A Tale Of Two Ontario Cities – Hamilton & Burlington – On Contrasting Climate Priorities

“We’re very proud to be building a great city and not a sprawling suburb.” – Burlington, Ontario Mayor Rick Goldring

News from the Hamilton-based Citizens at City Hall (CATCH)

Posted April 26th, 2016 on Niagara At Large

In the wake of more record-smashing global temperatures, the mayors of Burlington and Hamilton got an opportunity to speak last week at a McMaster-organized conference on climate change.

Burlington in the foreground with the Skyway and Hamilton behind.

Burlington in the foreground with the Skyway and Hamilton behind.

The two cities that straddle the western end of the lake appear to have quite different approaches to what is increasingly being described as a planetary emergency.

Last month was by far the hottest March in global records. It was the eleventh consecutive month to break records and was the ninth consecutive one to break them by record amounts, almost guaranteeing that 2016 will be the hottest year yet despite the records set in both 2015 and 2014.

This year has already seen the strongest hurricanes ever recorded in both the northern and southern hemisphere, the earliest melting of Greenland’s ice sheet, and is a “reminder of how perilously close we are now to a permanent crossing into the global-warming danger zone” says famed climate researcher Michael Mann.

Visible local impacts include produce prices affected by California’s severe drought and severe rain storms that have flooded hundreds of homes in both Hamilton and Burlington.

Both were referenced by Mayor Rick Goldring at the April 19 symposium on Low Carbon Climate Resilient Cities, but neither topic was included in the remarks delivered by Councillor Jason Farr on behalf of Mayor Eisenberger (who skipped the conference to receive a bike lane cheque from the provincial transportation minister).

Farr mentioned Hamilton’s use of natural gas buses but not the LRT. Improving transit was referenced by Goldring a half dozen times who highlighted “the need to invest in city building in order to create a more sustainable transit system as well as support cycling and walkability.”

HSR ridership per capita far exceeds Burlington’s but neither city has achieved anything like the growth seen in other Ontario municipalities.

On the protection of foodlands, Goldring noted that his city has run out of room for more residential sprawl development because “fifty percent of our land in Burlington is Greenbelt and we want to keep it that way.”

He said he had “not met anybody in recent years that suggests we do anything different than preserve” those lands. Farr didn’t mention Hamilton’s current efforts to convince the province to unprotect some Greenbelt lands to accommodate developer pressures even though unlike its cross-bay neighbour Hamilton still has thousands of acres of so-called white-belt rural lands that are neither urbanized nor protected by current Greenbelt legislation.

In the same direction, Goldring’s talk centred on Burlington’s plans for intensification, another topic not addressed by Farr. After starting with the declaration that “Hamilton takes the threat of global warming and climate change very seriously,” the councillor primarily listed actions already taken such as greening the city’s fleet, introducing SoBi bikes, capturing landfill and sewage methane and endorsing a climate change action charter.

“We are a poster child for David Crombie’s recent report on how municipalities in southern Ontario should be evolving and we’re embracing that opportunity,” declared Goldring, pointing to praise for Burlington’s new strategic plan from renowned urban planner Brent Toderian who recently visited the city.

“It’s not a tweak of the way the city’s built; it’s a rethink,” said Toderian about the city’s intensification plans. “It changes not only the direction of the city, the vision of the city, but also the makeup and attitudes and culture of city hall.”

Crombie chaired the advisory panel on the review of provincial land use plans now underway including the Greenbelt rules and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Its executive summary argued that cities “must curb sprawl and build more compact communities in order to support transit, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect valuable farmland.” It also called for “applying more aggressive intensification and density targets” and “accelerating progress to improve and extend transit and active transportation infrastructure.”

Farr explained he had to rush off for planning committee deliberations on building a parking garage right across the street from the new McMaster health centre at the corner of Bay and Main.

“We’re going to solve that issue for not only the doctors, the patients and those who wish to drive, but also make better use of this parkade than surface parking lots,” he promised.

Goldring ended his presentation with the declaration that “we’re very proud to be building a great city and not a sprawling suburb and right now is a game changing moment in our history and we want to do it right.”

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.

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