Welcome to Hamilton. (You are being screwed.)

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 28, 2005

Our beloved developers have won the day yet again in Hamilton, as City Council moves quickly to set its disastrous Aerotropolis plan in motion despite widespread opposition. It's as if the city is governed by an involuntary and uncontrollable orientation toward development money. Call it aerotropism.

The public meeting held on June 7 with minimal advance notice (the single ad placed in the Hamilton Spectator omitted both 'aerotropolis' and 'urban boundary expansion' and buried the city's intentions under a load of bureaucratic gobbledygook) appears to have been a hollow exercise. As Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) reports,

Twenty-eight people addressed the committee. Twenty-one opposed the proposals or the process. One asked for more information. The six who supported the plans included two from the Chamber of Commerce, and two from the company that runs the airport, one real estate agent and one representative of a local developer. The planning committee approved the proposals.

City Council announced one more public meeting for June 28, but citizens wishing to attend had better get their broomsticks ready, since the meeting is being held at Marritt Hall on 625 Garner Road East in Ancaster, far from the grasping fingers of public transit. (Watch the hammerblog for an upcoming report on the meeting.)

Attend the special aerotropolis meeting organized by Environment Hamilton on Monday, July 4, 7:00 PM at the Hamilton Public Library, Central Branch. The panel includes Jack Santa-Barbara and Michael Desnoyers.

Demonstrating a curious understanding of the term "public input", Councillor Murray Ferguson opposed a delay in deciding whether to proceed with the city's planned 3,000 acre urban boundary expansion by explaining that "there'll be a kazillion opportunities for public input."

Apparently, the only kind of "public input" Ferguson favours is on how best to implement aerotropolis, not whether to do so. (Longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro encourages a similar level of public debate on how best to implement the Revolution - but not on whether to do so. Ahem.)

Councillor Phil Bruckler displayed a reckless attitutude toward penmanship by calling aerotropolis "such a large and huge complex [issue] that if we try to dot all the I's, cross the T's, we'll be here for a lot longer period of time. And, I think the planes will go by and they'll miss us."

Of course, most people would argue that "such a large and huge complex" issue fairly cries out for exactly the kind of discussion and public oversight that Bruckler opposes, particularly since it is generating so much contention. This is in spite of the pains City Council has undertaken to keep its plans on a low profile.

Bruckler's concern that "the planes will go by" is a reference to the town of Pickering's advanced plans to build an aerotropolis of its own. As Councillor Terry Whitehead explained, "we are competing – no question, we're competing with Pickering. And, Pickering has the zoning in place. There's a greenfield development that's in place; there's a billion-dollar investment. What we don't have, quite frankly, is the zoning. This process is about getting the zoning in place."

Councillor Bill Kelly echoed Bruckler when he said, "If we delay this again, we're sticking our heads in the sand and progress and development and those economic advantages that we've been shooting for are going to pass Hamilton by."

Of course, the question of whether aerotropolis will actually convey "economic advantages" is exactly what is in dispute.

The overwhelming majority of speakers expressed concerns that aerotropolis will not be good for business after all, citing the huge cost ($100 million to provide services), the risk that it won't attract investors (just as Red Hill didn't attract investors), and the danger of investing in an industry that thrives on cheap oil, when oil prices are expected to double over the next five years, not to mention the loss of farmland, diversion of investment away from downtown, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and the blatant violation of the principles of the Ontario Government's Places to Grow legislation.

Of course, these concerns were barely acknowledged by the city, let alone rebutted. Councillor Terry Whitehead dismissed concerns about oil scarcity by saying, "It's a capacity issue of refining the oil, not as much in respect to taking the oil out of the ground. Yes, perhaps, find alternate sources of fuel."

It's true that the current oil bottleneck is partly due to refineries running at capacity, but they are so busy because the oil coming out of the ground these days is lower quality and needs more refining. But despite offers of free land on former U.S. military bases, oil companies aren't investing in new capacity.

If refining was the only problem, investment would flow into creating more capacity. As it stands, no one wants to sink a huge capital investment into an industry with poor long-term prospects.

As for "alternate sources of fuel," Whitehead is clearly out to lunch. You simply cannot fly an airplane on anything other than high-energy jet fuel. Bio-diesel and hybrid-electric motors are not going to save the day.

Aerotropolis is another Red Hill in the making, managed by the same crooked politics, the same sleazy developer money ... and the same hopeful but ultimately naive pipe dream that some magic bullet can solve our problems.

Hamilton actually has momentum right now. The downtown is coming back to life slowly but steadily, and we are learning to live with the abominations our forbears bequeathed to us in their misguided eagerness to embrace the future.

Our current City Council seems equally determined to pound this city back into dissolution by betting the farm (no pun intended) on a lame horse.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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