Downtown Bureau

'Tacoma Aroma' Smells Like Success

A once-drab place like Tacoma proves once again that any city in any location can revitalize itself when the political will exists.

By Jason Leach
Published February 09, 2007

Tacoma, Washington: a smelly, industrial city living in the shadow of beautiful Seattle.

In the past decade they decided it was time to revitalize and take advantage of their location instead of always believing that their location was somehow a hindrance (sound familiar??) Focus was put on three main elements:

  1. The arts and culture;
  2. Bringing post secondary institutions into the downtown core; and
  3. Developing the first modern streetcar system in Washington state to link the arts, downtown core and new downtown campuses and spur a higher density and quality of new development.

The results? See for yourself.

Chelsea Heights Condos rendering (Image Credit: Chelsea Heights Condominiums) via Skyscraper page
Chelsea Heights Condos rendering (Image Credit: Chelsea Heights Condominiums via Skyscraper page)

There is so much that Hamilton can learn from Tacoma.

We are already seeing our artistic institutions and communities revitalizing and growing in the downtown core.

We've never been able to convince any post-secondary institute to locate downtown, not withstanding the free rent deal McMaster has in the old courthouse. Sure, it's nice, but a campus it isn't.

Finally, our city council has developed study after study and heard from urban revitalization experts over and over about the need to balance our downtown transportation networks instead of keeping these one-way freeways from the 1950s.

Their response? 'Thanks, but no thanks. We aren't really that interested in urban revitalization. We're just trying to pretend to be.'

The Chihuly Bridge of Glass and Museum, Tacoma (Image Credit: Flickr)
The Chihuly Bridge of Glass and Museum, Tacoma (Image Credit: Flickr)

Seeing the nifty design and quality of the projects shown in Tacoma should be a wakeup call to everyone in Hamilton. This is what happens when a new sense of civic pride is developed. People care. Developers care. Politicians care.

A place once called 'Tacoma Aroma' begins to lead the way in urban revitalization. They are now being viewed as a cheaper, cooler alternative to Seattle by many young people and new residents.

I've long said that Hamilton holds that same potential and in fact hear comments like that from the many new Hamiltonians who now reside in my downtown neighbourhood after moving from Toronto.

Tacoma Light Rail (Image Credit: Flickr)
Tacoma Light Rail (Image Credit: Flickr)

Some proposals for Hamilton:

A once-drab place like Tacoma proves once again that any city in any location can revitalize itself when the political will exists. I'm not convinced it does exist in Hamilton, despite some good vibes from our new mayor.

Now, with a four year term staring them in face, is the time to move quickly on these ideas and lead the way in seeing Hamilton become the hip, fun, livable alternative to crowded, expensive Toronto.

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 mark (registered) | Posted February 09, 2007 at 14:31:46

Interesting article, but doesn't this belong in the Commentary or Opinion section? I used to look forward to the downtown update, because it was the only source of positive news about new businesses and developments in Hamilton's downtown area. I haven't seen a downtown update in a while, and I miss it. Shurely it isn't because pace of downtown improvements has ground to a halt...

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By Joe (registered) | Posted February 09, 2007 at 15:24:52

I was thinking the same thing--the downtown update was my favourite section. Is nothing interesting going on?

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 09, 2007 at 15:34:02

sorry fellas....I've been busy as heck. There are some great new openings and happenings to report downtown. Quickly:

  • Parisian Artisan Studios are now available on Walnut between King and Main.
  • Honest Lawyer Restaurantainment opens soon across from AGH. Looks cool.
  • Route 66 Oldies Cafe looks ready to open at James N and Burlington St.
  • James Forest Cafe is being renovated and soon to open at, yup - James and Forest.
  • Brownies Downtown now has Tapas After Dark nights on Thurs through Friday. A review will come in a future issue. You MUST check out this upstairs space at Brownies. Amazing.
  • a host of small reno and loft projects are starting up too.... feel free to send along your own tips. Thanks

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By NineInchNachos (anonymous) | Posted February 09, 2007 at 15:56:21

Nice article, though Tacoma can still pack a god awful stench... when the wind is just right.

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By Wildono (anonymous) | Posted February 09, 2007 at 16:30:35

I visited Hamilton over 15 years ago, en route to Toronto. Unless things have gone to the dumps (or polarized) in the Golden Horseshoe economy during that time, Toronto is a much better model for Hamilton (and Tacoma) as a cosmopolitan and sustainable community than Seattle. Despite the marketing and rhetoric you get from us Yanks.

Toronto has streetcars, a subway system, and buses with frequent service. The Puget Sound region is finally getting frequent bus transit service (and not BRT). In Tacoma we are studying the feasibility of bringing back streetcar/trolley rail lines to connect our neighborhood business districts and downtown - while generating a 'unique' cache for node & corridor economic development.

I've lived in Tacoma for four years after seven in Seattle. If I had moved to T.O. rather than Seattle many years ago, I'm not sure I'd have left for Hamilton -- but Hamilton certainly intrigues me more than Seattle. Like Tacoma, it seems like an individual can make more of an impact when getting involved in urban development issues.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 09, 2007 at 18:40:31

Hey wildono. Great comments. The Golden Horseshoe economy has been one of the most robust in North America in the past 15 years. Unfortunately, horrendous city planning has led to the Toronto area becoming a mini-L.A. with many clogged highways, sprawling subdivisions and almost all new office employment built in suburban business parks. Until right now, Toronto hasn't seen major office tower construction for over a decade even during this economic boom. Hamilton has more or less remained the same. Less industry, more sprawl and now in the past 5-7 years we are seeing new residents (younger and many from Toronto) rebuilding the downtown and surrounding neighbourhoods. Transit in Toronto is a joke. Sure the subways are good, but at street level nothing is fast or on-time. We are now starting to see transit looked at seriously again by governments after 15 years of declining ridership, service levels and overall quality. I found my time in Portland to be quite enlightening. I think it offered a great model for both Hamilton AND Toronto to follow. Of course, nobody beats Montreal or Vancouver. Sadly, the Toronto/Golden Horseshoe region blew it and are now struggling mightily to play catch-up.

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By Community (anonymous) | Posted February 10, 2007 at 01:01:48

Jason, I applaud your vision for what the Downtown could become again. Let's not forget though, how important our communities are to the well-being of the entire city. Ancaster for example is one of the three oldest municipal corporations in Ontario, the oldest in Hamilton region. I sometimes get the feeling that RTH pits what you describe as the "suburbs" against the old City of Hamilton. The downtown of Hamilton has definitely benefited from amalgamation in that the ability to pour millions and millions of dollars into it has come from our communities. I think we must all work together to make the City of Hamilton (2001) a great city once again.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 16, 2007 at 12:55:04

Jason,

You are advocating BRT or some form of light rail transit for Hamilton?

From the picture of the Tacoma Light Rail you have included in your article it appears that light rail is not that popular in Tacoma. It looks like there is one whole passanger on that thing. That is just the same number of passangers there would be if Hamilton got on-board this white elephant.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted February 16, 2007 at 15:38:31

are you nuts? any LRT or BRT system implemented in this city would be a huge success. on the city's major routes buses are crammed to capacity, so an upgrade is a definite must. i'd be curious to learn just how many "white elephant" LRT projects there are out there. i'd wager the guess of few to none. it works, dude.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 16, 2007 at 18:47:54

Hey Capitalist: investors and developers absolutely love light rail and transit. Surely you can appreciate that.

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By BrianE (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2007 at 15:30:24

Capitalist,

Are you really going to base your opinion of this article entirely on one picture that was taken in the middle of the night. If it would make you feel a little better I'm sure someone can dig up a picture showing a full rail car.

Come on! Post more constructive comments to this website please, we all know from your writing style that you're smarter than this!

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By mark (registered) | Posted February 22, 2007 at 10:44:57

Capitalist,

Making a knee-jerk judgement by looking at one photo is just plain silly. If you bothered to surf to the Tacoma Light Rail website (soundtransit.org), you'll be able to find statististical information which you would find much more useful for decision-making.

The new light rail system handled 885,397 boardings in 2006, very impressive for a 3 kilometer, five-station line. In fact, the line has ridership levels that were not planned to be achieved for another five years. The system has been an overwhelming success.

Is Hamilton ready for light rail? Absolutely. Will our political leadership move in that direction. Not if their vision and analitical skills match those of Capitalist.

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By driving me crazy (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2007 at 10:47:54

Well it's clear that Lloyd Ferguson and Dave Mitchell are operating at around Capitalist's level of cognition.

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By Jamie Chase (anonymous) | Posted July 03, 2007 at 13:12:41

I live in Tacoma. The light rail is used by shoppers, tourist and students. It connects the major free parking garage to the city. The photo featured on this blog was taken at night, thus an outlier situation, not representative of the norm. I'm posting this comment as a means to support the idea of light rail for your city. I wouldn't want an outlier photo to support a case against light rail for Hamilton based on a falacy of logic.

www.jamiechase.blogspot.com

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