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Local and Urban Politics

E18 - The Role of the Business Sector in Local Politics

Date: Jun 6 | Time: 12:00pm to 01:30pm | Location: SWING 406

Chair/Président/Présidente : Cameron Anderson (University of Western Ontario)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Carrie Manning (Georgia State University)

The Role of the Business Sector in Climate Change Governance: Eve Bourgeois (University of Toronto)
Abstract: Despite the wide interest in climate change politics over the past years, Canadian cities have received little scholarly attention. As a result, questions about “who governs”, and the influence of the business sector on the decision-making process still remain unanswered. Thus, this research project contributes to the urban literature on climate change by answering the following questions: i) Who is involved in climate change governance? And ii) What is the role of the business sector in climate change governance? By looking at the City of Calgary (Alberta), and the City of Saint John (New Brunswick), this paper argues that climate change actions are limited in scope; climate change plans from both cities target the municipality rather than the community as a whole. Despite this, the paper shows that both cities collaborate with non-state actors in the development of their climate change plan. Indeed, Calgary and Saint John had to acquire external experts as they do not possess the capacity to conduct in-house research and modelling on climate change mitigation and adaptation. They also partnered with the business sector who, however, exercised a limited influence on policy-making (with the exception of the development and real estate industry in Calgary). Even the oil and gas industry, who is an important economic driver in both cities, is found to have not played an important role in local politics. Taken together, these findings support the main narrative in the urban politics literature which states that municipal governments collaborate with non-state actors in policy-making.


How Public is Public Transport? The Role of the Private Sector in Public Transportation in Detroit: John Sutcliffe (University of Windsor), Sarah Cipkar (University of Windsor)
Abstract: This paper examines the public transportation system in Detroit and its surrounding suburbs. Public transportation is particularly important to disadvantaged groups within the city who often have limited mobility and depend on this form of transit for access to work, education and social facilities within the context of a geographically dispersed city. This raises the issue of transit equity. Transit equity, or specifically the lack of equity, is a key issue in Detroit as it is in other American cities. The groups that depend most heavily on public transit are also the groups least likely to secure adequate transit service that provides fast and reliable movement around the region, particularly from the city to the surrounding municipalities. The paper pays particular attention to the recent role of private investment in the transportation sector. The central focus is the recently opened streetcar – the QLine – which runs for approximately five kilometers along Woodward Avenue in Detroit. The paper examines the development of this project and the role of citizen engagement in the proposal alongside the pivotal role played by private business interests. The paper addresses the question of whether these investments affect equitable transportation outcomes in Detroit. It concludes that the private investment has played a central role in the revitalization of central Detroit but does little to ameliorate transit inequities.

161.Sutcliffe-Cipkar.pdf


Smart City or a Colonizing Experiment in Surveillance Capitalism?: Lorna Stefanick (Athabasca University)
Abstract: In 2018, the City of Toronto signed an agreement with a Google subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, to develop prime waterfront land. Promoted as “the first of its kind,” this new development is visualized as a hypermodern wired city that uses cameras, sensors, and smart phones to monitor not only the physical world within a defined space, but also the behaviour of the humans who pass through it. The benefit for a company like Google is the rich data that is mined, which allows Google to develop predictive algorithms to target consumers with exactly the right message at the right time. Public sector partnering with private companies is nothing new, however, this new method of developing land (and in particular extracting value from land) represents a new trajectory in municipal planning projects. The project commits to providing housing for a representative sample of Toronto’s ethnically and economically diverse population. But as the surveillance literature repeatedly demonstrates, the affluent have the ability to protect their privacy in ways that the poor are unable, which raises major ethical issues for city planners. Critics of the project are also concerned about privacy issues: specifically, the issues of de-linking personal data and where the collected data will be stored. Perhaps the biggest concern, however, relates to the secrecy and opaqueness of the process that is being used in the development of a major urban place. This paper argues that partnerships with technology companies in the development of urban spaces have the potential to undermine democratic control, by transforming these spaces into a commodities that produce privatized value for the companies that control the data harvested from them.