By Ryan McGreal
Published November 20, 2007
(this blog entry has been updated)
You've got to hand it to former Mayor Larry Di Ianni: he doesn't mince his words.
In his latest blog column, Di Ianni returns to another of his signature projects, the proposed aerotropolis development - now officially called the "Airport Employment Growth District" - around Hamilton Airport.
Based on a theory by John Kasarda, the director of the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, the aerotropolis concept is based on the premise that just-in-time manufacturing trends favour air transport and that twenty-first century cities will grow around airport-oriented development.
According to Kasarda, future economic growth will be based on what he calls "the three As" ("accessibility, accessibility, accessibility"), and proximity to the airport will be crucial to value-add business.
Di Ianni was such an ardent aerotropolis supporter during his tenure as Mayor that when it came time to develop the six possible planning scenarios under the Growth Related Integrated Development Strategy (GRIDS), Di Ianni mandated that the aerotropolis be included in all six.
When I asked Di Ianni why Hamiltonians weren't allowed even to consider a growth scenario that didn't involve aerotropolis, he answered that "it wouldn't be honest" because he had no intention of not proceeding with it. Update - Di Ianni also noted that a number of previous studies had recommended the airport development. 1
Council voted in 2005 to expand the urban boundary by 1,254 hectares (~3,100 acres), after which the city would conduct studies to determine how much land to service, how much it would cost, how many jobs would be created, and so on.
Outraged that the city would rezone the land before conducting the appropriate studies to determine whether it should rezone the land, a group called Hamiltonians for Progressive Development (HPD) and the Ontario Government filed apeals to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
In his blog, Di Ianni launches the following straw man attack against HPD:
[T]he city's naysayers led by the anti Red Hill opponents who needed a fresh cause, began their moaning and groaning. An instant group sprang up almost overnight to lead the fight. They adopted a different name and found a few fresh faces, but the bulk of the opposition was tried and true in its make-up.
In Di Ianni's characterization, the aerotropolis opponents don't just oppose this project, they oppose development itself. He adds, "A veteran stalwart was someone who fought against many developments in the city, believing that development was contrary to the way the city should grow."
These days, Kasarda's aerotropolis development model is coming under scrutiny by other economists and planners. In an April 2007 essay titled Airport futures: Towards a critique of the aerotropolis model, Michael B. Charles et al. argue that aerotropolis "not yet been critiqued adequately, especially from a long-term public policy and planning perspective."
The critique covers three areas of concern, including peak oil and sustainability, response to climate change, and the increased risk of threat scenarios. All three present serious challenges to the idea that an airport as a "critical commercial, industrial and logistical hub" is a viable or even desirable goal.
The section on peak oil concludes:
In short, the oil-fuelled aerotropolis of today and the immediate future, as presently envisaged according to Kasarda's "business as usual" (BAU) scenario for future aviation (which, as pointed out above, largely corresponds with May and Hill's "growth forever" scenario) ostensibly represents an investment in an unsustainable mode of transport, powered by an unsustainable fuel source, transporting unsustainable components (many low-weight, high-value components are petroleum derived). Thus the increased emphasis on air transport vis-a-vis terrestrial forms of bulk transportation, especially shipping, carries with it the threat of focussing too much of our energy on a transport system that may not necessarily survive in its present form.
But Di Ianni appears so committed to this particular development model that he assumes opposition to it must entail opposition to development itself. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth, as HPD was founded by successful business entrepreneurs who could hardly be accused credibly of opposing development.
In fact, a willingness to question assumptions and consider different scenarios is essential to good planning. It's shortsighted to draw conclusions about whether, how and where to locate employment lands without first considering what kind of development it makes sense to attract.
In a September 2006 ruling that affirmed this approach to planning, the OMB reversed the urban boundary expansion and ruled that the city needed to undertake public consultations before proceding.
Di Ianni tells it a bit differently:
With an OMB hearing lurking in the background, Council won the right to examine the airport lands without a legal fight and promised to involve the stakeholders, including the opponents, in a Community Liaison Process that would carefully examine all aspects of the Airport Lands project. The opposition spun this as a victory. In fact it was a face-saving gesture for them. The city is obliged to involve stakeholders in significant land development projects. Council was told to do exactly what it would have done anyway.
There' no mention of the urban boundary expansion the OMB reversed pending the studies that the city was supposed to conduct in the first place. This is disingenuous at best.
In the end of October, the city established a community liaison committee to work with Dillon Consulting, which is being paid $1.2 million to develop a land-use plan for the "growth district", now expanded to 1,600 hectares (3,950 acres).
Unfortunately for citizens interested in a fair consultation process, the committee is stacked with aerotropolis supporters: Councillors Lloyd Ferguson and David Mitchell, representatives from the airport, Chamber of Commerce, realtors association, a commercial property developer and the Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committee, a housing developer, a real estate agent, the former Glanbrook town planner, a pro-aerotropolis air traffic controller, and representatives from Six Nations, Environment Hamilton, the Hamilton and District Labour Council, and Hamiltonians for Progressive Development.
Out of fifteen members, eleven are strongly predisposed to support aerotropolis. The committee is supposed to make decisions by "consensus", but instead of decision-making in which everyone involved agrees with the end result, the city's definition of "consensus" means:
I have had the opportunity to express my views and/or feelings. I believe I have been heard and understood. If I was making the decision myself, I would not necessarily go in the group's direction. However, because I have had the opportunity to influence others and truly feel everyone understands what I think/feel, I will support this group's decision now and in the future.
Again, Di Ianni has an interesting take:
The opponents have already voiced their disapproval of the group. They state that too many of the group members are supportive of the project. They state that the terms of reference do not allow for stonewalling but rather just encourage the expression of opposition to reach consensus.
Notice how he shares the city's unique definition of "consensus" and equates actual dissent over whether the city should be developing the airport lands with "stonewalling". In other words, you're welcome to disagree as much as you want; just don't try to get in our way.
He closes by warning that the people who oppose the airport development "are better equipped at manipulating the glare of public attention and existing laws of procedure than are those who want to create jobs and opportunities in the city."
The supporters of bidness as usual in this city absolutely love to project their questionable traits onto their opponents.
They conduct backroom deals with interested parties and but their opponents "lurk in the darkness of cyberspace and secret meetings."
They seek to co-opt and/or short-circuit the public consultation process, but their opponents are "cunning and perhaps procedurally ruthless".
It's the same old story: in Hamilton we rig the game to support the property speculators, then apologize for the cronies and demonize the citizens who try to hold them accountable.