Downtown Bureau

Big Box Blunder

If Centre Mall is going big box, so be it, but stop calling it revolutionary or modern.

By Jason Leach
Published January 09, 2006

Once again, word of the impending redevelopment of Centre Mall has been in the news. While many proponents hail this as a good move for a tired old mall, I must take issue with some of their facts and how they are presenting this project.

Photo Credit: Peter Haley, the Tacoma News Tribune
Photo Credit: Peter Haley, The Tacoma News Tribune

Granted, I don't have all of the info myself, but this is what we do know. The site will be redeveloped into a big box format. Think Meadowlands ... well, actually think anywhere on the Mountain now from Stoney Creek to Ancaster.

This may or may not end up being a great project for the Centre Mall site. Heaven knows the land has been sorely underused and is in a prime spot in the heart of central Hamilton, with good transit and road connections and a very large population base within a short walking distance of the site.

Unfortunately, this is Hamilton and the latter two facts don't matter much. As usual, it's all about the cars - and pollution and resulting injuries and deaths from accidents and clogged streets, blah blah blah.

What I really take issue with regarding this project is terms like "a new concept in retail" being used in the same sentence as "big box stores".

Despite the efforts of City Hall to keep us back in the 1970s, times have changed. There is nothing new, revolutionary or cool about these horrendous retail developments. They are much worse than malls ever were.

At least at a mall one drives into the lot, parks and walks the rest of the way. Have you ever tried walking in the Meadowlands? You wouldn't be alive to tell us about it if you did.

All through the United States, big box centres are being demolished and rebuilt as proper, mixed-use communities with new streets designed to look old along with benches, parks, cafes with patios, upper floor apartments, lofts and offices and parking either tucked behind the site or underground.

This is the new model of retail development, and is a much better use of land and dwindling energy supplies than more of this car-dependent stuff from the '70s.

If Centre Mall is going big box, so be it, but stop calling it revolutionary or modern. It's old, antiquated, proven to deplete quality of life, health and social development while wasting gobs of money. I guess all that means that it meets approval at City Hall.

While were at it, why don't we line up a developer to bring this same type of development to Locke Street, Hess Village, Westdale or Concession Street?

Read the following article from Tacoma, Washington on their plans for more of these proper urban villages1 in their city. And remember, it rains there about eight months of the year.

If Hamilton ever wants to turn the corner and start attracting businesses of all sectors - plus their workers and CEOs - we'll need to pull our heads out of the sand and become a proper city. I hope it's not too late, though. After years of ignorance by our so-called political and business leaders the sand has hardened and the future is passing us by.

Thank goodness it's an election year. The track record of most of our City Council over the past few decades is horrendous and citizens are finally waking up to the facts that surround us every day.

This November it's time for a change. Time for some hope. Time for Hamilton to get a future. You and I are the ones who will usher in this new age. In the meantime, fill your gas tanks. We need some milk.

1 News Tribune Staff, Downtown dreams, Tacoma News Tribune, January 1st, 2006. We first noticed this article when it was reproduced on the Skyscraperpage forum, and excellent resource for anyone interested in urban revitalization.

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

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By sean (registered) | Posted None at

Funny you should mention trying to walk through Meadowlands. I tried a similar stunt in Burlington, and despite the fact that it's only a few hundred feet between stores, it's near impossible to navigate the big box landscape without hopping fences, climbing retaining wall cliffs, and playing chicken with the SUV armies. Keep me out of it, thanks.

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