SimCity is a video game introduced to the market in 1989 that has allowed gamers to be urban planners for the past quarter century. You start with a blank piece of undeveloped land, plop down some houses, some commercial lots and a road to connect the two areas, then sit back and watch people move in and begin to travel on the roads. You keep plopping down developments as more people begin to move into your simulated community, carefully planning your roads so people can move easily between them, carefully planning your developments so that housing developments are not stuck in the backyard of big factories.
The Sims in your SimCity become restless as the community grows. They are paying taxes and they want something to show for it. They want shops. They want parks. They want recreational facilities. You are the mayor. You must keep them happy or your population drops and you have no money to pave roads or keep the water flowing through the pipes. The bigger the community becomes, the bigger the developments become, and the bigger the demands the Sims place on the mayor.
The game is not much different from real life urban planning other than the mayor can shut the game off and go play World of Warcraft if the demands get too high or the game becomes too complicated.
We have heard a good bit about economic development and recreational needs in the early stages of Election 2013, just as we did when the drums were beating in 2010. More than one candidate or public commenter now as they did then has uttered the oft-used statement that you cannot buy a pair of socks or pantyhose in this town when you need them. The statement is true. Since the Fields store closed some years ago you cannot buy these things here.
What is often overlooked by candidates and others is that economic development is not SimCity. The mayor and councillors cannot just decide to put a sock store or a shoe store or an ice cream parlour on Main Street. All they can do is vote to zone the land for those things and put some money into trying to attract developers to develop the zoned land so sock, shoe and ice cream stores can open up shop here.
The rest is in the hands of private investors with private money who will spend their dollars on the things that will provide a return on investment (ROI).
The reason there are multiple bars, liquor stores and pizza places in Morinville is because people will buy those commodities or use those services on a regular basis. The proximity of those businesses to the customer and the variety of those businesses for customers to select from will keep them spending their money here. The same is true of other restaurants and gas stations.
No clothing store can be profitable if its only customers are those who snagged their pantyhose on the way to lunch or suddenly learned all their dress socks are in the laundry basket. A given style of clothing is a product that is marketable to a specific clientele. The amount of inventory a clothing shop would need to carry to cater to the tastes of all customers would be beyond the space and budgets of most entrepreneurs. The close proximity to multiple choices in St. Albert or Edmonton makes a clothing store a poor choice for investment here at this time and a poor example for candidates to campaign on.
The path to economic development is properly paved when the ducks are lined up to make commercial development possible and pain free for investors and when residential amenities are sufficient that newcomers continue to lay down roots here. When sufficient and satisfied populations are in the same community with available and easily developed land, investors will follow. It may not be a sock store, but opportunity attracts opportunity and a clothing store will be a reality when the conditions are right for one to be profitable here. When there are more choices and more variety for those choices, people will have even more reason to shop local and more of our residents will be able to work here.
It’s worked in SimCity for almost 25 years. It probably will work here in the real world as well.