mercredi 29 septembre 2010

… Fire!

Despite the death-knell of expropriation, commercial activity continued, in mixed and semi-commercial building,

Cathy’s Lunch Bar was operated by Mr. Saikaly in partnership with Mr. Ayoub, who had recently moved to Ottawa as part of the Lebanese migrantion in the late 1950s. With its low overhead costs the store was profitable, but after the expropriation, sales had fallen dramatically, just four years into the lease.

The store and its scraped contents were put up for auction – putting an end to their tenure. Despite an agreement to terminate the life-world, the owners rescued items from impending capture including “cups and saucers, plates, glasses, ice cream dishes and two grocery carriages” before the impending auction.

Even more dramatically, fire consumed most of the corner store. Appropriately, the adjoining building was a used auto parts store, which like the lunch bar, suffered from the fire. Left behind were the residual of postwar packaged consumption, and that imminent symbol of the rapid pace of modernization: the television - leaving only the charred remains and the broken dreams of residents and workers.

Smoothing the National Landscape: Life-World

The professional appraisals of the Flats reflected the social Darwinist understanding of “natural” neighbourhood change. These descriptions were part a desire to the move the Flats “forward” – and to forget the working landscape of the past.

The neighbourhood descriptions contained within individual property assessments charted the “natural decline “of the central city, assessed the desirability of the neighbourhood, and expressed a pointed desire for the Flats to “progress forward.” Yet, this socio-technical process would overlook the working landscape of the past, the French-Canadian and Irish background of the majority of the working-class residents, a growing Italian community, and a smaller Lebanese community as it experienced significant postwar migration that had altered the Irish, British and French-Canadian of the area. In fact, contrary to reports marking the Flats as a transient area, many residents had lived on the Flats for several decades. In 1951 over 77 per cent of all the dwellings had been occupied by the same residents for more than five years.

While real estate specialists, town planners, federal politicians, and civic boosters hankered for the redevelopment of the Flats, the expropriation and demolition would also sever community and family ties.

For example, the widower Mrs. Cora Albert, who had lived on the Flats for 36 years expressed her displeasure: “I’m not too happy to move because this is my home and my family is all happily settled here”. Her two daughters and a son rented the three other units of the four-unit row house, and had recently undertaken several renovations.

In fact, despite the narrative of decline, many individual land-owners had improved the overall condition of the building stock. Yet such rehabilitations in the view of appraisers, only ‘retarded the deterioration of the area as a whole’ and were only slowing down the ‘natural’ decline of the area.

Many appraisers blamed the ‘integration of the Italian Ethnic group,’ for the ‘unnatural’ upswing in housing prices in the area. In the racialized view of experts, these ongoing familial lending practices and multi-generational homes were deemed by the experts to be out of step with the postwar norms of institutional lending and the nuclear family ideal.

mercredi 25 août 2010

Smoothing the National Landscape: Red Line Taxi

As an operator of over 50 cabs, plus 40 independent operators, the central location of Red Line Taxi at the Corner of Fleet and Duke Streets near major thoroughfares, was conveniently located drivers within 1.5 miles of Union Station and Chateau Laurier where 60 per cent of business was produced. As part of the ongoing property rationalization, the company received $236,000 as compensation for relocation to a site near the new railway station being completed as part of Gréber’s plan. This accounted for the cost additional mileage that would be incurred by the company. No longer able to operate in the CBD due to zoning rules, the company received compensation for relocation on suburban land on land purchased from the NCC. While there was advantages to being located near the new train station, and near the cross-town expreswat, the extra labour costs of the new location were born by the individual drivers. In fact, just as the move was being completed, as the assessment report notes, additional mileage costs would no longer be born by the company, as it was switching to a model in which the company rented out the cars and sold gas to the drivers, rather than paying them a salary, in essence externalizing the operating costs to the drivers. Just as waged labour was becoming a relic in the taxi industry, so too was the very physical building itself: the hub of its network, the stand-alone radio tower above the garage, was deemed surplus and bidders attempted to purchase the ruins, to fulfill new functions, however, the NCC would not easily relinguish goods, and left them instead to the wreckers ball.

mardi 17 août 2010

Smoothing the National Landscape: Victoria Foundry

Photo: Victoria Foundry Scrap Yard

Among the remaining industrial production, there were a number of foundries on LeBreton Flats including the Victoria Foundry complex. In business for 118 years, Victoria Foundry had at the time of expropriation 26 employees, 9 of which had been with company for over 10 yrs and another 13 employees with over 5 yrs. The shop works at the Victoria Foundry consisted mainly of custom foundry and machine work, both in the manufacture of new products and maintenance and repair of existing machinery. The location, in one of the “most central locations in the Ottawa, Hull area” proximity to the “source of semi skilled labour who find it difficult to commute to the periphery of the city, resulting in higher labour costs” as well as increased production cost of operation in new building such as capital costs, municipal taxes. Customers included the Federal Government, the City of Ottawa, and various supply companies.

A number of appraisals were done to assess both the value of the property and the associated costs of relocation. These valuations varied significantly, and are an incomplete record of the life-world of the plant, however, these do point to the view of value creation, and recreation among the pattern of disintegration on the Flats. Like the valuations, the condition of manufacturing fixtures and moveable equipment varied considerably. Mechanical equipment such as “the ducting from blowers to forgers, and from blower to cupola, and from blowers to brass furnaces” were not “economically worth removing for re-installation elsewhere”. Other fixtures were clearly out of date such as the “wooden fixtures such as cupboards, shelving, lockers” whose place would “largely be taken by modern steel racks and binning in a new plant”. Fixtures such “shafting, pulleys, belts, etc., that jointly provide the power of the few pieces of machinery” was “ very ancient” yet reasonably maintained.

Forges and ovens, on the other hand, had “a good proportion of their active life remaining in them” and the overall structure “had adequate utility and physical stamina for the next 25 years”. This latter appraisal considered the advantages of the present building and location over a new site which although it would improve aesthetic considerations, the “prestige building were in no way increases volume of trade or volume” especially since the overall design was not only “efficient”. All of this mechanical residue, judged by appraisers as not ‘economically worth removing for re-installation elsewhere’, would be silenced in the smoothing of the LeBreton landscape.

lundi 16 août 2010

Smoothing the National Landscape I

On 17 April 1962, the federal government publicly announced a massive urban renewal project for the neighbourhood of LeBreton Flats in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The expropriation of LeBreton Flats, and its working-class residents, emerged from an ambitious state-led initiative to remodel Ottawa into a new, modern, national capital. Initiated in 1945, and carried out in the 1950s and early 1960s, the federal planning initiative would radically alter Ottawa’s urban socio-environment. The proposed reconstruction projects proceeded from class-based assumptions, transatlantic urban reform consensus, that tagged low-income neighbourhoods as undesirable ‘slums,’ making it easier — if not necessary — to run expressways, construct large office blocks through the working-class districts. The state-led project provoked the ‘creative destruction’ of the rich socio-industrial landscape of LeBreton Flats and cleared away the ‘dead weight of past environments.’ The relics of the vast lumber and milling industry did they fit with the image of a modern national capital – and were cleared away for a new dream image – a National Defense Headquarters.

Taking a cue from Walter Benjamin, this series will expose the wreckage of past to help make the translation of the modern maelstrom possible. Empirically, it exposes the last vestiges of the industrial staples trade, and how all users – residents, squatters, scrap-dealers, manufacturers – were relegated to negotiating the terms of their disappearance from the Flats. Yet, despite this extensive attempt to remake the Flats into a national ‘landscape of power’, the state-led recalibration of industrial-ecological landscape remained incomplete. Drawing on Walter Benjamin, this new series of blog entries looks-back at the promise (and failure) to re-make nature at remains a symptom of the phantagasmoric spell of progress and mimics Benjamin’s methodology by focusing on collection of ‘scraps of history’ as a means from which to expose the false promise of the postwar dream.Second, inspired by Benjamin’s atmosphere of One Way Street, photographic and archival evidence is used to uncover fragments of ongoing activity on the Flats. These textual and visual fragments, drawn from expropriation files, offer cues to the distorted spell of progress of the postwar consensus and a counter narrative to the rent-based determination of urban decline.

mardi 29 juin 2010

After the Shock

As Canada’s national media obsesses over a few burnt cars, the shock doctrine has been played in full force to the Canadian context. During this week’s G20 meetings, the use of massive police and security operations has masked the (re)imposition of unpopular neoliberal policies. As Naomi Klein has detailed, the shock doctrine works like this: at a point of crisis, force people into a state of shock, then impose severe and unpopular measures, often with the use of force. In this case, a state-sanctioned policing strategy allows for property damage to be used as a pretext for massive police action. As shock reins and media suffer from whiplash (a burnt police, and also broken windows, oh my, how can that be, this is Toronto!), the G20 leaders, hidden behind fences, and far from public view, agreed to the return of the politics of austerity. In fact, while seemingly unrelated, the outside and the inside of this summit are, in fact, part of the same game. The police strategy, perhaps unwittingly, acts as a cloak for what an article on G20 Breakdown calls the “(re)triumph of neoliberalism as global economy’s modus operandi”. No were is this more true than in heart of Canada’s financial capital, where the very financial institutions that led us to the precipice, were able to avoid calls for responsibility by lobbying Harper's neoliberal government.

The impacts of these measures will be quite severe. Despite having caused a major global metldown, financial institutions have successfully hidden from the dereliction, as the G20 has rejected a broad an increasingly popular call for a Robin Hood tax on banks. And, despite lip-service on maternal health, a few days earlier over supper, the G8 did nothing to cover the remaining $14 billion short on its commitment from Gleneagles 5 years ago.

A recent article by G20 Breakdown, written before the G20, remains an important statement: “Now it is on the people’s backs to clean up the mess. It is post-crisis shock doctrine for all of us. A clear reason to challenge the G20 agenda.” The massive police attack on concerned citizens makes this task to relocate the narrative even more important. The story is not one about broken windows, but of irresponsible international financial capital, and broken promises.

lundi 21 juin 2010

Assembly of Film

“It cannot be overlooked that the assembly line, which plays a fundamental role in the process of production, is in a sense represented by the filmstrip in the process of consumption. Both came into being at roughly the same time. The social significance of the one cannot be fully understood without that of the other”

Walter Benjamin

dimanche 8 novembre 2009

Landsdowne Live and the Urban Growth Machine

When Robert Dahl wrote his book on urban governance in 1961 he asked the question of who governs the city, and how urban development can be understood in a political context. This early contribution to the study of urban governance is complemented by Logan and Molotch’s classic 1987 essay “The City as a Growth Machine.” Logan and Molotch maintain that the question of “Who Governs” has to be complemented by the equally central question “For What.”

Land-based interest and the day-to-day actions of urban elites figures prominently in their thesis, and their analysis provides an agency-centered understanding of the power relations and resources underpinning the formation and development of urban places and systems. Logan and Molotch argue that “for those who count the city is a growth machine, one that can increase aggregate rents and trap related wealth for those in the right position to benefit.” The desire to drive growth creates a consensus among elite groups, a consensus which is used to eliminate alternative visions of the role of local government. The Urban Growth Machine (UGM) thesis, which stems from this essay, maintains that coalitions of land-based elites drive urban politics to expand the local economy and the accumulation of wealth. Civic boosters them, connect the very essence of civic pride to growth.

According to this analysis the rentier-class ensures support for the project of continued growth by creating community solidarity on the collective benefit of growth and expansion. Among this growth coalition, local business people, especially those who invest and finance property development and real estate are major participants in urban politics, and are often deploy their considerable resources to promote growth based development. Much of the growth mobilization involves local government (which rentiers need local governments to succeed). The aforementioned properties interest playing a major role in electing local politicians: paying tribute to the old political adage that politics is about who gets what, here and how. And so when a development friendly Mayor such as Larry O’Brien is elected, they can act in full force to bring the UGM up to maximum speed: which is perhaps most evident in the Landsdowne Live project currently being proposed for Ottawa.

Property developers and financiers, however, are not alone in driving the UGM. Local media the authors point out also benefit from expansion since they gain increased circulation, advertising and profit as a result of growth. Historically, newspapers “bolster and maintain the predisposition for general growth.” Second, baseball and football stadia have been used by local governments to provide a focus for development projects.

Landsdowne live is a wonderful example of how the interests of media and property development mesh with the UGM. Media outlets such as Team 1200, Ottawa Sun, and media personalities such Glen Kulka, have trumpeted the benefits of a new stadium, and their voices should not be seen one voice among many, but a voice with vested interest in promoting not only general growth but the expansion of sports in the city from a purely profit laden perspective. Cleverly, these media outlets have outright ridiculed politicians and civic activists who propose alternative visions, as the UGM contends. Likewise for the property developers: local property robber baron Greenberg has used the Citizen to promote the growth-centered vision for the city. All those who oppose this grand vision were are told, have no civic pride. It is not a stretch to say this is an unfair playing field, is it is a question of power and resources. However, as this is an agent centered understanding of the political economy of development, the thesis also argues that interest which do not mesh with this view can be quite effective in offering an alternative vision if the growth based vision is not compatible with their “use of places – to live, to shop, and earn money.” Professionals not tied to the growth machine are most potent group to contend the growth coalition. The density of professionals in the Glebe offers just that possibility of effective citizen opposition.

The UGM is working quite well in Ottawa. With a sympathetic Mayor who is himself part of the urban growth coalition, civic resources have been mobilized to maintain their profitability and to promote one vision. I applaud those who are working to slow down the machine.

mercredi 21 octobre 2009

EPAD + Sarko

Jean Sarkozy, le fils cadet du président de la République tente d’être élu à la présidence de l'Etablissement public d'aménagement de la Défense (EPAD), l'organisme qui gère le quartier d'affaires de la Défense. A 23 ans il sera la tête du plus grand quartier d'affaires européen, rival du Canara Wharf à Londres. Son manque d’expérience dans le domaine immobilier, ainsi que les connections de son père, Sarko le Grand dans la Haute-Seine, a créé une contreverse substantielle, avec raison. Comme je l’ai remarqué à quelques occasions, ce genre de rapprochement entre le monde politique et le monde immobilier contient un grand nombre de risques, surtout lorsque le cabinet d’un l’organisme responsable de la gérance de cet immense atelier a si peut d’expérience et que ses connections politique sont si fortes. C’est le urban growth machine sur un régime de dopage!

jeudi 17 septembre 2009

Slumology (The Reformers)

“It is clear that juvenile delinquency, crime and vice thrive in an environment of bad housing... many of these surveys have indicated that it is the slum that makes the slum dweller, not the slum dweller the slum, and therefore the elimination of the slum one tends to get the elimination of lower social standards”

Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, Submission to the Advisory Committee on Reconstruction (Curtis Report), 1944.