How many more times do we need to keep hearing the same message about what needs to change before we muster up the courage to act?
By Ryan McGreal
Published June 22, 2011
An RTH comment posted on June 4 explains how anyone with a Hamilton Public Library membership can access a searchable online database of Hamilton Spectator articles published since 1991.
Poking around the archives, I came across an interesting piece that starts, "A strong consensus is building for changes downtown that include two-way streets and housing innovations." The article covers a report presented by a group of architects to City Council after a symposium of planners, architects, developers, engineers and creative professionals convened to discuss opportunities and build consensus on next steps.
The report acknowledged the number of people already committed to live and work in the downtown and asserted the necessity of building on that momentum to achieve a critical mass and realize the city's potential.
It concluded that no single change would revitalize downtown, and that a successful strategy should include a number of changes:
Replace zoning regulations with "no zone" codes that encourage appropriate land use and building form with an emphasis on street-oriented developments.
Encourage a variety of housing options, including more infill development and live/work units.
Redevelop Main, King and York/Wilson as pedestrian-friendly boulevards with wider sidewalks, curbside parking, benches, street trees and outdoor patios.
Traffic flows should be converted to two-way. "The efficient movement of traffic should not take precedent over other objectives."
Reduce the number of parking lots.
Install a network of bicycle lanes throughout the downtown core and linked to the rest of the city.
These are all sensible ideas that we have been promoting on RTH since we launched in the end of 2004.
Now start crying hot, wet tears of despair, because the article I just cited was published on Thursday, September 26, 1996. Titled "Ideas to get people back downtown", it was a summary of the Hamilton Downtown Ideas Charette which took place in June of that year.
Since that time, a few of the recommendations have come to pass:
Our by-law office is conducting a review of the zoning by-law, but in the meantime our existing rules are still squashing urban businesses fifteen years after the Charette identified them as a clear obstacle to revitalization.
Enough already. There's a time for being patient, for allowing process to run its course, for studying and consulting and considering options. We're long past that point and suffocating in the stink of a regulatory system that was already obsolete in the mid-1990s.
Yesterday, Paul Bedford, the former chief planner for the City of Toronto (now retired), came to Hamilton and told the assembled attendees absolutely nothing that we didn't already know and haven't already heard again and again and again, from expert after expert at symposium after summit after workshop after charette. (No discredit to Bedford: his speech was as inspiring for its vision of a hopeful future as it was frustrating for the relative absence of buy-in from our local leaders.)
I had to stop attending the Public Works Department's annual Transportation Summit because it was making me sick to see transportation engineer after urban planner after architect tell our public works managers the same thing - convert your streets to two-way, build light rail transit, design for walkablilty, throw out the zoning regulations - with almost no impact on the department's steadfast commitment to traffic flow over all other priorities.
The annual Economic Summit is another opportunity for our city's business and policy leaders to listen to outside experts remind us of what we already know but refuse to embrace. Instead, we remain under the thrall of failed models of development in which we continue to do what we've been doing for the past fifty years in the hopes that it might be different this time.
Where is the bold vision and commitment from our leaders? It's not enough to lead from the middle on this one: that is a recipe to continue drifting aimlessly in the status quo when we should be pulling in earnest for a much more successful, prosperous city.