Friends of Downtown Cambridge,
Dr. Anne Bordeleau is speaking to Cambridge City Council on Tuesday evening, July 16, 2019 at 6:30pm and I would like to ask you to come out and hear her speak. She is asking Council to confirm their commitment to an expansion to the School of Architecture. With Council’s backing, it will be much easier for her and the University to seek funding from the Provincial and Federal governments. Please join us and add your voice to those who support the City’s financial contribution to the School’s expansion plans.
Architecture students are notoriously quiet and the School doesn’t make a big splash in our City but its economic and cultural impact are hugely significant. In many ways, the arrival of the School in downtown Cambridge in 2008 was as impactful as the arrival of Toyota in Cambridge in 1986. It has changed the way we see ourselves and added a tremendous economic boost to the community.
As an architect I am very much aware of the School’s cultural influence in our community and beyond. The University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture is arguably the best of its kind in Canada and one of the top undergraduate design schools in the world. The number of people worldwide who have heard of, or visited Cambridge, because of the School’s location is enormous. An institution of higher learning provides so many intangible benefits to our City, it would take a whole other email to list them.
I want to outline the direct, sustained and positive economic impact that the School has on our community.
Recently I heard someone say, “Why should my heard-earned municipal tax dollars go to architecture students who probably won’t even stay in the community when they graduate?”. It’s a fair question. And we should be confident that an investment by our citizens in something like this can expect a good return. It makes sense that if our tax dollars are spent on expanding the School of Architecture we get something in return. And it truly is an investment. As I try to point our below, the returns that we receive as a community by investing in this institution would be almost impossible to achieve in any other way.
The cost of a university education far exceeds the amount of money a student pays in tuition. Universities are very expensive institutions and our government subsidizes a large percentage of a the cost of educating a student. Much of that money is spent on salaries of faculty and staff as well as operating and maintaining a large facility and organization. Much of that money is spent in the community in which the institution is located.
I would like to make the point today that there are few, if any, places to spend our tax dollars that will return as much benefit as an investment in an institution of higher learning in our City. People, employment and investment are literally the lifeblood of any community. Attracting and keeping people, jobs and investment in a City is the key to a healthy community. Conversely, when people, jobs and investment leave, the affects can be devastating. As we all have noticed, Downtown Cambridge has struggled for many years and has not attracted the same amount of new residents, shoppers and investors as Waterloo, Kitchener, Guelph or Hamilton. For whatever reason, our downtown has been a particular unappealing place for growth for many years. This, despite the enormous economic boom we have been experiencing these past few years in the Region.
For this reason, we need to be as welcoming and nurturing as possible with our current and future economic drivers. The School of Architecture is here now with its millions of dollars of yearly economic spinoffs. Let’s make sure that it stays, and if it want to expand, let’s give it as much help as possible. There are many other communities that would love to have this opportunity.
I am not an urban economist. But I am very familiar with the School of Architecture. I am also a landlord in the downtown as well as member of the Board of the BIA. I personally see and experience the economic impact of the School in very personal ways. It would be a worthwhile exercise for the City to do a quick study to understand the purely economic benefits benefits that the School brings to our community. To help that process along, I thought that I would suggest a basic outline:
School of Architecture: Economic Spin-Offs in Cambridge
There are four main sources of capital injections into the local area from a post secondary institution such as the School of Architecture:
1. Student spending: Rent, meals, groceries, supplies, etc.
2. Employment: Staff and faculty (high paying, full and part time jobs.
3. Purchases of goods and services by the institution: Trades, suppliers, caterers, event planning, etc.
4. Visitors to the community: Parents, critics, visiting faculty, lecturers, etc.
1. Student Spending: $4.8M
In terms of economic impact, students can be seen as low paid workers. As a landlord, I have benefited from the School of Architecture. There are an average of 400 full time students in attendance year round at the school, 80% (320) of whom live in local rental accommodation, at an average rent of $625 monthly ($7,500/year). This alone equals $2.4M in rental payments injected into the local property market in a given year.
As a parent who has put six kids through post secondary education, I am also very much aware of what else kids can spend money on. Conservatively estimated, a college or university student spends at least as much on food and other expenses each month as they do on rent. Groceries, furniture, haircuts, coffee shops, restaurant meals, etc., add up to at least another $2.4M, much of it spent in the downtown and local area.
All told, architecture students (or should I say their parents) contribute at least $4.8M of direct spending in the City of Cambridge, a proportionate share of this makes its way back into City coffers as property taxes.
2. Employment: Staff and faculty: High paying, full and part time jobs: $1.25M
The School has over twenty full time faculty positions and many more part time positions, as well as ten administrative staff and a full compliment of maintenance personnel. This equals approximately 40 full time equivalent positions. In the core area, only City Hall and Regional staff exceed these numbers. These are high quality, well-paid and permanent positions. An increasing number of School employees are also purchasing property in the area and have made Cambridge their home. As with any other employer, these workers spend much of their money in our City. It is difficult to put a dollar figure on this but even half of these employees (20) are local and they spend half their salary ($100,000/2) in the community, this would add up to $1.0M.
3. Purchases of goods and services by the Institution: Trades, suppliers, caterers, event planning, etc.: $1.0M
Like any organization, an institution such as the School of Architecture consumes a variety of goods and services on a daily basis. Coffee and catering, stationary supplies, maintenance contractors for mechanical, electrical and tech, snow clearers, landscapers, security personnel, are all among the many people whose livelihood depends at least partly on the School's needs. Many of these suppliers of goods and services are individuals and firms located right here in our City. Again, it would require a good deal of work to put a precise figure on this economic gain to the community, but it would be likely more than $1M.
4. Visitors to the community: Parents, critics, visiting faculty, lecturers, etc.: $1.0M
At the beginning of each term parents and the relatives bring their offspring to Cambridge for the start of school. They often stay a night or two at a local hotel or bed and breakfast, as well as eat meals locally. Lecture series are held, faculty, professionals and administrators visit regularly and often. They also need to be fed and housed. All told, it wouldn’t surprise me if this added up to over five hundred overnight stays and twice that many meals eaten locally. Converted to dollars, this would equal over $1.0M spent annually in the community.
Total cash into the City of Cambridge from the School of Architecture to the City of Cambridge: $8.05M per year.
As an optimist and a big fan of the School, perhaps I have unconsciously exaggerated some of these items. But even if they are half of what I suggest, this is a significant amount of money coming into this community each year. It is certainly enough to give the City confidence to financially and politically support a School expansion. I challenge anyone to find an investment that the City could make that will produce anywhere near the same sustained, positive economic impact for our City, particularly in the urban core.
Lastly, I would like to make the case that the City should see this as not just an opportunity for a one time injection of capital, but this should also be seen as a chance to build a case for this community to become a true Design Centre. There is nothing stopping us, other than negativity, from promoting our community as a place where other design-related firms and organizations can come. We have the School of Architecture, we have Cornerstone Interiors, we have the Art of Home, we have an extraordinary system of library galleries. We also have many talented local artists and designers working among us, many associated with the textile industry that formed the backbone of this City. Why not a non-profit Galt School of Design, like the Dundas Valley School of Art? Why not start conversations with the School of Landscape Architecture in Guelph, and the interior design program at Conestoga College. With just a little more effort, we can make this community a true design destination.
In the end, the question isn’t so much: “Do we as a City want to support the School of Architecture"? With all that this entity brings to our City, I cannot imagine how we would not want to. The question is rather: “What else can we do to strengthen this amazing institution and build upon it’s success?"
Thanks for listening. Please circulate this message to others who you feel would be supportive. I look forward to seeing you at Tuesday’s meeting.
Patrick Simmons OAA, RAIC, LEED AP
Martin Simmons Architects