Aerotropolis

A Sucker Born Every Minute

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 11, 2005

There's a sucker born every minute.

Like an eager first-time buyer who pays way too much for a house right before the housing bubble bursts, Hamilton is about to waste $100 million developing a bogus "aerotropolis" around Mount Hope airport.

Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) reports that city council is planning a major expansion to its urban boundary to accommodate what councillors hope will be major new commercial and industrial investments in air transport multiplier businesses. Mayor Larry Di Ianni claims this "will create as many as 25,000 jobs".

What utter nonsense! Global crude oil prices, already hovering around $50 a barrel, are in the early stages of what Goldman-Sachs calls super spike instability, where escalating global demand collides with maxed-out global production to cause wildly fluctuating price hikes and economic volatility.

The airline industry is going to take a tremendous drubbing in the coming years. We can expect a wave of bankruptcies and consolidation mergers as the airlines hunker down to survive the combined cost crunch and drop in business.

Undeveloped land around the airport will fall prey to residential developers instead of eager businesses. The city will drive itself further into debt as it loses money providing public services to yet more far-flung, low-density sprawl.

This is exactly the opposite of where Hamilton should be focusing its energies. Instead of sinking $100 million into an economic black hole far from the centre of town, city council should be looking at ways to insulate Hamilton from energy price volatility, by encouraging compact, multi-use development close to the core.

As the long subsidy of cheap oil gives way to reality, transport will have to shift increasingly toward rail and shipping on the Great Lakes waterways - both of which depend on development around dense urban nodes to operate economically.

As David G. Neeleman explained after raising a whopping $128 million to start jetBlue Airways, "People who invest in aviation are the biggest suckers in the world."

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.

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