Tag Archives | Oiva Saarinen

Sudbury: A Historical Case Study of Multiple Urban-Economic Transformation – by Oiva Saarinen (4 of 4)

Oiva Saarinen is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Geography at Laurentian University. He has published many articles on Sudbury’s past and is author of Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Historical Geography of the Finns in the Sudbury Area. This article was originally published in Ontario History/Volumn LXXXII, Number 1/March 1990.
 
OIVA SAARINEN

Towards a Self-Reliant Community

In 1984 Sudbury was chosen by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Government of Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs as an international case study of a declining metropolis that had made a successful urban-economic adjustment after a period of decline. The study confirmed that the Sudbury region had overcome many of the obstacles it had inherited from the 1970s and was on the path towards a more sustainable future.52  The report, however, dealt largely with events that had taken place during the previous decade and devoted considerable attention to political factors. This paper asserts that other long-and short-term factors need to be emphasized as well if the basis for this transitional phase is to be more fully appreciated. In fact, many of the fundamental preconditions for this rapid adjustment from decline towards revitalization and sustainability already existed as far back as the 1950s.

For example, after 1951 the size of the region’s population was unique among Canadian resource-based economies. The foundations for the City of Sudbury as a central-place, already well established during the 1950s and 1960s, were strengthened considerably in the ensuing decade. The post-war birth of a white-collar class and its growing influence stimulated fundamental changes to the economic, political, and socio-cultural order. These three long-term preconditions were complemented by four more recent impulses: creative political leadership at the local and regional levels, financial assistance from the two senior levels of government, increases in productivity by Inco and Falconbridge, and finally, the creation of forward and backward linkages within the mining industry.

In the dynamics of the current metamorphosis phase, community size has been of paramount importance. According to the 1986 census, the Regional Municipality of Sudbury supported a population of more than 152,000. While this figure does not approach the 250,000 often proposed as the minimum for community sustainability, it nevertheless acted as a brake to slow down the decline. The fact that Sudbury was a declining metropolis gave it considerable influence with the provincial and federal governments. Arguing that “no nation is so affluent that it can afford to throwaway a major city,” Sudbury used this political leverage to its fullest advantage. 53

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Sudbury: A Historical Case Study of Multiple Urban-Economic Transformation – by Oiva Saarinen (3 of 4)

Oiva Saarinen is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Geography at Laurentian University. He has published many articles on Sudbury’s past and is author of Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Historical Geography of the Finns in the Sudbury Area. This article was originally published in Ontario History/Volumn LXXXII, Number 1/March 1990.
 
OIVA SAARINEN

A Declining Metropolis

The post-war transformation of Sudbury was abruptly halted in the 1970s by problems both urban and economic which threatened the future viability of the city and the Sudbury Basin. Headlines shouted that Sudbury had “hit bottom” and was “struggling to stay alive.” 41  By the early 1970s, it had become evident that a political restructuring was needed to meet the region’s growing need for water, sewage disposal, transportation, and planning. The inability of local municipalities to deal with these issues can be attributed partly to the urban sprawl that had begun as far back as the 1950s, extreme parochialism, and the weakness of the tax base outside the company towns. Attempts by the city to rectify the situation were continuously thwarted by the province until 1960, when Sudbury was allowed to absorb the large population which had settled on its periphery. 42

The change in municipal boundaries, however, did little to solve regional problems or the inequities in the sharing of mining assessment between the province and the municipalities. Sudbury’s continued growth in the 1960s caused considerable financial stress, and, as one observer remarked, public funds were used to make the city only “fit to live in” rather than a “pleasant place to live in.”43 Municipal studies were undertaken which claimed that city residents paid one-fifth more taxes than the average Ontario urban resident while at the same time receiving fewer services.44

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Sudbury: A Historical Case Study of Multiple Urban-Economic Transformation – by Oiva Saarinen (2 of 4)

Oiva Saarinen is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Geography at Laurentian University. He has published many articles on Sudbury’s past and is author of Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Historical Geography of the Finns in the Sudbury Area. This article was originally published in Ontario History/Volumn LXXXII, Number 1/March 1990.
 
OIVA SAARINEN

A Regional Central-Place

After World War II Sudbury began to shed some of its colonial-frontier character and image, thanks initially to a significant expansion of the mining economy. This expansion, however, included neither the broadening of the mining economy to include new products nor the strengthening of forward or backward linkages; rather, the Sudbury area provided ample support for the contention that staple economies often lead to just more of the same. 26 

The extension of the staple economy into the post-war era could be attributed directly to the influence of the American “military-industrial complex,” for it was the American government, in response to the military needs of the Korean and Cold Wars, that deliberately set the stage for a mining boom in the Sudbury and Elliot Lake areas during the 1950s. This economic expansion in turn enabled the Sudbury Basin communities collectively to attain the critical population or a metropolis. A related event was the passing of the region’s remoteness and hinterland status in relation to other parts of Ontario and Canada.

The acquisition of these new population and geographical attributes supported the transition of the area towards a more mature, service-oriented economy, and by the late 1960s Sudbury had acquired some of the characteristics of a regional central-place. The community was also changing internally: land-use planning was introduced, and a white-collar class was emerging. Unfortunately, many aspects of the transition went unnoticed because of the inordinate attention given to the struggle between lnco and Local 598 during the 19505 and 1960s.

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