Interviews

Education for Smarter Growth: An Interview with Mayor Fred Eisenberger (Part 2)

Mayor Eisenberger talks about development plans based on Vision 2020 and building neighbourhoods, not subdivisions.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 26, 2007

Interview with Fred Eisenberger

In the first part of this email interview, Mayor Fred Eisenberger suggested - albeit cautiously - that he's interested in working towards a more robust, diverse transportation system for car-dependent Hamilton. Since then, RTH has heard reports that he spoke to Prime Minister Stephen Harper about a rapid transit system in Hamilton when he was in Ottawa recently.

In the second part, the Mayor shares his ideas on how to promote high quality intensification and smart growth after decades of sprawl development around the fringes and disinvestment from the core. Unfortunately, he would not commit to stopping sprawl altogether, but it sounds like he wants even new greenfield development to be "holistic".

Then again, former mayor Larry Di Ianni bandied that term around as well. As always, time will tell how deep the mayor's conviction runs. In the meantime, we citizens need to keep telling our elected officials what kind of development we want to see.

The Interview

Ryan McGreal, Raise the Hammer: How do you plan to promote high quality intensification and smart growth?

Fred Eisenberger, Mayor of Hamilton: Promoting high quality intensification and smart growth requires two components: effective policy and better education on how to achieve our growth related goals.

By effective policy, I mean starting with our general principles on sustainability such as those outlined Vision 2020 and then translating them into action on the ground through our Official, Secondary and Neighbourhood Plans. With new Provincial Government direction on promoting smart growth, we can set intensification targets that will help frame our planning activities over the coming years.

Quality of development can also be promoted through better architecture and urban design and doesn't aim simply to build houses - it looks to build neighbourhoods.

From an education perspective, the variety of ways in which to achieve quality, attractive higher-density development needs to be promoted. We have examples within Hamilton and from cities across North America to show us that intensification does not have to mean overcrowded neighbourhoods or a wall of high rises.

Education on this front extends to everyone from developers to potential homeowners to current homeowners, as well as to city staff and council.

RTH: How serious are you about stopping sprawl? Today, Hamilton has the highest rate of greenfield development in the Golden Horseshoe, and the GRIDS Final Growth Plan only just (technically) meets the provincial minimum. In his peak oil report to city council, energy consultant Richard Gilbert said he was "absolutely certain" that "if the city of Hamilton were to say to this government, we need help in having no more greenfield development in our city, I think the provincial government would provide that." Do you think we should aim for more than the bare minimum, as Gilbert recommends?

FE: Urban sprawl is an issue facing almost all municipalities in fast-growing regions. I am committed to reducing our level of sprawl and redirecting investment onto existing vacant urban lands, including brownfields.

I believe this is the most prudent thing to do both economically and environmentally while helping to preserve our valuable agricultural land.

However, over time, the projected growth of the city will put pressure on our urban fringe and we need to plan for that now so that we can develop a strategy to see the growth needs of Hamilton in a holistic way.

The key for Hamilton in this area will be balance and sustainability - to ensure that any new development will not come at the expense, or be to the detriment of existing urban areas.

RTH: How would you address the concerns of suburban residents that intensification will change the character of their neighbourhoods for the worse?

FE: This is related to your first question in that better education will help address concerns of residents, both suburban and urban, about the impacts of intensification on their neighbourhoods.

Showing how well planned intensification can be implemented, including how neighbourhood character can be enhanced, is a major part of addressing some of the negative assumptions about higher-density development.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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