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Why Amazon should dance with Toronto

Posted by Daniel Hoornweg on September 20, 2017

Boy asks girl to dance (Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1945)
Like a young boy asking a girl to dance, Toronto should pursue Amazon to set up its second headquarters in our city (Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt, 1945)

Like that scrawny kid at the Grade 8 dance thinking there is no way the prettiest girl in school will agree to dance, Toronto wonders how to court Amazon. Why would Amazon want to set up its second headquarters here in Toronto?

Maybe a whisper in the ear of that boy is in order. Luckily, we have good insight where he’s likely to be in 10 years or so, relative to the rest of the would-be suitors. For Amazon, there is no better partner than Toronto.

Here’s why:

Toronto’s strengths relative to Amazon’s needs are significant. Especially when Toronto is viewed by its true urban form of the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

Five key strengths merit mention:

Mobility. Amazon HQ2 would catalyze an integrated transportation network across the Urban Toronto (GTHA and outer ring). Through rapid transit (trains and buses every 15 minutes) and inter-connected rideshare, especially for first/last mile, most of the Toronto Region can be accessed in less than 45 minutes. Each trip would emit less than 250 grams of carbon dioxide. All post-secondary campuses can be easily connected. So too most hospitals, airports and key employment nodes. Most of this new network could be in place before HQ2 construction starts. Improved freight delivery across the Region is also in the works.

Resilient. The Toronto Region is likely the world’s most-resilient large city. It’s relatively free of hurricanes and earthquakes and well-served by first responder emergency systems. The Region is also well blessed by a relatively welcoming climate and adequate long-term supplies of fresh water. The Region is home to a vibrant agriculture sector, and is a short flight from Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington.

Education and training. With 11 university and 20 college campuses the Toronto Region, stretching from University of Waterloo, Brock, Trent and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and including academic powerhouses like University of Toronto, is home to more than 450,000 full-time and 100,000 part-time students. This is one of the highest concentrations of well-educated people in the world.

Peace, order and good government. Perhaps not as catchy as ‘The Pursuit of Happiness,’ Canada’s culture of civility and effective governance is valuable. The rule of law, the provision of health care coverage to all, and a world-welcoming nature: These are powerful traits.

Reliable, low-carbon electricity. Ontario’s electricity is among the lowest carbon-emitting systems in the world. For an organization that relies so heavily on electricity to power servers and data maintenance systems, a reliable, low-carbon supply of power is critical.
As an added bonus, the Toronto Region, in communities like Guelph and Oshawa, still can provide affordable housing, easily linked to all parts of the Region.

Perhaps the question for Toronto should not be ‘Why would Amazon want to set up shop here,’ but rather ‘Is this a good match for both’?

By saying yes to Amazon, what is Toronto saying no to?

How does the city ensure that all sides benefit from such a big commitment?

How secure is Amazon and what’s its impact on local businesses?

Fortunately, with the right answers to these questions, many benefits can come from Amazon’s presence. Amazon’s HQ2 in Toronto could be a win for both parties. Customers and citizens tend to be the same person. Both benefit from caring corporations and diligent governments. Go ahead, dance.

Filed under: Sustainability 101