Thompson Rivers University

CURA Questions Validity of Smart Growth Survey

  Posted on: June 17, 2004

KAMLOOPS-A community-university research alliance located in Kamloops, BC says the recent Smart Growth survey didn’t use appropriate criteria in its assessment of Kamloops and some other small cities.

“New measures and indicators are needed to assess small city culture. Assumptions drawn from prior studies of large cities are inappropriate as the basis for assessing small city life,” said Small Cities CURA Co-director Will Garrett-Petts.

Dr. Garrett-Petts, who has just returned from national policy meeting for creative small cities hosted by Canadian Policy Research Networks on June 14th in Ottawa, said “Questions of scale were recognized as important new criteria for judging creative small cities.”

A recent survey by Smart Growth ranked Kamloops low in terms of overall “livability,” whereas an in-depth study of the city conducted by the Small Cities Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) ranked the city much higher. This difference highlights the need for the development of appropriate cultural indicators, said the CURA researchers, who have been examining the cultural future of small Canadian cities over the past three years.

Geographer and Small Cities researcher Ross Nelson pointed out flaws in Smart Growth’s recent BC Sprawl Report, including the facts that the report used “big city measures” to define smaller communities, and that it defined some cities in strange ways, for instance, using data for Victoria and Vancouver that only refers to a small part of their working urban areas.

Dr. Nelson also criticized the report for using “suspect statistical values,” and for displaying little sensitivity to the historical and economic differences between cities in BC: “Is it fair to compare Vancouver and Chetwynd?” he said.

Although Nelson conceded that “Smaller cities in BC do have problems and can learn from the experiences of their larger counterparts. And they have to think carefully about how to manage urban and economic growth in this time of rapid change,” he pointed out that the rankings do not correspond to how British Columbians “vote with their feet.”

“In most years,” he said, “more people migrate from the Greater Vancouver Regional District to the rest of the province than move in the other direction. Access to the countryside, volunteer opportunities, strong senses of place, and reasonable living costs are just a few of the reasons why thousands of people move to BC’s smaller cities every year. Furthermore, out-migration from the GVRD will probably increase in the future as the baby-boom generation heads into retirement.”

Alternative studies conducted by the Small Cities CURA indicate that when more appropriate measures are used, many smaller cities in British Columbia score well on a national scale. Nelson cited a recent survey of 25 cities with populations between 10 and 150 thousand that are home to degree-granting post-secondary institutions, which placed Kamloops 3rd, Kelowna 10th, Nanaimo 12th, Abbotsford 18th, and Prince George 19th.

For more information, please contact Dr. Ross Nelson, Dept. of Geography, UCC at 250-828-5397.