More on Red Hill

This is an article published by CATCH News, a Hamilton citizen online newsletter. Red Hill Expressway has been a controversial local issue for decades. It illustrates how local citizens understand the consequences of projects like these far better than the traffic engineers.

Bill Freeman

CATCH News – July 17, 2017

Red Hill and Trump

The Red Hill Parkway was born in controversy and continues that history, most recently focused on the large numbers of crashes on the valley expressway and the even greater numbers of trucks. All of this appears to be connected and may shed some light on current US events.

More than any other Hamilton road, the valley parkway is political, steeped in decades of angry debate between multiple factions long before it was opened ten years ago. The idea for an east end expressway across the escarpment arose in the 1950s, but where to put it generated an epic debate where passion and politics overruled engineering and road construction know-how.

That gave Hamilton an ‘expressway’ that follows a route largely determined thousands of years ago by the landscape-carving effects of the waters of a meandering creek. That meant not only more curves than engineers prefer for major highways, but a lot of ups and downs to move motorists from the valley floor to the intersecting roads serviced by interchanges on top of the steep challenge posed by crossing the escarpment.

Additional politics determined that there are six of those interchanges along an eight kilometre stretch – Dartnall, Greenhill, King, Queenston, Barton and the QEW – with each of the latter five sited barely a kilometre apart. That’s also far more than road engineers recommend and has meant that on-ramps from some interchanges complicate drivers’ attempts to take the subsequent off-ramp.

Media attention has focused on pavement quality and lighting, but the basic layout required to build a road down a creek valley may be much more significant. It certainly is more difficult to change. So is the simple fact that most traffic comes off of either the QEW or the Linc – both with higher posted speeds.

Drivers doing their usual 120 km/hr are presented with what seems to be a continuation of the highway. Not surprisingly they tend to try and maintain their speeds with unfortunate consequences. Changing that ultimately that may require stoplights at either end of the valley and other measures beyond signage.

That’s further complicated by thousands of heavy trucks utilizing Red Hill and the Linc as a shortcut between the QEW and Highway 403, as well as a way to avoid the frequent high winds on the skyway bridges. Some city councillors seem surprised by this activity and have ordered staff to do a count, but it was obvious the trucks would be attracted to a route that’s a full nine kilometres shorter than via the skyway.

Friends of Red Hill Valley, one of the groups that opposed the valley route, not only loudly predicted this short-cutting, they even tried calculating the numbers. Volunteers (the author was one of them and also chaired the group at the time) did a 24-hour count at the Freeman interchange in Burlington and found that 4500 trucks a day were shifting between the QEW and the 403.

In 1950s several locations were possible for a north-south expressway but by the late 1970s when the municipal politicians selected a valley route, other potential options such as Centennial Parkway or Kenilworth Avenue (and later Woodward Avenue) featured established businesses and residences. Thus valley defenders were countered by groups based along those arteries and that intensified the politicization of the decision-making.

The provincial government unsuccessfully tried to broker a compromise 60 km arterial road using at-grade intersections and avoiding much of the creek valley. A federal environmental assessment of the project offered a final chance to flag safety issues but councillors spent over $4 million on court action to stop that from being completed.

So Hamilton got an expressway whose route was determined not by professional road engineers but by dueling citizen groups and the politicians responding to them.  South of the border we’re now seeing many other examples of decisions guided by alleged “common sense” trumping science and expertise.

 

CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) updates use transcripts and/or public documents to highlight information about Hamilton civic affairs that is not generally available in the mass media. Detailed reports of City Hall meetings can be reviewed at hamiltoncatch.org. You can receive all CATCH free updates by sending an email to http://hamiltoncatch.org/newsletter/?p=subscribe. Sharing links are available on the hamiltoncatch.org.You can unsubscribe at http://hamiltoncatch.org/newsletter/?p=unsubscribe

Participation and Democracy Rising

When I set off to write a non-fiction book, like Democracy Rising, I try to explore the subject as comprehensively as possible, but after the book is written, edited, printed, and in the book stores inevitably I come across material that I wish that I had included.

Sign and white blaze on a tree marking the Bruce Trail

Democracy Rising is a good example. The thesis, or major idea, of the book is that if we are to have a vibrant democracy the people must be engaged, and the most effective way for us to do that is through grassroots organizations that encourage the participation of its members.

The book starts off by describing the limitations of representative democracy and to show how elites have been able to dominate our political institutions for their own benefit. But the important material in the book is the discussion of how ordinary people have transformed our country through organizations such as the progressive movement, trade unions, co-operatives, the environmental movement, and community groups.

It is the participation of citizens in grassroots organizations that has strengthened our democratic practices and the book concludes by showing how we can make them more effective. We will never have an effective democracy until we have a truly participatory democracy.

This was an interesting book to write. I have been a community activist all of my adult life and Democracy Rising gave me the opportunity to write about those experiences and the organizations I have been involved with. Those who have read it have liked it, but the reality is that I did miss some opportunities. Here are some examples I could have included.

  • The Bruce Train is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. It was a group of keen hikers who came up with the idea of a walking trail from Niagara Falls to Tobermory along the Niagara Escarpment. They mapped out the trail, got permission from private landowners to cross their land, wrote brochures and articles describing the trail, set up a governing councils in different regions to look after the trail and advocated protection of the trail with the Ontario Government. It was a massive effort and it was all done by volunteers. Today the Niagara Escarpment is part of Ontario’s Greenbelt Plan. It is a remarkable story of how the participation of people can make a difference and change our political practices.
  • Another example is the growth of land trusts. Community land trusts are private non-profit organizations that acquire and hold land for the benefit of the community. In rural areas often land trusts are set up to protect land from development and hold it in a natural state indefinitely. In cities land trusts are usually set up to make land available for affordable housing. This is a growing movement that is having an impact on many communities across Canada. Again, it is all being done by volunteers.

Those are two dramatic examples of people participating in their communities, but think of the scores of different organizations that exist in Canada. These are some that I am familiar with: Jane’s Walks, food banks, athletic associations, volunteer social service agencies, and so on and so on.

Participation, engagement, the development of grassroots organizations, these are all things that contribute to our democracy because they encourage public participation in meaningful ways on issues of public importance. Social media is a very effective way to develop and promote organizations like that and engage in the discussion of issues.

But before we dismiss books in favour of social media as the tool for organizing and grassroots politics, let me give a last appeal. Writing a non-fiction book is a way to explore a subject or an issue in a comprehensive way. That’s what I tried to do in Democracy Rising. I did miss some things, but then that is inevitable. It is the ideas in the book that will stand the test of time.

May 30th: An Evening in Toronto with Dimitri Roussopoulos, workshop and book launch

 

6pm Workshop:
The Rise of Cities: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Other CitiesEdited by Dimitri Roussopoulos
Although the city is the foundation of democracy and citizenship, it is widely misunderstood as a geopolitical space. However, it is playing a growing role in shaping the 21st century whilst at the same time being beset by serious social and ecological crises. The Rise of Cities  explores three major cities of Canada through lengthy overviews of well known authors Shawn Katz, Bill Freeman and Patrick J. Smith as well as a major introduction by the editor: political economist and veteran urban activist Dimitri Roussopoulos.
Black Rose Books 250pp ISBN: 978-1-55164-334-2 (paperback) $19.99; 978-1-55164-335-9 (hardcover)

When: Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Time: 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Where: OISE 252 Bloor St W
Room: 7th floor Peace Lounge (fully accessible)

NO REGISTRATION REQUIRED – ALL WELCOME TO ATTEND

At the meeting Dimitri Roussopoulos will talk about the history of Milton Park Housing Co-operative.

Please join us for an engaging evening on the history of the largest non-profit housing cooperative project in Canada: the Milton-Parc Community in Montreal, presented by community organizer and publisher Dimitri Roussopoulos. His workshop on establishing grassroots housing co-ops will be followed by a public discussion.

In the 1960s, speculators wanted to destroy a downtown Montreal neighbourhood to build ‘the City of the 21st Century’, massive condos, office towers and shopping malls. For over ten years, residents of the Milton-Parc neighbourhood fought back with petitioning, occupying the developers’ offices and squatting. The community eventually won, creating North America’s largest urban land trust thus liberating the buildings and land from the market and abolishing speculation. Today, 21 non-profit housing organizations, of which 15 are cooperatives, collectively own six downtown city blocks, housing 1500 people in this remarkable urban village.

Members from Milton-Parc have presented on their accomplishments around the world, but this will be the first presentation in Canada outside of Quebec!

When: Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Time: 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Where: OISE 252 Bloor St W
Room: 7th floor Peace Lounge (fully accessible)

NO REGISTRATION REQUIRED – ALL WELCOME TO ATTEND

 

 

 

 

Reactions to OMB Reform

The reaction to the Ontario Government’s announcement of its intended reforms to the Ontario Municipal Board were swift and predictable. Leaders of citizen groups and municipal politicians welcomed the news while spokespeople for the development industry condemned it.

High rise condos on Toronto’s Waterfront

This is the news release from the government:  https://news.ontario.ca/mma/en/2016/10/ontario-proposing-changes-to-ontario-municipal-board-to-improve-efficiency-and-accessibility.html

The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ontario-municipal-board-reforms-will-stifle-new-housing-developers/article35004540/

Toronto Star: https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2017/05/16/province-plans-to-overhaul-omb-and-give-more-power-to-cities-and-citizens.html

Suburban sprawl in the GTA

Toronto Star editorial: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2017/05/16/planning-changes-go-in-the-right-direction-editorial.html

Star reporter Jennifer Pagliaro on Toronto City Hall reaction: https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2017/05/16/omb-reform-praised-as-bold-boon-to-local-democracy.html

My reaction, for what it’s worth, is that this is to be welcomed because it strengthens citizen involvement in planning and enhances local control. It is a major development in participatory democracy in Ontario.

For too long developers have been able to use their financial ability to get what they want. The expense of OMB appeals has been a financial burden for municipalities. Developers have literally been able to outspend municipalities on legal and planning experts to get what and that means increasing profits.

But the real problem is that a small group of unelected, OMB officials have been able to overrule local politicians. Politicians are not perfect, as everyone knows, but at least they are accountable to the people.

This has led to inappropriate development all over the province, from high rise in downtown Toronto to urban sprawl in the suburbs. The OMB reforms will help to rebalance interests and strengthen citizen control of their communities.

Hamilton’s LRT will help to renew the downtown core

The good news that arrived in today’s newspapers was that Hamilton City Council voted to proceed with the LRT project by a vote of 10 to 5.

Downtown Hamilton has a rich heritage just waiting to be redeveloped

There are new provisions put on the project. The spur line that was to go down James Street North to the Waterfront has been cancelled, and Queen’s Park has agreed to study an extension of the 11 kilometer route by another 3 kilometers. It appears that the extension was what made the vote possible.

To me, that makes a lot of sense. The east terminus of the LRT was to be in the Eastgate Mall. It should extend to Stoney Creek. In the west, the end of the line was to be at McMaster University. It will be much better to have it extend to Dundas and help to get people out of their cars.

What is most exciting about the LRT line is that it will play no small part in revitalizing Hamilton’s downtown core. This has long been the dream of those of us who care about the city, but it was handled so badly by those who promoted the Urban Renewal in the 1960s that it hastened the evacuation and deterioration of the downtown to the point where it became virtually derelict.

Today cities across North America are revitalizing their downtowns. People are moving back into urban cores, bringing businesses, jobs, strengthening retail, promoting culture, street life and new vitality.

This has already started along James Street North and South. The new Waterfront will also play a part in bringing life back to the centre of the city. There are magnificent old buildings just waiting to be renovated and repurposed.

But there are still major problems. Downtown Hamilton has an excessive amount of vacant property in the form of acres and acres of underutilized parking lots. The city needs housing in its core, especially affordable housing that can attract young people who are fleeing the high prices of Toronto and the rest of the GTA.

The new LRT line and all day service to the West Harbour GO Station will make a major contribution bringing people, jobs and businesses to the downtown.

This is good news for what used to be called Steeltown.

Housing crisis is now in Vancouver and Toronto

Gary Mason, the insightful Vancouver correspondent for the Globe and Mail, has an opinion piece in today’s paper about the housing crisis in his city that has important implications for Toronto. This is the core of his argument.

   “Politicians, realtors and developers have continued to insist it’s simply a lack of supply (of housing). But that’s not entirely true. The thousands of new condo units built in the past few years have not been the answer to Vancouver’s affordability issue and the mayor (Gregor Robertson) has the guts to admit it. Most of the new ones are sold at luxury rates, which don’t serve the purposes of young, first – or second – time home buyers.

Meanwhile, neighbourhoods of single-detached homes on the expensive west side, in particular, have been hollowing out of young people and people generally. (Many of the homes are held as investments by offshore buyers.) The latest census showed fewer and fewer people living there. Hundreds of properties sit vacant.

(The mayor says) “We need to stop fixating on density because that’s not what this is about,” he said. “Density for density’s sake might just give us more empty homes. What we’re talking about is people.

“Schools filled with students, neighbourhood streets filled with shoppers, parks filled with kids. A neighbourhood made of perfect $5-million homes with no children is not healthy. That’s the sign of a failing city.”

That is a remarkable thing for a mayor to admit, but it’s true. A lot of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods have lost their soul, have lost their pulse of life. There are no young adults anywhere to be seen in a lot of them. How can that be a good thing?

Consider this stat: Ten years ago, if you had a household income of $97,000, you could afford to own a townhouse on the less expensive east side of Vancouver. Today, that house-hold income would need to be $175,000.”

Admittedly the housing crisis is not as bad in Toronto. We don’t have the problem of offshore buyers leaving their houses vacant, but high prices are making housing unaffordable for young families. In the expensive areas of the city like North Toronto, Rosedale, Forest Hill and the west end around High Park are becoming neighbourhoods of affluent, middle aged people with no children. The houses are much too expensive for young couples with children unless they come from families with significant wealth.

Vancouver condos in the False Creek neighbourhood

Even in suburbs like Mississauga, Vaughan and York Region house prices are too high for couples with families. Studies in the U.S. have shown that two-thirds of the suburban houses have no children living in them. The same is likely to be the case in Canada and the more expensive the houses the less likely there will be children. The irony is that these houses were built for families.

Those who believe in classical economics say that older couples will sell their houses and move into less expensive places, but things have changed. The demand for housing remains high. At least 100,000 immigrants are settling into the GTHA every year. That helps to drive our economy, but it also drives house and condos prices upwards into the unaffordable stratosphere.

There are answers to this. In Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is finding ways to stimulate affordable housing projects by selling city owned land at low cost for affordable housing. In Toronto we haven’t had a public discussion of the issue let alone practical solutions. If we don’t get moving with a realistic action plan, things are going to get miserable for many, many people. Housing is a fundamental for a good quality of life.

Where is Mayor Tory on this issue? Liberals were elected across Toronto and most of the GTHA but nothing is happing to create affordable housing for middle and low income families. If we wait five years, there will be a lost generation. Only governments have the resources to solve this problem and we must hold them responsible.

This is the link to Gary Mason’s article. It is worth reading in full.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/vancouvers-mayor-is-ready-to-fight-for-affordable-homes/article34230858/

 

The Bulletin, a community newspaper distributed in downtown Toronto, has a piece on my new book, Democracy Rising: Politics and Participation in Canada. The book will be released at the end of March. The book launch will be held at Ben McNally’s bookstore on Bay Street, on March 28 from 6 to 8. Everyone is welcome.

Bill Freeman

Local author Bill Freeman calls for participatory democracy

Citizen engagement is breathing new life into our democracy

In the midst of political upheaval and the uncertainty that arises from Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency, local author Bill Freeman calls for participatory democracy in Democracy Rising.
Freeman argues for a nationwide movement where citizens challenge elite control of the political process by participating actively on political issues. His experience as an activist, sociologist and writer has led to his insights on how we can create a more democratic Canada through the engagement and participation of ordinary people.
Freeman has already earned endorsements from MPs and activists for Democracy Rising, with MP Adam Vaughan stating: “Bill Freeman champions the idea that it is possible to achieve social justice democratically through organizing from the ground up.”
Bill Freeman is an award-winning Canadian urban issues writer. He has written 21 books, including The New Urban Agenda. He is a winner of the Canada Council Award for Juvenile Literature (now the Governor General’s Literary Award) and a past chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada. He lives on Toronto Island.

Land Trusts and Affordable Housing

Below is a link to an article in today’s Globe and Mail’s real estate section called “A speculation-free zone.”

The article shows how land trusts in Vancouver are combining the equity of co-ops and non-profits, along with land from municipalities at low-cost, to create the financing needed for new affordable housing.

As I show in my book, The New Urban Agenda, the lack of affordable housing in the GTHA has developed into a serious crisis. Thousands of families and individuals are suffering because they cannot afford good housing.

Government is reluctant to provide the needed funds. Maybe land trusts, equity from co-ops and some help from municipalities is the way to do it.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/vancouver/how-community-land-trusts-could-help-build-affordable-vancouverhousing/article34026679/