Urban Citizen Movements

Urban Citizen Movements are community groups that are often organized around concerns about land use and the way planning decisions are made in local government. These concerns can be summed up respectively by the familiar slogans "Protect our neighbourhood" and "Open up city hall." Community groups have been a feature of urban political life since MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT began in Canada in the 1840s, but such groups have been particularly prominent during times of economic boom such as the period from the mid-1960s up to the economic recession of 1980-83. Typically, such groups become organized or revitalized when a neighbourhood, often an older inner-city area, is threatened by a development proposal, particularly for an expressway or high-density building (see CITY). When high-density (and perhaps high-rise) office or apartment development is proposed for a lower-density residential neighbourhood, the property development company, municipal council and municipal staff (especially the planning department) become targets of protest. The developer and city hall are also the focus of community groups' activities when expressways or other major roadworks are planned (SeeSTOP SPADINA). Because most provinces provide a legal procedure for appealing municipal planning decisions, community groups often take their cases to provincial bodies such as the Alberta Local Authorities Board and the Ontario Municipal Board. Sometimes community groups appeal decisions made by such bodies, making their appeal to provincial Cabinets or courts of law. Another tactic sometimes employed by community groups is to run their own candidates in civic elections, particularly if the groups find that existing municipal councillors are not receptive to written or oral presentations made by the groups. As well as perceived threats to the stability of existing neighbourhoods, community groups have also called for more open decision-making processes because of having experienced difficulty in getting access to information or because decisions are sometimes made in closed meetings or behind the scenes. Especially in recent years, community groups have gone beyond the traditional concerns of opening up decision-making processes and resisting threats to the stability of existing neighbourhoods (sometimes called the NIMBY syndrome, meaning Not In My Back Yard) to include broader questions of policy such as group homes, environmental pollution, day-care facilities and racial discrimination in recruitment to police forces. After a lull, the citizen movement in Canada has again become prominent in efforts to stabilize neighbourhoods, to change the ways decisions are made, and to change the policies of local government.