Monday, 21 October 2013


If you were looking for a place to live, you most likely would want a place where you are most likely to succeed. But where are these places? 

How do you map personal and community "likelihood of success"? Where are the opportunities? Would an "opportunities map" like that in Austin, Texas, affect your decision where to locate in that community?

Greendoors' Opportunity Mapping  defines opportunity as "a situation or condition that places individuals in a position to be more likely to succeed or excel". They are looking for opportunity-rich communities. 

Their report "The Geography of Opportunity in Austin and How it is Changing" maps Opportunity Index and Change Index. They display overlays of affordable housing and race in static and interactive maps. The Geography of opportunity in Austin TX, USA, is a joint project between Green Doors and the Ohio State U Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. It includes educational quality, economic mobility, access to transportation and affordable housing.

Queensland University of Technology urban designers, Guaralda Mirko and Magdalena Kowalik, write about opportunities presented through "negative space" -- the space in between existing development -- in their report "Negative space and positive environment : mapping opportunities for urban resilience".  They discuss negative space to build sustainable units, to support/enhance 24/7 social interaction, and to adapt to cultural/social changes. Mapping negative space lets them see and understand where opportunities lie.

Researcher Eoin O’Mahony
writes me that his project to map dereliction in Dublin "seeks to find the places where a new politics of the city, one which relies on all of the people resident in Dublin, can emerge". I call the mapping of vacant sites, boarded up houses, closed commercial, closed institutional and publicly-owned and abandoned sites opportunity mapping for creatives. 

Let's get rural where larger tracts of land are available. In Bridgetown North, Nova Scotia, for example, a request for Proposal to develop thirty-four acres of vacant, municipally-owned land represents rural opportunities for creatives. "Proposals [are sought] for the purchase or lease of land for direct business development, private use, commercial or industrial development, agriculture use, or other such develops than enhance or create recreational, tourism, or cultural opportunities".

Are we really mapping opportunities -- opportunities such as:

  • derelict buildings/vacant space
  • meeting places
  • film shoot locations and locations of past films
  • fixed assets alongside dynamic events
  • the geography of resident and non-resident company HQs
    • absentee-HQ'd companies vs resident companies
    • branch plants vs home-grown businesses
  • inventions
  • startups and business deaths (turbulence/edge-of-chaos businesses)
  • "rate-of-growth" businesses
  • community leaders ('doers and producers')
  • profit-margin mapping (low profits = adverse to innovate)
  • entrepreneurs
  • strong and weak infrastructure and virtual connections 
We need to map "outside the box" and look at our communities differently.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013


In the spirit of "rural redefined" I have created a website called "RuralTweets" with tweets grouped by category covering the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia. This is an experimental testbed that will hopefully evolve organically.


The OneNS Commission that is looking into new directions to steer Nova Scotia's economy of the future, as Nova Scotians see it, begins to hold community sessions to present key findings from their research and "discuss their implications for households, businesses, and communities". Their interim report of key findings does not present recommendations at this time. These will accompany the final report, due in early 2014.

Twelve sessions are planned between 15Oct2013 to 12Nov2013 with the final one being a virtual town hall meeting at the NSCC Waterfront Campus in Dartmouth, hosted by Costas Halavrezos.

Monday, 14 October 2013

TAPPING INTO OUR GOLDMINE: find a vision, leaders and a great story

A local farmer once told me that we have, here, an "I'll-cut-your-hair-you-mow-my-lawn" mentality. To grow and prosper we need to escape that mindset and look beyond our borders. Further, I think we’re sitting on a goldmine – our own people. We just have to learn how to tap into it.


In the three decades since deciding to make rural Nova Scotia my home I have seen rural decay. Let's sample my checklist.

Our resource sector (fishing, farming and forestry) has been in steady decline. When your economy relies on agriculture and a small number of industries you leave yourself vulnerable.

There exists fierce global competition in manufacturing. The time for chasing smokestack and big industries are over -- think Glace Bay, Port Hawkesbury, Shelburne County, and Yarmouth.

People are leaving in droves, with rampant out-migration of younger people to urban areas and other provinces. Economist Richard Florida tells us that cities have strength, efficiency and opportunity in numbers.

We seem to have a tough time retaining post-secondary level talent. Is it any wonder when real jobs lie elsewhere?


Destination tourism consultant, RogerA. Brooks, states that too many communities use the "shotgun approach" -- do a bit here, do something over there, fix this, patch that.

I have good news and I have bad news.

The good news is that each community CAN draw up a vision, something that sets it apart and attracts "outside dollars". The bad news is that visions can be as varied and unique as the people who live in the community. You cannot be all things to all people. Pick one.


First, we need to get off our ass and do something. Events such as The Georgetown Conference is a step in the right direction.

Next, we need to do three things: seek the right leaders, movers and shakers; build a culture of creativity and innovation; and, grow from within.


Strong leaders (catalysts), whether they be individuals or small groups, can read the sentiment of their community, can craft an exciting vision, seek collaboration and help, and have a knack of getting things done. Alongside these catalysts we need "accelerators"; those individuals or groups that share the catalysts' vision and are in a position of authority or well-being to scale up and propel the catalysts' efforts.


In his research, economist Richard Florida found that, these days, creativity and innovation drives development and having a central, physical location for creative, innovative people to gather is key. He tells us we need to foster talent, diversity/tolerance, and technology.

Further, as Canadian media celebrity Shaun Majumder stated at the Georgetown Conference when referring to communities as small as his Burlington, Newfoundland, hometown, don't underestimate the power of the story to tell the world about your culture and projects.


In an article on the global giant, Google, The Economist once reported that " ...most of Google's novel ideas come from people embedded in the company's core operations ..." and that to remain competitive it had to hang on to its talent pool. Maybe rural communities can learn from this.

I came across an interesting concept a while ago called "economic gardening”, pioneered in Littleton, Colorado, in 1989 (and promoted in Canada here). Their approach resulted in a 71% increase in employment and a tripling of sales tax revenues with no corporate incentives or tax breaks. Their solution came from tapping into their own people and helping them explore and understand markets, competitors, customers and trends.

Through the pioneering efforts of Dan Taylor, rural Prince Edward County in Ontario tapped into its people, culture, and strengths, and looked to its customers. Within about ten years they grew at a rate faster than that of Ontario or the rest of Canada.

Let's put out a clarion call. Let’s find, nurture and reward those who create and innovate. They are often under-the-radar, but they do exist. They are the ones who can build our communities. They need our support.

NOW ... WHAT IF ...

You found a way to quadruple tourism or the number of small businesses in your area? You made a promotional YouTube video that went viral? You could develop a culinary outpost?

There are many possible solutions out there. We need to pick carefully, follow the true leaders in our communities, work together, and build on our inherent strengths.

Finally, my father once told me "I judge results, not promises". Let's make results and head out on our own roads to Georgetown.

Sunday, 6 October 2013


The past few days at the inaugural Georgetown Conference (Theme: Rural Redefined) have inspired me.

This was no ordinary gathering. "Doers and producers" in the four Atlantic Canadian Provinces -- Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador --  representing communities as small as about 100, assembled to share success stories. Patron sponsor, Newspapers Atlantic, deliberately hand-picked delegates after an application process. They wanted people who were making a difference in their rural community. They also wanted a right mix of gender, geography, experience and background. They got it right. They also deliberately went out of their way to ensure this was not a government-sponsored or a government directed event. The effort was to showcase and bring together the activist grassroots community. I could have counted the number of elected officials on two fingers or so.

Much of the Georgetown Conference was recorded, archived and will made available online. My views, below, just touch the highlights as I saw the conference.

My first inspiration came from the conference's very first presenter, Zita Cobb out of Fogo Island, NL, and founder of Shorefast Foundation. She has turned people's perception of rural, outport communities on its head. Yes, the people in the community can leave to explore the world, come back, and make a difference. Her signature legacy, in my view, is her Fogo Island Inn designed by Norwegian architect Todd Saunders.

Following Zita was a fellow Newfoundlander, the effervescent Donna Butt, artistic Director of the Rising Tide Theatre in Trinity, NL.  Her presentation resonated with me because I had experienced an outdoor play in Trinity a few years ago with an overnight stay at the Fishers Loft that was so memorable the details remain crystal clear. The whole community it seems has become part of a remarkable tourist attraction on the arts.

Well, the keynote speaker for "Challenges to Rural Community" had to be another highlight. Doug Griffiths, MLA from Wainwright, Alberta, gave an entertaining, educational and powerful presentation.  He co-authored the book "13 Ways to Kill Your Community". But it wasn't doom and gloom. It was a clarion call to get our act together and look out for those things we need to fix or avoid to improve our quality of rural place. His credibility rated high as he personally visited hundreds of communities to seek out what ails them, in order to understand rural issues -- problems and successes.

John Bragg, from the Bragg Group, Collingwood NS, and Barry Kyle, from Industrial Rubber Co., Bathurst NB and Labrador City NL gave their success story (with struggles along the way). They spoke about the importance and value of people to create vibrant communities and businesses. They spoke about reaching out beyond our borders, to the world's markets, to become competitive and be at the leading edge in their field.

Definitely, hands-down favourite presenter with the crowd was the no-nonsense, "kick in the pants" inspirational mayor from Yarmouth NS,  Mayor Pam Mood.

Sometimes it requires a strong character to deal with a community crisis (see blog post on Chemainus, British Columbia). Heavens knows the Town of Yarmouth has had its share. But this did not deter Mayor Mood from turning things on its ear. Her "All Hands on Deck" program inspired the town to collaborate and make a fundamental shift in attitude -- a first step to create a viable and vibrant community. I highly recommend her as a keynote speaker to other towns facing an attitude and cannot-do mindset. She did. You can.


Media celebrity Shaun Majumder, actor and founder of "The Gathering" and the "Burlington Business Initiative", Burlington NL moderated the most important (in my view) final session of the conference with our next generation entrepreneurs:
Nick MacGregor, MacLellan's Brook NS
Brendan ("B-man") Curran, Alberry Plains PEI
Maxime ("Baby Steps") Gauvin, NB
Melissa Jackson, St John's NL and New Glasgow NS

Each entrepreneur gave their story and their views on what needed to be done to deal with youth out migration. The session ended with a discussion on Majumder-inspired projects and community-involved revitalization of home town, Burlington NL -- such as Majumder Manor.

I would apply to attend another Georgetown Conference. But I realise that to be accepted this would require that I continue to work hard to be a "doer" or "producer". Georgetown is no place for slackers, dreamers or spectators. I guess that's what I liked about this Georgetown Conference. Unlike other conferences I have attended, where delegates return home and the event quickly becomes history, these delegates will take home the ideas they freely shared in Georgetown and re-jig their work back home to become even more effective in building vibrant rural communities.

A representative from British Columbia, stood up at the end went to the stage and told everyone, "we need a Georgetown Conference in the Kootenays. Nova Scotians looked to Kentville, Yarmouth or Cape Breton for a Georgetown Conference. Someone yelled out "we need one in Africa". Majumder pointed to his compatriot from Trinity and said we need a Georgetown Conference in Trinity, Newfoundland and Labrador. The Georgetown Conference is not over yet -- not by a long shot.