Thursday, June 11, 2009

Building mosques as economic strategy

Globe article makes for some thought-provoking reading: it details how Prince George, BC is building a mosque and Islamic cultural and educational centre in the hopes of luring in the high-skilled workers it desperately needs.

Interestingly, this comes at a time when some citizens of the western world – in a decade likely to be defined by 9/11 and the sudden economic downturn near its close – are being taken in by the dark side of xenophobia and anti-immigrant finger-pointing (see this week’s European Parliament election results).

While it was undoubtedly in the works for some time, Prince George’s announcement dovetails nicely with Barack Obama’s recent
overtures to the Muslim world. His message of peace – eloquently quoted from the Koran last week – was no doubt expressed also in the hopes of achieving not just social objectives, but economic objectives: in this case, economic stability, improved trade and access to markets, and an end to the costly and controversial military conflicts that continue to rage through many Islamic regions of Africa and Asia.

The likely role that Prince George’s mosque will play in its future might also bear some comparison with the role the
Winnipeg Central Mosque (or WCM) plays in the West End neighbourhood’s development. Open in 2004, the mosque is a resource and prayer centre for the local Muslim community, which must be quite large if the crowds that can be seen coming to and leaving the centre are any indication. The WCM, along with the Halal food shops I also see opening up in the neighbourhood, likely represent both a sign of and a draw for local and immigrating Muslims.

While Winnipeg continues to face its own significant skilled labour shortages, there is also hope that the WCM, along with other West End developments, represents a new wave of community pride in the neighbourhood, which many suburban Winnipeggers may have long written off as lost to prostitution and crime. Along with neighbours such as the Ellice Café & Theatre, the Black Sheep Diner, and the new West End Cultural Centre, the WCM is one of a number of growing spaces of vibrancy in an area long characterized by its pockets of vibrancy.

If Prince George’s strategy works to its benefit – and I think it will to some degree – this will only fuel the debate over what religious, cultural or artistic investments a city or region can make to successfully lure and then settle new migrants to ultimately benefit its own economy (take note,
Richard Florida).

Governments of course have a long-running preference for investing in large "bricks and mortar" type projects that have more finite, predictable, and mathematically-derivable estimates of economic impact than something more indirectly beneficial like a mosque. Of course, those same "bricks and mortar" projects usually bring in office drones who extend the morning Tim Horton's lineups even further down the street but who, like clockwork, quickly desert the neighbourhood to the shadows a moment after 5 pm.

Maybe building mosques and other types of community centres is a better strategy for developing thriving neighbourhoods and healthy economies.

Photo: Istanbul's Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, was built between 1609 and 1616. It is renowned for its more than 20,000 handmade blue ceramic tiles and six minarets.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Election watching

It's been a slow spring in the Manitoba blogosphere, including here at PT. That's not to say there isn't a lot going on politically around the world.


Election watchers might be interested in
this BBC summary of the EU election results.

I find it quite fascinating how diverse political parties from very different European political cultures have managed to forge a series of pan-European slates. On the left, labour-oriented, moderate socialist and social democratic parties are largely united under the Party of European Socialists (PES) banner. They are second to the bloc of centre-right, Christian democrat and conservative parties that have banded together under the umbrella of the European People's Party – European Democrats (EPP-ED), which Britain’s Tories are in the process of leaving in the hopes of forming a new coalition. Centrist and liberal/pro-free trade parties comprise the third-largest grouping in the European Parliament, known as the Alliance Of Liberals And Democrats For Europe (ALDE).

The mostly right-wing Euro-skeptics, those mostly opposed to greater European integration through the building of pan-European institutions and regulations, have their own pan-European party, called the Union For Europe Of The Nations or UEN. Extreme Euro-skeptics, those looking for their country’s complete withdrawal from the EU, are part of the Independence And Democracy (IND/DEM) coalition.

Small regional and nationalist parties, such as those from Scotland, Wales and the Basque region of Spain, have banded together as the European Free Alliance (EFA) and are now allied with the European Greens. Communist and radical left parties also have their own left parliamentary bloc.

Results in this weekend's elections mark a continued decrease in voter turnout to just 43% and a general rightward tilt in votes cast, particularly in Britain, where Gordon Brown’s struggling Labour Party was reduced to a mere 15% of the votes. Left-leaning parties in France, Spain and Portugal also saw their share of the vote decline.

Alarmingly, a number of xenophobic, anti-immigrant and far-right parties, including the British National Party,
saw their numbers increase.

Finally, Sweden’s Pirate Party, which runs on a platform of copyright and patent law reform, won its first seat in the European Parliament.


Election followers are no doubt casting their eyes southeast of the EU to Lebanon, where the governing coalition just staved off a strong challenge from the opposition coalition that's led by the infamous Hezbollah movement.

This Globe article provides a good overview of the different religious, ethnic and political associations of each party.

Nova Scotia

Closer to home, a lot of people are following developments in Nova Scotia, where the NDP looks poised to form its first government ever in Atlantic Canada. Three polls have now put the NDP around 45%, far ahead of the governing Conservatives and third-place Liberals, who are each reported to be holding around 25%.

Some good sites to follow the coverage include those of the Chronicle-Herald and CBC, Nodice, an elections facts and figures site, and the Elections Nova Scotia site itself.

Elsewhere around the world

Election watchers can follow recent and upcoming elections at sites such as
Election Guide.

Photo: A display meant to promote the 2009 European elections.