Expresswaystudiesforgot about people

When the crunchis over, will Hamilton have been wishy-washy on sustainability? Or will the RegionalMunicipality of Hamilton-Wentworthdeserve to keepitsdesignation as a model community?

The test willbe how ithandlesitsdecision to build an expresswaythroughRed Hill Valleythatrunsnorth-southacross the east end of Hamilton. The valley, filledwithtrees and as muchwildness as youcouldhope for in the middle of a city, has a lovely creek meanderingalongit and, by one measure, itcontains 36 per cent of the city’sparkland.

The regionwasdeclared a model community, one of fourteenworldwide, by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives whose world secretariatisbased in Toronto. WithICLEI’s support, the communities are « developingtools and models for sustainabledevelopment planning.’’

By far the most impressive initiative the regionalgovernment has takenis to change itsprocess of decisionmakingsothateverydecisionisassessed for its impact on sustainability. Each report thatgoes to council must include an analysisunder the heading « SustainableCommunity Implications.’’

For me, the best description of the region’sapproachis a rough drawing on a document it calls its « SustainableCommunityDecision-Making Guide.’’ It shows a three-leggedstool. The seatiscalledsustainabledevelopment and the legs are labelledeconomic, environmental, and social.

Whatitconveysis a perception of the world whichsees all three areas inextricablylinked. It recalls Marcel Proust’s comment: « The real voyage of discoveryconsists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.’’ Or in the case of Hamilton-Wentworth, if youseethings in a differentway, you do things in a differentway.

The question isgoing to be: How differentwillbe the way the region deals with the expressway? It’salways the tough decisionsthatdefinecommitment.

The route headseastfromHighway 403 about five kilometres to Mud Street and Mt. Albion Road, thenitturnsnorth, into the valley, about 2.7 kilometres to the QEW. The upperthirdis about 350 metreswide and the expresswayskirts the inneredge of one side. However, on the lower, narrowertwo-thirds, itwilltake up most of the valleyspace.

Intended as a linkbetweenHighway 403 in the west and the Queen Elizabeth Way in the east, it has a long, and muchstudiedhistory. In 1982, the regioncompleted an environmentalassessment and in1985, a joint hearing of the province’sEnvironmentalAssessmentBoard and the Ontario Municipal Boardapproved construction.

The decisionwasappealedin 1987 to Cabinet, and upheld, and a judicialreview in early 1990 refused to tamperwithit. However, the New Democratic Party waselected to the Legislature in September 1990, and by Decemberithadcutfunding for the valley portion of the expressway .

Next, David Crombie, chair of the WaterfrontRegeneration Trust, wasasked to review plans for the valley section. He recommendedthatonly about a third of the roadwayremain in the valley. The rest, hesaid, couldbeaccommodated on twoexistingstreets at the edge of the valley, one at the upper end, one at the lower.

The regionrejectedhisrecommendation. It saidhewasproposing an arterial road wheretherewouldbe a lot of stoplights. It wanted a four-lane, 90-kilometre-per-hour expressway to accommodate transport trailersdrivingfromindustrial areas to the QEW.

Last year the Conservatives took over at Queen’s Park. Theyquicklyallocated $100-million over five years to push the expresswaythrough the valley.

In the meantime, the region has made some changes thatlessenits impact and also has embarked on whatappears to be a verythorough update of itsenvironmentalassessment.

The update calls for extensive public consultation. But in readinga 106-page document outlining the process for assessment and consultation, a startlingdetailemerges. There has never been a study, noris one planned, of the impact on people.

They are going to lose part of theirendowment of inner city wildness, smallthoughitmaybe. Yet, with 106 studiescompleted and 14 new onesscheduled, thereis not a single study to examine the sociologicalor the psychological impact of the loss.

How come? Especially if the thirdleg of the stool — society — isso important?

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