Opinion

Property Destruction and Violence

For a city all too willing to go after homeowners with "inappropriate" wildflowers in their front lawns, we take a remarkably lax view on wholesale building demolition and the rampant destruction of wild spaces.

By Undustrial
Published July 06, 2010

The discussion about breaking Starbucks windows at a protest, and whether that kind of property damage is "real" violence can and will go on all night. It's been argued about enough already, and I doubt any of that will end soon.

The point I want to raise is that if property destruction can be violent, then there are a few other situations to which we should start applying this logic. Perhaps what infuriates me most about all the coverage in the last week is how little regard people are regularly given when they try to raise these issues.

What do you call someone who thinks property destruction is violent outside the context of a few big protests? Environmentalists. Building heritage activists. Or simply "NIMBYs".

If property destruction is violent - and it unquestionably can be when it results in real-world harm to people who depended on that property - then what are we to say of the needless demolition of the Balfour Building, Tivoli Theatre, Century Theatre, or any of the other downtown Hamilton victims of "demolition by neglect"?

Or how about the Red Hill Valley Expressway, and the massive destruction of habitat in what had been Canada's biggest urban park? This entails a very real loss of life for deer, birds, flying squirrels and other creatures that once lived there? What about the blasting (with tree sitters in the area), which hurled rocks damaging homes and cars 200 metres away.

Or Randle Reef, one of Canada's worst environmental disasters, with a cleanup which will now likely cost over a hundred million dollars, with little or no help from Stelco, the company is directly responsible for it. Does poisoning all the fish in Hamilton Harbour count as violent?

How many acres of farmland will be laid to waste for Aerotropolis? How many acres of brownfields have already been laid to waste in the North End? The destruction of so much of our industrial base is directly linked to group like the G8/G20, WTO and agreements like NAFTA.

How many acres of high-density, mixed-use buildings were leveled downtown to make for our epidemic of surface parking lots?

An epidemic of surface parking (RTH file photo)
An epidemic of surface parking (RTH file photo)

If property destruction is violent, then what are we to make of the Tar Sands? Who is going to jail for the global destruction wrought by climate change?

As the great Anarchist Mikhail Bakunin pointed out over a century ago, destruction and creation are intricately linked. If you doubt this, try to find any large scale construction firm which doesn't stock dynamite. There is always a cost to production and development, and it isn't always worth paying.

I'm not going to suggest that anybody go to jail for this, because jail rarely solves anything. But putting these issues in perspective is a pretty good argument against industrial, development and government interests run rampant through our communities with bulldozers and wrecking balls.

If this means they'll have to put up with more "NIMBY" hassles, that's tough. We need to reign in the ability of bureaucrats to redesign our cities with the stroke of a pen - it's just caused too many failures (look at any of the big downtown "renewal" programs of past decades - urban freeways like York Blvd, or failing malls like "Civic Square").

Cities are complex and interconnected places, and what happens around us affects us all.

For a city all too willing to go after homeowners with "inappropriate" wildflowers in their front lawns, we take a remarkably lax view on wholesale building demolition and the rampant destruction of wild spaces.

Undustrial is a writer, tinkerer, activist and father who lives in Hamilton's North End. He chooses to remain pseudonymous as he frequently works with much of Hamilton's Development industry.

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By kevin (registered) | Posted July 07, 2010 at 09:04:26

Well said.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2010 at 12:53:40

Excellent, & well written Undustrial!

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 10, 2010 at 00:13:31

Thanks. Glad to have a title finally.

As for the last few days I've spent dealing with the aftermath of the protests - I'm really tired of seeing girls cry. Really tired. The human cost of this kind of policing is so tragic - it spreads through families and communities like wildfire. The fear and vulnerability it instils in people - that anybody, at any time, who's attended a meeting (and as the evidence comes out, it's becoming clear that such things are the bulk of the evidence) can be picked up by a minivan full of plain-clothed officers and carted off without any rights at all.

How many of us would be in jail right now, under these tactics, if somebody broke a bunch of windows at an Aerotropolis protest?

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 12, 2010 at 16:22:59

The human cost of this kind of policing is so tragic - it spreads through families and communities like wildfire. The fear and vulnerability it instils in people - that anybody, at any time, who's attended a meeting (and as the evidence comes out, it's becoming clear that such things are the bulk of the evidence) can be picked up by a minivan full of plain-clothed officers and carted off without any rights at all. - Undustrial

Hear, hear Undustrial! I'll lose more sleep over that than some burned out cop cars and broken windows.

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-07-12 15:23:36

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