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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From risky business to common sense : sustainability, hegemony, and urban policy in Calgary Howard, Tom


Recent years have seen the City of Calgary adopt a suite of sustainability policies in a bid to shift its received trajectory of sprawling urban development towards eco-conscious alternatives. But where sustainable urban development is typically rendered as a consensus-driven project portending mutual benefits for a given locality, the historical adoption of sustainability policies in Calgary has been characterized by waves of conflict and controversy which have allegedly watered down the City’s policy objectives. Rather than evaluating the technical merits of individual policies against ‘best practice’-type standards, this thesis argues that the meanings and implications of particular policy paradigms – such as Calgary’s move towards sustainability – must be found in both the specific institutional configurations in which policies are formed and the political-economic conditions to which they respond. This thesis explores these institutional pressures and conjunctural forces through a historical analysis of several key moments in the emergence and evolution of sustainability-oriented policy in Calgary. Chapter 1 establishes context for this inquiry, while Chapter 2 formulates a theoretical framework by synthesizing neo-Marxian interpretations of local environmental policy and recent innovations in the field of ‘policy mobilities’ with the work of Antonio Gramsci, particularly related to his conception of hegemony. Building upon this edifice, Chapter 3 comprises a historical overview of the City’s first attempts at sustainability-oriented policy, which I argue are best viewed as a ‘fix’ for several tensions and contradictions surrounding Calgary’s hegemonic development model, which I term ‘developer-led suburbanization’. Attempts to reformat and restructure this model through consensual community ‘visioning exercises’ and ‘systems’-based rationalities are considered in Chapter 4, which I explain as a manoeuvre by the City to restore political legitimacy and wrest control over development matters from private sector actors. These narratives converge in my central argument: the historical formation of sustainability policies in Calgary has not been a process of incremental rationalization or evolutionary refinement, but has instead reflected a series of struggles for political leadership within an arrangement that can be best understood through the Gramscian concept of hegemony.

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