It’s been a couple months now since I have returned to Taiwan from my 3 week visit home to Charlottetown. P.E.I. There are a series of selected photos on 35togo and my flickr stream. It’s hard to say whether it’s my age, the length of my summer absense (7 yrs) but this trip home gave me a whole new perspective on just how special a place PEI is. I was so impressed with my visit that I hope to set-up a summer residence there in the hopefully not to distant future.
There is much to admire about the place. The scenery, people, and laid back culture are all pretty common refrains whenever anyone describes PEI. But what isn’t said all to often is just how much PEI, or I guess more like Charlottetown, is shaping up to be an ideal location to locate a technology based business or a telecommuting career.
I’m a dreamer. It’s a curse and a gift. Despite my love for working within close proximity to good teams of people (something I am missing very much at the moment) one of my long standing dreams has been to set-up a business that was independent of physical location. It’s an almost cliché desire I guess; I want to have a business that allows me to live in a location such as Koh Samui or Chiang Mai. I want to jog on the beach in the morning, work through till noon, and appreciate the wonders of such a beautiful place during the rest of the day. I want to be able to pack my bags and fly to France for a few months taking my business with me. One place I hadn’t considered as a base is Charlottetown.
During my time in Charlottetown I had the good fortune of working for a couple weeks within the confines of a place called the Queen Street Commons. I paid $35CAN for a summer membership that gave me secure access to a building which housed a fast wireless network, printers, fax, meeting area, and importantly a quiet comfortable workspace. I won’t mention the obvious merits of this organization, and there are many, but just give you a quick sampling of a typical day.
I arrive downtown by car from the cottage (on a beach) in about 20 minutes in very little traffic. I park easily in a parking garage next door to the commons and proceed to go to one of a number of coffee shops on the block. The coffee is hot and decide to sit for a few minutes and let it cool. The coffee shop has free wifi so I start my day by checking my email. In Charlottetown free wifi is rather abundant. After about 15 minutes I head to the commons. I grab a seat and do some work.
After a couple of hours I decide to take a break. I head outside to take a walk where I confronted with unusual experiences (realize where I live now). There is a park nearby so I am headed in that direction. On the way people I don’t know are smiling and saying hello. People are so friendly it’s almost unnerving. I’m smelling something different in the air – flowers! When was the last time I smelled anything pleasant in a city other than garlic and onions? I walk through the carefully groomed city park and through the neighborhood marveling at the care taken with the various residential properties. I arrive back at the commons refreshed and ready to finish my morning.
That off-the-cuff couple paragraphs is a small glimpse to the environment I witnessed. There is wifi everywhere, good people, small town feel, no pollution, and if you love to eat like I do, a gradual replacement of the “fries with that” menus in local restaurants. There is good food.
Charlottetown has more than that to offer. There is a veritable brain trust at your disposal. World class web developers, programmers, and business expertise. It’s exciting to be surrounded by such talent and these, like most Islanders, are friendly approachable people. There is a vibrant art community and a couple higher education institutions. I could go on and on.
There is one point that might cast an unfortunate dark cloud over the whole possibility of relocating yourself to Charlottetown, Air Canada and to a lessor extent the need to drive everywhere. I seldom go out and buy huge quantities of food. Living in Hsinchu allows me to grab food for the days meal on the way home, though there are malls here, the city is compact enough to allow you to grab things from the local market or store as you need it. Charlottetown like many larger cities in North America has embraced the idea of spreading the city over as great a distance as land will allow. This is a disadvantage as what makes a city really thrive is people – lots of people – close together. In Charlottetown you have to drive everywhere and it isn’t getting any better. People are in love with the impersonal Walmart box store shopping experience. I love Sobey’s but can’t you put it in the downtown? Fuel prices are constantly rising so the necessity of the car is becoming more expensive as well.
That is a pretty minor complaint , small potatoes, compared to traveling off the Island. Flying in and out of Charlottetown must rank up there with the worst I have ever experienced. Air Canada is the primary air carrier for the province and outside of the Upper Canada air corridor it is a national embarrassment. Old aircraft with shoddy interiors, exceptionally poor in-flight service, and a weird business model that privately states that your luggage may or may not arrive with you. Mine arrived the next day while a family visiting from China was stuck in a hotel for 2 days without theirs. Security is like flying out of a war zone with even senior citizens getting searched. All this costs and costs allot.
These issues may or may not be an issue. If you travel allot then flying out of Charlottetown might be quite an inconvenience. But on the whole, Charlottetown has to be one the best kept secrets. The local government should be capitalizing on the working environment, the excellent knowledge workers at hand, and the other intangibles of living in Charlottetown to attract more investment from small companies or independents. It’s really a wonderful location in which to relocate.