The case for aerotropolis - economic development based on proximity to the airport and access to global markets - has never been fully considered and rigorously critiqued in Hamilton.
It was identified as an economic "cluster" before amalgamation, included in all six GRIDS proposals because "it wouldn't be honest" to consider alternatives given that the region had already decided on it, and justified after an Ontario Municipal Board hearing on the basis of myopic studies that answered leading questions.
Instead of a real debate, we've had what I'm going to call the Aerotropolis Dance - a choreographed, predictable dialogue that leads down a garden path to an intellectual dead end.
Supporter: Urban development was based around shipping in the 18th century, rail in the 19th century, highways in the 20th century, and airports in the 21st century. New jobs will be found in goods warehousing, logistics, and high-tech manufacturing close to the airport.
Opponent: Air transport only accounts for two percent of goods movement by tonne-kilometre, but five percent of transportation energy used.
Supporter: But that's going to go up as we transport more goods by plane, and it's already much more than two percent by market value.
Supporter: Oil prices are cyclical. Remember the 1970s oil crises? We'll get through this one as well.
Opponent: The 1970s oil crises were political (the Yom Kippur war and the Iranian Revolution, respectively). This oil crisis is geological - the global rate of oil production is going down. The city's own peak oil report said we should be putting energy concerns first in its economic planning process.
Supporter: New technology will save the day!
Opponent: What, zepellins? Solar-powered planes? Bio-kerosone? There's nothing on the horizon that will be able to replace airplanes before the price of oil quadruples.
Supporter: Well, it doesn't matter anyway. The economic development doesn't need to be airport related, it just happens to be near the airport.
Opponent: But if it's not airport related, there's no particular reason to locate it on prime farmland around the airport.
Supporter: We need that land because it offers the large, contiguous pieces of land with highway access that employers are looking for.
Opponent: But Hamilton already has all kinds of large, contiguous business parks with highway access. The only people who want to build on them are residential homebuilders.
Supporter: Well, I can think of one big corporate employer who wanted to build on an industrial park, but you treehuggers scared them away.
Opponent: If you're talking about the Maple Leaf pork processing plant, some of the biggest opponents were residents who lived near the site and opposed the truck traffic, foul odours and sewage produced by pork processing.
Supporter: That's why we need new industrial lands far from existing residential developments.
Opponent: But why are we trying to get such low-value jobs in the first place? Why aren't we trying to attract high-tech, clean, innovative businesses that will produce real value in the next several decades?
Supporter: Well, not everyone is a well-educated elitist like you. I bet people in Hamilton who don't have jobs - you know, the 20 percent living below the poverty line - would be happy to have a decent, $15 an hour job in a warehouse. We need to provide jobs for those people.
Opponent: So why can't we produce those jobs around the port? It has lots of land, great rail access, and with the Red Hill Parkway completed, Hamilton now has a ring highway around the entire city.
Supporter: Employers don't want brownfield lands - they're too expensive to remediate.
Opponent: It's going to take well over a hundred million dollars to service the airport employment lands. Why don't we spend that money remediating brownfields instead?
Supporter: There are hardly any brownfields anyway. The city did a study and there's less than a hundred acres available.
Opponent: Are we talking about the same city? There are at least a thousand acres of unused and underused land in the north end - close to the people you were worried about a few minutes ago instead of a twenty-five minute drive away.
Supporter: We can't calculate underused land, so we don't count it. Anyway, if a gravel parking lot pays property tax, it's not a brownfield.
Opponent: So we'll destroy working farmland to create "employment lands" but we won't convert and rezone parking lots and scrapyards? That doesn't make any sense.
Supporter: They're still not big or contiguous enough for the warehousing and logistics employers we're trying to attract.
Opponent: Why are we trying to attract those employers in the first place?
Supporter: To leverage proximity to the airport, of course!
Opponent: But you just said that the jobs don't have to be airport related.
Supporter: You special interests are all the same, trying to stop progress and hold this city back. No wonder businesses don't want to locate here.
Rinse and repeat, ad nauseam.
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