Media

An Amazing Ride

On the first anniversary of Raise the Hammer, editor Ryan McGreal looks back on the unlikely path that brought him here.

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 14, 2005

In early 2003 I took a creative writing course at Mohawk College. One of our last assignments was to write an opinion piece for a newspaper.

I had plenty of experience writing op-eds but zero experience getting them published, and agonized over what to write and how to write it.

The weekend before the op-ed was due, I still had no idea what to write as I went out to watch the Canadian Cycling Championships.

Walking inside the "lockdown zone," the streets were filled with people and we kept bumping into old acquaintances. Children ran all over the street and neighbours chatted amiably everywhere. For once, the persistent, gnawing background fear of our children being hit by a car faded away.

I had an epiphany walking up Aberdeen toward the West 5th Access to watch the cyclists' ultra-high speed descent: why the hell aren't our streets always like this?

I went home that night and banged out an op-ed detailing my ridiculous, utopian dream of a city with no cars but plenty of people living in real neighbourhoods.

I fired a copy to the Hamilton Spectator before handing it in. Amazingly, they published it. I had broken the seal!

Over the next several months, I continued to think about cars and communities and the structure of city life. I read a number of books on the subject, including Suburban Nation by Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler, Variations on a Theme Park, edited by Michael Sorkin, and, of course, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.

I wrote two more op-eds for the Spec, one just after the 2003 municipal elections and the other in early 2004. They were by no means comprehensive, but at least I had entered the fray.

The day after the second piece was published, I received an email from a guy named Ben Bull. He was trying to put together a group of citizens who believed in urban revitalization and had already appeared on CHML's Roy Green show.

They were known as the Green Berets, and they were a feisty bunch. At the same time as I became involved, the group's focus shifted away from radio, which isn't well suited to detailed policy discussions, and toward writing.

We wanted to launch a print journal, but none of us knew the first thing about running a magazine and in any case, we had no money. Instead, we launched a website.

Raise the Hammer appeared with no fanfare on December 14, 2004 and featured nine articles by six writers, including a wonderful guest article by Spec columnist Jeff Mahoney.

We sent emails to our friends and begged them to read it. By the time our next issue came out in mid-January, the site registered a grand total of 1,716 hits. I suspect most of those hits came from us.

Humble beginnings aside, we kept at it, publishing an issue every month and then twice a month starting in May. By August, the site was registering thousands of hits a day and we had to upgrade our bandwidth.

We avoided advertising and promotion, deciding early on to focus on writing as well as we could and placing our faith in word-of-mouth and -email. It seems to have worked.

For our first anniversary issue, we're proud to welcome two new columnists to Raise the Hammer. Adrian Duyzer examines technology, democracy, and freedom. Kevin Somers writes about life, entertainment, and sports in our crazy world.

We're also continuing the Suburbia Project with a new essay by Lakis Polycarpou on scenario planning.

In the near future, we hope to launch a new weekly print magazine to fill the persistent gaps in local coverage of civic issues.

For the first time in my memory at least, Hamilton has momentum. Local activists and concerned citizens have stopped complaining about our city's barren media landscape and have begun to populate it.

New print publications like Mayday Magazine, Urbanicity, and H Magazine, and excellent web resources like Citizens at City Hall and Hamilton Indymedia, have begun bypassing the traditional media altogether to bring a message of hope to the city.

Community action groups like Hamiltonians for Progressive Development and Hamilton CAN are taking an active role in ensuring good ideas get on the table and voters have a real choice in next year's municipal election.

The past year has been an amazing ride for us at Raise the Hammer. We can't wait to see what the next year will bring.

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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