Aerotropolis

Dance, Aerotropolis, Dance!

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 24, 2008

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.

Opponent: With oil prices going up, air transport is going to decline, not increase.

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.

Opponent: ???

Rinse and repeat, ad nauseam.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

19 Comments

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 24, 2008 at 15:45:21

This project is great news for the city. Lets start creating jobs and tax assessment instead of homeless shelters and subsidized housing.

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By jacksquat (anonymous) | Posted June 24, 2008 at 15:47:17

it's soooo frustrating to see the bureaucrats cooking the books to get the answers they want. if aerotropolis is such a good idea let's let it duke it out in a free marketplace of ideas. instead of endless rationalization. it's like there egos are so tied to the airport that they just can't stand the idea of backing down and admitting they were wrong. so the attacks continue. and every one of us knows that in ten years when oil is $400 bucks a barrel and the rest of the world is building high speed trains we hamilton hicks will be selling unwanted prime industrial land (used to be prime farm land) to losani and de santis and branthaven and crystal homes and frisina and marz and mattamy and silvestri and the rest to build more single family homes out in the middle of nowhere.

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By Wile E Coyote (anonymous) | Posted June 24, 2008 at 15:50:18

Ha ha Capitalist, great job filling the stereotype of Aerotropolis supporters who just sidestep the facts. Just keep repeating the jobs meme, it never seems to wear out.

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By Brendan (registered) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 00:07:35

Has anyone done a brownfield remediation cost study? How much remediated land could we get for the cost of servicing the airport lands?

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By Brendan (registered) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 00:08:03

Has anyone done a brownfield remediation cost study? How much remediated land could we get for the cost of servicing the airport lands?

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By Brendan (registered) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 00:08:28

Has anyone done a brownfield remediation cost study? How much remediated land could we get for the cost of servicing the airport lands?

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 09:38:17

According to the city's "study" we don't have any brownfields. And all this time, I was certain we did. Who knew??

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 12:58:52

Hey Wile E Coyote:

"Just keep repeating the jobs meme, it never seems to wear out"

Thanks for pointing out my stereotypical behaviour surrounding jobs. I'm sure most Hamiltonians don't care about jobs and that I am the only one. Jobs are not important. Nobody in Hamilton needs jobs. We can all just live on welfare in one of those beautiful new subsidized housing projects downtown and shop at the second-hand stores.

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By Wile E Coyote (anonymous) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 13:25:48

Epic miss the point, Capitalist. But of course missing the point is what aerotropolis defenders do best.

The "jobs meme" is the club that aerotropolis supporters use to squash dissent - as in, it's NOT going to produce many jobs, and the jobs it does produce aren't going to be very good.

Hooray for eight bucks an hour to load boxes off the back of a plane onto the back of a truck at 20 jobs a hectare. What a great use of prime agricultural land.

Oops, except that oil will be four hundred bucks a barrel in 2018 and the only planes will be big Airbus A380s stuffed to the gills flying from JFK to Heathrow. Maybe we'll have solar planes by then. Not.

The jobs meme is a fugazi. 59,000 great jobs in yesterday's growth sector? Nice try. While you crow about how all these jobs will magically appear in the big employment lands around the airport, our REAL, LIVE employment lands already serviced and ready to go right next to our fantastic RING HIGHWAY are being rezoned residential and big box commercial so people like Losani and Trinity Group can turn a fast buck off our economic legacy.

But never mind all that. Instead of responding to the point of the article you just ignore all those annoying "facts" and "arguments" and just cut off the debate by trotting out the J word like it's some kind of magic wand.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 15:43:47

So I guess that by servicing the employment lands, Hamilton city council is as stupid as the London and Waterloo city councils for seeking to service lands around their airports. Hamilton city council is also as stupid as Brantford, Burlington, Guelph and Cambridge (among others) for wanting to service their industrial parks. But Jason and Wile E Coyote, tell us that this is such a big mistake. Apparently these two “sky is falling” individuals know much more about these municipal planning issues than the people who work for (or are consulted by) these cities.

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By Wile E Coyote (anonymous) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 16:30:50

OK here comes the clue train. Hamilton ALREADY HAS serviced greenfield industrial parks with full highway access...and no one wants to build on them except home builders and big box developers. Which the city falls over dead and allows, of course.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 16:34:42

not to sound arrogant, but I'm certain I know more about planning a successful city than many of our 'planners' and 'consultants'. I'm willing to bet that half the city does too. I'm simply saying that something is up (as usual). Let's take it one business park at a time.
If the airport isn't a factor (as we've been told) then let's worry about the Glanbrook and QEW industrial lands before opening up any more. Is that so tough to grasp??

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By Sage (anonymous) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 17:18:54

I must confess that I am baffled by the RTH experts like Jason and Ryan et. al. who claim that the experts hired and paid for by the City to assess the airport lands are all full of holes....now Jason and Ryan, other than your stereotypical anti development views, what are your credentials to substantively disagree with the Hemson experts?

And don't chime in on Industrial brownfields as the answer to everything; or the fact that Hemson didn't consider Peak Oil in their assumptions....

Give your rationale; and explain why P&G went from Hamilton to Brantford; or Ferrero Rocher located where it is and all the others who looked at Hamilton to find no serviced or serviceable land; and explain why in the Spec's story "A Pig's Tale" we chased away Maple Leaf Foods....and give your credentials. if your rationale is good and your credentials sound, you might convince me; if not, Capitalist is making some valid points.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 18:27:43

I readily admit that I have NO credentials. lol. I'll simply repeat what I've already stated in a shorter manner:

City Hall: "we need land near highways for industry" Solution: Linc, 403 extension, Red Hill Result: Meadowlands, Meadowlands East, Mountain sprawl. NO industry.

City Hall: "we need land near highways for industry". Solution: QEW Industrial District. Sprawl Builders: "we want land rezoned for box stores and sprawl". City Hall: "ok"

Red Hill Parkway: zero companies interested in locating there so far (Maple Leaf is closing down as expected) City Hall: "let's rezone tons of land at the airport" Opponents: "why? Let's fill Red Hill first".

And we go on and on and on....we open up land for development and give it all away to the sprawl builders. I'm pretty certain that you, I or Ryan could plan better than that.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 25, 2008 at 18:28:29

I readily admit that I have NO credentials. lol. I'll simply repeat what I've already stated in a shorter manner:

City Hall: "we need land near highways for industry" Solution: Linc, 403 extension, Red Hill Result: Meadowlands, Meadowlands East, Mountain sprawl. NO industry.

City Hall: "we need land near highways for industry". Solution: QEW Industrial District. Sprawl Builders: "we want land rezoned for box stores and sprawl". City Hall: "ok"

Red Hill Parkway: zero companies interested in locating there so far (Maple Leaf is closing down as expected) City Hall: "let's rezone tons of land at the airport" Opponents: "why? Let's fill Red Hill first".

And we go on and on and on....we open up land for development and give it all away to the sprawl builders. I'm pretty certain that you, I or Ryan could plan better than that.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 26, 2008 at 08:51:06

Sage,

Further to jason's comment...

Nicholas Kevlahan, an occasional RTH contributor, has called himself an "amateur urbanist".

http://raisethehammer.org/article/333

He explains what he means by this in another article.

http://raisethehammer.org/article/459

I like Nicholas's definition, and would apply it to myself as well.

You ask for my "credentials" as a prerequisite to convincing you about my arguments. This is a straightforward appeal to authority, and an argumentative fallacy. The converse - that my arguments are invalid because I don't have "credentials" - is straightforward ad hominem, another argumentative fallacy.

The most sensible way to evaluate arguments is on their own merits. It certainly makes sense to pay attention to whether the person making the argument has an interest and is disclosing it fairly; but ultimately the argument stands or falls on whether its propositions are fair and factual and its reasoning is sound.

The consultants hired by the city to conduct studies are only following the directives given to them by staff (or not, as in the case of the Hemson employment lands study, which Council noted did not study brownfields, and in the case of the Hemson brownfields study, which Council noted did not define or attempt to quantify under-utilized land).

Every first-year social science student learns that if you ask leading questions, you exert a bias on what kinds of answers you will receive. The classic analogy is a lawyer in a courtroom questioning a witness. If she asks, "Did you see a red car at the scene?" the witness may or may not say yes; but if she asks, "Did you see THE red car at the scene?" that dramatically increases the likelihood of the witness answering in the affirmative.

So it is with consultant studies. If the city defines "employment lands" as 'large, contiguous blobs of greenfield land next to the highway' for the purpose of the study, that's going to influence the results of the study.

Likewise, if the city tells the consultant to ignore energy prices, the consultant is going to assume that they will be the same in 25 years as they are today. Let me state unequivocally: an employment lands study that recommends airport-based development but ignores trends in energy prices is effectively useless as a planning document.

If, despite all this, you're still determined that my arguments should be supported by some kind of "credentials", I welcome you to read Richard Gilbert's study _Hamilton: The Electric City_ as well as Peter Ormond's study _Hamilton's Vulnerability to Climate Change_, Hamilton's _Agriculture Action Plan_, the GRIDS Nine Directions, Vision 2020, and the existing examples of other cities that have created dense, vibrant environments and healthy economies by setting firm urban boundaries and focusing their energy on improving transit, remediating brownfields, increasing the utilization of urban lands, and leveraging existing urban infrastructure more effectively.

One final note: You write that I have "stereotypical anti development views". I don't think you can credibly claim that I am anti-development or anti-developer. Rather, I am opposed to using public funds to subsidize single-use, low density land use that is energy inefficient, produces high levels of pollution, doesn't promote healthy communities, and has poor prospects for long-term economic viability.

On the other hand, I have written several times about the importance encouraging developers to make the kinds of investments that contribute to a healthy urban environment. See, for example, this interview with the Spectator's Rob Faulkner:

http://www.thespec.com/article/274866

Here's another essay, comparing King East in Hamilton with Queen West in Toronto:

http://raisethehammer.org/blog/731

I've also written extensively about the role that light rail transit can play in reducing the risk for developers to invest in dense, mixed use buildings along the transit corridor.

My emphasis is on urban, mixed development rather than single-use sprawl development, and on economic development that is forward-compatible rather than chasing past performers who thrived in an environment of historically cheap energy prices and abundant cheap land.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 26, 2008 at 10:33:15

Jason, just to quote you:

“not to sound arrogant, but I am certain I know more about planning a successful city than many of our ‘planners’ and ‘consultants’.

“I readily admit I have NO credentials. Lol”

Let me get this straight, apparently you know more about planning than people who actually earn a living in the field (and have been doing so for years) yet you have no credentials to back up your statement.

This is why you and the rest of the RTH folks can’t be taken seriously. You guys claim to have all this expertise and knowledge about municipal planning, yet you spend all your time posting articles on some two-bit website. WHAT A JOKE!

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 26, 2008 at 10:34:46

Hey there sage, is the ontario ministry of municipal affairs and housing credential-y enough for you? They say the city's plan violates provincial rules and is based on false assumptions:

http://hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.ph...

  • 20% more jobs than the province projects
  • overstated how much land it needs by another 20%
  • not even trying to put growth in existing built-up areas

Still feeling warm and fuzzy about your "experts"?

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 26, 2008 at 11:53:55

yea, you're right. Credentials make the world go round. How dare I disagree with the brilliant minds who 'planned' the Meadowlands. haha.

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