The Political Economy of Urban Redevelopment: Downtown Revitalization in London, Ontario, 1993-2002

Article excerpt

Abstract

Scholars interested in applying the two dominant theories of American urban political economy to the politics of Canadian cities are likely to be disappointed. As this study of the politics of downtown redevelopment in London, Ontario, illustrates, the theories offered by Paul Peterson and Clarence Stone have limited applicability to Canadian urban politics. The decisions made by London city council concerning the location of theatres in the city, the creation of an economic development corporation, and the construction of an arena illuminate Peterson's general misunderstanding of the source of local political conflict. The fact that the politics of downtown redevelopment in London did not give rise to a variant of Stone's urban regimes should remind scholars of the substantive differences between the politics of Canadian and American urban governments, and the challenges they raise for cross-national theoretical development.

Keywords: urban political economy; urban politics; downtown redevelopment; London, Ontario; Paul Peterson; Clarence Stone

Resume

Les erudits qui s'interessent a appliquer les deux theories dominantes de l'economie politique urbaine des Etats-Unis a la politique des villes Canadiennes seront decus. Cette etude de la politique de redeveloppement du centre-ville a London, Ontario montre que les theories de Paul Peterson et Clarence Stone ne s'appliquent pas tres bien a la politique urbaine de Canada. Les decisions du conseil municipal de London sur l'emplacement des theatres, la creation d'une corporation de developpement economique, et la construction d'une arene prouvent que Peterson ne comprend pas tres bien l'origine du conflit politique municipal. La politique de redeveloppement du centre-ville a London n'a pas produit une variante des regimes urbains de Peterson; par consequent, on peut voir les grandes differences entre la politique des gouvernements urbains au Canada et aux Etats-Unis. Les differences presentent une probleme pour le developpement des theories politiques qui peuvent s'appliquer aux pays divers.

Mots cles: l'economie politique urbaine; la politique urbaine; le redeveloppement du centre-ville; London, Ontario; Paul Peterson; Clarence Stone

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Clarence Stone's Regime Politics (Stone 1989) and Paul Peterson's City Limits (Peterson 1981) are undisputably two of the most important and influential books to emerge in the field of urban politics in the last quarter-century. Among the valuable contributions these texts offer are their insights into the relationship between the economic and political structures of American cities. Although both authors argue that economic forces significantly constrain the scope of urban policy-making, they disagree over how important (or determinative) these forces actually are. For Peterson, local government policy-making is externally dictated by the competitive economic pressures local public officials must face. For Stone, economic forces are not wholly determinative; local political decisions can only be understood by examining the role of the urban regime that produced them.

In this article, I assess the applicability of Peterson's and Stone's theories to the politics of downtown redevelopment in London, Ontario, during 19932002. London, a mid-sized Canadian city located in southwestern Ontario, provides a unique setting for considering the utility of these theories in the Canadian context for two reasons. First, downtown redevelopment has dominated the local political agenda throughout the last decade, an issue particularly germane to the theories offered by Stone and Peterson. Second, the variable that has frustrated the few attempts to apply Peterson's and Stone's theories to Canadian urban politics--interventionist senior government officials (e.g., Sancton 1993; Leo 1997)--is absent in the decision-making involving downtown redevelopment in London during the period studied. …