to make their main streets as attractive as downtown Halifax.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Tristan Cleveland says money should be going into small communities to make their main streets as attractive as downtown Halifax.

Politicians love to talk about creating jobs, but what actually works? We should make Nova Scotian communities so amazing, anyone would love the chance to live and do business there.

Consider Lisbon, Portugal. In 2011, they were in full financial crisis and many of their young people moved away to find jobs. Just a few years later, it has become one of the top European cities for startups. Nearly two thirds of the youth who left moved back, bringing skills from around the world.

What worked? They made it crazy easy to start a business. Life is affordable. The arts scene is strong. And the city is a wonderful place to live. These are things we can make work in Nova Scotia.

It’s tempting for politicians to create jobs by, in effect, bribing companies with tax breaks, cheap money, and unfettered access to our land and water. But while that may look like progress, in most cases it doesn’t improve our economic future anymore than paying people to be your friend makes you popular.

A friend who works in forestry recently quipped, “The Nova Scotian government always thinks we’re just one mega-project away from success.”

Investing in communities, in contrast, creates a long-term improvement in what we offer to all business. Picture the most amazing place you have ever been to. Now, picture the most depressing. OK, how much would you pay to get to live in the best? How much would someone have to pay you to live in the worst?

The answers to those questions have a direct financial impact on companies. Quality of life is, in effect, a free benefits package they can offer employees. The better our quality of life, the better companies know they can attract the employees they need.

Here’s how we make progress.

First, the government should never put any new institution—school, hospital, whatever—anywhere but inside existing communities, where they can bring life to the street and support local business. Policy guidelines to accomplish that have been under work for years and need to be made a priority.

Second, a major portion of the hundreds of millions of dollars we’re planning to spend on highways should go instead to building the world’s best parks and main streets in towns across the province. A $10 million investment in a run-down main street in West Palm Beach Florida led to $350 million in new private investment because the fact is, people spend money in places where they like to be.

Third, we should make good main streets legal. It is insane that provincial road standards require that the centre of Hubbards and Musquodoboit Harbour be designed like small highways, when they should prioritize the people who live, work and shop there.

For rural Nova Scotia to prosper, we must recognize that increasing numbers of millennials and the elderly are looking for homes where friends, a cafe or a clinic are just a short walk away. We can build a province that supports local business and that great lifestyle. Otherwise, all those people must either move to Halifax or other provinces.

If we don’t have places people want to live in Nova Scotia, we have no economic future. Our political parties hardly mention main streets, yet they are the key to a stronger future.

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