Over the last few years, I have found myself intrigued by the controversies around airport expansions and closures. I see somewhat striking similarities to the controversy surrounding the closure of Edmonton’s City Centre Airport (CCA) to that of the expansion of Billy Bishop Airport (YTZ).
Edmonton’s time for change
Approximately six months after my arrival into Edmonton, there was a controversy brewing over closing Edmonton’s City Centre Airport. It was a historic airport since World War II and an important hub for business clientele for oil companies, provincial politicians and those who wanted to save time travelling to the South Side to Edmonton International Airport. As planes grew larger, it became more difficult to provide commuter service for passengers. Due to constraints similar to that of Downsview Airport in North York, the runways could not be extended. The airport ended up becoming a spot where Cessna planes and MEDIVAC helicopters could land. It became unprofitable for the City to continue to operate the airport any longer and decided it would shut down. Plans were made to convert the Airport into a residential community, similar to that of the Downsview Airport Lands.
I had no vested interest as to whether or not the Airport closed. I lived about a 20 minute walk from the Airport.This was such a divisive and heated issue in workplaces (even my own) and in conventional and social media. I thought I would get immerse myself into the debate, at least on social media. It got so heated, even one person had included me in a blog post. I had to laugh about it actually.
Volunteers were handing out pamphlets and buttons wherever they could get the attention. I experienced this going to an Eskimos-Argos game. It even boiled over into the provincial election where candidates ran on platforms that including those opposed to the Airport’s closure. Even provincial politicians from outside of Edmonton got involved in the debate. The higher ranks within the governing Progressive Conservatives wanted no part of it. Even plans for a referendum failed because of forged signatures.
There are plans to extend the Metro Line (formerly North LRT) to St Albert through the eastern portion of the Airport lands. The community soon to be known as Blatchford would have mixed-use transit oriented development as well as build a stronger relationship with NAIT. The tides were changing and the leadership of the City came to fruition. On November 30th, the City Centre Airport closed.
Billy Bishop Airport Expansion – Community vs Everyone else.
The current debate is whether or not Porter Airlines will be allowed to extend the runway by 200 metres to accommodate for larger jets which will provide for increased service at Billy Bishop Airport.
A more recent debate ensued between two urbanists who I deeply respect and look to as leaders in the urban planning profession: Richard Florida and Ken Greenberg. Florida is pro-airport expansion because of its benefits to economic development and Greenberg is opposed because of potential hazardous effects to Toronto’s Waterfront.
The Board of Health, who would prefer no expansion to the Airport, had provided these key recommendations:
- Plan for the most health-supporting use of the airport lands over the long-term
- Ensure that any change to operations and associated transportation infrastructure reduces existing health impacts
- Implement mitigation measures to reduce the current impacts on the local community
Any transportation project must be mitigated to minimize impacts on a city and community. The airport’s runway extension is no different. Many community groups have turned to the Board of Health report as ammunition. I have always stood by the Board of Health and do stand by their key recommendations.
More recently within Toronto, NIMBYism has stifled progress. Others will say developers have run amok in building higher densities in older established neighbourhoods. Again this debate heated even to more visceral comments:
Comments such as these are not fruitful to the debate. Sounds strikingly familiar to the debates over the closure of the City Centre Airport. As planners, we look at all avenues to come to a solution that benefits all parties through negotiation and conflict resolution. Economic development, health, transportation, environment are all areas to be considered in this debate. Some will be winners, some will be losers. This is on the name of progress.
Toronto is at a point where formerly noxious light industrial and commercial areas should no longer be zoned separately but rather co-exist with residential areas. Zoning will have to be revamped to reflect this. Adaptive reuse with uses such as craft breweries are becoming a benefit to neighbourhoods. Toronto’s Employment Land Strategy is looking to intensify in employment areas that there are opportunities. This is progress.
With respect to the Airport expansion, this has been a controversial issue for years. Then Mayor David Miller ran on a campaign for no bridge to Billy Bishop Airport for the fears that there would be expansion years later. Now there is an underground tunnel currently under construction to save passengers from the one minute ferry ride to the airport. This is progress.
I do not have a vested interest in the Airport expansion. My current residence is equidistant to Pearson Airport and Billy Bishop. I have a choice as to where I would like to fly based on convenience, ticket prices and flight times. But I am not the only person in this debate. An extension of the runway will only allow for larger jets to land but will not take away from opportunities for business passengers and visitors to use the Union-Pearson Express. I have been a frequent visitor of the Waterfront and have never been affected by the noise coming from the airplanes. There are probably more effects from NOC/VOX effects from a congested Gardiner Expressway to Waterfront visitors and residents than that would be of a minimal amount of airplanes.
Although, I would be against building a parking garage where parkland and a school would be sacrificed, as suggested by the hot and cold Toronto Star reporter Christopher Hume.
Nevertheless, citizens of the Waterfront community cannot and should not stand in the way of progress that will benefit the city, region, province and country long-term. We will see how this all plays out on Monday.