Special Report: West Harbour

Cart Before Horse: Why It May Be Too Late to Create the West Harbour We Deserve

One starts to wonder if this is really about resident engagement, or just a marginally different tick-the-box PIC process so the City can stay can say we were consulted, yet still move ahead with a predetermined plan.

By Graham Crawford
Published February 22, 2016

This coming Thursday evening, February 25, at 294 James Street North, the City of Hamilton will hold another in a series of monthly public meetings to discuss plans for the redevelopment of our West Harbour.

West Harbour overhead view (Image Credit: Google Maps)
West Harbour overhead view (Image Credit: Google Maps)

The sites under consideration are Piers 6, 7 and 8; the Jamesville Townhouses; Ken Soble Tower on MacNab; and the Barton-Tiffany lands the City assembled for the failed stadium build.

This engagement process began about a year ago.

Much work has been done and hundreds of thousands of dollars has been spent on consultants and City staff on the detailed plans for redevelopment, not including the now decades old Setting Sail Secondary Plan.

It's important to add that much time and energy has been invested by Hamiltonians who have attended public meetings after work, at night, in a storefront meeting space on James Street North.

Vision Statement

One of the topics on Thursday's agenda [PDF] is the presentation and discussion of a Vision Statement for the redevelopment of our West Harbour.

Senior staff have allotted 15 minutes for this discussion on the agenda. That's right: almost a year into the process, the City of Hamilton has finally agreed that we need a clearly articulated Vision in order to provide direction and context for discussions and to help make important decisions.

Staff are proposing a draft statement that has not yet been vetted by residents. Senior staff seem to think we can nail this one in 15 minutes in a room with 50 or more people in it who have not yet been asked to comment on it.

Is this what they mean when we say The Ambitious City? Certainly, you must admit that's one 'ambitious' agenda.

Cart Before Horse

It's important to note that on February 9, before a special Sub-Committee for the West Harbour Development, comprised of Mayor Eisenberger and Councillors Aidan Johnson (Chair), Jason Farr (Vice Chair), and Chad Collins, staff were instructed to prepare the letters for Expressions of Interest (EOI) for potential developers as soon as possible.

These initial EOI letters relate to the nine blocks of land to be sold on Pier 8, immediately to the west of Sarcoa and Williams. Other EOI letters for the other blocks of City-owned land in the West Harbour will be sent later.

Wait a minute now.

We're pushing to get letters out to developers ASAP so we can sell the land Hamiltonians own before we've finalized our collective Vision for the West Harbour? You bet. Just another example of the backwards management of this critical project.

As the title says, cart before horse. Promises made and not kept. Answers provided and then revised. Delayed communication and follow-up from meetings. Hand scribbled agendas posted at the beginning of meetings. Promises of a robust website made a year ago with still no progress. And the hits just keep on coming.

If you like magic shows, be sure to attend the public meeting that begins at 7:00 PM on Thursday, February 25. Who knows what tricks you'll be witness to that will cause you to scratch your head as to how they were done before your very eyes.

Unfocused Process

For those who think I'm being too negative, let me tell you I've tried more times than I care to admit to help sharpen the focus of this process. In writing. Face-to-face. In public. Questions. Suggestions. Ideas. Hours and hours of time and effort.

One starts to wonder if this is really about resident engagement, or just a marginally different tick-the-box PIC process so the City can stay can say we were consulted, yet still move ahead with a predetermined plan. I know I'm wondering. And the evidence mounts.

Hope to see you there.

Graham Crawford was raised in Hamilton, moving to Toronto in 1980 where he spent 25 years as the owner of a successful management consulting firm that he sold in 2000. He retired and moved back to Hamilton in 2005 and became involved in heritage and neighbourhood issues. He opened Hamilton HIStory + HERitage on James North in 2007, a multi-media exhibition space (aka a storefront museum) celebrating the lives of the men and women who have helped to shape the City of Hamilton.


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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted February 22, 2016 at 10:58:36

Unfortunately, this article from seven years ago is still very relevant:


Our frustration with how citizen input is used is not surprising when we see that essentially all participation solicited by the City stays at the "tokenism" rungs on the Ladder of Citizen Participation: "Informing, Consultation and Placation". In this mode,

citizens may indeed hear and be heard. But under these conditions they lack the power to ensure that their views will be heeded by the powerful.

The problem is that in Hamilton, as in most other Canadian cities,

People are primarily perceived as statistical abstractions, and participation is measured by how many come to meetings, take brochures home, or answer a questionnaire. What citizens achieve in all this activity is that they have "participated in participation." And what powerholders achieve is the evidence that they have gone through the required motions of involving "those people."

Indeed, the provincial planning act requires cities to provide evidence that residents have been informed or consulted. Unfortunately, there is no requirement that the views and preferences of those who participated are actually heeded!

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By Graham Crawford (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2016 at 11:11:46

Nicholas - I remember reading your article when it was first posted. Sadly, still way too relevant of my liking.

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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted February 22, 2016 at 11:35:38

did anyone really think the city would actually have a cohesive vision for any west harbour changes when they are seemingly incapable of making straightforward, evidenced-based decisions for even fairly minor projects?

i think it is fairly clear that the sudden interest in this "redevelopment" is being spurred by the city seeing dollar signs from selling valuable land to developers. money that the city desperately needs because despite going through this magical "renaissance" city officials can't stop gloating about, the city seemingly has not been able to translate this into sustainable revenue as infrastructure deficits grow year to year. by taking the path of least resistance the city is able to raise a significant amount of capital in a short amount of time to patch up some ongoing problems temporarily.

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By Graham Crawford (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2016 at 12:41:25 in reply to Comment 116599

Perfect analysis, as painful as it is to admit it.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted February 22, 2016 at 14:19:02

Given the suburban make up of your council and what decisions/beliefs generally drive them (sorry unintended pun), is it any surprise that they really haven't taken on the development of your harbor renewal plan with much dedication or thought? Should it be a surprise when they remove a successful bus lane because people fear the loss of parking lanes and argue that better highway access via a residential street(Aberdeen)is the right way to go for the core of your city? The virtual handstands your Council was doing to essentially develop a large business park near your Airport, which would have done very little to get more actual passenger and or freight traffic through the actual airport. All their focuses and decisions are based on getting people out of the centre core not actually living or working there. Its no surprise to me that, as a person who doesn't live in your city, your local media has given me much more information and attention about development opportunities in the core of your city, including LRT by the way, than your council has ever attempted to send out. A friend of mine, who lives in the Hamilton area was stunned that I knew about the increasing amount of developments around the lower city of Hamilton, especially since the LRT was given a green light by the province and Metrolinx. I told him it was the media and websites like yours where I got the information because your city sure isn't doing it!

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By relieved (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2016 at 22:04:03 in reply to Comment 116601

I only wish to comment (sorry for the hijack) on the successful bus lane.
that lane took people out of downtown, reduced foot traffic and tripled the time it took for car traffic to pass through the core. It was an immense failure.
i am sure the buses filled up and hsr collected an increased profit but those results could've been achieved by increasing overlap between buses.
that lane was a nightmare for an entire year.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 24, 2016 at 06:52:07 in reply to Comment 116604

Notwithstanding surly anecdotes, the bus lane was successful by a variety of empirical measures. It was killed because of chauvinistic pandering, pure and simple.

Location of bus lane and votes to kill bus lane

It had some problems, but the solution was to fix those problems, not sacrifice it on the alter of parochialism.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 23, 2016 at 10:22:38 in reply to Comment 116604

The bus lane improved throughput of the buses, which actually carry a tremendous amount of traffic. Which was the intent.

It was, however, poorly planned. City staff should not have allowed it to languish for a full year rather than fix its obvious problems (like the King West streetwall and the poor behavior at turning movements at Mary and John). There was a motion to fix those issues, but it was rejected in favour of eliminating it.

The councillors who wanted to fix it represented the wards surrounding the bus lane. The ones who voted to remove it did not.

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By Reality Check (anonymous) | Posted February 23, 2016 at 09:33:43 in reply to Comment 116604

"that lane was a nightmare for an entire year" for spoiled entitled car drivers who could not tolerate any rush hour delays like they have in every other successful city core.

The sad reality for Hamilton (and car drivers) is that successful cities are designed for people; not cars. So long as we continue to give cars all priority in our planning........our core is sure to languish.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted February 23, 2016 at 11:57:59 in reply to Comment 116607

It's really just a matter of percentages. You cannot change behavior in 12 months and it was inevitable, with the vast majority of road users being car drivers, that a project would fail. Once the LRT permanently plugs up King street, and Main Street is turned into the classic two way clogged artery, people will change their behavior. The big question is change their behavior how.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted February 23, 2016 at 12:18:51 in reply to Comment 116609

On King, at least, there are actually a lot more transit users than motorists until at least Queen St.

The City actually measured traffic and transit users at King and Bay and found that the bus lane carried as many people as three lanes of traffic!

That was one of the unfair aspects of the removal of the bus lane: even though the buses carry three lanes worth of traffic transit users were not deemed worthy of even one lane. And the impact of the bus lane was fairly minimal: even at the peak PM rush hour when traffic is moving slowly already motorists took only 5 minutes more to travel the entire length of the bus lane.


But the point is taken that most Hamiltonians think of transit as something for other people, and any impact to driving as hurting their ability to get around (and, in some cases, a sort of personal attack on their privileges).

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-02-23 12:24:47

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted February 23, 2016 at 13:18:40 in reply to Comment 116611

and then they all sit around today for hours at council discussing how on earth we can get more commercial tax assessment into the city so we aren't so dependant on residential. Ummm, how about allowing King and Main to flourish like their King/Queen counterparts in Toronto. Imagine the tens of millions in new tax revenue city hall could reap by simply seeing these two streets redeveloped full of business, commerce and urban development instead of boarded up buildings, empty lots and speeding cars.

They talk as if they want to bring in new tax revenue, but unless it can be done in a far flung business park or big box store complex, they really aren't interested.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted February 22, 2016 at 22:23:57 in reply to Comment 116604

yea, it took so many people out of downtown, long empty buildings filled up with tenants during that re-design of King with a transit lane, and 24-7 street parking. Less than a year later, we're back to a 5-lane expressway and council got their wish with long-empty buildings again. The 50's called.....



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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted February 23, 2016 at 12:06:56 in reply to Comment 116605

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world...

Yes, people are transforming their cities to be for people, not cars. They achieve the benefits in terms of economic prosperity, human freedom, health and happiness. These are the reasons why Utrecht is the most competitive region of Europe.

Suburbs and smaller towns can also achieve these benefits.

These places changed for the better. Here in Hamilton, we can too!

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By Gory (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2016 at 07:22:14 in reply to Comment 116610

Gore Park, the first pedestrian zone designed for cars. Why are there still traffic lights in there? Why was it designed to look like a road rather than a park?

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By Sad (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2016 at 19:30:37

World class cities host international design competitions. Here we rotate a stadium 90 degrees and call it a success. Sad.

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By Zoltski (anonymous) | Posted February 23, 2016 at 13:06:15

It's because this city is controlled by zionists and mafia that are squandering tax payer money and opportunities for real positive developments.

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By And On it Goes (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2016 at 09:05:14

And now the mangled issue du jour is Hamilton Parking rates.

We need to decide if we are a big city or not. It's the same garbage all over again......not in my Ward!

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By Stephen (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2016 at 10:46:48 in reply to Comment 116617

I saw that this morning on the CBC web site. This is great: "City staff also recommended increasing on-street meter parking by 25 or 50 cents. Councillors deferred that to next year." One difficult decision at a time!

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By Missy2013 (registered) - website | Posted February 29, 2016 at 10:53:26

In my dealings with an adjacent City Corporation over the past few years I have discovered a similar pattern of 'engagement' & 'consultation' with the public that is really nothing more then fluffy 'window dressing'.

High profile P.R. consultants are hired, (usually by the 'stack-holder' developers who have the contracts long secured with City), to give the illusion that the public has been 'informed' and 'allowed' to participate. It is a total farce. It means nothing and amounts to nothing.

The monies involved, the tax potential, and the binding Contractual legalese are already IN PLACE long before citizens are ever 'invited' or informed. In sum, it's only about ONE Corporation talking to ANOTHER Corporation - with 'public engagement' used as 'window dressing' when citizens become more aware of obvious humanitarian or environmental 'problems' with the evolving 'deal' ...

There is little that is genuinely 'engaging' about these 'consultation' processes. And there is little that individual citizens can really do to effect change or alter 'the course' once these 'deals' are in place.

Yes, periodically citizens do band together, creating their own co-op business entities, hiring lawyers to take either the developers or City, or both, to court. But these procedures are very lengthy and very expensive propositions, (that can just as easily involve Provincial meddling or 'intervention' if City and/or the Developers aren't getting what they want...)

Ironically, it is too often taxpayers monies that supply City Legal with the flown-in BIG GUN 'experts' they need to counter LITTLE GUN 'local' citizen arguments and concerns. I have seen this happen more then once.

At the end of the day, it's ALL about the MONEY. First and foremost. In other words: How much short-term revenue can be generated for City coffers by this 'deal'? That's the bottom-line reality, and, that isn't going to change anytime soon.

As long as Corporations, (profit or non-profit), enjoy greater Rights, Privileges and the Power of the Law on THEIR side in this country, citizens, (together or alone), will always come second. That's just the way it is.

... big sharks, little fish ...

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted February 29, 2016 at 11:42:29 in reply to Comment 116667

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By Missy2013 (registered) - website | Posted March 01, 2016 at 07:02:25 in reply to Comment 116668

... http://canadians.org/ceta ...

Municipally, provincially, and federally ~ it's just "politics" as usual.

You're welcome.

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