City Life

Chill Out

Hamilton could use a good dose of James North-like fun throughout the entire city and in every season of the year.

By Jason Leach
Published December 13, 2006

Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year and an annual event in our household is to take the family over to Gore Park for the official tree-lighting ceremony.

This year's event took place on December 8 at 5:30 PM and many people came down to enjoy the festivities.

As everyone knows, the CHML Christmas Tree of Hope is a great fundraiser each year that helps the less fortunate in our city. I certainly don't want to cast a bad light on the event or the fundraiser, but in past years my wife and I invariably ended up discussing the lack of people, entertainment and well, lights, at the event.

It could be so much more. It should be so much more. Hamilton doesn't have a proper downtown urban 'plaza' or piazza anywhere, which means our city has no ice sculpting festival, winterfest or Winterlude like in Ottawa.

Gore Park, of course, is our most logical spot for an urban plaza, but so far city hall and HSR are more concerned with it being a noisy bus stop instead of a proper people place.

The following photo tours from Skyscraper Page give a great example of how much fun Christmas and winter-time can be in a downtown of a city.

Cavalcade of Lights, Toronto

Hamilton would be wise to take a page from Toronto's books in many of the special events they do in the downtown, but this one is most notable because it's cold outside and tons of people show up for the Cavalcade of Lights.

Montreal, of course, is a great city for winter entertainment, as is Ottawa. Hamilton has many downtown trees that should be lit up from Wellington to Dundurn and along James from the escarpment to harbour.

Other areas around King William, Hess, the Farmers Market and Augusta Street should also be given wonderful lighting treatments during this time of year.

Gore Park is the focal point of the city and would be a great spot for an ice festival, soup-tasting, live music and other events thoughout December and the general winter season that bring people outside during the cold months.

We live in Canada. We should celebrate it.

Plaza Lighting Ceremony, Kansas

This photo tour from the Kansas City Plaza Lighting Ceremony shows a good example that should be followed here around Gore Park.

Specifically I'm thinking both sides of King from James to John should have the building 'perimeters' lit up as they do in KC. It would re-create the feel of an old Victorian village with the many historic building facades around Gore Park.

James North-Like Fun

I'm pleased to announce that the event this year will have more live music than in the past; perhaps it's a sign of things to come. Hamilton certainly needs to learn how to have more fun as a city.

We build malls, boring subdivisions, highways and strip plazas, but need to spend as much effort and money to create a fabulous, fun vibe in this city that is the talk of Canada. Fun cities are successful cities.

Hamilton could use a good dose of James North-like fun throughout the entire city and in every season of the year. The independent group of artists, musicians and café-owners on James North have provided a great model to follow.

Regular events, old-world ethnicity and funky, fun stores make James North the most fun and rich experience anywhere in Hamilton.

Unlock Our Creativity

Hamilton's new council and mayor need to unlock the creativity that abounds in our city and encourage a Hamilton experience throughout the year.

I was in Buffalo recently and noted how the cafes and restaurants downtown have their patios out all year-round. As one owner told me, if someone wants to drink their coffee in five feet of snow that's their choice.

In Hamilton it's not their choice.

The city makes eateries close up their patios from October to May. Why? I don't know, but it's just one small example of the micromanagement and over-regulation of our city that threatens to literally suck the life out of us.

I know folks on James North who don't want city hall showing up and trying to "improve" the street or "create" a James North experience. They want to be left alone to do it themselves without a billion goofy bylaws or strange regulations.

Make it Easy

The city, for their part, has a role to play in increasing fun in Hamilton. Let patios stay open all year. Let people easily apply to close down streets for events.

Portland, Oregon has recently made it extremely easy for residential or business neighbourhood associations to close their local streets down for festivals and special events.

Hamilton's Mustard Festival festival has been a roaring success for the past nine years, yet is relegated to one block of Ferguson Ave North because we can't close down King for a weekend.

Great. So for one more weekend a year, we get speeding cars instead of people, music, food and fun.

A new year is almost upon us and a new council will take the reigns at city hall. I hope the people of Hamilton will come out to the Christmas Tree of Hope and other special events happening in our city this Christmas.

I also hope that the people of Hamilton will clearly tell their council and mayor that we want a fun city. Chill out. Let us enjoy life in the Hammer.

Let us start this Christmas.

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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