Toronto as Stepping Stone, Halifax as Home?

As creativity and innovation become even more important economic engines, North American cities compete to attract and retain the highly educated, mobile, and talented individuals who catalyze these activities. In the contemporary marketplace, however, not all strands of talent are created equal. Indeed, a robust literature in geography and cultural studies highlights the contributions of musical talent to the economic and social prosperity of city-regions. Yet, despite the important role that musicians play in city-regions, we know little about the specific factors that help to attract, incubate, and retain these individuals.

To address this deficiency, researchers at the Martin Prosperity Institute have teamed up with researchers at the School of Planning at Dalhousie University to investigate the relative attractiveness of Toronto and Halifax. Although, Toronto serves as the home base for Canada’s music industry and Halifax functions as an incubator of regional talent, the industrial restructuring associated with the introduction of digital technologies is ‘remixing’ these relationships. Whereas aspiring musicians, in the pre-digital era, were forced to relocate to the established centres of music production, which housed the major record labels and recording studios, contemporary independent musicians have gained unprecedented geographic mobility. In fact, it has been argued that digital technologies, and the Internet in particular, have made the production of music essentially placeless. Although the results of this research suggest that place still matters to musicians, the reasons why have changed over the last fifteen years.

Significant changes to the industry may be affecting the parameters that influence the choices
that musicians make about where to live and work. The diagram below profiles three elements
of locational choice for musicians: the scale and function, the economic dynamics, and the social dynamics of the region.

Traditional investigation emphasizes the influential roles that natural endowments, geographic location and access to markets play in shaping growth trajectories, but this research underscores how the social dynamics of city-regions may influence migration outcomes. In so doing, the research identifies the growing challenge that Canada’s largest city has in retaining creative workers who are increasingly attracted to smaller, more affordable and more inclusive scenes such as Halifax. Further, the research highlights the central role of civic capital in explanations that musicians give for the choices that they make. As a result, at a time when independent musicians are adopting new strategies to pursue their avocation, socially cohesive communities may gain an advantage in attracting and retaining talent.

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Further Reading:

Hracs, B. J., Grant, J. L., Haggett, J., & Morton, J. (2011).  A tale of two scenes: civic capital and retaining musical talent in Toronto and Halifax. Canadian Geographer, 55(3), 365-382.

The Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management is the world’s leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors—location, place and city-regions—in global economic prosperity. We take an integrated view of prosperity, looking beyond economic measures to include the importance of quality of place and the development of people’s creative potential.