Roll Out Environmentalism

Work of the Environmental Task Force led to a remarkable new Environmental Governance regime built most importantly around an innovative document called the Environmental Plan for the City of Toronto published in February 2000. The plan marked a shift from struggles of the environmental community against the roll-back neoliberalism of the mid-1990s and the emergent competitive regime (Kipfer and Keil 2002) to a "roll-out environmentalism" that accepted an institutional compromise with the ecological modernization regime of the day but moved ahead in strident ways in substantive areas, mostly due to the leadership of councilor Jack Layton, who also became the head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and began to use the urban green agenda as a plank in his platform to become the national leader of the NDP in 2003. The scale jumping of the urban environmental agenda in this remarkable way in an unlikely moment of neoliberal retrenchment was unpredictable and unexpected. The politics of scale engaged by Layton and his allies was immediately successful in breaking out from both the downtown ghetto of left-liberal environmentalism and the specific restrictions that had taken hold of Toronto politics in the face of fiscal austerity and ideological suburbanism. Taking the "downtown" agenda of social and environmental sustainability national created a frame of legitimacy for an activist and policy agenda that was under severe attack locally.

The establishment of the ETF was reported to have occurred under a specific set of tensions between "more traditional environmentalists [who] wanted the task force to act as a vehicle for entrenching the best environmental protection initiatives from the former municipalities throughout the new mega-city" and "other members [who] saw environmental protection as intimately tied to economic prosperity and social health" (Fowler and Hartmann 2002:158). The ETF launched so-called "Quick Start" initiatives in order to spread established good environmental practices throughout the city and established multi-stakeholder working groups on various environmental topics. The notions of "environment" and "sustainability" remained contested in the process and the result a governance structure for environmental matters built around a "Sustainability Roundtable" and a governance document in the form of the Environmental Plan. Sustainability criteria were written firmly into all city policy processes at that point: "In some ways, the city's first-ever Environmental Plan is as much a sustainability plan as an environmental plan. The first part of the plan contains more conventional recommendations aimed at improving the health of the city's air, land, and water. The latter part of the plan contains a number of recommendations that promote sustainability in the transportation, energy use, and economic development sectors" (Fowler and Hartmann 2002:159). The plan is a remarkably upbeat and powerful document, which frankly presents some of the main environmental challenges faced by Canada's largest city and makes sensible and practical recommendations for improvements mostly through a mix of governance innovations, spread of best practices and moderate ecological modernization measures, often couched in a language mostly as compatible with the sensitivities of Toronto's civic environmentalism as with the lexicon of the neoliberal Zeitgeist of the Lastman regime. Fowler and Hartmann ultimately propose that "the

Toronto Environmental Plan suggests an alternative: a particular type of economic growth that is both financially frugal and also sensitive to environmental and social concerns", leading the city down a "path that, if followed, will lead to a much healthier, happier, environmentally benign, and vibrant economic future for Torontonians" (2002:161).

But the Lastman years were really just a time of institutional progress "behind the scenes": "roll-out environmentalism" could only really take hold in the bureaucracy after the election of David Miller, when problematic practices of the administration in the context of a computer leasing contract were brought to light in a highly publicized mismanagement inquiry, and the path was cleared for a different administrative style, more in line with the social democratic mayor's idea of a "clean" bureaucracy.8 It was also a period of modest success for the Toronto environmental movement. This can be exemplified in the work of the Environmental Alliance (TEA). During the past few years, TEA sunk its teeth into a variety of issues both related to the emerging expansion of the urban economy and to more marginal or niche issues related to the Toronto environment. It seems that the dramatic change in urban governance priorities during the Lastman years towards a more competitive and revanchist city created precisely the niches or venues in which urban environmental policy could thrive.

The environment was brought to the municipal government agenda in the early 1990s through a pressure politics led by mostly left-leaning local politicians and activists. As the decade went on, and as environmental politics became more institutionally and procedurally integrated into the political process at City Hall, support for environmental issues started to move across the political spectrum. While conservatives tended to be against many environmental initiatives which often were perceived to endanger, for example, existing contracts in the hard-lobbying construction and engineering industries, it is not unusual to now find support for ecological concerns among fiscal or social conservatives. Wayne Roberts talks about the enthusiasm of one right-wing Toronto councilor for rooftop gardens and that of another—who had grown up on a farm—for progressive and bioregional food policies (personal interview, 3 December 2003). Another longterm environmental activist (albeit a conservative one) and now city councilor, Glenn De Baeremaeker, speaks to the same point when he observes that there is now somewhat of an environmental hegemony in Toronto, where even some of his more conservative colleagues would not openly question the necessity of certain environmental measures that are before Council, but would merely ask about cost and efficiency: the conflict may be about the technique used in a specific case but not about whether something should be done at all (De Baeremaeker, personal interview, 3 March 2004).9

A version of a regime of ecological modernization, which is less tied to the promise of Toronto's civic regime and more neoliberal in character, has taken hold in the exurban 905 telephone area north of Toronto, where development is now principally sold as green, smart and in harmony with "nature". In what De Baeremaeker (personal interview, 3 March 2004) has called "an Orwellian approach to language" a programmatic "live with nature" approach has now emerged, in which even those people who have lived after the principle "the more sprawl the better" have come around to use the smart growth language that is now pervasive everywhere. This strategy often reverts to the notion that development actually "produces" a better environment as it plants trees in subdivisions where there were empty farmers fields filled with soybeans. Support for public transit, such as the Light Rail Transit lines in the making for suburban growth centres Markham or Vaughan, also plays with the general theme of the hegemonic ecological modernization discourse. But while this support may look environmental at first glance, it is really generated as a thinly disguised attempt to create a better infrastructure for more sprawl.

0 0

Post a comment