Amalgamating Urban Nature

Surprisingly, then, amalgamation has had positive net effects in terms of the urban environmental discourse. Whether it has led to better "actually existing" sustainability remains to be seen (Krueger and Agyeman forthcoming). Amalgamation was criticized for its scalar failure, i.e. its inability to address urban and environmental issues at the most appropriate scale: instead of bringing in a more locally democratic governance structure with clear bottom-up democratic procedures, it saddled the municipality with devolution and downloading to the detriment of the kinds of local spaces that make experiment and change possible; instead of consolidating the greater urban area at the bioregional scale in order to make at least an attempt at creating an integrated socio-ecological policy area, it created an artificially demarcated polity at the metropolitan level and left the regional contradictions between inner- and outer-city intact. None of these structural weaknesses of governance restructuring under the provincial Tories have been significantly altered, but the polity of this newly created jurisdiction started to work around these structural deficiencies. There is reason to believe that the newly created municipal governance structure, for example, became more transparent, and surprisingly more open to the desires of environmentalists. Some of it had to do with the expanded and much more unpredictable council, which necessitated new and constantly renegotiated alliances and created windfall efficiencies in the bureaucracy. Wayne Roberts notes: "Which is the incredible thing with amalgamation is if you can get it through a committee you get it through in minutes, seconds because they say, well, the right, left and centre are on the committee and if they've okayed it then its OK" (personal interview, 3 December 2003).

Amalgamation had meant the merging of a number of important middle management positions across the City. In addition, there was a predominance of politicians and power brokers from the old suburbs and from the Metropolitan Toronto Government in the transition process to the "megacity". This had been largely interpreted as resulting in a marginalization of the historically very progressive municipal bureaucrats from the old core city. In addition, the ideological conservatism and political nepotism of former mayor Mel Lastman, who brought many of his former North York staff with him into leading positions at City Hall created a chilly climate for many reform oriented bureaucrats. Some would assume that the municipal governance culture at City Hall changed, during these years, irreversibly towards a managerial culture led by ideas of efficiency and market orientation. Still, we argue that there is a sustained progressive impetus among the newly amalgamated City's 40,100 employees based on their history of social engagement—from the original trade union organizing in the nineteenth century to the more current social, (multi)cultural and environmental civic activism that motivates people to become public workers. What seems to have happened, ironically, is that the provincial Tories, despite their attempt to purge the City of radicals and progressives, and instead of weakening their worst political enemies in the core of Toronto, gave them a larger playing field for their activities. The local state showed both its resilience in the face of external attack, an incredible flexibility in handling its affairs and an ability to rebound. The Toronto bureaucracy actually strengthened its presence in environmental affairs precisely at the time when the macro-environment suggested an ecological Armageddon at the provincial level.10

Moreover, the success of roll-out environmentalism in hard times was grounded to a large degree on the support from large parts of City staff. Roberts remembers:

What happened with the Environmental Task Force was that Layton pulled together I think a pretty good team of politicians—pretty good in terms of citizen representatives who would again run the gamut from left to right and be people who would command some general respect and there were staff people who were looking for a chance to do something in this area. If you went to the early meetings you would see that however many people were on the task force I can't remember but the chairs around it were always packed and mostly—at least half of them were staff.

So that tells you two things: one is that there was staff interest and that people were looking for an opportunity to get one of these programs and start to work on them and two that there are people who are interested in a career track and they smelled this as an area that's going to become important. It had a lot of staff interest.

(Personal interview, 3 December 2003)

After Mel Lastman was gone, a newly reinvigorated debate about democratization and transparency took hold in the city. While still a city councilor, the current mayor, David Miller, headed a discussion series on civic engagement for the CAO's office of Toronto. Miller carried the mandate of this group over into his election campaign and into office. Once in power, Miller espoused various policies of citizen involvement such as a Porto Alegre-style budgeting process and a series of roundtables as advisory bodies to the elected council (City of Toronto Chief Administrator's Office 2001).

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