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Beyond Red Hill Valley: The Greening of

Development and the Democratization of Urban


If the current rhetoric about handing on a decent living environment to future

generations is to have even on iota of meaning, we owe it to subsequent
generations to invest now in a collective and very public search for some way
to understand the possibilities of achieving a just and ecologically sensitive
urbanization process under contemporary conditions. That discussion cannot
trust in dead dreams resurrected from the past. It has to construct its own
language – its own poetry – with which to discuss possible futures in a rapidly
urbanizing world of uneven geographical development. Only in that way can
the possibilities for a civilizing mode of urbanization be thought and imagined.
How to translate from this purely discursive moment in the social process to the
realms of power, material practices, institutions, beliefs and social relations is,
however, where practical politics begins and discursive reflection ends – David
Harvey (1996: 438).

The system’s learned a lot over the years about claiming to control the
environment and human beings. I think maybe that’s the analysis that needs to
be made – what is the nature of imperialism in contemporary politics? It’s
denied but it still exists by way of debit and credit, by way of economic
exploitation, environmental exploitation and human exploitation – Larry Green
(February 12, 2006)

The notion of urban sustainability is now widely known, if not widely understood. As

others have demonstrated (Gibbs 2000, 2002; Desfor and Keil 2004), urban

sustainability is now most often understood in relation to the tenets of ecological

modernization, which maintains that it is possible to redesign urban development to

minimize or eliminate negative ecological impacts. This is to be accomplished through

innovations in planning, infrastructural design and urban governance. Within North

America, this idea has recently been promoted under the banner of “smart growth” or

“growth management,” signalling a resurgence of support for the governmental

regulation of urban development after a decade or more of neoliberal deregulation. The

basic principles of the “compact” or “green city” advocated by environmentalists since

the 1970s, including intensification, “mixed-use” development, and the reorientation of

urban form around expanded public transit networks, has been repackaged in a way that

emphasizes the compatibility of such changes with “sustainable” economic growth and

advocates the gradual integration of these planning principles into structures of urban

governance and policy-making. In this way, the discourse of smart growth tends to

reassert the traditional political authority of governments, in partnership with business,

and distances itself from more radical critiques of urban development that emphasize

environmental justice, alternative approaches to economic development, and the

democratization of urban governance and planning.

My case study of Hamilton has illustrated the gradual and partial emergence of an

ecomodernist model of urban development and transportation in a post-industrial

context, showing how the legacy of the city’s industrial past has shaped the material

practices and symbolic representations of urbanization and its relationship to nature.

This has given rise to a “neo-Fordist ecological modernization,” exemplified by the Red

Hill Valley Project, in which an urban regime of business interests, politicians and

planners are struggling to maintain conventional Fordist development practices and

infrastructural investments alongside a rhetorical commitment to sustainability and

limited experimentation with post-Fordist strategies of intensification, ecological

restoration and downtown revitalization. Secondly, I show how and why a counter-

hegemonic narrative of urban sustainability has emerged through resistance to the Red

Hill Creek Expressway, emphasizing issues of ecological health, environmental justice

and democratic citizenship. In the effort to identify ways of creating more inclusive and

effective forms of environmental activism, this final chapter provides a summation of

my findings along with a constructive critique of this dominant “public ecology”

counter-narrative. This critique is based on my interviews with Aboriginal protesters

involved in the expressway conflict and the subsequent protests against colonial

dispossession and exurban sprawl in Caledonia, Ontario. Finally, I offer some thoughts

on how this case might contribute to future research in urban political ecology.

Neo-Fordist Ecological Modernization and the Ideology of Development

In May 2005, the Red Hill Creek Expressway was renamed the Red Hill Valley

Parkway, suggesting early modernist visions of carefully engineered roads seamlessly

integrated with the surrounding landscape and drawing motorists closer to nature. In the

years leading up to the completion of the expressway, it had become increasingly clear

that many land owners and developers stood to benefit financially from the completion

of the project. Just prior to the opening of the highway in November 2007, a short

article in the Hamilton Spectator (November 15, 2007) pointed to the many areas where

growth was expected to accelerate as a result of the highway. These areas included

Stoney Creek, transformed “from off-the-beaten-track to a hub courtesy of Red Hill”;

major roads near the northern end of the valley, where interest in the re-use of existing

commercial and industrial space was allegedly beginning to increase; the junction of the

Lincoln Alexander and Red Hill parkways, where further housing developments and big

box stores were appearing; various business parks on the escarpment; and Glanbrook

and Elfrida, two small communities at the edge of the southern urban boundary

witnessing the proliferation of residential housing and “big box” commercial

developments.1 These developments have grown quickly in the year since the Parkway

opened, creating a patchwork of housing tracts and strip malls across the rural lands

south of the valley.

Upon its completion in November 2007, the Parkway was celebrated in the pages of

the Hamilton Spectator (November 27, 2007) as “a key extension of our transportation

network… a state-of-the-art highway, built with attention to detail and deep

consideration of its impact on the nature through which it passes” (Figure 7.1). Experts

in restoration ecology had earlier been quoted in the newspaper describing the successes

of tree replanting, ecosystem rehabilitation efforts and realignment of the Red Hill

Creek, now “the longest continuous stretch of rebuilt urban waterway” in North

America (ibid, August 22, 2006). The City proudly announced that just over 13,000

trees were cut rather than the 44,000 originally estimated, and that 1 million seedlings

Housing developer and major land holder Aldo DeSantis was particularly vocal in his
enthusiasm for the completion of the road, telling the Spectator in 2004 that the expressway was
essential of for the success of his “Summit Park” housing development and the surrounding
escarpment lands slated for more residential and commercial development. DeSantis, implicitly
referring to greenfield development, claimed that “this were the growth in the city is going to be
for the next 10 to 15 years… Once the Red Hill (Expressway) is finished ... I would say this
whole area will take a life of its own because ... almost everywhere else in Hamilton is pretty
well out of land. If not for this project, Hamilton would have only two or three years of land
left” (quoted in Hamilton Spectator, April 21, 2004).

would be planted in the valley by 2011, thereby allegedly restoring “more habitat than

was disturbed by the roadway” (ibid, October 30, 2006). Chris Murray, project manager

for the Red Hill Valley Project, also highlighted details such as the elevated viaduct

beneath the road to allow the migration of animals, including specially designed

telephone poles intended to facilitate the movement of the endangered flying squirrel,

and future plans for a “cultural interpretive centre” and linkages to other parks on the

escarpment (ibid, November 8, 2005).

Figure 7.1: The Red Hill Valley Parkway (Hamilton Spectator, November 30, 2007)

Reflecting on the last five decades of debate over the road, the Hamilton Spectator

continued to frame the issue as a contest between economic growth and environmental

protection, suggesting that the criticisms of environmentalists had ultimately

contributed to a project that would serve the “greater good” by stimulating growth and

providing more efficient transportation, while successfully mitigating any negative

environmental impacts on the valley (Hamilton Spectator, November 16, 2007). Indeed,

the project has attracted a great deal of attention and has garnered the City awards for its

innovative design and restoration work.2 The Red Hill Valley Project is now represented

as a harmonious mixture of transportation infrastructure and ecological restoration,

achieving the “balance” between economic development and environmental protection

that proponents of the road had long advocated (John Dolbec, November 18, 2005).

However, in the process, the issues of urban sprawl, democracy, environmental justice,

and colonialism that became increasingly prominent during the expressway debate

remain obscured and ignored.

Through the Red Hill Valley Project, expressway proponents had successfully

promoted a vision of urban sustainability as the maximization of economic benefits

from conventional development practices and the minimization of the social and

ecological costs. In this way, proponents were able to sustain and revitalize the political

narrative of growth and progress that had been used to promote the expressway over

many decades. The urban growth frame at the core of the “growth and progress”

narrative had been adapted to create a new vision of “sustainable growth.” An

ideological commitment to the “free market” remained implicit. Economic growth

remained linked to societal progress and the absence of private sector growth was

The City received an Environmental Achievement Award from the Transportation Association
of Canada in 2004 and an Award of Merit for Environmental Infrastructure from the Consulting
Engineers of Ontario in 2007.

presented as the cause of poverty and societal degeneration. In the words of Chamber of

Commerce CEO, John Dolbec (November 18, 2005), “We need developers who can

invest money in developing the city – otherwise you don’t grow. And rightly or

wrongly, for better or worse, you’ve got to accept that not to grow means to decline.

Frankly, Hamilton has had enough of decline. We’ve been declining for 30 years.”

Economic growth, driven by the private sector, continued to be represented as an

unqualified good, with universal benefit for all. The association of urbanization with

population expansion and economic growth remains deeply rooted and largely

unquestioned, even within recent plans that attempt to manage that growth such as the

Province of Ontario’s recent Greenbelt Plan and Places to Grow legislation. As

Sandberg,Wekerle and Gilbert (2006: 10-11) write, “growth, in other words, is taken as

a given, and planning processes are seen as a rational practice not only precluding slow-

growth or no-growth options, but also supporting urban and regional competitiveness

that feeds the need for more development.”

There is no apparent differentiation here between types of economic development,

including those that may actually increase socio-economic disparity or benefit some

urban populations and areas more than others. Growth, to borrow the 1990s rhetoric of

economic globalization, is represented as a “rising tide that lifts all boats.” While many

environmentalists involved in the Red Hill Creek Expressway debate struggled to

represent urban sustainability as a dramatic shift towards alternative economic

development strategies and policies and away from those that contribute to socio-

economic polarization, ecological damage and environmental injustice, expressway

proponents advocated a more “moderate” approach (John Best, December 20, 2005) in

which alternatives would be “balanced” with the pursuit of “economic sustainability” –

defined as private investment “that ultimately pays the bills to afford the health care

system, social services and environmental mitigations that you need” (John Dolbec,

November 18, 2005).

This suggests a “trickle down” vision of sustainability, representing private sector

growth as the solution to social and environmental problems. Social, ecological and

economic issues are understood as three separate spheres (or “legs of the stool” in the

language of the Vision 2020 plan) that needed to be properly balanced. Economic

growth is described as a key aspect of sustainability but little consideration is given to

the interaction between economic, social and ecological conditions, and particularly the

socio-ecological impacts of conventional economic development practices such as

highway construction, support for industrial manufacturing, and the subsidization of

suburban expansion on the edge of the city. Expressway proponents argued that the

economic leg of sustainability would be strengthened by the project but paid little

attention to how investment in this project would divert funds from other development

initiatives and municipal services, encourage greater use of the private automobile, and

“lock in” future development patterns based around commercial, industrial and

residential “greenfield” developments on the periphery of the city. No contradiction is

noted in the use of economic development strategies that will likely contribute to poor

health, under-funded social services or environmental damage to pay for health care,

social services and environmental protection. Urban sustainability is presented not as a

qualitative shift in urbanization and transportation but as a strategy of “harm reduction”

that can minimize the negative impacts of development (John Best, December 20,


In this narrative, the city is often presented as a unified whole, an undifferentiated

public of “municipal taxpayers” who share the costs and benefits of development

equally. Attention is also directed to the scale of the individual household, through

references to prosperity, security and individual freedom as the fruits of development,

and to the scale of the global economy, source of the allegedly inexorable forces that

require cities to remain “globally competitive” at all costs. This narrative also assumes a

functionalist conception of urban metabolism, embedded in the industrial imaginary of

urban nature, which supports the compartmentalization of urban regions and functions.

Just as many expressway proponents interpreted sustainable development as “balance”

between three separate spheres of economic, social and ecological sustainability, the

expressway project itself focused on environmental mitigation and restoration within

the valley but paid much less attention to the road’s ecological impacts on water quality

in the Hamilton Harbour and air quality in the neighbourhoods surrounding the valley.

Similarly, proponents of the project frequently stated that roadway expansion and the

development of lands surrounding the airport could be pursued in tandem with

downtown revitalization and the expansion of public transit, suggesting a view of

urbanization in which land uses can be neatly compartmentalized.

Throughout the debate, pro-expressway groups appealed to a collective sense of the

city as separate from and in competition with the rest of the Greater Toronto Area,

united by civic pride in Hamilton’s past achievements, a “tough” and resilient local

character represented by the city’s industrial and labour history, and the common goal of

reclaiming the title of “the Ambitious City” through large-scale development initiatives

and economic revitalization (Ed Fothergill in Hamilton Spectator, October 26, 2003).

These arguments drew upon a persistent industrial imaginary that celebrated the

historical transformation of a wild and threatening first nature into a domesticated and

productive second nature through industrial development and infrastructure. Over the

course of the conflict, expressway proponents represented the valley as a “wasteland”

and garbage dump but were gradually forced to concede the aesthetic, recreational,

ecological and historical significance of the place.

The highway was then presented as a means of renewing or restoring this degraded

place, allegedly making it more attractive and accessible and improving the ecological

conditions by cleaning up the area and rerouting the creek to its original course. The

valley was re-presented as a place of ecological and cultural value but one that could

only be properly restored and utilized by the hand of development. In this way, business

and government were repositioned as the primary actors in the move towards urban

sustainability. Environmentalist critics were acknowledged as having “contributed” to

the creation of better project through their “input” but it was the City that could now

take credit for having restored and revitalized the valley, thereby reasserting their

ownership and control over this space and the transformation of urban nature more


According to this vision of urban sustainability, change should be driven by market

demand and facilitated by government. While almost all of the developers, politicians

and planners I spoke with acknowledged that more substantial, long-term changes to

economic development policies, urban form, transportation modes, and consumption

patterns would be required in future, they maintained that these transformations would

have to be driven primarily by “the market” rather than governmental regulation. The

role of government was described as primarily one of assisting economic growth and

the market was described as a clear reflection of consumer choice. While some

governmental regulation of where growth occurs was recognized as necessary (again,

under the rubric of “integrated growth management” or “smart growth”), how growth

takes place was largely seen as a matter of consumer choices that are then reflected by

market demand. In the words of Hamilton City councillor Chad Collins (December 15,


When you look at an old city like Hamilton it’s very difficult to deal with the market.
We can’t control where people want to live but I can at least encourage builders and
developers to try to provide some housing stock in a certain area. But I think until we
culturally change, until the majority of people realize that reliance on the automobile
is hurting us and that 50 by 120 foot lots may not be helping us environmentally or
financially, it’s hard to convince people that that’s the case. Locally we’re competing
with Oakville and Mississauga and Brampton and Brantford and they’re providing
that housing stock of new subdivisions with giant lots, single-family homes, paved
driveways and a two-car garage. So if Hamilton all of a sudden says we’re not doing
any of that - we’re holding our urban boundaries firm and we’re only looking at
residential applications for the inner city we’re going to continue to have young
urban people move to Toronto because we’re not offering them what they want.

The persistence of well-established development practices such as the expansion of

road infrastructure and suburban development was explained as a response to both the

demands of consumers and a method of survival within a political and economic climate

of increased inter-urban and international competition. Development continued to be

represented as a process that is (ideally) apolitical – a response to market conditions and

consumer demand that benefits all citizens, re-conceptualized in a neoliberal era as

“taxpayers” and “consumers”. Accordingly, the impetus for substantial cultural change

is seen to lie primarily with the needs and choices of consumers, with governments and

the private sector simply responding to these desires as they are expressed through the

electoral system and the market. There is little or no acknowledgement that both

government and business pursue their own interests, spending a great deal of money and

energy in the attempt to influence individual and collective behaviour.

Smart Growth, GRIDS and the Aerotropolis Debate

The struggle against the Red Hill Creek Expressway was one of a number of conflicts

over urban development in the Greater Toronto Area that began to escalate during the

late 1990s. The most widely publicized such struggle was the debate over the fate of the

Oak Ridges Moraine, a large geological formation north of Toronto that contains many

significant and continuous ecological areas and is the source of aquifers and headwaters

streams flowing down into Lake Ontario. In 1989, citizens began organizing to protect

the area from the encroachment of residential and commercial development. The

acceleration of residential housing developments in this area during the 1990s generated

public outcry that eventually persuaded the provincial government to impose a

moratorium and create the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, which imposed

development restrictions on the area while “compensating” real-estate developers with

lands elsewhere (Gilbert, Wekerle and Sandberg 2005).

In many ways, this signalled a significant shift for the Conservative provincial

government and the politics of urban planning in Ontario more broadly (Keil 2002). In

the mid 1990s, the Harris Conservatives had swept to power on a wave of enthusiasm

for the neoliberal nostrums of deregulation, privatization, the rollback of “wasteful

spending” and the valorization of the “free market.” But in the wake of escalating public

concern over the negative consequences of governmental deregulation, exemplified by

the water contamination crisis in Walkerton, Ontario, and the negative impacts of urban

sprawl, exemplified by the struggles over the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Red Hill

Valley, notions of regulated urban development began to resurface within planning

discourse under the banner of “smart growth.” With various controversies and scandals

weighing on the Conservatives, the provincial Liberal party came to power in late 2003

promising to put a stop to “years of unplanned sprawl” by encouraging development in

urban centres, preserving farmland and conservation lands on the urban periphery, and

improving transportation infrastructure, including renewed investments in public transit

(Pond 2006).

By 2005, the province had legislated the creation of a greenbelt around the periphery

of the “Greater Golden Horseshoe” where development would be limited or prohibited.

An accompanying plan for future land-use and urban development within the greenbelt

put forward intensification targets and designated growth areas where development

should be concentrated. This was framed as a shift to urban planning and governance on

a regional scale, a shift supported by advocates of a “new regionalism” based on

integrated planning between and across municipal boundaries as a means of tackling the

problems of urban sprawl, growing socio-economic polarization, and/or the kind of cut-

throat inter-urban competition venerated by neoliberalism (Sancton 2001, 2008;

Boudreau et al. 2006).

Within Hamilton, the language of smart growth was also been expressed through the

City’s “Growth Related Integrated Development Strategy” (GRIDS), “a process to

determine where the future growth of the City will take place, over the next 30+ years,”

integrating “land use, transportation, water, waste water and stormwater planning into

one project” (City of Hamilton 2008). Like the provincial “Places to Grow” legislation,

GRIDS made frequent reference to “growth management” and the need to determine

where future development would be encouraged and where it would be restricted, based

on careful consideration of the “social/cultural, environmental and economic

implications of growth and development decisions” (ibid). This plan was linked to the

“renewal” of Hamilton’s Vision 2020 sustainable development plan and the promise of

better integrating the principles of Vision 2020 into the planning practices of City

departments. A participatory “renewal process” was launched in 2003 that aimed to

reassess Vision 2020 and establish new directions for implementation that would then

provide guidance for the GRIDS plan. According to project coordinator Linda Harvey

(October 15, 2003), the aim was to restructure and institutionalize Vision 2020 as “a

value set, a way of making decisions” rather than existing only as “a series of tasks and

strategies that cost money.”

Citizens were invited to help formulate “development guidelines” that would then be

used to judge and integrate the components of the larger GRIDS strategy. A summary

“Consultation Report” of the nine development guidelines and suggestions for

implementation was presented to the public and endorsed by City Council in September

2003. The GRIDS plan was developed over the following three years, based on a

number of City reports and public consultations. A number of “growth options” were

then formulated and evaluated by City staff using a “triple bottom-line” method

designed to balance consideration of the economic, social and ecological impacts of

these different plans for the future development of the city. A “nodes and corridors”

option was ultimately selected that focuses “mixed use” development in particular

regions of the city and aims to develop better transportation linkages between them,

including both roadways and public transit.

While GRIDS was presented as a democratic planning exercise that was shaped by

public input, the final outcome of the process raises serious doubts about this claim. In

many ways, the outcomes seem to have been predetermined in advance. Just as the

consultations during the late 1970s regarding the north-south roadway generated

“options” that all included a road through the Red Hill Valley, all six of the growth

options presented to the public through the GRIDS process included two significant

urban boundary expansions, one to accommodate the proposed “aerotropolis”

development surrounding the Hamilton International Airport and a second to allow for

further residential and commercial development in Upper Stoney Creek. Although

consultants’ reports had demonstrated that the aerotropolis development would meet

only one of the nine development guidelines generated through public consultation,

politicians and staff in support of the airport expansion insisted that this was

necessitated by a severe lack of “employment lands” (Citizens at City Hall, May 19,

2006). In effect, the aerotropolis and other features of the City’s Economic

Development Strategy (created prior to the GRIDS process and without public

consultation) were excluded from any form or democratic deliberation or evaluation

according to the City’s professed “triple bottom-line” criteria.

This exclusion precipitated a renewed debate over the city’s future. Many activists

involved in the Red Hill conflict rallied together to voice objections to the aerotropolis,

joining local farmers and other residents living near the Hamilton International Airport.

A new organization, Hamiltonians for Progressive Development (HPD), was created

and soon became involved in an Ontario Municipal Board challenge against the urban

boundary expansion for the aerotropolis. HPD, Environment Hamilton and other critical

groups argued that the City had failed to consider the rising costs of air transportation

and the growing predictions of an imminent decline in worldwide oil supplies. They

pointed to the ecological impacts of increased air transit on regional air quality and

watersheds,3 as well as the socio-economic impacts of creating new jobs outside of the

impoverished downtown core and replacing viable farmland with industrial and

commercial development. Furthermore, this development may threaten indigenous

artefacts and sites in the area and the lands fall within the scope of the Nanfan Treaty

used to assert hunting and fishing rights in the Red Hill Valley. Finally, critics have
A large portion of the proposed airport development area includes the headwaters of Chippewa
Creek, which flows into the Welland River further east.

noted the economic costs of extending infrastructure outside the existing boundaries of

the city to service this development (Citizens at City Hall, February 23, 2008).

The Province of Ontario also challenged the City’s urban boundary expansion

through the Ontario Municipal Board, insisting that the City must complete the GRIDS

process and demonstrate that the boundary expansion had been subject to a

“comprehensive review” of alternatives before proceeding, including a needs

assessment and land budget analysis. Both OMB challenges have since been settled,

with the City committing to complete these studies and hold more public consultations

before further attempts are made to expand the urban boundary. A Community Liaison

Committee was created in late 2007 and has quickly become a site of intense political

debate over the proposed development. The debate surrounds the lack of clarity over the

actual decision-making structure of the committee; the revitalization of brownfield sites

versus greenfield development; and an ongoing dispute between the City and the

Province over provincial intensification targets and estimations of the amount of

available land for employment in the Hamilton area.4 The provincial government

disagrees with the calculations used by city staff and consultants to estimate the need

for greenfield industrial land around the airport, and says the city has overestimated the

Further controversy surrounds the impacts that the decline of world oil supplies will have on
the aerotropolis and the City’s largest growth strategy. In June 2005, City council responded to
concern about this issue by commissioning a study of “peak oil” and its implications for
Hamilton. This report was delivered to City staff in October of that year but staff repeatedly
delayed its release, taking the unusual step of demanding changes in the report from the
consultant. When the study was finally released in April 2006, council agreed to ask for the
creation of terms of reference for a more detailed study on the local impacts of peak oil. Three
requests have been made for these terms of reference but after two and half years, they have yet
to be produced by city staff (Citizens at City Hall, October 20, 2008).

amount of land required. Nevertheless, the majority of councillors and their senior staff

are rejecting the provincial warning and proceeding with plans to urbanize nearly 3000

acres of farmland (Citizens at City Hall, June 25, 2008).5

For many proponents of the Red Hill Creek Expressway, one of the most important

aspects of the road was its facilitation of the larger vision of Hamilton’s future as a

“multi-modal transportation hub,” linking together road networks, the airport and, to a

lesser extent, the port and railway lines (John Dolbec, November 18, 2005). In the

words of one prominent developer (anonymous, December 5, 2005),

Global trade is having a huge impact and technology is having a huge impact on the
way that goods are produced and shipped. I think we’re going to see North America
lose a lot of manufacturing jobs but if we position ourselves properly we could be the
assembly centre. For example, with computers, components are going to be
manufactured all over the place but with just-in-time inventories and people ordering
goods over the internet you see that things are becoming more and more customized.
That’s not going to happen at the factory where they’re manufacturing the parts, it’s
going to happen at the distribution centres where they put the parts together and on to
a truck or a plane. So that’s the kind of logistics that Hamilton can really capture.
Right now, Toronto has that market but we can offer a much less expensive
alternative to those types of companies… I guess I see us as the future downtown
core of the megalopolis that is going to eventually stretch from Ottawa all the way
down to Niagara Falls. I see that as eventually being all filled in, one continuous city.
And we will be the downtown core, in the middle of it all.

This vision, which requires the further expansion of roadways and greenfield

development on the edge of the city, is now being challenged by public resistance, the

provincial government’s emphasis on urban intensification targets, and rapidly changing

The City’s determination to press ahead is motivated in part by the threat of competition from
a proposed airport development in Pickering, just east of Toronto. Promoted by the Greater
Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA), which manages Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, the
Pickering Airport project was first proposed in 1975 and revived by the GTAA in 2002. This
project is now undergoing an environmental assessment process. While it is estimated that the
Pickering Airport could not be operational before 2012, it poses a serious threat to the City of
Hamilton’s own ambitious plans.

ecological and economic conditions on a global scale. This plan has also been disrupted

by a significant shift in the city’s governing urban regime. In the 2006 municipal

election, Fred Eisenberger, former chair of the Hamilton Port Authority, narrowly

defeated Mayor Larry DiIanni, a long-time proponent of the Red Hill Creek Expressway

and advocate of the aerotropolis expansion.

Eisenberger campaigned on a platform that emphasized downtown revitalization, an

end to “sprawl-like development,” and ethical integrity at city hall. To demonstrate his

commitment to this later principle, Eisenberger refused to take campaign contributions

from corporate or union donors, running a shoe-string campaign that sharply contrasted

with $200,000 war chest accumulated by Larry DiIanni. Eisenberger’s strategy drew

further attention to the controversy then surrounding DiIanni’s campaign contributions

in the 2003 election. Shortly after that election, community activists began examining

the records of the Mayor’s campaign financing and soon uncovered a long list of

apparent violations under the Municipal Elections Act, including different companies

listed under the same address and numerous contributions over the $750 limit. When

City council voted against an investigation, Joanna Chapman, a local business owner,

community activist and former politician, launched a legal challenge that resulted in

DiIanni being charged with 41 violations of the Election Act. Eventually facing six

charges in court, DiIanni pled guilty and was order to pay a small fine and write an

essay on campaign financing that was then published in Municipal World magazine

(DiIanni 2003).6 A number of companies were also eventually charged and fined for
This list includes A.DeSantis Real Estate Ltd and three associated companies (A.DeSantis
Developments Ltd., A.DeSantis Holdings Ltd., HGH Developments ); Dival Developments;

over-contributing to DiIanni’s campaign. The majority were from the development

industry, including many that benefited directly or indirectly from the completion of the

Red Hill Creek Expressway. This scandal raised public awareness about the influence of

the development industry in municipal politics and likely made a significant

contribution to the outcome of the 2006 election. The issue was covered by many on-

line and print media publications and contributed to discussions about the influence of

corporate and union donations within other communities during the election.

A 2006 study of campaign financing of ten municipalities in southern Ontario by

political scientist Robert MacDermid demonstrated that Hamilton was not the only city

in which the development industry accounted for a large percentage of donations.

MacDermid (2006: 21) concluded that, within the ten cities he studied,

the development industry is by the far the largest segment of corporate and of all
contributions in all communities. This is not surprising given the political economy
of the development industry and the vital role that municipal politics plays in the
creation of profit… developers and those who organize development interests have a
very good idea about who is a supporter of their goals. It seems unlikely that
development interests would continue to support an incumbent who had not been
supportive of development.

Doral Property Management (and associated company Trival Investments Ltd); Dufferin
Construction (and associates St. Lawrence Cement and TGC Asphalt and Construction Ltd);
Effort Trust; Fifty Road Joint Venture Inc; Fortran Traffic Systems (and associate Guild Electric
Ltd); Homelife Effect Realty Inc; J.Voortman and Associates Ltd (and associate Oakrun Farm
Bakery); LIUNA Station and LIUNA Gardens Ltd; Losani Homes; Sahar’s Hospitality Inc;
Silvestri Investments; Starward Homes Management Ltd; Tender Choice Foods and Venetor
Equipment Rental Inc.

Seeds of Change: Urban Ecology and Activism After Red Hill

The whirlwind of activism surrounding the events in the Red Hill Valley during 2003

and 2004 sparked new networks of communication and collaboration between different

groups and inspired new political strategies and campaigns, within and beyond the

boundaries of Hamilton. Growing out of the narrative of public ecology articulated over

the last decade of resistance to the expressway, these new initiatives have emphasized

public education and independent media production; alternative approaches to economic

development; and public participation in urban environmental governance, inside and

outside of the boundaries of the state. There is space here only to highlight some of the

most significant developments over the last five years.

Environment Hamilton, the non-profit group founded in 2001 by environmental

activists deeply involved in the Red Hill struggle, has become one of the most

prominent voices of change in the city, expanding its participatory ecological

monitoring programs to include tree inventories and the monitoring of industrial

emissions in the city’s north-end, and continuing to develop policy recommendations

based on this citizen-led research. More recently, Environmental Hamilton has launched

a climate change campaign focusing on changes in urban policy and the everyday habits

of citizen. It has also developed the Eat Local project, which aims to support and

encourage community supported agriculture, urban community gardening and local

organic food production, uniting rural and urban producers and consumers in the

Hamilton area. This later initiative has great potential to cut across spatial, socio-

economic and cultural divisions, establishing and strengthening lines of communication

and collaboration between urban and rural residents, and amongst citizens involved in

different aspects of urban agriculture and food production within the city, from

community gardens to food banks.

Transportation for Livable Communities (TLC), a working group of the McMaster

University Ontario Public Interest Research Group, was formed in 2000 to create a “Car

Free Day” event and has since become a strong advocate for “sustainable

transportation” in Hamilton. The group has lobbied the municipal government for

proposed improvements to public transit and cycling infrastructure, has led protests

against bus fare increases, and organized numerous public events that have included

public lectures, marches, and “parking meter parties” which use sod, lawn chairs, music

and food to transform parking spaces and even whole streets into public (party) spaces

(Figure 7.2). TLC now hosts a Car Free Week that combines these events and members

of the group have also been instrumental in organizing Hamilton’s monthly “Critical

Mass” rides, in which cyclists briefly “take back” the road by occupying multiple lanes.

Figure 7.2: Parking Meter Parties, 2001 and 2008

(Transportation for Livable Communities , 2008)

In late 2003, members of Transportation for Livable Communities and Environment

Hamilton established the Transit Users Group (TUG). TUG’s mandate was to build “a

strong, broad-based membership across the city of Hamilton” to advocate for better

public transit as a “crucial municipal service, central to the health of this community”

(Transit Users Group 2008). By March 2004, the group had produced a “Transit

Blueprint for Hamilton” that documented the decline in public transit funding and

usage, and put forward a series of policy recommendations.7 The “Blueprint” linked

together the decline in funding for transit, the decline of employment in the inner city,
TUG noted that municipal funding for transit had declined since the early 1990s and that
ridership on the buses on of the Hamilton Street Railway had declined by 33% since a peak
period in the late 1980s, despite a 25% growth in population over this same period. According
to TUG, “between 1986 and 2001, the share of total trips made by transit in the City of
Hamilton declined from 12% to 7%, while the total trips made by automobile increased from
72% to 76%” (Transit Users Group 2004: 8These statistics were further supported by a study
conducted for the City in early 2004 that compared ten major Canadian cities and reported that
Hamilton had the second highest amount of roadways per capita, the second highest level of
fuel consumption per capita, the third highest level of automobile ownership, and the fourth
lowest level of transit use (Friends of Red Hill Valley newsletter, March 2004).

rising levels of air pollution from automobile and truck traffic, and the growth of

suburban development and roadways on the southern edges of the city and beyond. In

order to reverse these trends, TUG advocated service improvements, various proposals

for keeping transit fares low and policy recommendations for the development of a

transit “growth strategy” to increase ridership. In addition to the “Blueprint” document,

activists produced and distributed flyers in seven different languages and lobbied local

politicians. Through their efforts, the 2004 budget for public transit was increased for

the first time in twenty years and proposed fare increases were rejected by a majority of

City councillors. More recently, members of TUG have played a major role in

generating public and governmental support for the development of a light rail public

transit system for Hamilton, discussed in more detail below.

Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) is another important initiative that emerged during

the final days of the Red Hill conflict. Another working group affiliated with

Environment Hamilton, CATCH began recording and transcribing City Hall meetings in

early 2004, focusing largely but not exclusively on matters related to the expressway.

The group soon expanded its focus, monitoring almost every committee meeting,

creating short “news” reports on important issues and debates, and providing verbatim

transcriptions of meetings that were considered particularly important or revealing (full

transcriptions have become infrequent in recent years because of the amount of work

involved and the lack of volunteers willing to do this). This material is made available

to the public via an email list and website, providing citizens with a one-stop source on

the latest decisions and debates at city hall and placing particular emphasis on issues of

urban planning, land use, transportation, urban environmental policy, poverty and social

justice, and democratic participation in municipal decision making. Over time, CATCH

has provided a valuable source of information for local activists while forging links with

similar municipal democratization initiatives in other countries within and beyond


In the months and years following the mobilizations of 2003 and 2004, Hamilton

witnessed a flourishing of independent media production. The Hamilton Independent

Media Centre (IMC) was particularly influential and prominent during the events in the

valley. The group had formed during a campaign against the Hamilton International Air

Show, becoming one of the first Canadian members of the International Independent

Media network that grew exponentially after the mobilization against the World Trade

Organization in Seattle 1999. During the mobilization in the Red Hill Valley, members

of the Hamilton IMC documented the events with sound and video recordings, creating

short news pieces and reports accessible via their website and broadcast by a number of

programs on 93.3 CFMU, the McMaster University campus radio station. During the

summer and fall of 2003, news was updated on a daily and often hourly basis. These

reports were produced by activists directly involved in the conflict and they often

provided a very different emphasis and perspective than the coverage in the Hamilton

Spectator. Slowly dissolving in the years following the Red Hill conflict, the Hamilton

IMC nevertheless played a vital role during this period of the conflict and influenced the

formation of other independent media producers in the city.

Raise the Hammer (2000) is a primarily web-based forum for promoting and

discussing a new vision for the revitalization of Hamilton based on principles of “the

healthy city,” including the recognition of the city “as a dense urban ecosystem” that

cannot be successfully micromanaged and compartmentalized; an approach to urban

planning that encourage environmental efficiency and vibrant public spaces; the

promotion of public transit and decreased reliance on the private automobile. Raise the

Hammer has been particularly influential in advocating for increased investment in the

revitalization of the inner city through public transit investments, the removal of the

city’s one-way street system, and the recovery and reuse of Hamilton’s many brownfield

sites. This publication has provided a strong critical voice against the City’s focus on

urban expansion around the Hamilton International Airport and the larger

“transportation hub” vision of the city.

Downtown renewal is also strongly promoted by H Magazine, a bi-monthly print

newspaper that celebrates Hamilton’s unique history and geography, with a particular

emphasis on the built environment and arts and culture. Political commitments are often

implied rather than explicitly stated but this publication has also proven influential in

generating public support for revitalization of the inner city and shaping a new urban

imaginary based on notions of social inclusion, environmental sustainability and

localized economic development. Mayday Magazine, a monthly print newspaper that

also advocates downtown revitalization and provides criticism of the prevailing urban

expansion model of urban development represented by the expressway and the proposed

aerotropolis, but places greater emphasis on issues of social justice and imperialism.

This publication demonstrates an ideological commitment to more radical politics,

particularly forms of anarchism closely associated with the global justice movement.

From this perspective, local issues are often framed in the light of more global and

international systems of oppression and exclusion, providing a context that is missing

from other publications. However, in practice, this means that local issues are often

given less attention or interpreted in terms of a larger political analysis that misses the

particularities and subtleties of the issue at hand. I discuss this problem further below.

Mayday is a publication of the Sky Dragon Centre, a non-profit cooperatively run

community centre located in downtown Hamilton (Figure 7.3). The Centre first opened

on a smaller scale in 1996, renting space for various martial arts, meditation and dance

classes while providing free meeting space for various community groups, including the

Showstoppers and others involved in the fight against the expressway. Centre director

Kevin MacKay was personally involved in this struggle and many others, organizing

numerous rallies, marches and festivals in support of various environmental, peace and

social justice campaigns. In 2004, the Centre was re-established as a non-profit

cooperative, modelled after long-running workers’ cooperatives such as the Mondragon

cooperative in Spain. The following year, after extensive fundraising, the co-op

purchased and renovated a building in the downtown core, using energy-efficient

construction materials. The larger vision for the Centre (which now includes an organic

café, numerous dance and marital arts classes, and daily events ranging from political

discussion groups to film nights and dance parties) is to serve as a community catalyst,

sparking new projects around the city that are based on the same principles of “direct

democracy, egalitarianism, and ecological sustainability” (MacKay 2004). According to

the Centre’s website (Sky Dragon 2008),

Establishing the Centre will introduce a living example of sustainable living into
downtown Hamilton, yet it is only the first stage of a much broader plan. Through
the project, a team of community activists will become knowledgeable in the
development process and can then explore other socially and environmentally
conscious community development projects. Ideas being considered include
developing large-scale green affordable housing co-ops, starting an organic farm, and
purchasing land to develop a retreat centre / eco-community. The Centre will also
facilitate these initiatives by providing resources, with all surplus revenue generated
by Sky Dragon entering into a project development fund. With this fund, a network
of innovative cooperative and non-profit ventures can be established. The goal is to
create more sustainable buildings, work-places and lifestyles within our city and in
other cities Canada-wide.

Figure 7.3: Sky Dragon Centre (2008)

The Sky Dragon Centre is an example of a new orientation in activism that has been

inspired by ideas developed and challenges identified during the struggle against the

Red Hill Creek Expressway. Kevin MacKay explicitly links the Centre to the lessons

learned during that struggle, including the need to understand how political and

economic power is exercised and maintained by the private sector, governments and

social movements; how to identify and minimize the tensions and misunderstandings

that prevent effective communication and collaboration between social groups; and how

to more effectively transform existing economic and social relations in order to foster

more equitable and ecologically responsible forms of development. MacKay explains,

(October 1, 2007),

I wanted to create a space to work on some of the foundational issues, so that the
next time we have a fight like that we’ve got so much more we can bring… If people
get smarter at knowing the system better, knowing what they’re going to throw at us
and what we’re going to run into. And also knowing ourselves a little better too and
working to communicate better. The more people that are oriented that way, the more
glue you’ve got to keep those different groups together.

The Centre aims not only to educate and better connect concerned citizens but also to

contribute to a gradual “institutional transformation” that can offer viable economic

alternatives, cooperatively providing products and services that can then generate

capital for community development projects.

Progressives must create institutions that supply basic human needs: food, shelter,
recreation. They must also provide institutions that educate, disseminate progressive
ideas, and create social spaces in which democratic skills can be nourished. A way to
move forward in this task is through the vehicle of non-profit corporations and
worker cooperatives. These have the benefit of being able to work legally within the

current capitalist system while possessing characteristics that are fundamentally
subversive to it (Kevin MacKay 2004).

The Sky Dragon Centre is a non-profit institution that is designed not to replace

governmental services, as per the neoliberal model of downloading service

responsibility to private institutions, but rather to function “in and against the market,”

making selective use of market mechanisms to support social enterprises and

community development projects (cf. Imbroscio 1997; DeFilippis 2003; Wainwright

2003; Albert 2003). Such initiatives aim “to reclaim the economic terrain as a medium

for communitarian and ecological values and practices” (MacKay 2004) by remaining

rooted in and guided by the needs, aspirations, knowledge and active engagement of

local communities. In similar fashion, the participatory urban ecology programs

organized by Environment Hamilton invite citizens to actively participate in generating

environmental knowledge that can then be utilized for different projects, including the

development of urban policy alternatives that are proposed to the municipal


This form of activism does not simply place demands for action upon government

but aims to simultaneously build community capacity for generating knowledge and

taking action independently of the institutions of the state. Arjun Appadurai (2001)

refers to this focus upon the utilization of public knowledge, the strengthening of self-

management capacities, and the socialization of state and market as “deep democracy”

or “governmentality from below,” noting the ways in which some contemporary urban

social movements are reversing the established flows of expert knowledge by

conducting their own studies and surveys, building their own pilot projects, and creating

public events that foreground the need for dialogue and democratic debate. These

initiatives are not calling for a return to the strong state of the Keynesian era or the

ceding of power to the private sector advocated by neoliberalism, but rather for the

further democratization of knowledge production and decision-making power, building

the capacity for citizens to understand and shape systems of governance (Fotopoulos

1997; Fung and Wright 2003). This “new” politics is an attempt to reclaim and redefine

the notions of “democracy”, “decentralization”, “participation” and “civil society” that

have been captured by the proponents of deregulation, privatization and “free markets”

(Wainwright 2003).8

John Gaventa (2001) provides a useful distinction between “social participation” and

“political participation” as two essential aspects of this kind of participatory

governance. Social participation refers to the efforts of communities to increase public

control of resources and regulatory institutions through grassroots capacity building,

coalition formation, and the creation of alternative institutions, while political

participation refers to efforts to influence states representatives and to participate in the

creation and implementation of public policies. Both are necessary in order to

strengthen the capacity of individuals and communities for self-determination and

informed political engagement, while democratizing and expanding the mechanisms for

Wainwright recognizes that such initiatives are building on previous strategies and narratives
of left politics, and are “new” only insofar as they are experimenting with innovative ways of
addressing the local and extra-local impacts of the global mobility of capital and the changing
role of the nation state, and working to redefine popular conceptions of “democracy”,
“participation” and “accountability” in the process.

participation in policy creation. This view is also captured by Fung and Wright’s

concept of “empowered participatory governance” (2003) as a combination of public

education; mechanisms for genuine public participation in decision-making; inclusive

processes of democratic deliberation; and forms of “countervailing power,” mobilized

by community and advocacy groups, that can guard against the domination or

manipulation of participatory governance initiatives by those with greater political

influence or wealth.

In the context of the conflicts over urban development and transportation in

Hamilton, the years following the culmination of the Red Hill Creek Expressway

struggle have brought a turn towards increased emphasis on social participation. At the

same time, activists have continued to pressure and influence government, often

drawing upon these public education and capacity building efforts to inform the policy

recommendations and tactics that they employ. One example is the Hamilton

Community Action Network (CAN), which was created in early 2005 to begin

identifying and supporting “progressive” candidates for the upcoming municipal

election in 2006. Candidates were ranked according to the criteria of “good

government,” defined as “transparent, accountable local government, whose players

cannot be improperly influenced,” and improvement of the “quality of life for all

residents” by “focusing on improving and enhancing existing infrastructure rather than

through outdated economic development strategies” (Community Action Network

2006). CAN’s documents make frequent reference to the Vision 2020 plan and clearly

draw upon the political frames of municipal democratization and urban ecology

developed during the Red Hill struggle. While failing to identify suitable candidates in

all sections of the city, the group did have a significant influence during the election and

contributed to Fred Eisenberger’s narrow victory in the 2006 mayoralty race.

Beyond the City: Environmental Politics, Justice and Canadian Colonialism

The struggle against the Red Hill Creek Expressway has also clearly had an impact on

environmental politics beyond the boundaries of Hamilton. While it is rarely recognized

as such, the ongoing Aboriginal occupation and land dispute in the town of Caledonia,

Ontario, is not only an issue of land ownership and political sovereignty but also a

conflict over the socio-ecological impacts of urban development. The land occupation at

the Douglas Creek housing development was sparked by concern over the social and

ecological impacts of accelerating urban development around Caledonia, which borders

the Six Nations territory (Figure 7.4). Following the announcement of Ontario’s “Places

to Grow” plan and greenbelt legislation, Caledonia found itself located just a few miles

beyond the greenbelt and soon became a very attractive area for developers

“leapfrogging” out beyond this limit. The town soon witnessed a frenzy of proposals for

residential housing (Bacher 2006).

Figure 7.4: Six Nations, in relation to Caledonia, Hamilton and the Red Hill Valley

(Map by Jane Mulkewich and Richard Oddie)

While concern was growing over the ecological impacts of urban development and

particularly the pollution of the Grand River watershed, the municipal government of

Caledonia was readily accommodating these proposals and passed a by-law in 2006 that

allowed for the construction of 5,000 additional homes in the area. Like the City of

Hamilton, the local government was also supporting the construction of the mid-

peninsula highway, which would further accelerate the conversion of the surrounding

agricultural land into residential and commercial development. On February 28, 2006,

people from Six Nations began occupying a partially-constructed housing subdivision in

Caledonia, asserting their claim to this land as part of the territory granted to them by

the Haldimand Proclamation of 1784 (Figure 7.5). Thus, the actions at Douglas Creek

Estates were motivated by the proliferation of new housing developments and proposals

for new urban boundary expansions, as well as the unresolved claims to Aboriginal

ownership of the land. The Places to Grow Act has been interpreted by many First

Nations as a direct threat to their sovereignty, as it allows the provincial government to

designate any land as a “growth plan area” and decide on its development, including

unceded indigenous lands (Bacher 2006).

Figure 7.5: Blockade at Douglas Creek Estates, Caledonia (Hamilton Spectator,

March 8, 2006)

Over the past three years, the Caledonia conflict has garnered national and

international attention due to the longevity of the land occupation, numerous solidarity

actions and blockades across the country, and the ongoing tensions between police,

protestors, and non-Aboriginal residents of Caledonia. This is the most significant

Native uprising in Canada since Kanesatake’s Mohawk revolt at Oka, Quebec, in 1990,

and it has drawn much needed attention to the plight of First Nations in Canada. The

ongoing negotiations to resolve the conflict may yet bring significant changes in the

relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian state. The mobilization at

Caledonia has also healed some of the political divisions at Six Nations that were

exacerbated during the Red Hill Valley conflict. Both the Haudenosaunee Confederacy

and Six Nations elected band council have supported the land occupation, calling for a

peaceful resolution through meaningful negotiation with the federal and provincial


However, unlike the Red Hill Valley conflict, there has been relatively little

collaboration with non-Aboriginal environmentalist groups. Over the past four years,

the connections between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal activists and organizations in

Hamilton, forged during the struggle against the expressway, have been sustained in part

through cultural events like concerts and fundraisers. More recently, a number of events

have gathered money to assist the land occupation in Caledonia. Groups such as

Hamilton Action for Social Change and the newly formed Hamilton Solidarity with Six

Nations have helped to raise awareness about the history of relations between Six

Nations and Canada and the federal government’s primary responsibility to resolve the

dispute through meaningful negotiation. However, there is little evidence of overt

support for the actions in Caledonia from non-Aboriginal environmentalist groups, or

notable interaction with Hamilton’s Aboriginal community around issues such as

poverty and homelessness. The Red Hill struggle provided new opportunities for

communication and coalition-building that have yet to be realized.

As I discussed in the previous chapter, the interaction between Aboriginal and non-

Aboriginal activists during the events of 2003 and 2004 was significant both because of

the level of collaboration between these various groups and because of the extent to

which Aboriginal perspectives on the conflict challenged the political narratives that had

long dominated the popular debate over the fate of the valley. These alternative views

suggest re-contextualized and expanded conceptions of the principles of environmental

justice and democratization expressed through the narrative of “public ecology” and

point towards a post-colonial political ecology of urban development and transportation

that disrupts the familiar framing of urban environmental politics within the conceptual

boundaries of the city, the state and the citizen.

As exemplified by the Red Hill case, Aboriginal perspectives place urban

environmental politics in a larger spatial and temporal context, drawing attention to the

fact that urbanization in Canada is rooted in the colonial dispossession and displacement

of indigenous peoples. Indeed, as demonstrated by the struggles at Red Hill Valley and

Caledonia, urbanization in Canada still largely depends upon these processes, frequently

claiming lands for development with little or no regard for treaty rights obligations or

unresolved land claims. This perspective shatters the still-dominant myth of the urban

frontier as terra nullius, a blank slate for development and modernization. It also

questions the untenable conceptual division between modern urban life and indigeneity,

encouraging recognition of indigenous peoples within Canadian cities and the extent to

which urban development impacts indigenous communities beyond the city limits

(Jacobs 1996; Peters 1996; Newhouse and Peters 2003). Thinking beyond this division

between urbanization and indigeneity suggests an analysis of urban political ecology

that further blurs the boundaries of the North American city, recognizing that changing

relationships between urbanization, governance and nature must be understood in

relation to the history of colonialism and its contemporary manifestations.

As I discussed in the previous chapter, Aboriginal perspectives further decentre the

state and the citizen within environmental politics by putting both concepts into

question. According to many of the Aboriginal activists that I interviewed, the Canadian

state should be viewed first and foremost as a mechanism for maintaining colonial rule,

designed from the beginning to support elite interests and control and constrain the

behaviour and life chances of others, particularly native people (Al Loft, October 19,

2005; Buddy Martin, December 27, 2005; Larry Green, February 12, 2006). The

principles and practice of liberal democracy celebrated by many activists in the Red Hill

struggle were viewed with a more sceptical eye by Aboriginal participants. In the words

of Larry Green (February 12, 2006),

What is the concept of democracy? My understanding is that the Greeks had no

concept of “the people.” They had a class of individuals which were a working force
for the benefit of the citizens. So being a citizen meant that you were a class above
the working people. So there are all these concepts that are used without clarity and
without thinking about their origins.

The privileges of citizenship in western democracy have recently been extended

from a white, wealthy, male elite to other social groups, and the agenda of many

“progressive” social movements has become the further extension, deepening and

“radicalization” of the democratic ideal. This is clearly evident in the words and actions

of many of the groups involved in the struggle against the Red Hill Creek Expressway,

as demonstrated by the narrative of public ecology. As I’ve tried to demonstrate, these

groups have developed an understanding of urban politics and activism that aims to

work “in and against” the state and the market, pushing for greater democratic control

over urban development and governmental institutions (political participation) while

working to create social and economic networks that provide citizens with the

knowledge and ability to better govern themselves (social participation). However,

many of the Aboriginal activists I spoke with placed greater emphasis on the notion of

self-management and much less on engagement with the institutions of representative

democracy, which were viewed as systems of imperial rule that continue to privilege the

interests of an elite few.

This perspective suggests a more nuanced view of participation and democracy that

is based on the differential capacities of people to participate in both the institutions of

representative democracy and community organizing due to overlapping, systemic

forms of oppression that include racism, sexism, and socio-economic disparities (Cooke

and Kothari 2001; Hickey and Mohan 2004). Rather than assuming an undifferentiated

notion of “the public” or the citizen in the struggle for democratization, this perspective

insists that emphasis must be placed on recognizing, understanding and assisting those

who are excluded from these concepts and categories: indigenous peoples, people living

in poverty, people without homes, people without citizenship, and others lacking the

socio-economic means and/or social status enjoyed by others. Such groups may have

little engagement with the institutions of the Canadian state and may have little

inspiration or incentive to become engaged in this kind of political participation, yet are

often deeply engaged in politics – indeed, often a politics of daily survival. The

concerns and activities of such groups may too easily be overlooked by an

environmental politics that assumes an uncritical or homogeneous view of citizenship or

that remains narrowly focused on the machinations of urban governance, planning and

environmental policy.

Finally, as I discussed in the previous chapter, Aboriginal perspectives on justice and

democracy can reveal the limitations of liberal conceptions of these ideals, conceptions

that are often implicit even within more radical expressions of environmental politics in

Canada. By defining citizenship as primarily a set of individual political and civil rights

to “life, liberty and property,” liberalism promotes the formal legal and political equality

of individuals. Yet, it fails to adequately consider claims to collective or group rights,

particularly those that question the private ownership model of property (Blomley 2004;

Turner 2006). Further, a liberal framing of justice and democracy can obscure

recognition of systemic forms of exclusion operating within social movements

themselves. Within many environmental groups, traditionally dominated by white,

middle-class activists, activists from other backgrounds are greatly under-represented

and engagement with communities of colour is often very limited or tokenistic –

regarded as peripheral to a conception of “environmentalism” that brackets out issues of

oppression and discrimination (Agyeman 2005; Sandler and Pezzullo 2007). While a

number of the groups that I have discussed in this dissertation have begun to expand and

strengthen the connections between middle-class environmentalists, social justice

groups and activists from low-income neighbourhoods within the city of Hamilton,

there remains much work to be done in expanding connections to other social groups

and communities, particularly Six Nations and other communities of colour, through an

active engagement in anti-racism and anti-oppression work.

As Tom Keefer (2007) argues in his analysis of the response of the non-Aboriginal

left to the land occupation in Caledonia, white activists who have provided support for

indigenous movements often fail to directly address racism within their own

communities and to directly counter anti-Native sentiments and movements, choosing

instead to “take leadership” from Aboriginal people. As the Red Hill case demonstrates,

each particular situation may involve various claims to “leadership” and internal

political conflicts that non-Aboriginal activists may be unfamiliar with. Furthermore,

Aboriginal activists may be wary of allowing further non-Aboriginal influence upon the

internal dynamics of their communities, given the historical legacy of such interference.

In Keefer’s words, “building radical organizations and combating white racism within

predominantly white communities, workplaces and political organizations will be

particularly hard. But it remains a necessary task as a pre-condition to building

meaningful solidarity with indigenous struggles” (2007: 10).

Building these bridges will require an ongoing commitment to understanding the

interlocking forms of exclusion and oppression that perpetuate environmental injustice

and the degradation of urban environments. In Laurie Adkin’s words, “a collective

identity for ecology as a social movement cannot be constructed in the absence of a

discourse about experiences which are spatially, temporally, and culturally located”

(1998: 312). This requires the articulation of values, goals and political identities that

resonate with the diverse social, economic and cultural roles or positions that people

embody. In this case, connections can be strengthened through engagement with the

ongoing land occupation at Caledonia, which can be seen as an extension of the struggle

to protect the Red Hill Valley. Once again, pressure for development is pitted against

efforts to protect a landscape with profound cultural, historical, ecological and

economic significance. These efforts parallel the efforts to limit or prevent the

aerotropolis development in Hamilton and both struggles share an opposition to the

proposed mid-peninsula highway. Activists in Hamilton have much to gain by thinking

beyond the limits of the city and working to support the people of Six Nations. As Joyce

Green (1995: 99) writes,

Facing up to the past means owning all of our history, rather than perpetuating the
myth of white settlers creating civilization in uncharted wilderness. Taking
responsibility means understanding that the national wealth has been accrued at the
expense of Aboriginal peoples, in ways that were legislatively mandated by
governments acting on non-Aboriginal Canada's behalf. Decolonization in the
Canadian context means engaging in the perpetual work of maintaining relationship,
not so that it can be circumscribed and terminated, but so that it can carry us all into
the future. This new relationship will provide a framework for the elaboration of a
non-colonial form of government, and for the creation of a society in which the
history and well-being of some is not secured by obliterating the history and well-
being of others

Conclusion: Some Contributions for Thought and Action

Over the course of this dissertation, I’ve sought to explain the decades-long conflict

over the fate of the Red Hill Valley in terms of competing political narratives that

presented different conceptions of the relationships between urban development,

democratic governance and nature. I’ve attempted to account for the hegemony of a

dominant narrative of “growth and progress” and the emergence of a counter-

hegemonic narrative of “public ecology,” analyzing the historical development of these

narratives in terms of their dialogical relationship to each other, the influence of

changing political economic conditions, and the ways in which they both responded to

and shaped prevailing normative visions of the relationship between nature and the city.

I have shown how resistance to the Red Hill Creek Expressway involved ongoing shifts

in the material and discursive strategies employed by community activists as they

responded to political opportunities and setbacks. Discursively, this involved a shift

from a narrative of urban conservation, defending the ecological and recreational value

of the valley, to one that emphasizes environmental justice and greater democratic

control over urban development. In the process, even as they failed to prevent the

construction of the expressway, activists have succeeded in politicizing the relationship

between urbanization, nature and democratic governance. This has taken the conflict far

beyond the confines of the Red Hill Valley and led to an ongoing debate over the future

of this post-industrial city.

I have described this shift in terms of changing political frames that brought about a

gradual transformation in the larger political narrative articulated by expressway

opponents. Over time, the alternative vision of urbanization offered by critics

emphasized urban ecology as the basis of urban development rather than simply

protecting nature from development; socio-spatial inequality and environmental

injustice rather than a less specific focus on the relationship between health and urban

nature; and ecological citizenship within and outside of the bounds of the state rather

than the earlier emphasis on public participation in municipal decision-making. In all

respects, these changes represent an evolution of political analysis and action, based on

the lessons taught by the successes and failures of this long-running struggle.

The events of 2003 and 2004 highlighted both the extent to which activists had

managed to build new bridges of communication and cooperation between disparate

activist communities, and the extent to which they had failed to mobilize sufficient

numbers of people to support their efforts at direct action. These experiences provided

important lessons, not the least of which is that future successes required more

significant investment in public education and capacity building. Alternative media

production was regarded as particularly important given the dominance of the Hamilton

Spectator as a primary news source within the city and the perceived need to revitalize

and maintain the momentum of mobilization and critical debate within activist circles

that had been generated during the actions in the valley. As discussed above, many of

the new initiatives that emerged out of those actions emphasized the importance of

directly involving citizens in community events, public discussions, and the collective

generation of knowledge in the effort to provide conditions under which people can feel

personally connected to the issues, connected to others who share their concerns and

thereby empowered to take action (Lynda Lukasik, June 30, 2005).

During and after the Red Hill struggle, activists have also concentrated on

understanding, publicizing and working to influence municipal decision-making

structures and the political networks that sustain particular regimes of urban

governance. Significantly, the efforts of groups like Citizens at City Hall has further

highlighted the important role that city staff and planners play in shaping political

discourse and policy formation, and demonstrated the multi-scalar networks of

communication and influence between city planners, politicians and corporations that

promote and sustain particular transportation and economic development projects,

providing support through money, labour and ideological discourse. As implied above,

the advancement of a new vision of urban development will require continued efforts at

involving citizens in both the social participation of public education, dialogue and

capacity building, and the political participation of understanding and engaging with the

institutional structures of urban governance.

In Hamilton, and in most other cities around the world, the greatest challenge facing

those who support “a just and ecologically sensitive urbanization process” (Harvey

1996: 438) is the persistent persuasiveness of the language of growth and progress, the

equation of economic growth with societal progress and prosperity for all, and the

continued conceptualization of biophysical processes as external to processes of

economic development and urbanization rather than integral to the very possibility of

human survival. This is readily apparent in conflicts over urban transportation such as

the Red Hill case, where support for the expansion of roadways and associated urban

development was reinforced to a great degree by the identification of roads and

automobiles with well-established notions of technological progress, individual freedom

and economic renewal. Such identifications take on additional resonance within the

historical context of an industrial city, where progress has traditionally been equated

with the taming and transformation of biophysical processes through technology and

human labour, and where visible signs of this legacy persist, from the billowing

smokestacks to the clouds of smog and derelict brownfield sites. In such places,

perhaps, it is easier to view the weeds and wildflowers now reclaiming these abandoned

spaces as signs of failure and “decline” and to imagine renewal in terms of new

industrial-scale development projects that can again successfully transform the “wasted

space” of nature into productive spaces of wealth and prosperity.

As I have sought to demonstrate throughout this thesis, the persistence of these ideas

and desires, mediated and experienced through specific regional landscapes and

discourses, is shaped to a large extent by political economic conditions and not simply

by the contest and interplay of political narratives. The story of the Red Hill Creek

Expressway demonstrates the ease with each urban development can become locked

into paths of infrastructural dependence by previous planning decisions (or lack thereof)

and prevailing economic conditions, at multiple scales. In this case, politicians and

planners failed to maintain Highway 20 as a north-south escarpment crossing due to

political pressure from residents and business interests, including the Ontario Land

Corporation, and were consequently persuaded to promote the valley as the most

politically and financially expedient route.

The ability to pursue more innovative (and politically contentious) solutions to traffic

congestion was diminished during the 1980s and 1990s by the gradual decline of the

steel manufacturing industry under conditions of economic globalization, followed by a

more regional application of deregulatory fanaticism under the Conservative provincial

government of Mike Harris. With a physical infrastructure and transportation system

long geared towards support of the manufacturing sector, and now faced with serious

industrial contamination of air, water and soil, Hamilton faced significant material

obstacles to pursue the kind of alternative urban future suggested by the Vision 2020

plan, combined with the resistance from various local actors who continued to benefit

from adhering to established Fordist development patterns and practices. While the

recent turn towards regional “smart growth” under a new Liberal provincial government

has provided political and financial support for urban intensification, the expansion of

public transit, and other efforts to limit suburban expansion and “greenfield”

development, there remains little financial support from all levels of government for the

rehabilitation and reuse of brownfield sites in Canada – support that is absolutely crucial

for post-industrial cities such as Hamilton.9

I’ve tried to demonstrate that Hamilton, as a former manufacturing centre with a

unique physical geography and political history, provides an important case study of the

ecological modernization of urban development. The city faces unique challenges due

to the path-dependencies created by the legacy of steel manufacturing, including the

accumulation of environmental pollutants and contaminated brownfield sites, and

continued reliance on industrial development and associated transportation

infrastructure to support the municipal tax base. Dominant conceptions of ecological

modernization have thus sought to promote the notion of “balancing” environmental

protection and rehabilitation with a continued emphasis on the expansion of

transportation infrastructure and greenfield business parks to attract new investment.

It must be noted that the City of Hamilton’s Environmental Remediation and Site
Enhancement (ERASE) program has had some recent successes in encouraging the
redevelopment of brownfield sites. ERASE provides grants and property tax concessions for
redevelopment projects and preliminary studies.

The “greening” of the Red Hill Creek Expressway serves as an example of this vision.

At the same time, activist networks galvanized by the struggle against the Red Hill

Creek Expressway and rooted in a rich local history of labour and environmental

activism, have challenged this vision with an alternative urban imaginary.

Through resistance to the expressway, activists have politicized established

approaches to urban development and highlighted the close ties between municipal

politicians and the development industry. They have succeeded in drawing critical

attention to the wider model of urban development represented by the Red Hill Creek

Expressway and fostering debate over the future course of urbanization for the

Hamilton region. In the political space opened up by the defeat of Mayor Larry DiIanni

and the disruption of the “pro-growth” governing regime that had promoted the

development of the expressway and the aerotropolis, many activists have been re-

presenting an alternative vision, an urban environmental imaginary that first emerged

out of the Vision 2020 plan. This is a vision of Hamilton as a city that more fully

embraces ecological modernization, abandoning reliance on manufacturing jobs,

highways, and related infrastructure in favour of urban intensification and revitalization

of the ailing inner city, a modal shift away from the car to public transit and cycling, the

reduction of energy and land consumption, and the redirection of investment towards

service industries, information technology, arts, culture and tourism (Ryan McGreal in

Hamilton Spectator, April 2, 2008).

This alternative urban imaginary presents natural processes and spaces as vital

components of urban life, highlighting the integration of urban form with nature rather

than the transformation and domestication of nature through urban development. The

lake, the valley, the escarpment, and surrounding conservation areas and parklands, are

highlighted and celebrated as unique features of the region that contribute to Hamilton’s

“quality of life” as places of ecological and cultural significance. The modernist vision

of urban metabolism as requiring the compartmentalization and control of nature,

expressed in the industrial imaginary and exemplified by Hamilton’s historical planning

practices, is rejected in favour of a conception of the city as a composite of

interconnected and overlapping social and biophysical processes that can only be

partially understood and anticipated. This casts doubt on the idea that the city can be

“master planned” and perfectly managed, and points instead to a more holistic and

synergistic vision of urban metabolism.

In contrast to the more radical elements of the public ecology narrative articulated

during the final years of resistance against the road, this emergent vision of the green

city places less emphasis on issues of democratization and environmental justice, and

more emphasis on alternative strategies of economic development and urban planning,

fleshing out details that remained vague during the previous decades of resistance.

Those supporting this alternative imaginary now have a political opportunity to affect

more substantial changes in urban development and transportation policy but must also

be wary of abandoning the more radical analyses and ideas for change suggested by the

struggle against the expressway, as I’ve tried to demonstrate through my discussion of

Aboriginal politics and the Caledonia land occupation.

Over the course of many years and successive waves of activism, the expressway

conflict produced a vibrant mix of activist movements and forged networks of

communication and collaboration between environmentalists, social justice and anti-

poverty groups, peace and global justice advocates, animal rights activists and many

others, cutting across and combining different political ideologies. My analysis suggests

that local activists must continue working to understand and challenge the language,

ideas and desires that grant particular approaches to urban development and

transportation a hegemonic status, as well as the material interests and political

economic conditions that “lock in” these accumulation strategies by limiting the ability

to pursue alternative approaches. This requires an approach to urban environmental

politics that does not focus exclusively on the local scale or reduce all local problems to

manifestations of global forces but rather illuminates how urban conflicts are shaped by

networks of people, ideas, money and biophysical processes that stretch across

geographical scales, and how those scales are continually redefined through political

struggles as actors work to highlight particular socio-spatial relations while obscuring

others. As Brown and Purcell (2004: 611) write,

the analysis of scale should examine how the relationships among scales are
continually socially produced, dismantled, and re-produced through political
struggle. The analysis should always see scales and scalar relationships as the
outcome of particular political projects. It should therefore address which political
interests pursue which scalar arrangements. Furthermore, it should analyze the
agenda of those political interests.

Such considerations can inform the development of policy alternatives, particularly with

respect to economic development. In Hamilton and elsewhere, activists face the difficult

challenge of understanding and utilizing political economic opportunities to promote

alternative approaches to urban development that resist the tendency to separate

economic, social and ecological sustainability into separate conceptual and policy

spheres. Further, these alternative approaches must tap into prevailing urban

environmental imaginaries, drawing upon popular symbols, concepts and spaces that

can be imbued with positive notions of ecological responsibility, cultural revitalization

and democratic renewal. Finally, I have argued that alternative visions of urban

development must be built on a commitment to environmental justice and

democratization that extends beyond the familiar conceptual boundaries of the city, the

state and liberal individualism.

This case study highlights three major areas for future research in urban political

ecology and environmental politics. The first concerns the need for more detailed

research into the historical formation of discourses of urbanization and nature, and

particularly counter-hegemonic narratives that are able to mobilize citizens to challenge

depoliticized visions of urban sustainability and ecological modernization. This can help

flesh out the “political programme” of political ecology in practice, “identifying the

strategies through which a more equitable distribution of social power and a more

inclusive mode of the production of nature can be achieved” (Swyngedouw 2006: 13). I

have argued that this requires more detailed analysis of the material and discursive

strategies employed by contemporary social movements, drawing upon elements of

ideological and framing analysis from recent work in sociology and political science.

While I have only scraped the surface in this case study, I think there is much to be

gained from making use of these tools to be better understand how counter-hegemonic

movements are challenging unjust socio-ecological relationships and how they might do

this more effectively.

Further, I’ve suggested that we must critically interrogate the principles of “justice”

and “democracy” that are valorized by many contemporary environmental movements

and by researchers in political ecology. As Tim Forsyth (2003: 158) has persuasively

argued, many studies in political ecology have tended to “overrate the role of social

movements as autonomous, powerful agents,” paying insufficient attention to how

movements draw upon existing social relations and oppressive discourses, often

reinforcing those relations and replicating those discourses rather than promoting their

democratization. Forsyth calls for an analysis of environmental movements that

considers how the interaction between structure and agency “leads to different

constructions of environmental reality” (ibid: 167). I’ve tried to provide this kind of

dialogical analysis through my study of the various social movements involved in the

struggle against the Red Hill Creek Expressway.

I have drawn attention to the need for more research on the political ecology of

transportation infrastructure, in order to better understand the political-economic

pressures and socio-ecological relationships that sustain particular modes of urban

transportation and development over others. In my case study, I’ve directed particular

attention to “infrastructural inertia” and the historical relationships between

transportation, urban form and the use of urban nature in this (post)industrial city,

showing the ongoing conflict over transportation and development has been shaped by

differing visions and ideologies of nature, urbanization and sustainability. Based on this

dissertation research and my own life experiences as a community activist in Hamilton,

I have become particularly interested in comparative research on the political ecology of

transportation and development in other mid-sized, (post)industrial cities and intend to

pursue this line of inquiry in the near future. As I suggested in Chapter 1, I believe that

these “shrinking cities” are very important sites for future research in urban political

ecology and environmental politics, both because of their unique socio-ecological

features and because of the very serious problems and challenges that they face.

Finally, I’ve tried to demonstrate the need for more research on the political ecology

of indigenous struggles for political sovereignty and environmental justice, particularly

in the context of North America. In my research, I found surprisingly few studies of

such struggles within North America. I found even fewer that considered the interaction

between white and Aboriginal environmentalists, and the ways in which First Nations

perspectives challenge prevailing conceptions of environmentalism, along with related

understandings of citizenship, democracy and development. It is my hope that this

dissertation makes some small contribution in this respect and it is my intention to focus

on this area in future research. I am very interested in exploring how contemporary

research on urban political ecology, governance and ethics might more effectively

engage with, learn from and actively contribute to indigenous struggles for

environmental justice within (and against) Canada.

In Hamilton, there is talk of a new renaissance for the city – waterfront

redevelopment, downtown revitalization, the flourishing of a vibrant independent arts

scene, the gradual rehabilitation and redevelopment of brownfield sites, and new

innovative industries specializing in health care, education, arts and culture are all

encouraging signs of a new city being born. These hopes are now represented by a

proposed rapid light rail transit system that, with substantial funding for the Province of

Ontario, may soon transform how people view this city and how they move within it.

Proponents rightly suggested that this could be a milestone for Hamilton, representing a

shift away from land-intensive and polluting forms of auto-centric urban development

and transportation, and towards a more compact and accessible community. Yet, these

hopes for a healthier urban future must be tempered by the plans for further extending

greenfield development south of the city; the continued practice of citing

environmentally harmful industries and infrastructure in the city’s polluted east end; the

persistence of desperation, hunger and homelessness for many Hamiltonians; and an

ongoing struggle against colonial dispossession that has now shifted from the Red Hill

Valley to the exurban housing developments of Caledonia. In the wake of the decades-

long conflict over the Red Hill Creek Expressway, Hamiltonians are now presented with

new opportunities for building a healthier, more equitable, and democratic city. But

these possibilities will only be actualized by building upon and expanding the grassroots

traditions of civic engagement, environmental responsibility and social justice that have

grown here over many decades, like weeds through cracks in the concrete.