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How new-world Vancouver could learn something from old-world Bologna

February 9th, 2010 · 9 Comments

As some of you may know, I got to visit Bologna this past summer to go to part of Vancity’s summer school on the co-operative culture there. Here’s a story of mine that just appeared in BCBusiness on the attraction of the Bologna model for a surprisingly wide variety of Vancouverites.

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  • jimmy olson

    I have been to italy every year for ten years now. Vancouver is 200 years behind Bologna in so many ways. Vancouverites are such a provincial lot.

  • mary

    Thank you for writing about this Frances. One thing that stands out form your article is that the folks you talked to are oldsters and some of the most competitive people I know. Could it be that those who provide grants or subsidies to help locals get over to Bologna should focus on the teens and twenty somethings who haven’t yet calcified in their attitudes? And why Lulu Lemon that ambitious est-ish wanna-be? Why not support the creative sector along Main St?
    Maybe us boomers just need to get out of the way.

  • MB

    Your article addresses something that is very important to Vancouver: bigger isn’t necessarily better when addressing the local economy.

    I’ve long thought of Vancouver economics as less centralized and more diverse than the cities where corporate head offices tend to huddle. Moreover, a diverse urban economy leads to more human-scaled cities with a vibrancy at street level.

    In that light, I believe that a city’s public policy making should turn itself more to encouraging natural economic diversity rather than adopting an artificial approach, such as devoting a huge block of land downtown to one monolithic commercial zone with the idea it would somehow attract the Goldman Sachs headoffices of the world. Like magic.

    Such policies tend to fail because of an absense of proper analysis of the local and regional economy (e.g. what is already working, like mixed uses in single buildings, and what isn’t working well anymore, like some major businesses related to resource extraction), and ignorance about the limitations of globalization, something that was painfully exposed over the past year.

    Have we learned anything from this last recession?

    I also believe that “localization” will become the new buzzword of the decade when the burden of high national debt and high energy prices cause many large economies to contract even more.

  • I’m so glad to see this…I’ve been waiting for months since you first mentioned going to Bologna.

  • Hi Frances. I enjoyed reading this. There are some bright spots in town, and I think Boris Mann is acting extremely co-operatively in Vancouver’s tech start-up community.

  • Glissando Remmy

    TWO, 1…The Olympic Countdown Thought of the Day

    “I wonder where John Furlong is going after the Games. No, really! Where is anyone going after curing an incurable disease? After feeding the famished? After eradicating poverty, or after reviving the Ozone layer? You know what they say: “If one shoots for the stars…” oh, crap, he’ll go into Banking, like his friends in Switzerland. Nevertheless, he still worries me!”


    “Torch and bearer, torch and bearer,
    Goes together like a lab stool carrier…
    This, I tell you brother
    You can’t have one without the other”

    You know who would make a great Torch Bearer for the Opening Ceremonies? Ross Rebagliati. He achieved so much, sooo much!. He encompasses the Spirit of the Games, the whiff of the BC Bud and the political future of Canada.


    I and my friend have decided to help out. We’ve registered a non profit by the name of FRIGID BC that collects all the ice that’s cleaned out from sub-zero fridges in the Lower Mainland. The ice is then transported in coolers by official Yeti mascots up the mountain to Cypress. Vanilla Ice, the rapper, has already donated his stage nick for the cause. He likes the women’s skeleton event. “Ice, ice, Baby”.

    R. I (c.m).P, MY FRIEND

    Have you heard of the Polish delegation’s silent statement? Apparently, all members were selected based on their first names: Robert and Roberta. I don’t get it. Do you?


    This one is for Translink; business idea. We’ll
    have lots of tourist taking the Skytrain from the airport to downtown. What do they know? Charge them $15 from YVR to Waterfront and $10 from Waterfront to YVR when they leave. Eh, isn’t it brilliant?


    What do Coca Cola, Shoppers Drug and Red Cross of Canada have in common? Other than the white /red colours in their logos, nothing! However, the way I see it, is like this: one makes something that puts you in hospital, the other one sells it to you and the last one… is the hospital. And you would think the “good” one is the sponsor of this called “healthy” Games.


    Please, stop playing Sarah Mclachlan’s song “Angel” on the radio. For the sake of the millions of Canadian Hockey fans out there don’t do it before important games. The other day my wife found me in the bathroom; I had a lost look on my face, my eyes were fixated on myself in the mirror and without even noticing, my right hand was pressing my electric shaver against my left hand’s wrist, over and over and over. Thank God I switched from the razor last summer. “Angel” was playing in the background. You’ve been warned. Bryan Adams on the other hand…


    It will cost us a cool Billion dollars. That’s established, all right. What I’m asking is this: how qualified are these security guys that are springing around the city like mushrooms after a summer rain? Have you given them a good look? Checked their equipment? ‘Cause I’m kind of sceptical here. In face of a perpetrator what’s he going to do or say? “Freeze or I’ll do a comb over!” OR “Freeze or this donut will have it!” OR “Freeze or I’ll bring out the potpourri!” I dunno’.


    What was Gordon Campbell thinking when he did that stunt with the torch at the border yesterday? I didn’t know that this was a joint venture with the Americans; I thought that the 2010 Winter Olympic Games were organized by CANADA and paid by the people of CANADA. Oh wait, I forgot, one American company built the Canada Barn for us, for a cool $11 millions. I dig that.


    ??? The HUMMER poster boy, the cigar smoking Conan the Barbarian, the Governor of Kalifornia is the Friday’s torch bearer at the invitation of VANOC’s Johnny as a symbol of friendship and future Green ventures. Do you believe? I’LL BE ON MY BACK!

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

    Frances re: Vancouver vs. Bologna. Vancouver is not going towards Bologna (as in the business model sense) on the contrary, is getting away from it. Researching what others are doing is nice, however we should say NO more often to large corporate takeovers of small Canadian businesses. In other words do not encourage and support business “cannibalism” in Vancouver. I have two recent local examples for you: Duthie & Capers.

  • Higgins

    Classic Glissando. One day to go, eh?

  • Frank Murphy

    Frances: interesting and timely piece in BC Business about the interconnected business environment in Bologna. We continue to search for the economic model less prone to catastrophic upheaval and that more effectively and more equitably shares the prosperity created.

    I’m seeing everything through a Jane Jabobs lense these days, re-reading her 2001 The Nature of Economies. To illustrate how economies are like natural ecosystems she offers the analogy of the “imported” energy – sunlight – passing through a desert environment, heating the rocks and sand, supporting limited plant and animal life then being released as the temperature falls after sundown, “leaving little evidence of its passing”. She compares this to the same energy falling on a forest ecosystem where it is utilized, transferred, converted, cycled and recycled, “leaving behind in complex webs of life, ample evidence of its passage” through the conduit. Self-refuelling, sustainable economic ecosystems require the diversity you describe in your article. (“Vancouver only has about 107,000 jobs in its manufacturing sector, while Bologna has 12,000 separate manufacturing operations among its 90,000 businesses.”)

  • William Azaroff: thanks for your kind comments. Perhaps my European heritage and the fact that my sister lives in Bologna helps 😛

    Frances — I actually agree with your base sentiment. Many businesses in Vancouver look inwards, and compete in the miniscule local market, rather than looking outwards.

    The tech industry, as William points out, does a slightly better job of working together, probably because of the open source roots of many of them.