New Environmental Regime

The environmental regime after roll-out environmentalism shapes up to be a consensus regime built on the strong pillars of a locally defined ecological modernization project, propped up constantly by the driving energy of a significantly more radical urban ecological movement, which has also moved more directly into the realm of the local state. The new consensus position is somewhat of a contested hegemony as Wayne Roberts explains elegantly:

First of all when you have a consensus position it doesn't mean that we all agree—we all have found our own way to this position. So there is a consensus in Toronto that our future lies as a clean green city.

(Personal interview, 3 December 2003)

Even before the election of progressive mayor David Miller in November 2003, the conditions had been created to fundamentally redraw the material streams from—to borrow from Herbert Girardet (1992)—a more linear to a more circular urban metabolism. While this change has clearly been on the agenda of many large municipalities, the Toronto case is particularly interesting because this still ongoing shift has occurred under political and social conditions which, at face value, would have not suggested such changes to be possible: the condition of roll-out neoliberalism set in motion by consecutive Tory provincial governments and a compliant Toronto mayor, who was a representative of the city's development regime.

To begin with, we can posit that some of these changes were possible precisely because the elites left a large chunk of the metropolitanization of Toronto's political mechanisms to "ordinary people" and their progressive institutional and political representatives. At least, this is what the President of the Toronto Labour Council, John Cartwright, too, seems to suggest happened in past decades in Toronto:

while we can talk about the vision of key public figures like David Crombie or Jane Jacobs, there was something else happening back then. There was a tremendous involvement of ordinary people challenging things they didn't like. They organized, worked hard, and came up with real alternatives that are nowadays celebrated as elements of our city's greatness.All of those people—ordinary people—made Toronto the city that we cherish and celebrate. Their struggles were often opposed by powerful elites. But their struggles were successful, and we need to look at how they built enough power to achieve success.

(Personal interview, 19 May 2004)

It is in this vein that we will argue below that environmentalism was "rolled out" following the initiative of ordinary activists during neoliberal times. Yet, we are not arguing that Toronto has become a strange ecological oasis in a neoliberal environment. Rather, the "mainstreaming" of local environmentalism (Churley, personal interview, 28 May 2004; Tabuns, personal interview, 19 May 2004) had somewhat predictable effects on the political astuteness of the environmentalists themselves: they became more professionalized as their importance in municipal politics grew and much of their political program and strategy—while highly successful in changing the urban metabolism of Toronto—became more accommodationist in the process. The protest/activist mode of urban political ecological groups was slowly moulded into a more policy/consultant mode. The growing professionalism of Toronto environmentalists was at once a necessary outcome of the changed political landscape after amalgamation, a function of the career of environmentalist organizations, and the willingness of urban bureaucracies—which at that point contained many environmentalists themselves—to lend an open ear to the complaints of the movement (Perks, personal interview, 3 December 2003; Roberts, personal interview, 3 December 2003). In what follows, we contextualize the metabolic changes in Toronto in the economic and political frame in which they have taken place: neoliberalism, ecological modernization and the struggle for a more sustainable city.

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