Editorial

James North Faultlines Reflect Ambivalent City

If we're serious about providing pathways for people to move out of poverty, we need to get better at supporting and cultivating the kinds of business startups that radicals fear are the vanguard of a yuppie invasion.

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 14, 2010

An op-ed in today's Spectator confronts the clash of values that has been brewing over the fate of James Street North. Roger Abbiss, the founder of Westdale cafe My Dog Joe and the Mulberry Street Coffeehouse on James North, argues that economic development is what alleviates poverty.

The unfortunate places where poverty still persists on a large scale are a direct result of a lack of economic development. This is true regardless of the reason that economic development did not take hold. That Hamilton’s economy is in shatters and that there are too many poverty stricken neighbourhoods in Hamilton is no coincidence.

Of course, not everyone sees it that way. While many people celebrate the slow, steady reinvestment into our downtown core and specifically James North, others see only the threat of "yuppie condos" displacing the poor.

Anti-gentrification graffiti (RTH file photo)
Anti-gentrification graffiti (RTH file photo)

A recent essay in Mayday Magazine, the flagship publication of the Sky Dragon Centre on King William, articulates the case against gentrification:

Let's cut the crap - what's happening on James Street North is gentrification. Phrases like "economic development" and "revitalizing the core" are just euphemisms for the stark reality of replacing one group of people with another, more desirable group.

We in the arts scene, along with politicians and business owners, often talk about improving the downtown community. But too often that phrase means "we want our community to exist in the space where yours used to be".

Calling artists the "foot-soldiers of gentrification", Daniel O'Rourke argues that the owners of art galleries organize shows and events to attract more affluent customers. Their presence then creates a market for more permanent upscale amenities - cafes, clubs, renovated apartments and condos - which drive up the cost of living and displace the poor people who were living there before.

O'Rourke concludes that the artists themselves are duped:

The way this story usually ends is that the arts community will be driven out in turn. Slowly, the grants will dry up, the prices will keep increasing, and rezoning applications will be approved. Then the ultimate goal of the gentrification project will become apparent: to fill the downtown neighbourhood with young professionals...

A downtown full of young professionals: quels horreurs.

More Nuanced

Other artists are more sanguine, or at least more nuanced, in their assessments of the gentrification threat. A recent essay in H Magazine, the arts and urban culture journal based out of Dave Kuruc's Mixed Media shop at James North and Cannon, draws a distinction between urban reinvestment by foreign-based corporate entities and urban reinvestment by local entrepreneurs.

In Hamilton, we have to ask how much of the inner city improvement is thrust upon us by outside forces? Thus far, outside investors remain relatively disinterested in downtown Hamilton. Meanwhile, local entrepreneurs are seeing opportunities in areas such as James Street North. Many of the studios on James North are artist-owned and operate as live-work spaces, which means that the owners are also residents and therefore have an interest in promoting a vibrant yet affordable environment. The impetus of the James North revitalization is small business – a group that is usually classified as a victim of gentrification.

The Hamilton Spectator recently reported on local entrepreneurs such as Brad Chichakian, Heather South, Jeremy Greenspan of The Brain, and Roger Abbiss of My Dog Joe Coffeehouse, who are answering the call from local residents for more social gathering places on James North. This is not a case of big business imposing its will; the changes on James North are developing organically out of the growing arts community and the subsequent need for art space, cafés, bars and retail stores to serve that community.

The author of the essay, Julie Gordon, concludes: "At this point in time, our gentrification fear is premature. Downtown Hamilton remains largely unattractive to outside real estate investors because the setup cost is substantial and the economic return is minimal."

In Defence of Gentrification

A couple of years ago, in an article about James North, I argued that gentrification is not as cut-and-dried as its opponents make it out to be. Notwithstanding the anecdotes about poor people being crowded out of emerging yuppie enclaves, the actual data on gentrification are more complex.

Poor people tend to have high rates of movement, and there is some evidence that economic reinvestment actually produces a modest anchoring effect - that the higher costs are offset by increased employment opportunities and improvements in neighbourhood safety.

Partly on the strength (or weakness) of that essay, I was invited to sit on a panel discussion on gentrification that was organized by Common Cause and held at Sky Dragon. I argued that suburban sprawl is an ecological, social and economic disaster-in-slow-motion and that we need to find ways to integrate large numbers of people back into cities.

I suggested that it's better to have to deal with the problems associated with urban property values increasing because of increasing demand than with the problems of urban property values falling through middle-class flight and disinvestment.

The other panelists - and most of the audience - took a much different view. At one point I was listening to an activist rail against "bourgeois" cyclists demanding bike lanes when they should be demonstrating against poverty instead.

Economic Development

Of course, this brings us full circle to Abbiss's op-ed: the way to eliminate poverty is through economic development. All ideology aside, this is the only thing that has ever worked.

Cities, of course, function as tremendous engines of economic development by the sheer fact of their organization: bringing large numbers of people in close proximity increases the rate of innovation while simultaneously increasing the productivity of public infrastructure.

As long as the regulatory environment doesn't get in the way of business creation, cities will inevitably create wealth through the actions of large numbers of entrepreneurial individuals and partnerships trying things out, listening to customers, looking for unrealized efficiencies and untapped niches.

The biggest obstacle facing Hamilton is not the threat of economic development and wealth creation; it's an ingrained regulatory system that might as well have been designed to make this kind of entrepreneurial development impossible.

As Gordon argues in her H Mag essay, the people investing in urban neighbourhoods like James North are doing it not to turn a fast profit but to contribute toward improving their own community in a manner reminiscent of Jane Jacobs' "unslumming" mode of urban revitalization.

This kind of creative, bootstrapped, small-scale business development is precisely what Hamilton needs. As Adrian Duyzer pointed out not long ago, while large, established corporations have been net job destroyers over the past few decades, nearly all net new jobs have come from young, small businesses.

If we're serious about providing pathways for people to move out of poverty, we need to get better at supporting and cultivating the kinds of business startups that radicals fear are the vanguard of a yuppie invasion.

Instead of romanticizing abject poverty and despair, we should focus our energies on clearing away the arbitrary and infuriating obstacles that deter people from trying to combine vacant properties and innovative ideas into productive centres that anchor neighbourhoods and create wealth.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted December 14, 2010 at 22:08:57

I attended the recent gentrification meeting at the SkyDragon held in response to O'Rourke's article. I went just to try and get a grasp on the issue. However most people went there fully intent to either create a confrontation or to bang on about their particular niche issue in the larger debate. Business owners who did attend were basically shunned by the radical element in the room as opposed to being engaged in discussions. Despite the best efforts of the organizers to maintain order, by the end of the meeting during the large group "wrapup", the confrontations began and I made my way to the exit. Very little in the way of factual discussion, I was disappointed.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 14, 2010 at 22:15:01

Yes, because lord knows that Hamilton's underclass will be pushed completely out of the city if James North is gentrified. After all, it's the last vestige of Hamilton's vanishing low-income neighborhoods. The whole rest of the city is nothing but Starbucks and banks. Now excuse me while I adjust my monocle.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted December 14, 2010 at 22:23:18

In my opinion anti-poverty activists do themselves a disservice by referring to all property value increases as gentrification. The word has a negative connotation to it, and throwing it around at every new development cheapens it on the whole.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 14, 2010 at 22:41:09

Does Hamilton really have to worry about a 'gentrification' problem anytime soon?? Or ever??

We finally see some re-investment downtown and suddenly its Beverly Hills? I'm sorry, I'm all for a good mix of shops and services and one could argue that Vancouver and Toronto have seen too much gentrification, but Hamilton folks need to go visit those cities again before calling James North yuppyville.

Slow revitalization is completely different than overt and forceful 'gentrification'. And even if James North were to gentrify and be nothing but $400,000 condo towers, I'm pretty sure that we have ample 'affordable' neighbourhoods between James and Centennial Parkway to satisfy our needs. Most of the city is affordable and underdeveloped. Let's not bash one of the few bright spots that has slowly emerged thanks to the hard work of business owners, building owners and local residents who are passionate about our city and downtown.

Comment edited by jason on 2010-12-14 21:42:13

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted December 14, 2010 at 22:42:06

So the anti poverty groups point is what? Let the poor stay poor and where they are?????

Have they permanently reserved certain areas to be "ghettos" in perpetuity?

Are they suggesting the economically challenged can never and will never haul themselves out of their situation?

If "gentrification" means that people that invest, work, live, build businesses, pay taxes and care about and take action to improve the standard of living, the diversification of, the cleaning up of, the reduction of crime and criminal activity in, and the change in attitude about our downtown..... THEN BRING IT ON BABY.

It's not a bad thing.

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By George (registered) | Posted December 14, 2010 at 22:57:30

(Scratches head) Huh?

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted December 14, 2010 at 23:31:44

If people can't see the extremely basic connection between job creation and helping many people who are in poverty to find need additional or better employment, I'm going to find it very hard to dialogue with them. If their only concern is for people who never hope to work or are unable to work, they're missing most of the people in poverty, especially unemployed and underemployed teenagers and young adults who have enough interpersonal skills for service jobs.

This comment on the Mayday article sums it up:

"I am anti-capitalist. I don't have a reasonable alternative, so I just get angered by the changes I see around me. I hate cops and I feel I am championing for the poor. I hate people who have money, even if they do spend their money supporting the arts. I don't want them around me because I feel they are judging me, even though in reality I am the one being judgmental. "

I don't think anything I plan to work in will ever begin a storefront business... but I certainly see the value in those who do. And having lived (in a cheap basement apartment) in a yuppie-central urban Toronto neighbourhood, I also see how many full-time jobs paying $15/hour and requiring minimal to no skills were created and available.

Though that type of full-fledged gentrification is not what Hamilton's facing - though if it was, it wouldn't be a bad thing for a single neighbourhood surrounded mostly by poor ones. It's OK to have a 30-minute bus ride to a neighbourhood in the center of your city if it means you actually have a job now.

What's the alternative? Keep entire neighbourhoods poor, where people must compete for another $14/hour plus benefits Tim Hortons job? Because that's one of the few reliable sources we have of full-time, steady employment with benefits in many portions of the city.

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By jwoodisgood (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2010 at 23:36:25

Barton Street East is the new James North.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 01:42:10

As someone who, also, was at the meeting in question, I can attest to the furore that reigned on behalf of the business community. They weren't interested in dialogue, they just wanted the head of the elusive Daniel O'Rourke.

Gentrification is not revitalization. It's replacement. That's the point. Poor people's lives don't improve, they just need to find new places to live. And if people who talk so much about "revitalizing communities" are going to be this adverse to hearing about how they might not ACTUALLY be helping poor people in the area, I'm going to have a hard time believing that them.

Reaganomics do not work in real life. Driving 'economic development' and tackling poverty issues are two very different things, and one is not a substitute for the other.

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By TomRobertson (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 02:45:44

Isn't the Sky Dragon itself which has become the home to the radical left wing and anarchists a symbol of gentrification?

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By an artist (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 04:48:30

I think that the Sky Dragon and artist owned properties are examples of community improvement rather than gentrification. The anarchists do no good for the poor. Tbey want to keep them in a depressing ghetto. Why do they not use models like the Sky Dragon as to how to take ownership of a living space via co ops ownership? The Sky Dragon had a near fall from its idealist ? perspective but has re organized and will hopefully prosper. The anti-gentrification crowd seem like whinny losers who hold back the poor rather than help them.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 07:42:48

Gentrification is not revitalization. It's replacement. That's the point. Poor people's lives don't improve, they just need to find new places to live.

Let's not forget that many of Hamilton's poorest neighbourhoods used to be thriving communities full of successful businesses. Barton Street was not always a dead zone of abandoned storefronts. The so-called process of "gentrification" is simply a process of renewal: returning what used to be prosperous neighbourhoods back to prosperity, and attracting people back to the neighbourhoods they left when the neighbourhoods fell on hard times.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 08:27:38

Gentrification is not revitalization. It's replacement.

Except the data don't seem to support this. According to research by Columbia planning professor Lance Freeman and Jacob Vigdor of Duke University, rates of residency churn in gentrifying neighbourhoods actually seem if anything to slow - suggesting that urban reinvestment has something of an anchoring effect on the poor residents that radicals accuse it of displacing.

In his research on New York neighbourhoods, Freeman points out that rent control plays an important role in reducing displacement, but so does the reinvestment itself. "[I]f the neighborhood is on the upswing, people want to stay."

Vigdor found similar results in the Boston neighbourhoods he studied.

The typical image people have in their minds is that people are being thrown out of their homes in gentrifying neighborhoods. But there is usually some degree of vacancy and rehabbing of buildings that weren't previously inhabitable. The thing everyone has to keep in mind is that there's turnover in all neighborhoods, and landlords harass poor tenants in all neighborhoods. What happens in gentrifying neighborhoods is that it becomes visible.

Imagine two poor families living in different but roughly equivalent neighbourhoods. The only difference is that neighbourhood A is gentrifying and neighbourhood B is not. For various reasons, both families decide to move out. In neighbourhood B, another poor family moves in, but in neighbourhood A, a bohemian family moves in.

It looks like the bohemian family has forced out the poor family, and the overall makeup of neighbourhood A starts to change over time as more affluent families move in - but that's not what's really going on.

The most legitimate argument of anti-gentrification activists is the claim that gentrification doesn't actually help lift poor people out of poverty - which is a much different argument than the claim that gentrification displaces poor people.

There is definitely some truth to this claim, but a couple of countervailing facts put it into perspective:

  1. The absence of gentrification also does not help lift poor people out of poverty; and

  2. The evidence tells us gentrification does reduce churn for poor people, suggesting a net benefit.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 08:31:39

I would like to hear some specific examples of addresses, businesses or whatever that are considered "Gentrification"

This entire discussion is a joke and does not deserve the attention it is getting.

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 08:41:52

Their revisionist history of James St. is also pretty ignorant. It was never a ghetto. A family friend ran his jewelry business for close to 50 years there before he retired back home to Portugal to his villa where he passed away. This was through the bad years.

Anyhow I've had too many run-ins with these anti-gentrification boobs. They're all state funded and/or naive and not worth talking to anymore. And I'll talk to anyone. All they see is race and class without any details. For all Sky Dragon's talk of local community there certainly a lot of fresh faces judging our community with a template imported from their super cool friends in Toronto. Heck even some super cool people imported from Toronto.

Lame. Not listening anymore. Five minutes are up!

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By jasonaallen (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 08:59:29

@Undustrial - You insist that helping the poor and economic development need to be tackled seperately - but to my mind, doesn't helping the poor without providing opportunities to work and earn an income just equal more handouts? Is there a third option I have not considered? To my mind, we can offer all manner of help to those who are poor and hopeless, but in the absence of meaningful growth in the employment base, I don't see how such programs would do anything other than swell public assistance rolls. Is there soemthing I'm missing?

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 09:05:59

At the recent Sky Dragon meeting, I suggested that part of the solution for a better downtown was to get more people with money living there. This provoked a bit of a reaction from one of the organizers (I admit that was the intention) who questioned the value of development in alleviating poverty. My argument was that development would provide jobs - the biggest problem in Hamilton is lack of jobs - and more tax revenue to fund social services. We didn't agree on that, and this highlighted to me the basic ideological difference between those who favour new development downtown and those who don't. The anti - gentrification argument seems to be predicated on anti-capitalism and a fear of money. I have my own issues with capitalism, but it's the reality we have to function in. As much as artists shouldn't 'demonize' certain members of society, we also shouldn't demonize bankers and investors. They might be part of the solution.

Comment edited by jonathan dalton on 2010-12-15 08:21:56

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 09:16:12

As I a) hate labels when anything substantive is being discussed, and b) would never in a million years lay claim to a sufficiently informed, qualified opinion on this subject, I'd like to ask a question-of-two-parts about the feared 'gentrification' of the area:

Given what's been going on revitalization-wise on James North, given the viewpoints presented in Ryan's solid post and the followup comments, what would the 'bad' version of a community re-birth actually look like, and what would a 'good' version of a community re-birth look like?

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 09:34:41

The people who oppose "gentrification" or "revitalization" don't have any answers to the problems faced by the realities of urban living for economically, educationally challenged people other than the status quo....which is essentially handing out money (paid for by those who do work and pay taxes) with no preconditions or expectations placed on the recipients. We are well into our third generation of people living in a cradle to grave nanny state and the problem isn't getting any better.

Whether you like it or not, economic activity and investment creates jobs. Jobs across the spectrum of talent, education, qualification, expectation. Someone who is a grade ten drop out isn't going to get a $25 an hour job. That's just the way it is. In time and with training once in a lower paying position... maybe. We do a lousy job of matching peoples expectations with economic reality and the ability to just say f&$@ it and let the state pay our way.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 10:16:54

When I was a teenager in Toronto in the late 70's and early 80's one did not venture down Queen St. West past Spadina unless one was looking for a little 'trouble'. I think Queen West is the best reference point in this region to view Gentrification. The Cameron House was one of the main seeds of the revitalization phase of Queen, it set up there simply because it was the cheapest place downtown. Slowly artists and musicians congregated and made the surrounding area a place they wanted to live and work in, taking advantage of the relatively low rents. Queen W became a vibrant and exciting place to be up until the last 3 years or so. Queen W got the attention of the developer class and in my opinion has started to get very bland. Further West the old ethos of the Parkdale neighborhood has now also been displaced by hipster cool. There are still remnants of the old Parkdale off the main street but that will be changing soon as well. Having exhausted Queen West, Queen East has been undergoing a transformation by the many creative folks in Toronto.

Will James North become Hamilton's Gentrified Queen West or a Vibrant Queen West? I think it's a life cycle as mentioned in this thread. James is just beginning to blossom, I don't think it's even hit it's awkward adolescent phase yet. It's re-birth is still very, very young so we can expect James to make some mistakes and get some bumps and bruises along it's way while it surprises and delights us like all of our youth do.

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By Ty Webb (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 11:29:15

This so-called 'gentrification' in Hamilton is called 'normal' in any healthy city. Bring it on!

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By thehambone (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 11:33:00

@Shempatolla, sadly a even $25/hour job ain't close to enough to raise a middle-class family these days.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 11:52:37

@Shempatolla, sadly a even $25/hour job ain't close to enough to raise a middle-class family these days.

And the reasons why this is, how we got here, how we've come to define what constitutes a life worth living the way we do...is the stuff of a huge discussion in itself, yes?

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By rednic32768 (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 12:24:19

Well let me start by saying Im a refugee of Gentrifications having had loft space in Kensington , King west , Parkdale and Queen East in Toronto. I also Identify as being ' (far) left of center'. That being said I hardly think that Gentrification is what is happening on James North. In a retail sense gentrification is when large chains move into an area.. If you look a James North ( North of James sq..) the only Name brand is bank of Montreal. There was a shoppers but it has moved east to cannon and Wellington. So it would seem obvious that the retail chains have not caught on to the massive influx of money.

In a housing sense gentrification is bidding wars. I don't think that has been happening.

Could it happen yes ... but it's not going to be fast or overnight .. And rents would still seem low enough that pretty much anyone can make a go of it.

As fo the comment that Barton East is the new James North .. I tend to agree ... There seems to stuff spring up there( Victoria to WentWorth IMHO) every time i go that with the Dog .. and with the Hospital

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By NotSet (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 12:57:43

I puposefully chose not to attend the SkyDragon night, or any other event such as that one. To do so only legitimizes the anti-"insert whatever they don't like" POV they display without one iota of willingness to compromise.

They are such a small small small sliver of our city's 500,000+ population why would anyone listen to them? Because they are loud? No way, forget it, I don't know who died and anointed them the ones who get to pick where our neighbourhoods, communities and city gets set (stuck) in time.

Actually those of us who are investing our savings and sweat in resuscitating our neighbourhoods are doing them all a great big favour by giving them something to rant and rail against. Because deep down inside we all know they aren't happy unless they are complaining about something.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 13:00:34

The problem with this argument is that we're assuming a group of people are inherently static to their financial disposition.

"Poor" isn't supposed to be a way of life. "Driving out the poor" is a negative connotation from the extreme left and no one else. No one is trying to drive out the poor. The poor need incentives, opportunity and intelligent people around them to enhance their understanding of success - and yes - eventually become a "yuppie". A yuppie who would then help raise a healthy, intelligent, self-reflecting community.

If James St. was experiencing gentrification, I would accept that as a positive sign.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 13:08:06

From my understanding, having spoken to those whose brains are far bigger and better-functioning than mine, who understand about how 'rebirth' and 'regrowth' and 'rejuvenation' tends to work in a modern, urban world, regardless of what label you put on the process, there is an 'organic' mechanism at play in these situations. Is it 'fair' to all the players involved? Probably not. But whoever said that a free-market, capitalist system was 'fair'? (I'm tending to look to the 'Entitlement Culture' for some of what feeds this mindset...and this is coming from someone who considers himself most definitely a 'liberal' thinker who believes in the importance of creating a society in which the notion of a 'social conscience' isn't regarded as a pejorative.) I guess I'm wondering how those who turn things around in any given area...small business owners, entrepreneurs, developers...can be looked upon with such suspicion by some.

Is the root of all this the label 'gentrification' more than anything else? Is the connotation so negative...as was the one for 'yuppy' ended up being back in the day...as to so negatively tinge the discussion of 'resurrection of urban living spaces'?

And does anyone else find it intriguing that watching an area in its resurgent, ascendent phase brings on engaging, critical dialogue, while the reverse...an area at a corresponding stage of its descent...regularly doesn't generate hardly any discussion at all...? (Yeah, I know; yet another huge topic...) And no, I'm not talking about areas where clearly they're well into dormancy, such as segments of Barton Street, I'm talking about those areas whose vibrancy is just beginning to fail. (Easier to look back in retrospect, I'll admit.)

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 13:26:57

The thing with gentrification and housing turnover is that low income areas tend to have much higher rates to begin with.

On behalf of the Anarchists, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I've spent years as a part of the James North art scene, like many others, helping it become what it is today. I'm sorry that I've been involved in actual anti-poverty work, and not just the interests of the business community. I'm sorry that I've had to go to the Landlord Tenant Board to help out friends living on James North with absentee Toronto landlords who don't feel compelled to fix busted toilets in under a month. And I'm sorry that the only ones who even get allowed into this debate on behalf of the thousands of marginalized people in the area are us (mostly) white privileged Anarchists, but what does that tell you about the debate?

The government (at all levels) has been seriously neglecting social housing for over a decade, and the private sector certainly isn't stepping up (slum-lords excepted). Yet, nearly all of the new development downtown tends to target middle-class buyers - hotels, office space, condos etc. As I've said for years, I'm not against wealthy people moving downtown - but when it comes to dominate the issue, this becomes a huge problem for the large numbers of people in these areas who rely on low-cost housing, as they tend to get forgotten about or worse. Nobody here can claim that they haven't read the calls, here or elsewhere, to just "get the dirty people out of the core". From proposals to ban swearing to people wanting to move social services and shelters, to the massive increase of cops on our streets (and the associated ticket-blitzes against "dirty looking people") there are some very real concerns here, and just because somebody's poor doesn't mean they don't have rights.

http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog/1934/...

Roger Abliss knows this, he helped buy up a low-income housing building and turn it into artist lofts with a posh cafe. Is this evil in itself? Not necessarily. But certainly a trend to keep an eye on.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 13:59:34

This link came across my desk; it presents some intriguing thoughts on 'gentrification':

http://www.uncommonthought.com/mtblog/ar...

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 14:29:08

@Shempatolla, sadly a even $25/hour job ain't close to enough to raise a middle-class family these days.

This may be true in Oakville, but unless your expectations of middle-class are a lot higher than mine, a gross income of $4000 every 4 weeks is sure enough to raise a family of six, never mind four.

The constant raising of the "middle-class" baseline to where people (like one of our Ward 2 Council candidates last election) proclaim "It's IMPOSSIBLE! to raise a family on minimum wage" or on $25/hour as has been stated here is asinine.

Kids don't need to play in any hockey leagues, be in a family with two cars, have yearly vacations to Disney World or even postsecondary savings to grow up in healthy families in a comfortable middle-class existence, then go on to postsecondary or apprenticeship, and live productive lives.

If your "middle-class" definition is that $25/hour isn't near enough, perhaps you need to evaluate your discretionary spending.

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By Wiccan (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 14:45:46

I'd like to know what Capitalist thinks about all this?

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 14:51:40

I was raised middle class on less than $25/hour, in fact much less when my parents were starting out, and I never considered us poor. Of course my parents' economical choices sometimes appeared less than cool to my peers, and I resented it at the time, but in hindsight I admire them for it. I realized later on that the kids who were getting expensive brand name clothes and all the lasted toys were actually poorer than us - and that was part of the reason. We always had healthy food, clean clothes and a reasonably well kept home. I don't know what else constitutes a middle class upbringing.

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By JOEJOE (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 14:58:46

Since when is it ever reasonable to argue against rising property values? Property values are a critical indicator as to the value and success of a neighbourhood. If anything, it should be the main mandate of our Economic Development Department to increase property values in Hamilton.

Handling the downsides of gentrification is an entirely different problem, one that can be solved while property values climb. To suggest that keeping property values low is somehow a solution is ridiculous.

But as Jason says, gentrification is not coming to Hamilton anytime quick ;)


In reality Hamilton has created a 'poverty industry' for itself. It is an affordable place to live and has a wealth of cheap stores and poverty related services to support it's low income residents. And how is that working out for ya?

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 15:05:27

What I don't understand about this whole debate is the obsessive focus on James North.

I don't see any substantial evidence of gentrification on cross streets or parallel north-south streets. So for those who think that gentrification is the saviour of the downtown, it hasn't been; for those who think it's the bane of the poor, it hasn't been that either.

Anyone who wants to fight for supportive housing would do well to help the good folks at the Hamilton Downtown Mosque. Their plan to build transitional housing, a larger mosque, and a school on an empty lot downtown was nixed by the police, who wanted the same land for a storage facility (likely surrounded by parking). I don't understand why that issue has generated so little discussion compared to the fate of rather small properties on James North. Is it a less compelling narrative?


Correction:

"nixed by the police, who wanted the same land for parking"

changed to

"nixed by the police, who wanted the same land for a storage facility (likely surrounded by parking)"

Sometimes when you live downtown, you get surface parking on the brain.

Comment edited by John Neary on 2010-12-15 14:23:51

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 16:10:18

Glad to see most share my opinions on the topic. Anything I was going to say has probably been said -- but, to provide some substance I'll say this. I'm certainly one that believes a strong social safety net and decent distribution of wealth is imperative for the city/society to function.

However, a robust economy means opportunity. Not all will be the best -- you do need to work and have some luck -- but investment in the city means better programs to help those in poverty.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 16:17:21

@JoeJoe

I sense that you jest, but our 'undervalued' properties, I think, could be a massive opportunity. Not that I'd ever want to, nor do I think we could, become a bedroom community for the Big Smoke, we certainly offer a very affordable option.

Where else could you walk to the beach, to downtown and (in future) to the GO Platform and find housing for well under $200k? Torontonians, if they'd wake from their slumber, would be shocked to find this out.

And, if they had the stones to venture in and look around, they'd probably have a seizure.

Comment edited by slodrive on 2010-12-15 15:21:14

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By z jones (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 16:58:06

To be sure some anarchists are very smart and fair minded - Undustrial never fails to impress me with his thoughtful posts even when I don't agree with him - but some of the James North anarchists are serious d-bags. They mean well but for them it's all part of the battle against capitalism. The rest of us are trying to find balance between economic growth and egalitarianism but they see growth as the enemy. Hard to reconcile that.

As for that balance, maybe we need a ban on bans. Some uber-gentrifying neighbourhoods in T.O. have gone overboard with zoning out stuff the nouveaux richies don't like. I bet that does more to crowd out "undesirable" people than rising property values

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By isayrrr (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 17:29:37

I've spent the last while listening to the discussion on gentrification. I went to the panel discussion that the author mentions, read the MayDay and HMag articles, and comments, etc, but I haven't really input my voice into this discussion yet.

What strikes me from what I have observed, heard, and read, is that I really haven't heard any voice from the folks living in the North end, on James St N, etc that are not in the arts scene.... One question I would ask is: Has anyone that has opened a business talked with folks in the North End to ask what they think? I think that EVERYONE would benefit from doing this.

I'm also concerned about the polarization of the gentrification 'debate', and the crippling generalizations that are created through this. Like I think Undustrial was saying, just because someone is concerned about gentrification, it doesn't mean that they are necessarily opposed to a wealthier population moving into the North End. The dismissive nature of the comments I have read on facebook (ex. joking: "You gentrifier you!" etc) and replies to articles are extremely discouraging and make me wonder how I should go about starting to talk with folks who own businesses on James St. N, as a person who is worried about what will happen down the road with the North End community, and would like to ask questions and share perspectives... Now it's about "pro-gentrification and anti-gentrification" but I really don't think it's as simple as that. If I told you (a member of the arts community, a business owner, someone who values independent businesses on James St. N, etc) that I had concerns around gentrification, would you decide I was automatically against you and not want to talk at all even though we had never spoken before? Would you immediately assume we were on total opposite sides?

When I read responses and comments from the arts community, I hear a lot of anger and defensiveness, and perhaps this is sparked especially by some of the language used to bring up concerns around gentrification (and, I do realize that there are a lot of varying understandings and definitions of this word), and also because I can imagine that a lot of work was put into a particular project perhaps, and it could therefore be really personal..... But I still think that diverse voices have a right to speak up. Having a store or gallery on James St N may be a personal project, but once it situates itself within the context of a community, it's a public matter too. It's pretty clear stance on how one feels about revitalization in the city, and it's a stance that also gains much more weight in this discussion. A business owner in a community has a loud voice and a valued weight of opinion. I was amazed at the outrage that resulted from the FatCat sticker campaign! Such small stickers to voice a different opinion...

Anyhoo... I've been really unsure of how to enter into a dialogue in which my own role and voice has been so clearly outlined for me before I even uttered a word. I hope this is received well.

Comment edited by isayrrr on 2010-12-15 16:35:35

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By JonC (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 17:50:07

Here are some problems with the fat cat campaign.
a) it was a blanket statement. There are no mega corporations in the neighbourhood, so it only seems to reason that everyone involved in revitalizing the neighbourhood is equally fat-catish. b) no opposing vision was presented either on the stickers or at the web-site, implying that the status quo is good enough. c) not providing a definition of gentrification, leaves all property value increases as gentrification therefore only static or depreciating values are acceptable in the anti-fat-cat movement. d) the stickers were plastered liberally throughout a festival celebrating the resurgence of the neighbourhood that required countless volunteer hours from the "fat-cats" in question. e) the stickers are website were completely anonymous, which is the campaigners' right, but it leaves no outlet for discussion. That is an annoyance.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 19:31:47

If I can add one, they claimed to speak for those who were in poverty and also proposed to replace businesses - people's livelihoods - with things like brothels and needle exchange centres. And yes, while I do understand the idea of adding safety and minimizing risk at strategic locations:

Many families with kids in poverty would not want that in their neighbourhood and are actively trying to raise kids who don't perpetuate or participate in those things. Fewer are actually involved in them as addicts, clients or workers. And to paint poor people with the "oh, they all want this kind of stuff in their neighbourhood" brush is offensive, especially given the values of so many new immigrants who are so often incredibly hardworking and family-oriented people.

A lot of people want jobs for themselves and their kids, not safe places to do "last resort" coping strategies or income strategies. And with jobs, there's less of a push to be involved in a lot of these "last resort" things in the first place.

And to say "Oh yeah,we're doing so awesome helping all the poor people by keeping these things around and legitimizing them and making them safe" is to make a blanket statement about the values of all poor people that is completely untrue, with no concern for James as a family neighbourhood vs. say... a red-light district.

Comment edited by Meredith on 2010-12-15 18:59:04

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 20:06:29

MY APOLOGIES FOR THE LENGTH OF THIS POST, BUT I HOPE YOU'LL UNDERSTAND WHY WHEN YOU READ IT.

isayrrr Like you, I have hesitated to add my voice to this dialogue, not because I'm not interested, but because I wanted to wait in order to gain some insights into the feelings and motivations of both sides of this debate. Your commentary has served as a catalyst for my input. My input is very personal in nature. I hope it says as much about me and what I believe in, as it does about the people who have attacked the work I'm doing as a fat cat on James North.

As some know, I operate Hamilton HIStory + HERitage at 165 James Street North. Have done so for 3 years. I own the building. It was empty when I bought it save for some remnants of the previous tenant, a Chinese cake shop that had gone out of business. HIStory + HERItage is a storefront museum that celebrates the lives of the men and women who have helped to shape the City of Hamilton. It's free to anybody who chooses to come in. Since I opened 3 years ago, well over 20,000 people have done so. Some rich. Some poor. Some white collar. Some blue collar. Some young. Some old. Some white. Some visible minorities. Some employed. Some unemployed. Some retired. All of them in love with their city. All of them genuinely interested in sharing and in hearing stories about living in Hamilton.

Why do I give you this background? Because I was one of 4 businesses singled out for direct, detailed and dismissive personal criticism by the Fat Cat haters. There's no denying I'm fat, but in no way am I the kind of "cat" suggested by the anonymous team who stickered my storefront and who wrote untruthful and misinformed text on their now defunct website. At first I chose to ignore the personal attacks. Now, I choose to provide some comments.

On that website, they criticized a poster campaign I featured in my window called "Choose Hamilton - Because there's no place else to go but up." They said the posters were pro-gentrification. That I wanted to clean up dirty buildings and neighbourhoods. What they missed was that all of the buildings featured in the poster series were of empty heritage buildings being torn down or left to fall down. This practice is, in my opinion, a disgrace that is hurting Hamilton and all of its citizens, no matter the adjective that's used to describe them. Apparently, the subtlety of my campaign was missed by those who criticized the work I was doing. Empty buildings are empty of both rich and poor workers and residents alike. They telegraph a complete disregard for our urban spaces, our citizens and our quality of life, no matter in which neighbourhood they are located. Derelict is derelict. Crumbling is crumbling. Lost is lost.

No one from this group ever came in to talk to me. Apparently they are not aware of the completely varied visitors I receive. Many North Enders come in. I know because they tell me proudly where they live. They share their stories. One such person was Ed, an 80-year old gentleman who came in to show me photographs his brother had taken growing up in the north end in the 1930's and 40's. His brother's name was Bill and he died during the war serving his country. Ed said he was his hero. I created a multi-media piece telling Bill's story that has been seen by a few thousand of people, including north-enders who have been forthcoming with sincere praise. So too have navy veterans. The work I do is all done for free. All focused on Hamilton. Copies of that DVD have been given to every member of the family, including grandchildren. All because I love my city and the people in it, no matter how much money they have.

I have done 2 exhibitions of photographs by a retired steelworker who came in to talk one day, providing him for the first time in his life an opportunity to have an exhibition of photographs he had taken on his many kilometer long daily walks he takes in his retirement in downtown Hamilton. He's not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but, like me, he loves his city.

I've done an exhibition with a guy who is on long term disability and who lives in the north end who takes really interesting pictures with his cell phone. He is thrilled. So am I.

I've given free large format photographs to a burn victim who lives in the north end who was featured in a photograph of a Sea Cadet band marching along James North in 1969 that I posted in a window on James North. He gave them to his sisters who still live in the north end and who knew many of the other teenagers in the photograph. I got the photograph from the remarkable old couple who have lived upstairs in the building next to me for 50 years who have supported what I have been doing since the day I opened. They don't have much money, but they have enough class to buy me little Christmas gifts just to show their support for what I'm doing. They talk to me. They ask me what I'm working on next. They bring in their friends to visit. Just like the people who bring out-of-print books about Hamilton in to me and give them to me to add to my Hamilton resource library. They never ask for money for their books, although some look like they could use the money. They only ask that I make the book available for anybody who comes in to see, which I do with gratitude. I pay for all of it myself. How? I guess because I'm a fat cat gentrifier who wants to drive out the poor. At least that's what some people tell me I'm doing.

I have contributed historical photographs of Hamilton to St. Peter's for use in their dementia ward to help stimulate residents' long term memories. Research shows that stimulating long term memory can increase a person's sense of well-being.

OK, enough about some of the things that are being done at HIStory + HERitage. Even I've had enough examples. (But there are many more)

This brings me to an important point. I get singled out in this so-called debate as a fat cat? I'm not hurt by that, but I am pissed off about it. Why? Because those who have attacked me have absolutely no idea what I do every day I'm open. They have no idea what people, rich and poor, have said to me about the work I do. They have not taken the time to find out. But they have taken the time to pay to print up stickers. To put them on my window. To pay for a website. To write ill-informed text about what a cancer I am. About how I have a complete disregard for the poor or disenfranchised. Really? If they use me as one of the poster children who is hurting the neighbourhood, then I hope you will question the very foundation of their argument, or at least their judgment in terms of the examples they provide.

There's an old phrase that this nonsense makes me recall, "What you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you have to say."

I don't stereotype. I try to take the time to understand before I form an opinion. But I'll tell you this, I would rather spend a year listening to the personal life stories from people who others might not view as socially acceptable, or wealthy enough, than to spend another minute trying to figure out and/or debate the position of those who choose to launch uninformed personal attacks on people such as me.

Enough. I think it's time for them to work a little more diligently to become educated before presuming to educate others.

While my remarks may be interpreted by some simply as a personal rant, let me assure you my purpose is not to take the broader dialogue off track by dealing only with a personal example. The dialogue needs to take place. But it needs to take place with those who are open to true and honest dialogue, and not with people who initiate their debate with ill-informed personal attacks.

isayrrr, you said at the end of your post, "I've been really unsure of how to enter into a dialogue in which my own role and voice has been so clearly outlined for me before I even uttered a word." Trust me, I know the feeling. Like you said, I hope this is received well.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 20:42:56

H&H: Thank you for reminding us of the need for humane engagement. You've provided us an abundance of food for thought.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2010 at 21:21:17

Many families with kids in poverty would not want that in their neighbourhood and are actively trying to raise kids who don't perpetuate or participate in those things. Fewer are actually involved in them as addicts, clients or workers. And to paint poor people with the "oh, they all want this kind of stuff in their neighbourhood" brush is offensive, especially given the values of so many new immigrants who are so often incredibly hardworking and family-oriented people. -- Meredith, above.

Absolutely. Many years ago, now, an acquaintance of mine, schoolteacher by profession, had immigrated to Canada from Kenya. Within a year, she packed up and went back to Kenya with her teenage son (and lost so much time and money in the process) because she saw quite quickly that the neighbourhood where they ended up, where they could afford to live (I think it was an apartment complex in Scarborough), was a minefield for a young male at a particularly impressionable age, who would have been feeling insecure and little homesick. She felt the risk to her child just wasn't worth it. Fortunately, she had the resources to change her mind. Not everyone does, or is even in such a neighbourhood by choice.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-12-15 20:21:59

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 15, 2010 at 22:52:53

They said the posters were pro-gentrification. That I wanted to clean up dirty buildings and neighbourhoods.

As a resident and fan of downtown Hamilton, I thank you for wanting to clean up dirty buildings and neighbourhoods. Anyone wishing to live in dirty buildings or neighbourhoods has ample choice in many cities. I hope that the good work you and other building owners on James North are doing will spread throughout the city. Cheers

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2010 at 08:21:24

I still think that diverse voices have a right to speak up. Having a store or gallery on James St N may be a personal project, but once it situates itself within the context of a community, it's a public matter too.

Well one problem is the way it was brought up. Stickering a neighbourhood with broad sweeping generalizations, calling someone (me? my neighbour? everyone? who?) "fat cats" and accusing them of pushing out poorer residents is not a healthy way to open a dialog, and this fallout is what you get when you play that "unfounded attack" angle.

How about talking to people? That may have been a more reasonable way to open up an actual dialog.

So what was the reaction?

From someone like me, who dug the rotten floor boards out of my rented space by hand with a shovel. Who undid and repaired 40 years worth of slipshod renovations to open a community oriented bike shop. Who does minor repairs for free for neighbourhood kids. Who extends free credit to those who have no money 'til the end of the month for that badly needed tube on the bike they use daily.

From someone like Dave, who displaced exactly one "paying" tenant from a flophouse that was a nightmare upstairs - to the point that many of the anti-gentrification mac students would be afraid to go inside. Who eliminated the drug dealing nature of the building to make room for an anchor for citizens of all means to meet and chat.

From someone like Graham who took an empty, unused building, and (as he eloquently explained above) turned it into a celebration of Hamilton that is open to all members of the public.

Mulberry Street cafe rents their space. They have no interest in driving up property values and rents to the point that they can't afford to operate anymore. They provide an open space that anyone in the neighbourhood is welcome to come and use.

Shall I go on? These are more than personal projects. Believe me, the businesses and galleries who have opened on James Street in the past 5 years or so are not doing it as some sort of get rich quick scheme. They are doing it out of passion for their projects, passion for their neighbourhood and passion for their city.

So is it surprising that, when a small group of people (with very expensive educations) come flying in with a smear campaign, the reaction is not really "open arms"?

The dismissive nature of the comments I have read on facebook (ex. joking: "You gentrifier you!" etc) and replies to articles are extremely discouraging and make me wonder how I should go about starting to talk with folks who own businesses on James St. N, as a person who is worried about what will happen down the road with the North End community, and would like to ask questions and share perspectives.

The comments are dismissive because the accusations are ludicrous. First and foremost, James North is not gentrified. It is not gentrifying. Not even close. Anyone who takes a walk around the neighbourhood - you only need to cover a one block radius - can tell that this is simply not a concern. It's fine to talk about gentrification in a broad sense (as something to be aware of for future caution) but this is not how it was brought up.

So my advice to those who are actually worried about it is to frame the discussion in a less ludicrous way. Let's talk about the risks of gentrification down the road. Maybe discuss early warning signs. Let's talk about smart and inclusive economic growth. Let's plant the seeds for people to consider these things. But don't come flying in accusing a diverse group of community oriented people of 'kicking out the poor' and expect to start open honest dialog that way.

Comment edited by seancb on 2010-12-16 07:41:16

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2010 at 08:43:34

Maybe discuss early warning signs. Let's talk about smart and inclusive economic growth.

As someone who perhaps understands the 'worst case scenario' but little else, I'd welcome an article and followup discussion on these. (Even understanding that some concentrated Googling will shine some light.)

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2010 at 08:51:43

Maybe discuss early warning signs.

Related?

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2010 at 09:03:07

At the risk of being accused of 'having too much time on my hands', a couple of things.

One, I found some very good stuff Googling. 'Mapping Susceptibility: to Gentrification: The Early Warning Toolkit': http://communityinnovation.berkeley.edu/... I'm just getting into it, so I'm not able to stress its pros or cons, but it seems a good start, the fact that it's looking at a location thousands of miles away in another country entirely notwithstanding.

Secondly, as I'm struggling with some of the philosophical elements of the 'gentrification' discussion (and I'll admit some pretty visceral reactions are being triggered), I'm wondering if anyone can offer up analogies/equivalents in other areas of Life. For instance, in an employment, job-market sense. Or, looking even more tangentially, the consumer marketplace itself.

I might seem to be reaching with this exercise, but as I believe that this society we've created doesn't actually have standalone aspects, that they're all interrelated, interconnected, I'm curious as to whether forcing ourselves to examine other concomitant bits might serve as a worthwhile 'stretch' of our perceptions and ideologies.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2010 at 09:24:46

And here's the link to the report,The Three Cities within Toronto, that the Globe article I linked to above cites.

Interesting point made, based on data from this report:

The report notes that residents of these neighbourhoods have to travel farther to find employment but have the poorest access to transit.

...so there's one clear way to avoiding a city of have and have-nots.

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By traveler (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2010 at 12:10:51

re: Michelle's point.

And many of the residents of Hamilton (I've seen numbers of greater than 50%) have to leave Hamilton to get to (find) work.

Hey, city politicians listen up! Stealing (and modifying) from Bill Clinton's campaign against Bush Sr, "It's about jobs, stupid!"

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By traveler (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2010 at 12:13:12

Sorry, to clarify the above should have said "workforce", not "residents"...

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2010 at 12:38:59

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2010 at 13:09:52

That's the worst logic I've ever heard, even from A. Smith.

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted December 16, 2010 at 13:12:22

Man, I really want to respond to that but it's so off topic. I would also probably be arguing with a robot.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2010 at 13:56:42

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2010 at 14:14:33

Back to the roots of this discussion...

Here's a paragraph from the study I linked to earlier:

"This paper does not conclude that gentrification is simply either good or bad. Rather, we conclude that if residents, developers, officials and interest groups spent more time developing strategies to avert or address the adverse consequences of gentrification, and less time opposing or supporting the market-driven process itself, they could increase the chances of building strong, economically diverse communities in our cities. Therefore, before outlining the findings and insights from this research, we frame gentrification within the context of equitable development."

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By Centrist (registered) | Posted December 16, 2010 at 14:16:41

I can't believe people are actually arguing about this. Pxtl's comment at the top is spot on. There are plenty of other neighbourhoods in Hamilton for "artists" and "the poor" to colonize should James North actually gentrify. Last I looked Barton, Ottawa, and Kenilworth could use a little sprucing up..

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By MALEX (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2010 at 14:55:09

Ottawa St North isn't doing too badly...could do with a coffee house, etc, but it's slowly getting turned around...cool shop called "The Button Pushers" just opened up...but yeah, Kenilworth and Barton need all the help they can get...

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2010 at 15:35:17

a little sprucing up.

Oh, if only revitalization was that simple.

With no offense intended to anyone on any of these streets...most especially those who are trying to make a go of being in business...'You can't shine a turd.'

'Sprucing up' storefronts, providing accenting on light standards and the like might seem as if they could turn things around. But they can't.

It fascinates me how people (read that as 'consumers') often feel that they're enfranchised (sorry for the pun) sufficiently through their acts of purchasing to enable them to understand the complexities of the world of commerce. When things are going well, this world is enough of a puzzle to solve. When things aren't going so well...and when many parts of a city have been mired in whatever-you-want-to-call-it for decades...then the puzzle suddenly seems akin to playing three-dimensional chess...blindfolded...while having someone throwing knives at you.

Am I being glib? Yes. Only because from my perspective, this 'puzzle' is not one to be solved by 'sprucing things up', it's one whose solution requires an enormous amount of concerted effort on the parts of many different parties. (And clearly one that's been beyond either the ken or the interest of those either on City Council or within the bureaucratic 'culture of obstructionism' that exists alongside them for the longest time.)

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By Centrist (registered) | Posted December 16, 2010 at 17:41:20

It's a figure of speech. Relax. And you missed my point entirely, but nice try though. Does anyone in this city understand how redevelopment works? Or do we just complain and throw around a bunch of hyperbole like "culture of obstructionism"? What exactly is the problem here? As far as I can tell, Hamilton is redeveloping at a pretty reasonable rate. I'd say things are looking far better on James, Locke, and Ottawa than they did even five years ago. Other main streets and neighbourhoods are sure to benefit from this revitalization eventually. But of course, raisethehammer is full of people complaining about things they don't completely understand..

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By bobinnes (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2010 at 19:58:15

The only thing wrong with the buzz on James North is that I didn't get in on it. Damn! Ticks me off every time i go by. Other than that, I'm having trouble understanding this discussion. Pro vs anti gentri?? People moving? They do anyway. Fixing up? What's not to like?

But perhaps Ryan miscast the O'Rourke article as basis of discussion. I thought O'Rourke was really just complaining about police crackdowns on certain types, being cleared at certain times/ places, based partly on appearance. So he lashes out at 'gents' who import new standards to the community. So if this is the problem, let's discuss it. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, my sympathy lies with the business owners who deplore scruffy people hanging around looking much too naughty. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, I'm more the live and let live type, thinking that hey, what would a downtown be without some odd looking people. As long as they leave me alone, what do i care? What day was that meeting on?;-P

O'Rourke ends, not by duping artists, but by hoping for a place for street kids to do art aka Toronto's Sketch & Vancouvers Purple Thistle. Perfect idea for Sundays, just to see what those crazy arty kids are up to. A city has to hold all sorts of people, even if its a little edgy, that's just how it is.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 16, 2010 at 23:42:55

I have no problem admitting that the infamous sticker campaign was tasteless and insensitive. Constructive political debate, it seems, does not come with lolcats. Much of the same could be said for the infamous O'Rourke article - I certainly would not have attempted so bold an article without more in the way of evidence.

Nevertheless, the question remains - is James North and the area surrounding it becoming less accessible to low income people? And more importantly, where is it headed? I have a lot of respect for a lot of the owners and entrepreneurs 'on the strip' - I've long been a fan of the Art Crawl and told more people than I can count to come down and check it out. However, I've also travelled enough to know that gentrification does happen. There are people out there who hear terms like "burgeoning art district in a low-income area" and can think of nothing but get-rich-quick schemes. Downtown is no stranger to the risks posed by real estate speculation - who do you think owns all the abandoned buildings - and more importantly, the slums? This is not to accuse people like Graham, Lee or Dave of being those speculators (as they're all fixtures of the street life). But if they're playing a role in a "transformation" of the area, then people are going to refer to them when they question the direction this transformation is going in.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted December 17, 2010 at 09:01:19

I have yet to meet a rich artist. An artist needs space to pursue their passion. An artist generally has very little money so could someone please do the calculus for me and explain just where an artist is going to set-up shop. Where rents are cheap, plain and simple. Are Gallery 425 and Bill Powell's gallery on Barton contributing to gentrification, they've been there for YEARS and the area around them is unchanged.

Get rich quick scheme and arts in the same sentence... really? People who love art or music yet don't have the talent or ability to create set up shop to at least be immersed in what they love, creation. The arts entrepreneur can't do so they contribute by providing the platform that all creation requires, space. The profit from displaying art or providing venue for musicians is so low only low rent zones make those businesses possible. So are we as a city to ostracize creators and their supporters because they may make a city more livable therefor more desirable?

I just don't get it.

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By Hightimes (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2010 at 14:51:31

Don't assume that anarchists like Undustrial are even that true to there own ideals. From posts here The Skydragon type places are in effect exclusionary places that welcome a very small group into their midst. The knock on people like Crawford, Kuruc, et al is that they are all a bunch of uberrich elitists who are treating downtown like there own personal hobby.

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted December 17, 2010 at 15:05:46

The Skydragon type places are in effect exclusionary places that welcome a very small group into their midst.

Pretty far from the truth. In the time I've known the Skydragon I've gone to and played shows there, seen films, took part in open mic nights, went to Hamilton Light Rail meetings, bought records, had drinks with members of this message board, and seen people from just about every demographic and political persuation. They are pretty damn inclusive. Naturally, there is a certain demographic that will tend to patronize this type of establishment and identify with it more, because it appeals to their tastes. As someone who is very pro-development, someone who disagrees the the anti-gentrification views expressed in their publication, I still find it hard to fault the Skydragon.

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By Gentrification (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2010 at 16:07:31

I can second the above comment about it being a somewhat closed club. As a downtown resident (I live on Locke St N) I have gone in the place four times and felt very unwelcome. It reminded me of the old western saloon scene where the doors open and all the bar patrons give the "stink" eye to the new comer.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted December 17, 2010 at 16:24:14

Both are true. Like Jon, I've been there for shows and art crawl nights etc, and had a great time. Popping in on a weekday for a coffee and muffin on the other hand, is another matter entirely. I've been patronized and made to feel very unwelcome. You can't help but pick up a "you're either with us or your against us" kind of vibe. It's too bad, because they do alot of good, but they're their own worst enemy sometimes.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted December 17, 2010 at 17:43:04

This is not to accuse people like Graham, Lee or Dave of being those speculators (as they're all fixtures of the street life). But if they're playing a role in a "transformation" of the area, then people are going to refer to them when they question the direction this transformation is going in.

I'm not a business owner, but a home co-owner. However, are we accountable to everyone if we are some of the people fixing up an old house here, simply so we can live in it and take a little honest pride in a decent-looking front yard and porch, and this ends up contributing to a rise in property values (which indeed have risen here)? We have no intention of selling the property-- we'll likely stay here until we die or are wheeled out into a long-term care facility.

We've replaced leaky roof, upgraded the wiring and the plumbing, cleaned up the yard, stripped and re-finished the oak front door and had the leaded glass repaired. Others have done the same, simply because they want to raise their families or retire here, and it is affordable because, frankly, a lot of the properties need work. Were we supposed to live in the house as it was? Or not move here and fix up a place, but rather head out to a brand new subdivision on the out, outskirts? Would you say that because we are fixing the roof over our heads we could be accused of driving up rents and driving out lower- income folks?

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-12-17 16:47:17

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 17, 2010 at 19:09:06

The point I was trying to make is not that artists are rich, it's that areas where art districts pop up in this way often tend to correlate with booms in real estate speculation. As Mrjanitor points out, this has a lot to do with the fact that artists themselves are generally rather poor, and art galleries don't always bring in much revenue. Therefore, locating in low-rent areas makes a lot of sense. The thing is, art galleries also tend to be rather high-brow forms of entertainment and expose a lot of people who aren't poor to these areas. For this reason, they are often at the middle of these things, despite the best intentions of those who started the galleries.

There's a difference between talking about privilege and demonizing people. Class isn't just imaginary - there are very real differences in what kind of rights people have downtown. Being a property owner doesn't mean you don't work hard, or that you're evil. But it does mean that there's some people who have far less ability to speak up for themselves than you do, as well as to find housing. Living in the ghetto isn't a choice for everybody.

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By Hightimes (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2010 at 11:26:43

You know property is theft, right Michelle? Obviously you get several more votes then a renter. If you default on your mortgage the bank gives you months to come up with the money. If a tenant missed a rent payment they are thrown out in the street. Very poor comment Undustrial.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted December 18, 2010 at 11:53:47

I've been patronized and made to feel very unwelcome. You can't help but pick up a "you're either with us or your against us" kind of vibe. It's too bad, because they do alot of good, but they're their own worst enemy sometimes.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of the downvoters...not that this means anything to me; this feature is one of the more scurrilous and questionable elements of online boards- but to me, these bits of commentary are eerily reminiscent of something else. Here, let me just grab my flashlight...

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By Centrist (registered) | Posted December 18, 2010 at 12:03:37

The trouble I have with the whole James North scene is that there seems to be a few shop owners who like to think they own the entire street, and that they have some sort of right to say how other properties should or shouldn't be developed. In fact I think this entitlement isn't just limited to James St but rather spreads throughout the entire downtown. Thus we have incidents such as the redevelopment of the Royal Connaught, where several entitled downtown business owners were up in arms that it might be turned into mixed income housing. I think the Connaught incident is a perfect example of the elitist attitude held by some as clearly certain people are desirable in the core while others aren't (read: poor people).

Comment edited by Centrist on 2010-12-18 11:34:11

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted December 18, 2010 at 13:23:18

Thus we have incidents such as the redevelopment of the Royal Connaught, where several entitled downtown business owners were up in arms that it might be turned into mixed income housing. I think the Connaught incident is a perfect example of the elitist attitude held by some as clearly certain people are desirable in the core while others aren't (read: poor people).

Many people who opposed the Connaught proposal did so because of its great expense ($180,000 of public money per subsidized unit) rather than for the reasons you cite. And if you think that the onus should be on those people to disavow any connection to the "no more poor people downtown" crowd, then the onus should equally be on people who are concerned about gentrification to dissociate themselves from the "no fat cats on James" crowd.

Or we could just accept that the small number of intolerant people on the fringe of any movement don't speak for the majority, and stop asking the moderates to apologize for ideas that they don't hold.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted December 18, 2010 at 13:24:41

But it does mean that there's some people who have far less ability to speak up for themselves than you do, as well as to find housing. Living in the ghetto isn't a choice for everybody.

Of course it isn't. The answer is to work on giving them a voice, to look for ways to increase reasonably-priced rental stock, to look for ways to help people along to home ownership, to help people get off of welfare sooner by allowing them to actually save some money up for their future without penalizing them for it... Meanwhile, to have James St. looking nicer, with more possibilities for employment, is a small gain, but a gain nonetheless.

Thus we have incidents such as the redevelopment of the Royal Connaught, where several entitled downtown business owners were up in arms that it might be turned into mixed income housing.

I actually argued against that, not because I don't think poor people belong here, but because I think that we should be putting the mixed income housing in nicer places, and not across from the adult bookstore, the bingo hall and the payday loans place. If I was a single mom on a housing wait list, and that was the location that came up for me, I'd feel kind of hopeless, I think. Let's get it looking nicer down there, first.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-12-18 12:49:07

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By Centrist (registered) | Posted December 18, 2010 at 13:55:02

The thing about the Connaught is that it will probably never be redeveloped without some public funding because the cost to retrofit old buildings is astronomically high. It will be very difficult to find private owners willing to incur all the cost themselves. Therefore, the choice we're left with is either to keep it derelict or invest some public funding into redeveloping it as mixed income housing. Personally, I think it would be better to redevelop it rather than have it lie empty.

Also, it is somewhat patronizing to insist that you know where a poorer person ought to live better than they do. Why wouldn't a single mother want to live in a newly renovated downtown building, close (probably walking distance) to all the social services she might need?

Comment edited by Centrist on 2010-12-18 12:55:46

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted December 18, 2010 at 14:01:58

Also, it is somewhat patronizing to insist that you know where a poorer person ought to live better than they do.

If it is patronizing to think that everyone deserves the chance to live in as nice, pleasant, and safe a place as is possible, then I give up.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-12-18 13:04:54

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 18, 2010 at 14:25:15

If I'm reading this correctly, is there actually a sentiment out there that thinks downtown property owners are keeping poor people out of the core?? I was just downtown this morning and believe me, the poor are represented just fine.

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By Centrist (registered) | Posted December 18, 2010 at 16:43:03

Yes, in a way you are reading this correctly. Several downtown business owners are quite vocal about the fact they do not want MORE poor people downtown. Hence, the uproar over mixed income housing at the Connaught. You can argue that you want poorer people to live in "safer" neighbourhoods all you want, but something tells me that if a developer announced they were going to create upscale condos out of the Connaught no one would say downtown isn't "safe" enough for the middle class. Should we stop everyone from moving downtown because it (apparently) isn't "safe"? Or should we just stop poor people from moving down there (for their own good because we know what's best)?

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted December 18, 2010 at 21:00:52

You can argue that you want poorer people to live in "safer" neighbourhoods all you want, but something tells me that if a developer announced they were going to create upscale condos out of the Connaught no one would say downtown isn't "safe" enough for the middle class. Should we stop everyone from moving downtown because it (apparently) isn't "safe"?

Instead, how about giving as much choice to poorer people about where they'd like to live as upper and middle class people enjoy?

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 18, 2010 at 22:24:31

I think the issue here is balance. I can understand not wanting MORE poor people downtown. Any healthy neighbourhood has a mix of people. US ghettos have shown us what happens when poor folks are all crammed into one geographic area together. The current redevelopment of Regent Park in TO is hoping to be an example of mixed income neighbourhoods, not unlike my own Strathcona neighbourhood which is a great mix of incomes, social and ethnic backgrounds.
That's my desire for downtown Hamilton as a whole. And clearly we are unbalanced on the side of having too few middle or upper class people living downtown. Take the Connaught proposal and put it in downtown Ancaster, Stoney Creek or the South Mountain and I'd be all for it....those areas are too unbalanced the other way.
Balance isn't easy to find, but I tend to agree with downtown business owners that right now we need to improve the mix in the core.

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By Tnt (registered) | Posted December 19, 2010 at 11:41:13

I find myself at a crossroad: feeling both for wanting a thriving downtown and also afraid of being a snob. When I hear people railing against the bingo hall being driven out, I think "right on" then I feel bad. Am I an elitist against something that is harmless, but what I deem to be lowclass. It borders on ageism on my part. A reverse of the NIMBY attitude toward Hess Village and those young people having a good time.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2010 at 12:12:29

How do you define not wanting "more" poor people downtown, though? Is this an absolute or a relative thing? If the total population of downtown grows as it intensifies, does this mean we shouldn't have any more at all, or just that we shouldn't have a larger percentage? If low-income housing is turning into high-end condos, will these be replaced by new affordable housing? Will this mean avoiding new uses which might attract a "low-brow" crowd (social services, sports bars etc)? Will it mean that in the future tax dollars are only spent on high-brow attractions? Does this all take into account broader shifts in the economy? What if there are, for no fault of our own, far more poor people tomorrow than there are are today?

There are lots of problems in low-income communities, I live in the North End, believe me, I understand this. But making people richer on average isn't the solution. Just because there are more wealthy people nearby does not mean that they, personally, will gain a cent. Likewise, just because things like addiction and domestic abuse tend to afflict low-income areas doesn't mean that the solution is to remove supports for those communities. Methadone clinics, women's shelters, food banks, low-income housing - these things aren't always pleasant to live next door to, but if we're going to relocate them out of the core or oppose them altogether (and those calls are coming out on a very regular basis) then we're going to limit the access of people in need to support services, things are going to get much worse in terms of things like crack-heads "plaguing" our streets.

The assumption that poor people - even if they're not junkies, criminals or prostitutes - are bad for business needs to be dealt with if we're ever going to have a hope of anything but a few isolated wealthy bubbles of liveable communities. We need ways forward that work for everyone, and hear from everyone (not just middle-class advocates for the poor like I), or we'll just create more "ghettos" elsewhere.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2010 at 13:43:12

Take the Connaught proposal and put it in downtown Ancaster, Stoney Creek or the South Mountain and I'd be all for it....those areas are too unbalanced the other way. -- Jason

Likewise, just because things like addiction and domestic abuse tend to afflict low-income areas doesn't mean that the solution is to remove supports for those communities. -- Undustrial

And to create genuinely mixed neighbourhoods resulting in greater choice for everyone, we need public transportation that is at least adequate, as well as services, supports and amenities that are located everywhere and can be reached on foot by many, in genuine neighbourhoods, with their own business districts and transit hubs.

The neighbourhood we came from in Toronto was an example of such a neighbourhood-- schools, a library, banks, shopping, a Humber College campus, the Lakeshore streetcar line, nearby Go station; mixed income housing, a neighbourhood full of small post-war bungalows, two story arts and crafts homes, mansions along the waterfront, peppered with lowrise brownstones; parks, bike paths along the lake, an excellent community service centre, an outdoor swimming pool and skating rink in the winter. Thriving and welcoming for everyone.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-12-19 12:57:45

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2010 at 14:17:14

Just caught an interesting piece in the Post about Regent Park. Back in the 80's, when my husband was a volunteer tutor for a child from there, this child's mother was very happy to be able to leave it when a spot in a subsidized apartment in Rexdale came available, and gladly re-located. I visited there myself, when I worked for the former Metro Toronto, back when welfare visitors were expected to do intake visits in people's homes, by themselves. Looks like things are finally beginning to look up a little, there.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-12-19 13:17:53

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2010 at 09:12:18

There is an interesting article in yesterday's Sunday NY Times Magazine called "A Physicist Solves The City." Good food for thought on a bunch of levels.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/19/magazi...

It closes with the following:

"Think about how powerless a Mayor is. They can't tell people where to live or what to do or who to talk to. Cities can't be managed, and that's what keeps them so vibrant. They're just these insane masses of people, bumping into each other and maybe sharing an idea or two. It's the freedom of the city that keeps it alive."

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2010 at 22:46:44

Really facinating article, probably needs its own topic, if not university course.

On one hand one must be careful of this kind of mathematical reductionism, because physics is really the only place laws this absolute apply and even in physics they don't really. Those "special cases" always go on to a whole set of new laws we had barely been able to imagine before. Newtonian physics are very good at describing what we can see and experience, but learning about the "bigger issues" (what are matter, energy and space, anyway?) always involves that small minority of cases - speeds we can't achieve (relativity), scales so small we can't see (quantum mechanics), and energy levels we could never before have dreamed of (supercolliders). Laws and statistics only show a glimpse - and while this doesn't mean that they're useless, it doesn't show that they're infallible either. Then again, a digital photograph is also "just a collection of data" - so take either with a grain of salt.

This being said, there are too many cases where such numbers "line up" even if taken from very different data, to write these analyses off. In terms of settlement size, this kind of math is already very prevalent. An urban geographer would talk about things like the size of cities in most countries/regions, the xth largest city will be roughly 1/xth of the size of the largest. An anthropologist might talk about different kinds of societies, and how the number of such levels often relate fairly well to how governance in such societies - tribes, chiefdoms and states etc. And all of these observations would come with huge caveats.

In terms of West's analysis, we always have to be careful how we define resources used in an urban and rural context. Cities require heavy importation of resources to be possible at all, and larger cities tend to import more (at a rate I'm sure West could find an equation for). This goes a long way toward explaining why measures like trade-based economic indicators and local rates of emmissions tend to show benefits for larger cities.

To relate it to this topic, the trend I would refer to is the way very rich areas tend correlate very closely - Canada's richest (West Van) and poorest (The Lower East Side) neighbourhoods almost face each other, each being a short trip from each side of the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver. Much like how Hamilton and Oakville face each other across the Skyway, or even Durand and Beasley. The lesson here being that concentrating either any income group is likely to relate strongly to other concentrating income groups nearby, and that either policies of integration or exclusion tend to be fairly self-reinforcing. This is where ideas like LRT come in, which provide a host of benefits for many different groups, as well as driving a larger regional integration in a very efficient way.

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By Centrist (registered) | Posted December 21, 2010 at 00:04:04

My problem with the "Anti-Poor in the Core" movement is that it is classist to say you don't want a particular group to move into an area based on their socioeconomic status. (And this goes both ways, whether you're anti-yuppie or anti-poor.) You guys can try to argue for "balance" and the need to spread the poor out to other areas of the city all you want, but essentially your arguments reek of classism.
It would be a welcome change for downtown business owners to stop demonizing the poor (as if poor people are what's wrong with downtown Hamilton) and instead start thinking about what their businesses are actually doing to boost Hamilton's economy. How much opportunity are they providing to help others get out of poverty? Are they creating an environment where everyone is welcome, or one in which only certain socioeconomic classes are desired? Anytime I hear a downtown business owner rail against "scooter people" or advocate for the ticketing of "loiterers" I cringe a little.

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By honestly... (anonymous) | Posted December 22, 2010 at 07:36:27

undustial,

i guess everyone on james should just sit and wait for the magic fairies to come and fix up downtown? or is downtown not broken in your mind? i guess the arts should only locate in rich areas because wherever they go they will drag along those damn people with money?

my real question to you is; what did anyone on james street ever do to you?

what is this slight that makes you put up such straw men arguments to make the unmitigated success that is james north in the last 5 years seem to be a horrible self serving thing? hmm? it is readily apparent from your comments that you feel personally slighted by the "insiders" of james north and that this is an entirely personal attack by you and your group. stop using poverty issues as a weapon against james north, please.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 23, 2010 at 00:05:30

I love it when people use the term "straw men" whilst making straw man arguments. It's beautiful, really. It illustrates perfectly how completely unwilling some people are to actually discuss these issues.

I really don't know how to broach the comment about being personally slighted, though, when talking with someone who sees talk of human rights as a personal attack. What has James North done to me in the past five years? It's been my community for most of that time. Sorry for caring about my neighbourhood.

If gentrification is really so good for downtown, then why are people so afraid to talk about it?

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By Tracy (registered) | Posted December 23, 2010 at 10:52:36

I grew up in the North End years ago and remember James North being full of Mom and Pop business's. Here is a listing (the ones I remember) some of you may remember of business's on James Street between Barton and Bay. Corsinis, Zizzos, Ghattos, Hammy's, Givionazzos, Picton Drugs, Nancy's, Ed's Variety, 4 Hotels, Flower shop, 2 shoemakers, 1 dry cleaners, laundromat, shirt factory, truck yard, Chops, Patsys Pool Hall/Restaurant, fabric shop, Brewers Retail. I haven't lived there in years and don't have any answers, but this discussion sure brought back memories of James North. It was once a very vibrant street / community, good luck.

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By Blanche (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2011 at 07:51:14

Like James North, with more niche businesses, more street life, more residential capacity -- and still no gentrification.

http://www.thegridto.com/city/places/the-resistance-movement

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