Research-based analysis and commentary http://uwwebpro.uwinnipeg.ca/faculty/politics/faculty home.htm
December 9, 2010
I'm back after some months of being out for medical reasons. I've just published the first of my new blog entries, but not at this address. I've moved my blog to a new platform. The new address is http://christopherleo.wordpress.com. The title of my latest entry speaks for itself: Will Calgary's new mayor succeed where Obama has failed?
With the new platform comes a new column, entitled "Passing Scene". It's a collection of brief entries containing comments about ideas and events that I encounter or that occur to me day to day.
Most new entries in that column, which runs down the centre of the blog,
THE MULTILEVEL GOVERNANCE OF URBAN GROWTH: A CROSS-NATIONAL COMPARISON
Last May, I sketched out an idea for a research project that would look at what senior governments could do to ensure that those who make decisions about the growth of North American cities do a better job of respecting the environment. That idea has now matured into a research proposal. In this entry, I'll summarize the proposal and provide a link to the full proposal.
Here's the summary:
My proposed research will shed new light on a major, but much-neglected question: What can we learn from Europe and each other about how best to achieve sustainable growth in North American cities?
SHOULD YOUTH FOR CHRIST BE INVOLVED IN GOVERNANCE? HOW ABOUT THE UNITED CHURCH OR NEW LIFE MINISTRIES?
The way we govern ourselves has changed fundamentally in the past 20 years, and we've barely noticed. The changes raise critical questions, which we have developed a habit of answering on a case-by-case basis, without considering the context and without being guided by principles. We need to do better than that.
IF CITIES CAN'T REGULATE URBAN GROWTH, WHO CAN? A RESEARCH PROPOSAL
In both Canada and the United States, we have largely left urban growth issues to local governments, and many local governments have failed to manage them. Many will never succeed because local councils are not, in general, able effectively to resist development interests.
As a result, the growth of our cities is, in practice, primarily responsive to the interests of developers. These interests are frequently at odds with the considerations that bear on preservation of the environment, maintenance of agriculture, an efficient infrastructure network and a transportation system that serves the population as a whole.
Therefore, in a series of posts on the multi-level governance of land use I've argued that:
Many Winnipeggers have probably concluded that, after more than 30 years of dithering, a rapid transit system is finally a done deal. That conception may have been reinforced by Mayor Katz's more recent declarations that he would prefer a much more expensive rail system to the bus rapid transit line now under construction.
CASE STUDIES CAN PRODUCE THEORETICAL ADVANCES: HERE'S AN EXAMPLE
Case studies have unjustifiably acquired a reputation for being semi-anecdotal investigations of the small details of individual circumstances, research that is incapable of generating significant empirical or theoretical advances in knowledge. It is argued that the case study is, at best, a preliminary step, in that it may generate hypotheses that can later be tested using such “more reliable” methods as standardized questionnaires or statistical data. In the study of politics, however, that sequence of research initiatives may well work better in reverse.
One of the most troubling features of the way North American cities have developed in the past quarter century is social isolation, as our own desires and the dynamics of the real estate business sort us into spaces exclusive to ever-narrower slices of humanity. Separate spaces for people of different incomes, places reserved exclusively for the elderly, spaces from which children are barred, and more.
There is much to worry about in this trend, but most worrisome of all is the social isolation of the poor - the formation of neighbourhoods largely or wholly populated by people who live there only because they cannot afford to live elsewhere; ghettos, defined by poverty and often race, and marked by deteriorating public services and facilities, as well as limited opportunities for jobs, recreation and education.
Small wonder then that policy-makers have devoted thought and effort to attempts to recapture the social diversity that once was an essential feature of cities and that, even today, is a big part of what we mean by the word "urbanity". In part this has been done by dispersal programs whereby residents of low-income neighbourhoods are offered an opportunity to collect rent subsidies and use them to move to other neighbourhoods.
LOCAL POLITICIANS CAN'T CONTROL SPRAWL. SO WHY IS IT THEIR JOB ALONE?
Few things are more important than the way we use our land, and yet, in North America, few things are more neglected. Among my urbanist colleagues, there are precious few who think that urban sprawl is a good thing, and even fewer who believe anything can be done about it. Why?
DOES IT MAKE SENSE TO BUILD A HIGHWAY THROUGH RIVER HEIGHTS?
The City of Winnipeg has set out on a plan to build a highway through River Heights and Waverley West, ultimately connecting Ness Avenue with the south perimeter highway. Three reasons are given for this, one of which makes a more modest version of the proposal defensible. A second one is indefensible, and the third is a really bad idea.
I'll be at the IPAC-PPM Cities and Public Policy conference next week in Toronto, reporting on some of the things I've learned about the impact of federal government policies on Winnipeg. My overall theme will be that slow-growth cities have policy problems that are very different from those of cities that are growing rapidly, and that these differences are not being given the attention they deserve.
It’s taken Winnipeg a generation to get around to building the first leg of a rapid transit system. You might think that settles the matter, and that now we are down to inconsequential details. On closer examination, however, it becomes clear that many important decisions remain, decisions that could make the difference between a successful rapid transit system and a white elephant.
ETHICS GUIDELINES: LETTING THE POWERFUL OFF THE HOOK, HANGING SUBORDINATES OUT TO DRY
I'm an ethics bureaucrat - a lowly one at the moment, a member of my departmental ethics committee. I don't like the job, but I stick with it because it keeps me in touch with a system that has to change. The better I understand the system, the better my chances of helping to bring about a change.
In fact, the system changes all the time, sometimes for the better, but mostly for the worse. The most frequent changes for the worse come, not from Canada's Tri-Council Guidelines, which I criticized in an earlier blog entry and a research paper, but from well-intentioned local ethics bureaucrats who over-interpret the guidelines. The other day an ethics application crossed my desk and I spotted a change that I believe originated locally.
IS THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT DIVIDING ABORIGINAL PEOPLE? CAN IT STOP?
I'll be at the Canadian Political Science Association conference in Ottawa next week delivering a paper originally entitled "Building cohesion, aggravating division", with an even more obscure, academic-sounding subtitle. But I've changed the title and the new one is the one I'm using for this blog entry. My article grows out of studies I did recently in Winnipeg of aboriginal policy and policy regarding immigration and settlement. Originally, these studies had nothing to do with each other, but when they were finished, I was struck by the contrast between them.
WHY LOCAL GOVERNMENTS CAN'T BE TRUSTED TO REGULATE CITY GROWTH
Last October I sketched out my argument that local and metropolitan governments can't meaningfully regulate urban land use because developers swing too much political weight at the local level. I pointed out, on the basis of European case studies and my own analytical work, that the position of developers is markedly different in countries where a significant amount of city planning takes place at the national level than it is in the typical North American case. We can verify that by considering the concrete reality of how land use decisions are made in Canada and the United States.
TRYING TO START A DIALOGUE ABOUT CASE STUDY RESEARCH METHODS
I'm off to Chicago to deliver a paper about case study research methods to the Urban Affairs Association. This is a slightly revised version of a paper I delivered in Tokyo in December. I wrote the paper after it dawned on me that many of my colleagues devote a lot of their research career to case studies, as I do, but that we rarely discuss how we do them.
However, the part of my paper that stirred up the most interest in Tokyo started as an afterthought: a discussion of how research ethics protocols militate against, not only sound methodology, but also ethics itself. You can read that discussion by going to p. 12 of the attached paper.
It started as a sensible idea: workers' housing shouldn't be located next to smoke-belching heavy industry. But it has turned into an obsession with separating everything and everyone from everything and everyone else, a denial, on a massive scale, of community and of the bedrock urban reality of mutual interdependence.
Today we find ourselves with, not only separate neighbourhoods for the rich and the poor, but a fetish for spatial segregation that defies rational explanation: One area for $250,000 houses, another one for $350,000 houses, a third for $450,000 houses. Housing for old people where young people aren't welcome, family neighbourhoods where housing for the elderly isn't welcome. No housing where there is commerce, no factories (even clean ones) and no offices where there is either housing or retail trade, wide swaths of wasted land to ensure that everything is well and truly separated from everything else.
WHAT'S YOUR PREFERENCE IN A RAPID TRANSIT LINE, WINNIPEG? ECONOMIC ASSET OR WHITE ELEPHANT?
It looks as if there's a rapid transit line in Winnipeg's future. Problem solved, right? Wrong. The choice facing us now is whether or not we succeed in building a viable system, one that provides a better service than the buses on Pembina Highway do, and one that creates new economic opportunities while fighting sprawl and improving the environment.
The question hinges on the accessibility of the stations, and on land use regulations adjacent to them. If the stations are readily accessible, rapid transit can create new development opportunities, contribute to the clean-up of our environment, and provide a much-needed transportation option to all those who do not have access to an automobile, or prefer convenient public transportation. To the extent that they are not, users of rapid transit will have experiences similar to those I had in Miami last summer, and Winnipeg's development will suffer accordingly. As I write this, the prognosis is not good.
RUNNING THE HYDRO LINE UNDER THE LAKE: HAS THE MANITOBA GOVERNMENT FORGOTTEN SOMETHING?
SEE POSTSCRIPT AT THE END OF THIS POST
Manitoba Hydro's plans for a new transmission line were back in the news again recently. The 2000-megawatt Bipole III would follow a long, western route around lake Winnipeg, incurring substantial financial and environmental costs, in order to spare the pristine boreal forest on the east side.
The Winnipeg Free Press article up-dating plans for the Bipole III made no mention of a carefully researched proposal by retired geography professor John Ryan for an alternate route under Lake Winnipeg that looks as if it might offer an attractive combination of cost savings and environmental benefits.
I committed a faux pas in Tokyo last week. I was at a conference of the International Sociological Association, listening to a presentation by John Mock, an anthropologist at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. Professor Mock was explaining his findings from a study that showed how little provision there was for cyclists on the streets of Tokyo.
Cycle lanes are either absent altogether or inadequate. Some dead-end into barriers. As a result, pedestrians tend to ignore the cycling lanes, and cyclists ignore the rules, endangering pedestrians by riding on sidewalks, or riding on the wrong side of streets. I was amused by Professor Mock's presentation, and, from time to time, I laughed, a bit obtrusively, I'm afraid.
"THE TRUTH": EPISTEMOLOGICAL, PRACTICAL AND ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS IN CASE STUDY RESEARCH
I'll be in Tokyo next week, delivering a paper at a conference of the International Sociological Association. Drawing on examples of research I've done, in both Kenya and North America, the paper discusses issues faced by researchers who undertake critical investigations of the way political power is wielded. It looks at the problem of how to get at "the truth", as well as some obstacles posed by inappropriate research ethics protocols. Following is a brief summary of the paper, or, if you prefer, download the paper itself.
Wrong Regionalization: The Oneida County Sewer District
[This article was originally published in the October 2008 "Utica Phoenix":]
Over 40 years ago Oneida County made the first "regionalization" effort in Greater Utica by forming the Oneida County Sewer District to serve 12 area municipalities. The goal was noble: build a system of sanitary sewer interceptors, pumping stations and a treatment plant to clean up water pollution in the Mohawk River, and make it affordable by spreading the cost over all system users by charges attached to water bills. The goal was accomplished, but flaws in the scheme have produced harmful results.
A REGIONAL WATER UTILITY: BUSINESS-LIKE GOVERNANCE OR A WAY TO DODGE RESPONSIBILITY?
Mayor Sam Katz wants to create a regional water utility, to run Winnipeg's sewer and water systems, possibly taking over garbage disposal and recycling as well. The agency would operate independently of city council and, if it wished, market Winnipeg's water to adjacent municipalities.
The agency would set rates for the services it provides, applying to the provincial Public Utilities Board for permission to raise rates. Katz told the Winnipeg Free Press that "Handing this power over to the board would take politics out of the process." Good idea, eh? No more interference in these services from low-life politicians: just good, honest, business-like governance.
In a recent issue of Plan Canada, a house organ for professional city planners, my colleague Andrew Sancton pointed out that, in the establishment of the Ontario Greenbelt, provincial government imposition produced a result that would have been much harder, or maybe impossible, to achieve through regional governance. Urban affairs columnist John Barber, writing in the Globe and Mail, cited Professor Sancton's findings to suggest that, perhaps, old-fashioned provincial oversight over municipal government makes more sense than all that fashionable piffle about multi-level governance.
"While the hives buzz with talk of European-style 'subsidiarity', national urban policy and new 'governance structures'," Barber writes, "Prof. Sancton points out that the actual Ontario government has quietly implemented almost all the policies the quasi-constitutional reforms aim indirectly to achieve." As a long-time, and unrepentant, purveyor of multi-level governance piffle, I guess it's my turn to speak.
At last, after more than 30 years of vacillation and obstruction, it looks as if Winnipeg will finally get the first leg of a rapid transit system. Appropriately for a blue-collar town with a deeply-rooted culture of caution and frugality, it will be a low-budget diesel bus system, rather than a more expensive, classier and more environmentally friendly rail system. Nevertheless, it will open new opportunities for Winnipeg.
The impression I leave, apparently, is that, because I oppose sprawl, I am pro-urban and anti-rural. Not only is that impression mistaken, the whole idea that there is an irreconcilable conflict of interest between cities and the countryside is a major source of bad public policy.
Suburban sprawl threatens the viability of our cities, the health of our environment and even the viability of commercial agriculture. There are a lot of commentators making that case, but many of them do it from the viewpoint of an urbanite, attacking the fundamentally anti-urban culture of the suburbs. This is a self-defeating approach to the problem.
WHY WOULD THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CUT A MONEY-MAKER?
A couple of months ago, I told the extraordinary story of how a local government tore up the federalism rule book and initiated a very promising tri-level government program for getting welfare recipients placed in good jobs. In this entry, I'd like to reflect on a curious aspect of that story that I didn't stress in my other account: The program was a conspicuous success in its first year, but the federal government cut it even though it had actually made money on it.
BEAUTIFUL STADIUM PROPOSAL? HEADS UP FOR THE BAIT AND SWITCH
The Creswin Properties proposal for a new stadium and waterfront development in Winnipeg's South Point Douglas neighbourhood looks beautiful, doesn't it? There's no denying that, but maybe now it's time to take a look at what happened in Edmonton, when Triple Five Corporation made an irresistible offer to obtain a massive commitment of public funds and then used local politicians' commitment to keep them on-side, even as the more attractive features of the original offer were withdrawn, and its price increased.
I've been blogging for the better part of two years. I do it because I think blogging is a necessary vehicle for academic writing and because I'm senior enough to get away with it. My Stat Counter tells me I'm getting a sizeable, serious and steady readership, including both academics and a broad cross-section of the wider community - but I get little or no professional credit for the work.
"A necessary vehicle for academic writing?" I hear you ask incredulously. I'd like to make a case that we academics need to make better use of the internet to disseminate our findings and the thinking that grows out of them. That is only likely to happen if dissemination of academic work through such media as blogs gets academic credit. Credit, however, only comes with credibility.
WANT TO KNOW HOW MEANINGLESS WEB PAGE HIT RATES CAN BE?
When we bloggers and other web site managers want to demonstrate the importance of our efforts, we usually cite the page views, or hit rates, that our page view counters return to us. I do it myself, but I always follow up by citing return visits to my blog and average length of stays. You can get a quick insight into what's wrong with hit rates by looking at a sample of the returns I get from my Stat Counter for two of my blog entries.
CITY HALL TAKE NOTE: PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS WON'T FIX THIS PROBLEM
Everyone agrees that Winnipeg's spending on infrastructure maintenance is seriously short of what is required to maintain the streets, sewers and water lines in good condition. Anyone can confirm this by taking a drive or a walk around some of the older neighbourhoods and observing the potholes and cracks in the streets. Winnipeggers who keep an eye on the news will observe more fundamental ills, including sinkholes that open up suddenly, sometimes swallowing automobiles or construction machinery, because of the deteriorated state of underground sewer lines.
The causes of this problem are obvious, if you think through what's happening, and they can be fixed. This is a tad complex, so bear with me.
In Canada, the mention of federalism generally puts us in mind of federal government initiatives that are carried out in co-operation with provincial and territorial governments. Sometimes provincial initiative is also a factor, especially in recent years, since the creation of the Council of the Federation, an association of provincial and territorial premiers that aims "to play a leadership role in revitalizing the Canadian federation and building a more constructive and cooperative federal system."
We are less likely to think in terms of municipal or community initiative, but community initiative in intergovernmental relations is a current reality, in fact one that has been with us for some time, though it remains an exception to the rule of top-down government. In the late 1960s, in the most epic of Canada’s battles over plans for urban expressways, citizens opposing the Spadina Expressway made a strategic decision to bypass Metropolitan Toronto Council and take their case to the Ontario Municipal Board and the provincial cabinet, and it was the cabinet that gave them their victory.
WHEN WE INTERVIEW RESEARCH SUBJECTS, HOW DO WE KNOW WE'RE GETTING THE TRUTH?
I was having a drink with a couple of colleagues, who, like me, are engaged in case study research, and the conversation turned to interviews. One of my colleagues mentioned some questionable propositions that had been put to him in one of those interviews. "I don't believe that," he said, "but if that's what they say, what are you going to do?"
I knew the answer to the question: triangulation. But it took some excavation of my own research experience to remember how I had arrived at that answer. The idea of triangulation never actually occurred to me. It presented itself, in the form of a puzzle I encountered as a graduate student immersing myself in my first primary research project, a study of Kenya's Million-Acre Settlement Scheme, the starting point for a book I later published under the title Land and Class in Kenya.
James Howard Kunstler has been telling anyone who will listen that we will, very soon, experience a shock that will force a fundamental re-thinking of how we build our cities. Kunstler is the author of Home from Nowhere and Geography of Nowhere, sharply worded polemics against modernist architecture and street design. More recently, in The Long Emergency, he has become a prophet of suburbia's doom.
His latest argument, in a nutshell, is that, having passed into an era in which world supply of oil has entered a long decline, we face, not only sharp increases in the price of oil products, but also shortages. Once the shortages hit, we will be forced into a fundamental re-thinking of our consumption habits in general and our urban development practices in particular. Wrenching social and economic change will follow, and suburbia as we know it, as well as much of the rest of civilization as we know it, will become a thing of the past.
That's a good way to sell books. Whether it - despite overwrought rhetoric and probably exaggerated claims - contains a kernel of sound political analysis remains to be seen. But before we dismiss Kunstler's argument altogether, it's worth reflecting on how quickly and easily apparently impregnable political fortresses have been known to fall in the wake of a shift of public awareness and attitude.
In my youth, I saw drunken driving, smoking in public buildings and vocal racism all flagrantly, and often boastfully, put on public display. Today, though all three are still with us, they are widely frowned upon, and strict legislation has driven them underground. "If you can't drink and drive, how are you going to get home?" is no longer considered a funny line. In all three cases, a change in public perception was a tipping point after which legislative change came relatively easily.
DO WE INFANTILIZE OUR STUDENTS? GIVING OUR RESEARCH ASSISTANTS MORE AND GETTING MORE FROM THEM
I was a professional journalist when I was 22 years old. Some of us probably have great-grandparents who were married, had children and were managing a farm before they were 20 years old.
Today, students bound for academic careers are very likely not to do any original research as undergraduates and then, in graduate school, may spend years gathering data for their supervisors' research before they undertake their own project. Some time ago, it occurred to me to ask myself whether my students might not benefit from taking on a bigger challenge.
Since then, I've evolved methods that, as far as I know, are unconventional, but that I find help my students, both graduate and undergraduate to maximize the contribution they make to our research, while serving as an excellent teaching tool, and boosting their career prospects.
My method involves subdividing my research into free-standing sub-projects, assigning each student one or more sub-projects, and instructing them to do the whole project, from literature review, through document collection and interviews, to the production of a final draft. I tell them that I expect them to produce a draft that is as close to a publishable article as they can make it. In a number of cases, this procedure has enabled me to send one of my senior undergraduates to graduate school with a cv that already includes a co-authored academic publication.
KISSING FROGS: BUILDING COALITIONS FOR CHANGE IN CANADIAN CITIES
Coalition-building is the essence of politics. If you want to get things done in the political arena, you have to deal with people who have different views from your own on some issues, or maybe many issues, find objectives you can agree on, and work out a way of combining forces to achieve those ends.
This forces everyone concerned to make compromises they are less than happy with, and occasionally to keep company they would rather avoid, but the alternative is to allow others to set the political agenda. In democratic politics, there is no such thing as perfection: There are no princes, but if we wish to have a say in the making of public decisions, we still have to kiss a lot of frogs.
All these observations are true of politics generally, but at the moment, perhaps particularly germane to Canadian city politics, where, for a century or more, one coalition in particular has repeatedly dominated local decision-making and other potential political influences have frequently been sidelined, at least in part because they have found it difficult to make common cause with anyone except those whose views coincided very closely with their own.
TALKING TO EACH OTHER INSTEAD OF SHOUTING: A DIALOGUE ABOUT SPRAWL AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
Peter Holle, president of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, responded to my comments in another blog entry with some remarks of his own about sprawl, and other issues of urban governance and development. In this entry, I reproduce most of his comments, in boldface, and follow them with my responses in italics.
I submit this entry as a beginning of what I hope can be a more extensive dialogue. Those of us who disagree on important questions of city politics have too often been self-indulgent in preaching to the converted, and ignoring our opponents. Genuine dialogue is much more likely to produce good policy than rigid adherence to set points of view.
MULTI-LEVEL GOVERNANCE, RESCALING, AND GLOBALIZATION: AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTE
In a globalizing world, we have to reconsider, not only the way we govern our communities, but also how their governance interacts with the governance of regions and nations, as well as global governance.
By chance or otherwise, I became interested in this topic - and researched and wrote about it - quite awhile before anyone thought of such felicitous terms as rescaling or multi-level governance. As a result a lot of useful data are buried away in publications today's researchers are unlikely to identify as relevant sources. Therefore, I offer the following bibliographic note, listing the publications in question, together with a brief note for each, explaining its relevance to rescaling, multi-level governance, or the evolving place of cities in a globalizing world. Some of these articles were published as journal articles, others as book chapters, but all are based on original research.
A NEO-CONSERVATIVE REVOLUTION FROM BELOW? WATCH OUT, CANADA
Winnipeg's Sam Katz, who has been mayor since shortly after Glen Murray resigned in 2004, is worth watching. It's not clear whether he is a fire-breathing neo-conservative or - as the Winnipeg Free Press's astute city hall observer, Bartley Kives insists - a moderate, but lately there have been some straws in the wind, and they may herald a new direction in Canadian urban politics, one that could be emulated in other cities.
Mayor Katz (rhymes with "dates") has set the objective of eliminating the business tax, leaving a $55 million budget hole that must be filled in ways not clearly specified. He is a shrewd, sophisticated political operator, who, so far, has commanded city council votes with apparent ease, and side-steps embarrassing questions with the finesse of a magician making a coin disappear. He is also a skilled practitioner of budget magic, as we will see.
So what does that have to do with a social revolution? Stay tuned.
However, in those entries, I used examples from my research to illustrate successes and failures in national government attempts to respect community difference. In this post, I want to take a step beyond examples, and draw on Canadian experience to sketch out three approaches - policy models for multi-level governance that respects community difference. I refer to such multi-level governance as deep federalism.
HOW IS GLOBAL POLITICAL ACTION ORGANIZED? A LIST FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
In the age of globalization, there are two distinct ways of giving voice to, and putting a push behind, your political views. One is through the time-honoured rules of national politics - elections, polls, and petitions to government. Many of us have become disillusioned with that way of doing politics, at least in part because corporations don't play by those rules unless it suits their convenience.
Thanks to a plethora of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, and to the ease of communication in the 21st Century, corporations, or anyone that wields serious financial power, can circumvent the old rules, by moving their activities or their money to countries more favourably inclined toward them. However, as I've argued in previous posts, the rest of us can play the same game.
We've watched as the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) failed in the face of massive demonstrations. In Europe, after storms of angry public reaction, Shell Oil backed away from plans to sink an oil storage facility into the sea and Monsanto re-thought its venture into genetically modified seeds. Noreena Hertz (cited at the end of an earlier entry) sees this kind of consumer power as a major weapon for ordinary people in countering the excesses of globally mobile corporate and financial power. I have my doubts.
RAPID URBAN GROWTH, SLOW GROWTH, AND MULTI-LEVEL GOVERNANCE
Multi-level governance distinguishes itself from the traditional federal system by treating cities, and sometimes communities, as visible and significant partners in the interplay among levels of government, and not simply as the lowest level of government. The emergence of this change in the way the federal system is conceived is related to the enhanced economic and political importance of cities in a world marked by greatly increased freedom of movement for goods, people, ideas and money. In a world marked by free movement, cities become magnets for wealth and production on one hand and problems on the other. In the process their political importance is magnified.
If she were still with us, Jane Jacobs might appreciate the irony that it has taken the economic realities of globalization to force a recognition of the centrality of cities to the national economy. Long before anyone was talking about globalization, she led the way in making the case, in Cities and the Wealth of Nations, that running a country as if it constituted a single economy was a sure way to get governance wrong. And since the economy is intimately interconnected with all other areas of national life, there are many policy domains in which national uniformity is a good recipe for failure.
Each city, or at least each urban-centred region, is a different economy, and should be governed differently from other cities. I have used the term "deep federalism" to describe policy that succeeds in respecting community difference. How can we accomplish that? There is no easy way to understand community difference, no simple set of generalizations that will allow us to say that a community of type A has characteristics B, C and D, while a community of type E has another set of readily definable characteristics. If there were, there would be no need for deep federalism. The federal government could develop a different policy model for each of a finite number of well-defined community types and administer everything from the centre. But there is nothing finite about community difference.
MULTI-LEVEL GOVERNANCE AND LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: DO WE NEED THE GOVERNMENT TO BUILD COMMUNITY CAPACITY?
In recent years, my research of multi-level governance in Canada has encompassed 13 case studies, dealing with six policy areas in three Canadian cities. Taken together, those studies provide a considerable body of evidence that the quality of national policies could be improved if local communities, or their authentic representatives, had a bigger role in policy formulation and implementation. They show with equal clarity that, while the federal government pays lip service to the importance of community input into policy-making, federal politicians and public servants are reluctant to match their words with action. A quick look at some of the studies my research assistants and I conducted provides a glimpse of these findings.
DO ETHICS BOARDS AND COMMITTEES POSE A THREAT TO CRITICAL RESEARCH?
In more than 35 years of academic research I've sought information from thousands of people, and done hundreds of interviews. During that time, ethical concerns, regarding both the substance of my research and my dealings with informants and respondents, have always been top-of-mind. The concerns I raise here are not with research ethics as such, but with bureaucracies that have gone awry in well-intentioned but misguided efforts to supervise research in politics and public policy.
In my experience - which antedates ethics bureaucracies by many years - two ethical concerns have stood out. One is my obligation to examine the way power is wielded, and look for ways of addressing shortcomings. For example, I've recently directed six case studies in three Canadian cities to look into how the federal government can fit national policies to the requirements of distinct communities. Some years ago, in studies of urban development in Edmonton and Winnipeg, I identified bad planning practices and looked for the administrative, political and socio-economic causes. All of this is main-line politics and policy research, typical of that being carried out by many of my colleagues.
The dawn of the 21st Century has coincided with the dawn of the age of community. Some of my age-mates, who were adults or near-adults in the 1960s and 1970s, may not be pleased to hear that the age of community does not necessarily resemble the Zodiacal Age of Aquarius, which, we were told, was to be an era of universal brotherhood rooted in reason.
The age of community is upon us, not because of the conjunction of stars and planets, but because of political and economic changes that are overtaking us, whether we like them or not. It's important to understand those changes, because they are capable of producing drastically contrasting results, results that can be influenced by political action. The age of community can be one in which some communities prosper while others are left impoverished and powerless to control their own futures. Or it can be one in which the prosperity and economic power of some communities is shared in order to give others a serious degree of control over their own affairs.
The age of community is the subject of my current research, in which I look at the political implications for Canada of the economic changes that have brought on this age. In this first of a series dealing with findings of that research, I will look at the causes of these changes and briefly lay out some of their political implications. In subsequent instalments, I will look at some findings of my research and consider what we can learn from them about avoiding an age of community whose motto becomes "I'm all right Jack" and working toward one that bears at least some resemblance to the Aquarian age.
What's the impact of globalization on politics? Many commentators pronounce on this complex and multi-faceted topic with great confidence, but an overview of the literature suggests that we are still struggling to understand it. An obvious characteristic of globalization is that money, goods and manufacturing have become far more mobile than they once were, with the result that corporations are freer than ever to move, and finance to invest, wherever they choose.
Therefore, national governments are less able to control the activities of mobile businesses than in the past, while corporations and finance are in a better position to dictate to national governments. They do this by relocating their activities to - and buying the currencies of - states whose policies they approve and abandoning, or threatening to abandon, the rest.
So what are the political implications of this fundamental shift in the balance of power between international business and governments? Susan Strange argues that the state is in retreat. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri invoke a very different conceptual framework to conclude, somewhat similarly, that sovereignty is migrating away from the state. Noreena Hertz and George Monbiot warn of the commanding power of corporations over the state, but Paul Doremus and his colleagues emphasize the continuing importance of the state and political culture. (See citations below.)
Superficial research produces one-dimensional, sterile debate. A case in point is crime in North American cities. Much of the commentary we read and hear focuses on two opposing positions, neither of which resonates with common sense.
FIXING SPRAWL WOULD BE A LOT EASIER IF WE'D FOCUS ON THE PROBLEM
In a post entitled "Are You Tired of the Sprawl Game?", I argued that we miss the essentials of the problem of managing urban growth by focusing instead on images and ideologies - arguing, for example, about New Urbanism vs. modernism, or liberalism vs. conservatism, instead of doing what needs to be done. In this post, I follow that argument up with some practical suggestions for Winnipeg.
I focus on a particular city because that's really the only way growth problems can be addressed. Each city is unique, and there is no universal template. That said, each city displays many similarities with many other cities. My suggestions for Winnipeg will resonate with many who are familiar with the problems of other mid-size, slow-growth cities in North America.
In Winnipeg, as in many other slow-growth cities, the essence of the problem of sprawl is that we extend roads, sewers and water lines much farther than we need to to accommodate our slow population growth. As a result, the costs of these facilities spiral out of control for want of enough property owners to pay for them. There are a lot of simple, straightforward planning practices that we could be following to help bring our runaway infrastructure and servicing costs under control, while making the city a more interesting and pleasant place to live.
The sub-title of my blog reads: "Research-based analysis and commentary." What does that mean?
In much of the media and the internet, it's acceptable to to make statements simply to be provocative or to launch a one-sided defence of a particular point of view or interest. In this blog, I will do my best to take full account of the arguments and evidence for opposing viewpoints.
Ulrich Beck's Power in the global age provides a carefully constructed set of concepts and a language that should prove invaluable in advancing our understanding of politics in the age of community. Pointing to economic and technological changes I discussed in a previous blog entry, he argues that the age of the nation-state has been superseded by a cosmopolitan age, which he also calls the second modernity.
His point is that, as freer trade and modern communication technologies are making it easier and easier for money, corporations, goods, people and ideas to cross national boundaries, the ability of national states to control what goes on within their borders is diminishing. In this cosmopolitan age, the only means open to both states and civil society for defending their interests is to escape national confines through international political action.
But politics is not only an arena for conflict among contending forces, it is also a system of organized decision-making and action, a system of governance. If our world is marked by the escalating power of corporate mobility, the declining power the national state, and the growing economic importance of cities, what does that imply for governance? In a world of drastically shifting power relations, should government remain essentially as it was in the 19th Century?
A lot of thought is being given to this question. It is coming to be widely agreed that there are compelling reasons for cities to evolve economic development strategies and social supports specifically designed to deal with their own, unique set of problems and possibilities. But how? Some interesting answers are being proposed, and tried, in Canada. In this article, and a subsequent one, I take a look at them, and consider their significance.
DEEP FEDERALISM: WHAT DO WE HAVE TO DO IN ORDER TO RESPECT COMMUNITY DIFFERENCE IN NATIONAL POLICY?
In the age of community, with corporate mobility undermining the power of national governments, is there a role for national governments in defending the interests of local communities? In my current research, I argue that there is, but that rigid enforcement of a national standard is not the appropriate way to do it, because the differences among communities ensure that what works in one may not work in another.
What is needed, rather, is a degree of flexibility that allows national standards to be met differently in different communities, and that draws on local knowledge to determine what these differences will be. In a previous entry, I outlined briefly how such flexibility is achieved in federal-provincial relations, but there is also a little-known history of such flexibility in the relations between the Canadian federal government and local communities, as well as a current practice that tries to build on that history.
I call such flexibility deep federalism, a species of federalism that extends the Canadian tradition of respect for provincial differences to the level of the local community. An early example of deep federalism was the Neighbourhood Improvement Program (NIP), a federal government scheme aimed at the renovation of public facilities in declining neighbourhoods, which became a community development tool through the simple expedient of a requirement that a plan for neighbourhood renewal be preceded by and based upon a public participation process in each targeted neighbourhood. NIP, therefore, was structured to respect the differences, not only among cities, but also among individual neighbourhoods.
HOW DEVELOPERS AND PUBLIC SERVANTS MANIPULATE CITY COUNCILS: INTRODUCTION
Canadian city councils are programmed to be weak. Unlike provincial legislatures or the House of Commons, city councils are not well-placed to write legislation that enables meaningful change, let alone implement it so that change actually takes place. In many cases they are not even well-positioned to exercise meaningful control over their own public servants. Nor do they exercise much clout over the all-important development industry. Generally, the only way our city governments are capable of being seriously influential at all is if there is a strong mayor. In that sense, our cities, like banana republics, face a bleak choice between autocracy and a weak state.
BAIT AND SWITCH: HOW A DEVELOPER CALLED THE TUNE FOR EDMONTON'S CITY COUNCIL
In my research, I've uncovered some classic illustrations of how smart developers can mislead the people North Americans elect to govern their cities and towns. In those cases, their pursuit of their business ensures that it is they, and not the representatives we have elected, who decide the futures of our communities. In this entry I present such a case from Edmonton. It happened in the 1980s, but it is worth understanding exactly what occurred because similar events take place every year in many communities, and awareness is the first step toward self-defence.
My research shows that developers found it easy to manipulate Edmonton's city council again and again, and to put taxpayers in the position of paying for a development over which their representatives exercised no meaningful control. They used a bait and switch tactic which, though blatantly obvious in retrospect, is not always easy to spot before it is too late. Edmonton's story is a cautionary tale. It ought to be required reading for city councillors throughout North America, and for anyone concerned with democratic control over the development of our cities.
As I said in the introduction to this series, we should not waste our outrage on the developers, who serve their investors - and therefore do their jobs - by exploiting weaknesses in our institutions of local governance. In our democratic system, we have collectively agreed to allow ourselves to be governed in this way. We need to think about how we can change this system, and I hope to address that question in future, but a good first step is to understand the problem, and a clear illustration is a good way to start.
WHY AND HOW CITY POLITICIANS AND THE PUBLIC ARE MISLED BY OFFICIALS
This is the third in a series of articles about how poorly the public interest is represented by many Canadian municipal governments. In a previous entry, I showed how developers are able to bend our representatives to their will and in this entry I will provide an example of how public servants do it.
In both entries I use a careful examination of a particular case as my medium. These cases are not unusual events. On the contrary, I chose to examine them in detail, and nail down exactly what happened, because they seemed to be typical of situations I have observed repeatedly in case studies of urban development issues in Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Portland, Oregon and other cities.
The suggestion that developers could be motivated to promote their own interests over those of the public will come as no surprise. Their job is to make money and their responsibility is to their shareholders, not the public. But some readers may find the suggestion that public servants could also promote a narrow interest at the expense of that of the public harder to swallow. Therefore, let's look at what their motivations might be.
THE GREEN PARTY OF WINNIPEG: HOW TO HAVE AN IMPACT
Winnipeg has a green party, consisting of a small but committed group of people who are determined to exercise an influence on the city's future. This may actually be possible. Public awareness of environmental issues appears to be growing, while disenchantment with business as usual in city hall is always there to be tapped. But it will be very difficult.
One of the problems the party must face is the long-standing bias against political parties in local government. As I point out elsewhere, parties are seen by many as counter-productively disputatious representatives of special interests, insufficiently concerned with common-sense governance in the interests of the city as a whole. The Green Party of Winnipeg has an opportunity to overcome that bias, but to do so it must move beyond purely environmental concerns, such as opposition to sprawl and pesticides, and consider how an environmental perspective can be at the heart of a platform that addresses the needs of the city as a whole.
Following are a few of the many questions party members may wish to consider if they hope to build their movement into a truly effective political instrument.
In Canadian city politics, a fully-fledged party system, with a ruling party and a well-organized opposition, is a rarity. In the eyes of much of the public, parties are viewed with suspicion. Party discipline is seen as replacing common-sense problem-solving with knee-jerk disputatiousness while restricting the ability of politicians to stand up for the interests of their constituents.
From this point of view, non-partisan municipal politics is marked by the exercise of individual good judgement, intelligent compromise and responsiveness of politicians to the wishes of constituents, while partisan politics is blighted by shrill argumentation and mindless submission to party dictates. Often parties are also seen as representing special interests, while non-partisan politicians are thought to be more likely to be tuned in to the interests of the city as a whole.
And yet, politicians keep organizing themselves. In Toronto, it is normal to think of city council as comprising a left wing and a right wing. Montreal and Vancouver have for decades had ruling parties, whether or not there is a functioning opposition. In Winnipeg, formal and informal business parties and opposition parties periodically appear on the scene, only to disappear again. In a bow to public opinion, organized groups of councillors often insist that they are just good people working together, not political parties, but organize themselves they do again and again.
Are you tired the sprawl game yet? Did you read the newspaper article in the Free Press headlined "The Joy of Sprawl"? Maybe not, so I'll summarize it. I'll keep it brief because you've read it all before.
Which neighbourhoods are dangerous, and which ones offer safe places to walk? I happen to be in possession of a great deal of evidence on this subject, but it is all low-grade evidence - participant observation growing out of the fact that, since I was 15 years old, in 1956, a favourite past-time has been walking the streets of cities wherever I happened to be, and observing whatever there was to see. The evidence I've gathered in these observations, though purely anecdotal, is interesting, because it contradicts almost everything I have ever been told about personal danger in cities, and therefore suggests a question for research.
Canadian city councils are programmed to be weak. Unlike provincial legislatures or the House of Commons, city councils are not well-placed to write legislation that enables meaningful change, let alone implement it so that change actually takes place. Generally, the only way our city governments are capable of being seriously influential at all is if there is a strong mayor. In that sense, our cities, like banana republics, face a bleak choice between autocracy and a weak state.
WHY SPRAWL IS A BIGGER PROBLEM WHEN GROWTH IS SLOW
A lot of genuine experts in problems of urban growth assume that urban sprawl is a big problem for cities that that are growing rapidly, but that it is much less of a problem with slow growth. This is only one of many illustrations of how the problems of slow-growth cities are neglected, because a little bit of reflection is all it takes to conclude that the opposite is true. In a nutshell, the problem of slow-growth cities is that, unlike the proverbial growth machine, they are a machine for the creation of empty space.
The City of Winnipeg has a series of reserve funds for investment in heritage properties, housing rehabilitiation, improvements to Assiniboine Park, perpetual care of city cemetaries, and much more. The purpose of these funds is to ensure that the city will be able to meet its obligations in the face of the inevitable fluctuations in budget allocations and costs.
In the 1980s it used to be an annual ritual for city council to balance the budget by raiding these funds. Mayors Susan Thompson and Glen Murray, who were the city's chief executives from 1992 until 2004, had the good sense to put a stop to that practice. Now the city is reviving it.
Cities that are growing slowly are often thought to be in trouble for no other reason than slow growth. The residents and leaders of slow-growth cities often sound as if they're apologizing for themselves. In reality, it's not slow growth, but mismanaged growth that's likely to be the problem.
Take the example of Winnipeg, which has a very modest growth rate and, and, in terms of collective self-image, an ego to match. The word "decline" is often, and inaccurately, used in describing the city's economy, or population. In self-characterizations, harsh winters and mosquitoes are invariably mentioned, salubrious summer weather and Winnipeg's acknowledged status as the "performing arts capital of Canada" almost never. If self-deprecation is charming, Winnipeg is Charm City.
Please bear in mind that anyone can post any nonsense on the internet. You need to evaluate these sources with the same critical eye that you would use with any library or magazine source. Who is the author? What is her institutional affiliation? What are his credentials?
1. How can we expect cities to become more compact in a wired, highly mobile world?
2. It's obvious people like their quiet, residential neighbourhoods, their shopping malls, and their big box stores. How can there be any hope for compact, mixed-use development in light of those preferences?
3. If combatting sprawl requires filling in empty spaces within the urban perimeter, who's going to live in those empty spaces? Where's the market for infill neighbourhoods?
4. Social isolation isn't something that's been imposed on an unwilling public by evil real estate people. Rich people don't like to live in the same neighbourhoods with middle class people and middle class people don't like to live in the same neighbourhoods with poor people. What are those who complain about social isolation advocating, mind control?
Modernism and reactions to it (Gillham, chapter 3)
5. What is modernism? Where can you find it in Winnipeg?
6. What influence have counter-trends to modernism had on Winnipeg? Identify some examples and characterize them.
7. How does the history of expressways and major roads in Winnipeg - and Canada generally - compare with the American history set out in Gillham?
Growth management in Portland
8. What's the difference between growth control and growth management?
9. Explain the authority structures that bring about the urban growth boundary.
10. What does Kotkin have to say about Portland, and what do you make of his argument?
Public participation in government decision-making
11. What are the advantages of wide public participation in government decision-making?
12. Are there any disadvantages?
13. If there is to be public participation, what’s the best way to do it: questionnaires, public hearings, advisory panels, or what?
14. Have you had any relevant personal experiences, or heard or read about those of of others?
15. Does the discussion of legitimization in the Portland article contribute anything?
Urban aboriginal policy
16. Is it correct to characterize Jean Allard as ideologically close to the Fraser Institute? More generally: The debates over aboriginal issues are strait-jacketed by duelling political correctness. I'll call one of them conventional political correctness and the other the political correctness of talk radio. In the illustration below, how would you place your views of urban aboriginal issues?
17. How can a city help integrate migrating aboriginal populations without being accused of assimilating the population?
18. Is the Kapyong Barracks Urban Reserve a good idea?
19. Canada has a long tradition, now somewhat tarnished, of a social safety net that supposedly sets a basic standard of medical care available to all Canadians, and puts a floor under poverty. Can we have both place-based public policy and national standards?
20. Sam Katz says the City of Winnipeg keeps just eight per cent of the revenues governments collect from Winnipeggers. Instead of a lot of interfering senior governments using Winnipeg, or particular Winnipeg neighbourhoods, for their policy experiments, shouldn’t the city just get a bigger share of total government revenues?
"Read not to contradict and confute, not to believe and take for granted, not to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider." Sir Francis Bacon.
A general rule for all note-taking, whether lectures or readings: Listen or read and think. Decide what's important to you, and summarize it in complete sentences.
Learning is an active process. The only way you learn is by processing the material in question through your own mind, and integrating it with what you know already. That's what you're doing when you read or listen and summarize.
Reading or lecture notes that consist of words, phrases and incomplete sentences are limited in their usefulness, because they're open to interpretation. When you return to them in a month or three months, you will have trouble understanding them, because you won't remember which interpretation you were placing on them when you wrote them.
Underlining or highlighting text in your readings is useful only if you already have an understanding of the material being covered. In that case, it can remind you where the key points are for the next time you use the text.
Conclusion: The way to learn, and the way to remember are the same: Think, summarize what's important to you and write it down in complete sentences.
I'm a professor of politics at the University of Winnipeg. I've spent most of my adult life doing research, writing and teaching, first about African politics and, more recently, city politics. Before becoming a professor, I was a journalist, writing for daily newspapers.