Special Report: Light Rail

Light Rail and Gentrification

Working-class people deserve a transit system that does not treat them like second-class citizens. And they also very much deserve not to be forced out of their neighbourhoods.

By Eric Gillis
Published April 05, 2017

I've heard from some close allies and friends of mine that they are concerned about Hamilton's Light Rail Transit (LRT) project and what implications it holds for the forces of gentrification in Hamilton.

I understand that there has been a lot of concern that the LRT system is only going to exacerbate the issue of gentrification in Hamilton's downtown and push working-class folk out of their neighbourhoods.

I understand the fear. I've lived the fear. But it needs to be said that fear of LRT is smacking at the branches of the problem instead of tackling it at its roots.

First, so my position is clear: gentrification is absolutely happening in Hamilton, and rents have risen significantly. It is fact, it can be seen in the rental market pricing, it can be seen in the condo developments. We know it is indeed happening.

However...

Better transit that promotes a higher quality of life does not have to go hand-in-hand with gentrification of a neighbourhood.

I get that gentrification is happening, and I know that we are doing an extremely poor job as a city of ensuring it doesn't force people out of their homes as a result. The same goes for the province's inaction.

Yet this doesn't change the fact that low-income earners predominantly rely on transit. For most, it is a vehicle of necessity, not of choice, and it is the only form of transportation they can afford.

There are absolutely those who freely choose to ride transit, but there will always be those who must ride it if they want to remain employed, or in school, or go for a night out.

Public transit is the single mother with her child in a stroller on her way to the daycare centre before she goes to work.

Public transit is the high school student getting to class because their family car broke down.

Public transit is the means of getting groceries home.

Public transit is the only means of accessibility to the rest of the city for people who don't have other options.

I cannot see the social justice in telling working-class people who rely upon transit that in order to help assure they can live in the neighbourhoods they presently do and still be able to afford it, we must reject investment in the underfunded transit system they rely on every day.

I cannot see the social justice in saying that if we allow a transit system that has notable improvements upon quality of life to be built, they will suffer. I do not see how this can be anything other than a disservice of the worst kind to these people.

I understand that the development of an LRT system will in some ways lead to higher demand for real-estate and development projects that are the very forces that help increase the flow of housing prices, and I do not mean to criticize or dismiss the very real lived fear that comes with that for people.

However, I do not understand why we are trying to tell people who rely on transit that better transit is bad for them.

It makes much more sense to tackle the roots of the problem by pushing for our government to actually ensure affordable housing initatives than to reject a billion dollar investment in transit and purposefully make daily life harder for the people we are trying to protect from displacement.

Working-class people deserve a transit system that does not treat them like second-class citizens. And they also very much deserve not to be forced out of their neighbourhoods.

Let's tackle the real issue here - the roots, not the branches. It's the lack of affordable housing measures that is the real issue for our working class, not the transit system that they rely upon.

This article was first published on Eric's personal website.

Related:

Eric Gillis is a born-and-raised Hamiltonian, and a student at McMaster University who is very passionate about politics.

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted April 05, 2017 at 20:41:29

LRT advocates, including Ryan, tout intensification and development as core benefits of LRT. That means that people like Darko Vranich get to build taller buildings and develop parking lots and old store fronts into condos. This is straight from the pro-LRT crowd. But what does that mean? It means more people, more Torontoians, more money, higher rents. My rent is already sky high and going higher because of the new demand. You talk about affordable housing but more development and intensification leads to gentrification. Ryan himself posted Darko's letter begging for the LRT to be built. Why does a property developer want the LRT unless he sees dollar signs? Sixty thousand Hamiltonians are on social assistance. Hydro rates and rents are rising daily. And the 1% want more, more, more and the LRT allows them to charge higher rents.

Unless you think Darko has the people's interests at heart. Read his letter where he's concerned he might miss out on "more development opportunities." How does that help Hamilton's poor afford to live in their own City? He doesn't care. Ryan doesn't care. It's all about money and greed and higher office towers. I'm not interested in the argument that LRT allows more development. In fact, that's a strike against it. I saw some graffitti the other day that pointed out how evil developers are. But pro-LRTers are holding them up like paragons of virtue. It's a confusing world out there. The left have turned hard right. Read Darko's letter. I urge you. He literally says it will "raise property values." Do you see the problem here? Darko benefits from higher property values. The people don't. Soon I may be forced to move out of my own home town because of higher property values. That's gentrification. This is happening. Today.

By the way, we have public transit. Today. And the current B-Line provides better service than the proposed LRT because it makes more stops and goes all the way to Eastgate. So why are you making it sound like public transit doesn't even exist in Hamilton? Better yet, it's Hamilton-owned and operated.

https://www.raisethehammer.org/article/2980/vranich:_light_rail_uncertainty_extremely_concerning_to_developers

Comment edited by JimC on 2017-04-05 20:42:03

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted April 05, 2017 at 22:27:06 in reply to Comment 121102

I can't see how anyone could go downtown and make the claim that we don't need any development.

City council has raised our taxes, cut services and fired staff (and have stated that they will repeat this next year) and yet there is no need to widen our tax base?

The term 'gentrification' is thrown around far too liberally these days. The hard truth is that the lower city is too heavily skewed to lower income residents. This situation does no one any good. You need pockets of people with some disposable income. Without them a neighbourhood loses its vibrancy. Without people that have the ability to go out for lunch or to a shop or a show, spending their money, there will be nothing but shuttered storefronts and derelict streetscapes. Yes, some lower income people will be pushed out. Life isn't fair - to anyone. But, with a good mix of residents low / mid / high income life would be far more enjoyable for those who remain.

One other thing - you don't have to like Darko Vranich.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2017-04-05 22:28:47

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted April 06, 2017 at 08:19:13

Jim C, I get it you don't like developers. But how come you don't go after the developers who build endless poorly constructed housing in the suburbs, tearing up perfectly good farm land in the process. In exchange, we get boring communities with endless tract housing that does not pay for it self through their property taxes, and contributes to ever worsening traffic and infrastructure deficits. Don't like developers building condos downtown fine, but at the least, their development pays for itself by concentrating more taxpayers in a smaller more efficiently built up areas. These types of development efficiently reuses existing infrastructure, instead of having to build new infrastructure and in some cases, they are forced to pay for the upgrades to existing infrastructure.

Look, humans became bad for the environment the minute we developed fire and started to develop technology that removed us from the existing controls that nature uses to control animal populations. We can really only minimize the damage our existence as a species causes to the planet. Using technology like LRT and building more dense compact cities helps to limits that damage we cause.

Its also far more affordable for taxpayers to maintain denser cities, instead of building endless low density subdivisions that rely almost totally on the automobile as the main form of transport for most people. These suburban developments are built at such low densities with such heavily subsidized road based infrastructures, they almost never produce enough taxes to support their own existence. Which has been forcing city governments in Ontario since the 1950&60's to use local commercial taxes to prop up and pay for their suburban developments. Most larger cities have now reached a point that, these classic suburban development systems are now failing financially due to limits the province has put on how much of a city's property taxes can come from commercial taxes vs. residential property taxes. So something had to change. Unrestricted use of automobiles and primarily low density development, is out. walkable medium to higher density development supported by more bicycles and rapid transit, in the form of BRT and LRT, is in.

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