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Local and Urban Politics

E17 - The Politics of Municipal Infrastructure Development

Date: Jun 6 | Time: 10:30am to 12:00pm | Location: SWING 110

Chair/Président/Présidente : Aude-Claire Fourot (Simon Fraser University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Zack Taylor (University of Western Ontario)

What Drives Urban Infrastructure Investment? A Historical Institutionalist Argument: Jacqueline Peterson (University of Toronto)
Abstract: When and why do cities invest in large infrastructure projects? Under what conditions are these priorities formed and undertaken? Calgary, AB and San Antonio, TX are similar in many respects: they have similar populations (~1.5million), similar land areas (both big into annexation), and have grown in similar patterns (sprawl) and at similar rates (population has doubled since 1980). Furthermore, they are both relatively conservative with a strong pro-business bias. Nevertheless, their infrastructure landscapes are markedly different. This paper uses data from interviews and historical records (principally: Annual Financial Reports) to highlight the impact of municipal finance institutions on policy outcomes. Specifically, how cities fund infrastructure (funding source) shapes policymakers’ preferences by setting the bounds of what they consider possible. These preferences are further constrained as investment decisions year after year are literally “cemented” onto the cities’ landscapes, making change not only more expensive and technically challenging, but difficult to even conceive of in the first place. This paper aims to emphasize the central role of municipal funding structures in the urban policymaking process and highlight the need for comparative approaches to fully appreciate the impact of institutions on local policy outcomes.


Transforming Mid-Size Cities in Ontario: Exploring Why Major Transit Projects in Waterloo Region and London Are on Divergent Paths: Jesse Helmer (Western University)
Abstract: Which theoretical framework best explains urban politics in Canadian mid-size cities? This paper explores two dominant theories of urban political economy, the growth machine described by Logan and Molotch (1987) and the urban regime advanced by Stone (1989). It does so by applying these two theories to the cases of major transit projects in two mid-size cities in Ontario -- Waterloo region and London. In Waterloo region, the regional government has approved and constructed a light rail transit (LRT) system linking Kitchener and Waterloo. In London, the fate of similarly extensive bus rapid transit (BRT) system hangs in the balance. Exploring the decision-making, discursive strategies and coalitions of neighbourhood groups, business elites, councillors (at the city and regional level) and provincial and federal politicians, this paper investigates whether it is true, as Cobban (2003) argues, that there is no urban regime in London? Or is Leo (2003) correct in his response to Cobban that urban regime theory has explanatory power in Canada? Or are they both wrong because urban politics in mid-size cities is better understood as a growth machine? To what extent do institutional factors, such as the presence or absence of regional government, support or weaken the persuasiveness of these dominant theories of urban political economy?