Neil Godbout takes on the assumption that population growth is necessary for Prince George to survive and thrive:
“If that was truly the case, then how does one explain the incredible amount of public and private sector development over the past three decades? With the population numbers stagnant, Prince George built a university, a medical school, a hospital expansion, a cancer centre, a 6,000-seat arena, a new swimming pool, an airport expansion, a new art gallery, a new courthouse and a new police station with public dollars. Private investment, meanwhile, developed the entire Highway 16 retail corridor – Superstore, Costco, the Brookwood Plaza and up Peden Hill to Westgate. Private dollars also fuelled several new residential neighbourhoods across the city, numerous new and successful businesses and CN’s inland port at the downtown railyards.
“While all this was happening, the city’s economy diversified to include health and education as major employers, alongside manufacturing and transportation. That diversification softened the blow as sawmills closed their doors and/or slashed staff due to the modernization of their production facilities.
“In other words, the city “grew” without physically growing in population.”
I’ve taken on the assumption that growth = good before, but I’ve never really thought of Prince George as a living example of a city improving without growing. And yet it is, for the reasons outlined above. This is a more mature and robust city than it was when I was born, and it got here without ever hitting that magical 100,000 people mark.
For small and mid-sized cities it seems like population growth is a hammer that turns every problem into a nail. Not enough doctors? Population growth. Downtown dying? Population growth.
Population growth is only a small part of what makes a great city, IMO. Many of the great cities of the past – the Athens of Socrates and Plato, the England of Shakespeare – were small by today’s standards. And yet they managed to create systems and ideas that have endured centuries. There are many arguments in favour of population growth, I know, but it is not the end-all and be-all it is often portrayed as.