to justify land /3

The Zibi ‘mixed-use’ condominium and retail development has been defended as contributing to a ‘green economy’; taking advantage of the environmental contamination caused by the Domtar paper mill that previously occupied the site, the developer and its subsidiary environmental clean-up corporation present an agenda of ecological restoration of the brownfield and a reconciliatory social enterprise. The developers tout passive energy provision and grey water systems, and purport to be a carbon-free community, but the supposed ‘green’ ambitions of the developers pretend ignorance of a fundamental issue – the masquerade that is “Natural Capitalism”.

“Jonathan Westeinde, BA’92, is promoting a new type of capitalism – one that puts equal importance on the environment and making profits.” [source]

“Zibi is new business”. The consumer nature of this development, not to mention the wealthy class that will afford to live in the condominiums, are parts of a system that perpetuates destructive and exclusionary politics. Architectural theorists and directors of dpr-barcelona, Ethel Baraona Pohl and César Reyes Nájera discuss in “A Tale of Two Cities”, the stratification and segregation enabled through urban ‘enclaves’. Formed as microcosms within cities, these enclaves exert some geopolitical influence upon the encompassing city, while being united by more or less homogenous economic and cultural characteristics. Pohl and Nájera specifically identify the amplification of the social stratification and systems of power that are further enabled by the presence of enclaves, citing Setha M. Low on the exacerbation of existing ‘social cleavages’:

“These urban islands are not only an architectural manifestation of power frequently built in countries with high rates of violence where class segregation is a norm —they’re usually staffed by private security guards, creating home to high-value properties—but they are also based in a set of rules or protocols that generate living patterns. Peter Marcuse defines the gated community in the U.S. as an enclave that is a “voluntarily developed spatial concentration of a group for purposes of promoting the welfare of its members[4]” and according to Setha M. Low, “middle-class and upper-middle-class gated communities are creating new forms of exclusion and residential segregation, exacerbating social cleavages that already exist.[5]”

– “A Tale of two cities: The archipelago and the enclave”, Ethel Baraona Pohl, César Reyes Nájera. continent. 4.3.

The Zibi development not only appeals directly to the most economically privileged in the Ottawa-Hull region – lease rates starting at $183,900 for a 478-square-foot studio to $752,900 for a three bedroom – but the so-called remedies it promises to the Algonquin community in its bargain for the land are bandages for a short term. Incorporating Anishinaabe language and symbols into the development’s plazas, transit stations and the name itself: how can this be taken seriously as a gesture of respect and collaboration? In other terms, this is called appropriation, and the offer of construction contracts for the condominium development to people who are systemically displaced, silenced, and under-privileged is called exploitation.

“Reconciliation is difficult at the best of times, and a lot of it has to do with the core beliefs of some of the different communities. When you look at First Nations communities across the country, you find a lot of similarities but there are differences, too. There is not a homogenous approach. Some communities, mainly in the west, decided to go down the route where they signed treaties and gave up aboriginal title to much of their historic land but in returns received large swaths of land and economic compensation for what they gave up.” (Westeinde interviewed by Dough Fischer for Canadian Geographic.)

Windmill Development Corp. and Dream Unlimited have capitalised on Algonquin stakeholders by striking an exclusive $4.5 million construction contract with Kitigan Zibi’s Decontie Construction. The Green Development project purports a commitment to a “renewed relationship with indigenous peoples – one that is based on recognition, rights respect, co-operation and partnership” (Ottawa Liberal MP Catherine McKenna). The rhetoric is based on ‘job creation’, where industries of resource extraction write Faustian agreements with people who are left with little or no choice but to mutely accept the contracts, because there are simply no other opportunities for employment.

To be sure, any given quota of construction contracts provided by Windmill to its select Algonquin partners may provide capital interest for a short time, and may precipitate some minimal benefits into these select communities, but once the condominiums and shops are built, what then? How would this development, in the long term, affect the social inequities that originate within the same capitalist system that perpetuates and relies upon economic inequality? Recyclable packaging and reused water for flushing the toilets of the well-employed federal employees to whom this development has been strategically marketed, does not sustainability make. The socioeconomic divide that is evident in the continued displacement of Indigenous peoples, and the broader working class, within the Ottawa-Hull region can only be exaggerated by what is a shameless appeal to immediate, private interests.