Rejecting the Politics of Cynicism and Disposability
From the Nest, Issue 7
by Summer Thomas and Alex Wilson
As of Friday, July 23, the submission period for the City of Hamilton’s GRIDS 2/MCR Urban Growth Survey has come to a close. As city staff count the ballots, we know that over 8,000 residents of Hamilton submitted their vote for “Option 2”, no boundary expansion, through Stop Sprawl HamOnt.
This groundswell of public engagement, in contrast to the 157 replies the original public outreach survey reached, has sent a clear message to our councillors, who will be voting on this issue in the coming months.
As the survey draws to a close, we’re reflecting on how we got here in the first place. It seems obvious that farmland and greenspace must be conserved.
The declaration of a climate emergency in the city of Hamilton, and considering the fact that farmland is such a valuable resource in the fight against climate change, should be enough – once it’s paved, it’s dead.
But this seems to be lost on the Province’s Conservative government and several Hamilton city councillors, who seem to be actively advocating to pave this precious, finite resource.
It makes us wonder who or what the priorities of our provincial and municipal governments are really for.
Investigations from the National Observer and Toronto Star have repeatedly shown donors to Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party to be the beneficiaries of provincial policy making. It is land owners and developers who see their land value increase if the urban boundary is expanded to include their property. Put simply, this is an excellent example of our provincial government giving handouts to its friends while municipalities do the dirty work of expanding the urban boundary to meet these provincial projections.
Rather than standing up for our city or addressing the flaws in the Province’s methodology, some councillors seem to be fear mongering about intensification. For example, Ward 12 Councillor Lloyd Ferguson took it upon himself to purchase a half-page advertisement in the Ancaster News on July 22, in which he spouted misleading messages about increased traffic, taller buildings, and a “threat to the small-town feel” of Ancaster, should a no boundary expansion method of growth be selected for Hamilton.
Let’s imagine for a moment that these concerns are based in fact, ignoring that the methodology used to come to Ontario’s population growth predictions has come under fire by planning experts across the province, at what point does the threat of mass extinction outweigh the threat of losing that “small-town feel”? How many heat waves? How many deaths? How many floods and droughts? And why on earth are councillors like Lloyd Ferguson, whose priorities clearly lie elsewhere, leading the Hamilton Conservation Authority?
Despite the declaration of a climate emergency over two years ago by the City of Hamilton, very little has been discussed and even less has been accomplished. This is in stark contrast to the urgency we face.
The question of where and how our city will grow over the next 30 years is being discussed with next to no mention of this climate emergency by City staff or our City Council. Instead of talking about meeting the climate and biodiversity crises we face, our city is talking about how much land to pave over. It makes us sick.
And yet, in the face of the rampant climate denial and delay at all levels of government, feelings of hope have been instilled in those of us who have participated in the campaign to stop sprawl in our city.
This movement has shown us that, overwhelmingly, Hamiltonians want to live in a resilient city that plans for the needs and safety of those who do and will live here. As a community, we have come to understand that implementing a firm urban boundary is a chance to make positive changes in housing, transit, employment, and food security.
Additionally, by challenging the belief that we can always expand outwards, we’re pushing back against an ongoing system of land theft that’s been in place since the beginning of colonialism on Turtle Island.
Ensuring that we have a firm urban boundary could mean transitioning from looking outwards to what we can take and develop, to looking inwards to what we can repair, enhance, and replenish. Today, so much of the world and people in it are seen as disposable. Precious waterways are knowingly flooded with sewage, destroying fragile ecosystems and poisoning the water. Neighbours living in encampments are cruelly and violently displaced, leaving them with nowhere to go.
Those in power are so deeply entrenched in the politics of disposability that it is difficult to imagine an alternative. Different is possible.
Imagine if, upon seeing the Province’s plan, our City Council had acted with courage and advocated to zone these whitebelt lands within the greenbelt where they would be protected.
Imagine if Council had used this as a catalyst and began working with local farmers, Indigenous peoples, and community leaders already doing food justice work. Our city could develop local, regenerative food systems that ensure everyone has access to healthy and nutritious food, all the while sequestering carbon from our city’s atmosphere.
What would our city look like if we made decisions based on what is best for the land? For the water? What if we recognized these as living parts of our city? What if instead of separating where people live from where things grow, we enlivened our city with planning ideas like the 15-minute city and more complete communities.
It remains up to us as residents to reject the politics of cynicism and disposability wherever we see them and instead see demands like a Firm Urban Boundary, Free Guaranteed Housing, Defunding Hamilton Police Services, and Land Back as not only connected but as calls to participate in imagining and building a safer future.
Alex Wilson works in environmental policy and is the co-founder of Action 13 – a new volunteer community climate action initiative in Ward 13 (Dundas and Flamborough)