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Raphaëlle Roy: Not just for rich retirees and young partiers, Miami is a surprisingly family-friendly destination

Commentary

An infallible way of reminding me that my ten-year-old son is growing quickly is feeling how much larger his hand feels in mine when we walk together. I guess I’ll know he’s fully grown when he won’t let me hold his hand anymore, but that thought is scarier than the rising water level threatening to submerge Miami, so we’ll push that aside. Émile and I have been walking the Miami Beach boardwalk hand in hand during every visit to the city since our first trip when he was 22 months old, and it’s been a highlight of our trips for seven years. We started with a stroller, which he would push ahead, misleading people who would cross our path to believe that this was a self-driving stroller (Tesla, are you paying attention?) since they couldn’t see little Émile behind the stroller, navigating the boardwalk without seeing ahead. When he got tired I would sit him in, recline the seat, and walk until he fell asleep. Back then his hand was so tiny, he would just hold one of my fingers to hang on.

Then he moved on to a three-wheel scooter which he would ride at worryingly high-speed, weaving between bikers, dogs, and elderly walkers. The boardwalk would lead us to what we considered hidden gems: parks and playgrounds sprinkled along the length of the path, always covered by trees to enjoy the cool shade. Now that he’s a preteen, the boardwalk often serves as a means to reach our destination and less as the entertainment itself, but we enjoy it wholly regardless. 

When we think of Miami Beach we tend to picture three demographics: retirees, young partiers, and the obnoxiously rich and tacky. But Miami has much to offer to children of all ages, and their parents, in addition to its beaches and pools. 

I knew I really hit the right note when Émile was spray painting graffiti inside of the Wynwood Walls. Miami’s original street art outdoor museum is globally celebrated and houses murals painted by world-renowned artists. Émile recognized the art of Shepard Fairy and Banksy and we discovered Hebru Brantley and Buff Monster together. We regaled ourselves on the sights of the brightly coloured wall art and admired the different techniques and styles. The ingenuity of Bordalo sculptures grabbed our attention and had us conduct a thorough examination of their elements and materials.

We recognized many components of “Plastic Mom n Baby Monkeys”, giant monkeys made out of discarded toys and other plastic materials. The ubiquitous Fisheprice xylophone forms the baby monkey’s teeth, and a tricycle handle, its nose. The playfulness of the art at Wynwood makes it accessible and interesting to children and by extension, their parents, because it’s effortless to walk through the museum when children are captivated. This being an outdoor museum, the weather needs to be finely calibrated to “not too hot and humid, and not raining either”.

When we walked through last week, the temperature was 32°C and we were getting sluggish. Some genius entrepreneur figured out that putting a popsicle cart smack in the middle of the museum path was a money-making machine, and we cooled down for a few minutes while savouring absolutely delicious real fruit sorbet bars made with mango and passion fruit. The entire visit, Émile had been asking me if he, too, could paint walls around the city, so it was a joyous surprise when we came across the “Official Street Art Experience”. We enjoyed a few minutes of graffitiing and leaving our marks on the murals, but you can also book a private lesson with a local artist, to learn real can control techniques and the key differences between slaps, paste-ups, stencil, wild style, blockbuster, throw-ups, tags, etc. This will definitely be on the books for our next visit. 

While the popsicles were divine, they did not satisfy our increasing hunger and only one thing would: tacos. Wynwood appears to be THE city’s neighbourhood for genuine Mexican fare and our careful research led us to The Taco Stand, a small and unassuming taqueria offering an authentic taco experience. I enjoyed my grilled fish taco for its perfect combination of flavours and textures, and while Émile had high hope for his Angus beef tacos, he was a bit disappointed by the toughness of the meat. I thought it was delicious, but few palates are as discerning as a 10-yr old boy’s. The Taco Stand redeemed itself in his eyes with its warm churros, delivering on the crunchy exterior and fluffy doughy inside. At 2 pm we were DONE and made our way back to the beach for some much-deserved reading time by the sea and cooling down with regular swims.

The next day we made our way across Biscayne Bay to the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science. Located on Downtown Miami’s waterfront, the 250,000-square-foot museum is divided into four buildings: the Frost Planetarium, Aquarium, and North and West Wings. The buildings themselves are works of art, stunning structures connected by passageways and stairs under the Florida sun. All exhibits are highly interactive and meant to appeal to children of all ages.

From the aquarium to the dinosaurs to health sciences, it’s almost certain that any child would find an exhibit, or five in the case of Émile, that MUST be visited thoroughly and attentively. I particularly enjoyed the Planetarium, where we watched the twenty-five minutes ultra-high resolution full-dome production Dynamic Earth, narrated by actor Liam Neeson. The documentary explores the inner workings of Earth’s climate system and follows a trail of energy that flows from the Sun into the interlocking systems that shape our climate: the atmosphere, oceans, and the biosphere. I was puzzled when entire groups of Christian school children on a field trip got up and left 7 minutes before the end, but it all came together when the documentary described climate change as man-made and the consequences of rising water levels across the world. I guess science only goes so far for some Americans. After all, how would you explain to children that God would destroy the land that he made for humans to enjoy? I guess they also skipped the part of the exhibit on evolution and Darwin’s theory.

Four hours into our visit, the beach is singing its sweet mermaid call in my ears and I’m ready to leave. Before we head out, we decide to eat lunch at the Food@Science restaurant onsite. I’m positively surprised by their offerings, which include several appetizing salad bowls in addition to sandwiches and hamburgers. I order the vegan bowl with kale and butternut squash and Émile rolls his eyes at me while he orders the burger. I give my meal a solid eight out of 10 and Émile rates his hamburger an almost perfect score of 9.5. Then it’s back to the beach for endless games of catch and sand sculptures. 

No visit to Miami is complete without sampling its wide array of delicious food and fine dining abounds in Miami. It’s usually easy to accommodate children’s tastes even in the finest restaurant here. Prices have been hiking up over the years but this visit felt especially onerous compared to previous trips. To offset the costs of dinners out, we tend to book hotels that have small studio kitchens available so that we can make our own breakfast and often lunches, and it also saves time since we don’t like to sit down in restaurants for hours when there is so much to explore. 

Maybe the next time we walk on the Miami Beach boardwalk together, my son’s hands will be as large as mine, or maybe (gasp!) he won’t want to hold my hand anymore. But that’s okay, I’m sure he’ll always want to stroll with me down the sunny path, as long as there’s an ice cream cone at our destination. 

Where to stay:

  • For beachgoers: The Sagamore Hotel South Beach is a small boutique hotel with large suites appointed with well-stocked kitchens. The pool is surrounded by palm trees and comfortable lounge chairs and the crowd is less party animal and more family-oriented. 
  • For pool swimmers: The Mondrian South Beach is an upscale hotel on Biscayne Bay, therefore not on the beach. However, the pool is gorgeous and extravagantly large. When my son was three years old he spent all week sitting on the wide steps submerged in water up to his neck and talking to everyone around. All rooms have a small kitchen that met our eat-in needs. There is a Whole Foods a few minutes away to stock up on essentials. 

Where to eat:

  • The Dilido Beach Club at the Ritz-Cartlon has an inviting terrace with ocean views where adults can enjoy a delicious meal (try the Key West Cripsy Shrimp Tacos) and children can order off the kids’ menu a sensible meal that will appease their parents’ desire for nutritious dining. All meals are served with crudités and the offerings go beyond the usual kids’ fare, with Cobb Salad, Seared Salmon, and Chicken Penne amongst other options.
  • Byblos has been a staple of our trips to Miami Beach. Eastern Mediterranean cuisine is served family style and everyone will find their favourites amongst the dozens of delicate dishes. 

Trevor Tombe: The pandemic’s lasting scars on Canada’s economy

Commentary

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic disruptions it caused, appear to have left deep and long-lasting scars on Canada’s economy. 

The latest data from Statistics Canada measuring the size of Canada’s economy through to the end of 2022 shows we have shifted down to a lower growth path—and one that might be felt for years to come or potentially even be permanent.

Specifically, new quarterly data on Canada’s economy shows a clear and sizable gap between where we are now and where we were previously headed. I plot this below. In the fourth quarter of 2022, the economy is roughly 6.5 percent smaller than its pre-COVID trend.

This is a very large gap. It is equivalent to $180 billion per year in lost output. That’s $4,500 per person in Canada per year. It’s larger than Canada’s entire energy sector

While this outcome was foreseeable, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion.

More than a year ago, writing for Maclean’s Charts to Watch in 2022, I raised a concern that “future growth may, unfortunately, be lower for longer.” Whether COVID permanently damages Canada’s economy or whether workplace innovations (like remote work) and policy responses (like childcare) could boost productivity above pre-COVID trends would be revealed by this data.

“Where our economy goes in 2022 will give early indications about which of these two possibilities may be likely,” I wrote. More than a year later, with the data now in, it appears the worse of the two occurred.

Understanding what factors led to this outcome is critical.

This is neither a novel development, to be clear, nor one unique to Canada.

Recent research suggests recessions in general can permanently shift an economy to a lower growth path. The United States experienced this following the financial crisis, for example. Canada was not spared then either. A broad investigation of nearly two dozen OECD economies found countries suffered a permanent ratchet down with only a few examples.

Even normal run-of-the-mill recessions—as opposed to large-scale ones or those following financial crises—may exhibit this pattern.

There are many potential causes. Losing a job may lead some, especially older workers, to permanently withdraw from the labour market. Lasting negative health effects of the pandemic may also be a factor. Investment could also fall, lowering the pace of capital accumulation like machinery and equipment. And productivity growth may slow.

To measure how important each of these factors might be for understanding Canada’s current situation, I use a technique known as “growth accounting”. The intuition is simple.

Labour and capital are critical inputs into the production of nearly all goods and services throughout the economy. Technology, skills, and knowledge each determine how much output we get for any given number of workers and machines—that’s our productivity. Each of these is (imperfectly) measurable, so we can estimate how much increases in employment tend to increase GDP, or how much decreases in capital investment affect GDP, and so on.

I do just that and find lagging productivity growth is the key.

Of the overall drop below pre-COVID trends, productivity accounts for roughly 4 percentage points of the total. That’s about 60 percent of the overall gap between where we are now and where we were previously headed. Productivity growth has been so poor recently it has actually been negative. I estimate it is roughly back to the same level it was at in early 2019.

Lagging investment levels and the country’s overall capital stock, interestingly, account for only a small fraction. Some have pointed to lagging business investment as a central challenge for Canada. And while this is certainly important, it doesn’t appear to account for much of why we remain so far below trend.

It’s therefore labour that accounts for the rest of the decline. I estimate total hours worked in Canada is about 4.4 percent below its pre-COVID trend and accounts for a third of the gap between Canada’s GDP and its prior trend. 

It’s not that we’re working fewer hours individually (though we are a little bit). It’s mainly that there are fewer workers overall due to Canada’s ageing population. 

By the end of 2022, 62 percent of the population was aged 18 to 64 years—that’s down from 64 percent five years earlier, and also below its pre-COVID trend. These small changes can have large effects, given how important labour is to produce almost everything.

Can we boost our longer-term growth rates?

There are options: we can increase our inputs or we can increase our productivity. Demographic challenges are hard to overcome, however. Immigration can partly compensate but comes with considerable challenges of its own

That leaves increasing business investment and productivity growth. The list of areas where we can turn to improve this is long. Increasing technology adoption, growing our internal and international trade flows, boosting the level of competition within several protected sectors, enhancing skills training, exploring and enacting tax reforms, easing regulatory burdens, improving transport infrastructure, and so much more, could all yield dividends. 

Each deserves a deeper dive than I can provide here. But one thing is clear: if we cannot reverse recent trends, Canada’s economy risks falling even further behind.