Downtown Bureau

Attack of the Clones

Hamilton is in grave danger of becoming another clone town like every other boring suburb from here to Laval, QC.

By Jason Leach
Published July 01, 2005

I wrote an article last month about the cultural scene in Hamilton and how we should embrace the fact that we aren't just one big corporate billboard like Toronto and so many other cities. However, Hamilton is not out of the woods by any means.

Rumours persist that the Centre Mall will take the form of big box stores. I knew it was only a matter of time before city council found a way to ram this rotten style of development into the heart of our city. You see, most of them look to shiny, corporate Toronto as a 'model' city for us to follow. Who needs mom and pop shops when you can have ten more Hortons and cookie cutter Starbucks stores everywhere. Now that's cool.

I've spoken many times about Portland, Montreal and our own great neighbourhoods like Locke Street, Westdale, Hess Village and James Street. Just because folks in the suburbs think these neighbourhoods are 'sub-par' due to the lack of chain stores doesn't make it true. I choose to live downtown and this is one of the reasons.

If city council keeps ramming big box crap right into the heart of the city, they just might lose their young residents like myself and thousands of others who would rather shop at Global Village Market, the Farmers Market and the Bad Dog Café than Walmart, Mexx or Starbucks.

A recent article from Britain highlighted the growing concern of towns and cities becoming clones of each other. For a local example of this go to Upper James, the Meadowlands, Burlington Power Centre and Scarborough Town Centre. Any difference? Didn't think so.

Ten hotspots to acquaint yourself with Hamilton's unique culture and vibe:

  1. Gore Park (Infusions patio works well, or a bench in the park)
  2. Hess Village
  3. Imperial Cotton Centre for the Arts (appointment only, or during a special event)
  4. Kensington Gallery
  5. #2 Barton bus. Get on at King and Hughson and enjoy the ride...
  6. The Sky Dragon Centre
  7. The Staircase - man, we will miss this place.
  8. The Studio Gallery - stop in most evenings and chat with Bill while he paints.
  9. Gallery 435 - 435 Barton Street East
  10. James Street North - cafes, culture, art galleries, architecture and great dining.

Hamilton is in grave danger of becoming another clone town like every other boring suburb from here to Laval, QC. Just because a portion of our population travels to work in Toronto, that doesn't mean that we have to become as bland as Mississauga or Burlington.

Hamilton reminds me of Portland so much it's unbelievable. The vibe here is different and cool. You can sit in Gore Park and literally see a hundred different styles and sub-cultures. You aren't seeing weirdness. You're seeing a real city with a great spirit.

Portlanders scoff at Seattle as the "boring white collar" city. Hamiltonians should have the same pride and sense of superiority towards Toronto. Just like Seattle thinks they are better than Portland, Toronto thinks they are better than Hamilton. They're both wrong. Give me an eclectic, cool, diverse culture any day of the week over never ending glass skyscrapers and chain stores.

Hamilton's diversity seems to flow right out of our built environment - 200 year old heritage buildings stand next to modern towers. A beautiful harbour with trails, wildlife and incredible scenery sits next to Canada's industrial heartland. The Niagara Escarpment cuts through the city bringing yet another unique feature not found in any other Ontario city.

We are different. We are unique. We are a little weird. That's what makes us one of the coolest cities around.

It's time for us to appreciate what we've got sitting in our laps before our own city administration turns us into another city like Toronto where the arts community is fleeing for the greener pastures of Hamilton - that's right, good old Steeltown - as every affordable, cool artist loft gets carved into more condos.

We'll get our fair share of lofts and condos, let's just make sure the big boxes stay in the burbs and the lower city is gently nurtured and invested in wisely. Our city is too good to become another Toronto.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By jason (registered) | Posted None at

I went by the Westdale Second Cup today and now they're painting the outside a boring brown colour....all will be revealed soon, but I'm not liking what I see so far. It screams of "Upper James suburbia" but unfortunately is in the heart of Westdale. I had lunch at the Bean Bar today and was reminded that only a few doors down there is still a cool, happening bistro with a unique look and feel. Copper ceiling, worn hardwoods. I suspect business will be on the rise there unless the Second Cup manages to pleasantly surprise.

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By jason (registered) | Posted None at

well, I've been to the 'new' Second Cup in Westdale a few times now and the verdict is out. It's not nearly as bad as I had feared. There has been significant money invested here and there is stil an artsy theme...an African theme seems to dominate at this point. Hopefully the inlays in each wall will be used for rotating art shows from the community. One thing to watch in the colder weather will be the inside seating...it seems to me that there is much less of it then there used to be, especially in the back section by the big window facing King.

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By oldcoote (registered) | Posted None at

The previous incarnation of the Second Cup in Westdale was horrible. Dirty and not well managed. Apparently, its much improved now, although most of the locals now frequent the Global Village Market (across from Tim Horton's) for fair trade coffee and organic fare.

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