Things Looking Up for Employment Lands Supporters

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 08, 2008

Today's Hamilton Spectator carries an op-ed response to my piece from last week by Steve Howse, communications director for Hamilton International Airport.

Without going into a line-by-line critique, I'd like to point out a few observations related to his arguments.

Howse writes:

As with all commodities, oil prices rise and fall in a cyclical manner. The last oil price peak occurred in 1980 at about $47 a barrel. Factoring in inflation that would be $124 today, which is lower than today's actual price of $107.

The oil crises of 1973-4 and 1979-80 were strictly political in origin. The former resulted from OPEC countries restricting their exports in protest against the Yom Kippur War and the latter stemmed from the revolution in Iran.

Today, by contrast, persistent high - and steadily increasing - oil prices are geological in origin. They're the old-fashioned result of growing demand against a flat supply.

In particular, the rate of global oil production is at or very near an all-time peak, after which annual oil production will rapidly and inexorably decline as global oil reserves pass the halfway mark.

This thesis has been exhaustively studied by oil geologists, economists and energy investment bankers (see the RTH series on peak oil) and is not in serious dispute.

The only real debate is over when the peak will happen: the range is somewhere between now and 2012. Due to the nature of production analysis, it won't be possible to identify the peak until after the fact.

However, it's instructive that oil production has been stalled at around 85 million barrels per day for the past few years, despite steadily growing demand.

Howse also writes:

air transport actually contributes only 1.2 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada compared to the 18.2 per cent contribution from road transport.

This is in response to my statement, "In addition to consuming the most energy, air transport also produces the most greenhouse gas (GHG)."

Unfortunately, the constraint of a 1,000 word limit boiled the nuance out of this statement. I should have written that air transport consumes the most energy and produces the most GHG per tonne-kilometre.

Air transport is ten times as energy intensive as trucking and around a hundred times as energy intensive as shipping and rail. While it's true that the air industry has grown more efficient over the past several decades, it will never realize efficiency gains that match even the relatively polluting trucking industry.

The following paragraph is also worth examining in detail:

Hamilton International Airport is in support of developing all of Hamilton's employment lands, whether they are the brownfields on Burlington Street, expanding existing business parks in Stoney Creek or Ancaster, revitalizing the downtown core or the development of the Airport Economic Development Lands. That is why we are a participant in the community liaison committee and we support the findings of the independent consultants mentioned in the article, Hemson Consulting.

One of the most egregious 'findings' from the vaunted studies is the review (PDF) last week that vastly understated the available supply of brownfield lands by effectively defining most of them out of existence.

As Councillor Brad Clark pointed out:

Now we have this number out there about brownfields that shows 91 properties, but in reality had we actually applied the criteria of the definition, we'd have closer to 300 properties, and now what we've done is we've changed the definition in order to make sure that the definition meets the 91. It seems kind of backwards to me.

This, of course, is exactly what I've been trying to argue - that the decision makers in this city have already already committed to the airport lands and are simply rolling out post hoc arguments to justify that decision.

The membership of the Community Liaison Committee, of course, reflects and reinforces this policy determinism. Stacked with representatives from the airport, Chamber of Commerce, realtors association, a commercial property developer, a housing developer, a real estate agent, the former Glanbrook town planner, a pro-aerotropolis air traffic controller and two pro-airport councillors, their conclusions on the matter are more or less a fait accompli.

To conclude: if the airport lands really do have such an evidently "bright outlook", why are we so determined to stack the deck against alternatives? The best idea will win in a true marketplace of ideas; what are we so afraid of that we refuse to subject the plan to a truly rigorous critique instead of a coronation?

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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By peter (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2008 at 11:28:25

there's just so much potential money to be made. sweet, delicious money. i can't imagine what circumstances would have to occur to dislodge this inevitable occurrence. the rapture, perhaps?

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By HaveYour Say (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2008 at 15:07:01

Hello everyone,

The City of Hamilton is holding open houses in relation to the possibility of expanding the urban boundary to create more "employment lands" (industrial parks). This is part of the attempt to justify a need for a giant "aerotropolis" industrial park to the south of the City.

In order to justify the conversion of our City's farmlands into an aerotropolis, the City must demonstrate that there is insufficient industrial land withing the existing urban area. A big part of this relates to "brownfield" opportunities (breathing new life into unused or underused industrial land), because for every acre that we can find within the bayfront or other historical industrial areas, an acre of farmland is spared.

Hamiltonians for Progressive Development is concerned that the City has vastly underestimated the extent of brownfield opportunities within the urban boundary, resulting in a vast overestimation of the amount of farmland that we need to industrialize. Indeed, it is not clear that any urban boundary expansion is necessary to accomodate Hamilton 's future employment growth; if we, as a community, decide that we want to put an end to urban sprawl and want to refocus our efforts on rejuvenating our lower-city employment areas, this is the time to communicate this to our City representatives.

Please do consider attending one of the open houses and expressing your interest in seeing a larger role for brownfields. The details regarding time and place are set out below.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008
2:00 PM to 4:00 PM
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Parks Canada Discovery Centre
Multi-Purpose Room
57 Discovery Drive, Hamilton

If you would like additional information contact:

Municipal Comprehensive Review/Conversion Analysis
Joanne Hickey-Evans
905-546-2424 x1282

Land Budget/Supply
Guy Paparella
905-546-2424 x5807

Historical Land Use/Brownfield Inventory
Carolynn Reid
905-546-2424 x 4381

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