Downtown Bureau

Tidbits from the Census

Despite the obvious problem of sprawl still existing in a big way across Canada, Hamiltonians should take heart that the bleeding has finally stopped.

By Jason Leach
Published March 19, 2007

It's that time again: the Canadian Census results are in from 2006.

I find it incredible how our media has recently done a great job of informing people about the financial and health risks with unchecked suburban sprawl, but at census time everyone falls all over themselves proclaiming the big 'winners' based on the highest amounts of this expensive, damaging form of 'growth'.

First let me say that these censuses are not an exact science. For example, in Hamilton we're being told that the Ainslie Wood neighbourhood in West Hamilton saw a population drop of 24 percent. The reason? Single family homes were being bought by landlords who would then cram four, six, eight or ten students into each house.

I'm not too sure how taking families consisting of 2.2 people and replacing them with six people results in a population decrease. Perhaps students weren't too diligent at filling out their census forms. The horror.

Some notable quotes from the census aftermath:

Do you think? Tom only needs to look out his window in Milton to confirm that statement. Speaking of Milton, Canada's fastest growing city, here is a lovely picture of that boomtown:

Builders at work March 13, 2007 on the Niagara Escarpment overlooking Milton, Canada's fastest growing city. (Image Credit: Toronto Star)
Builders at work March 13, 2007 on the Niagara Escarpment overlooking Milton, Canada's fastest growing city. (Image Credit: Toronto Star)

Funny timing, but I was sitting in the Locke Street bakery on Monday reading the paper and overheard part of a conversation between two fellas beside me.

One of them lived in Ancaster and mentioned, "Up there you see people in the grocery store who won't say hi to anyone and try to wear all this fancy stuff and act rich, and then you see the regular working folks who are living insane lives trying to afford their home and cars. Down here (downtown Hamilton) you see a bit of everything. Rich, poor, young, old, hip, techies, vegans, etc..."

I wonder if I would be considered 'riff-raff' in the Meadowlands? I don't walk around (check that: drive around) wearing gaudy jewelry or have a dog with shoes and a coat on. Does that qualify?

More pictures to check out. This time there is one shot of the downtrodden slum of Ainslie Wood and the other one is of the Meadowlands:

The Ainslie Wood area of Hamilton had the city's sharpest drop. (Image Credit: Hamilton Spectator)
The Ainslie Wood area of Hamilton had the city's sharpest drop. (Image Credit: Hamilton Spectator)

The Meadowlands in Ancaster was the city's fastest-growing area. (Image Credit: Hamilton Spectator)
The Meadowlands in Ancaster was the city's fastest-growing area. (Image Credit: Hamilton Spectator)

In the Ainslie Wood photo I see a huge tree in the background behind a bus, a pedestrian, a cyclist and a pleasant streetscape. In the Meadowlands photo I see a rooftop, a rooftop, a rooftop, a car and another rooftop.

Yep, no bike-riding riff-raff there.

In other words, before you listen to Hamilton's media get crazy about how rotten our city must be, let's remember one thing: sprawl is the problem.

Cities aren't the problem. Toronto's population grew less than Hamilton's, but both cities saw their population grow just like in every other census. This isn't 1970s Detroit. People aren't running for their lives.

People are still moving into our cities and most notably – our downtowns. The key is to halt the land-wasting 'growth' in the suburbs and start building smart communities that use land, infrastructure and resources properly.

No, this isn't a Hamilton or Toronto resident talking (Hamilton has two full grocery stores, the Farmers Market and several smaller food markets downtown).

This is a resident of Canada's supposed new boomtown – Milton.

When will Canadians realize that increasing numbers doesn't always equal 'growth'? Dumb, unplanned, harmful 'growth' is just that. Put it on the front page. Call it Boomtown Ontario or Boomtown Alberta if you like.

In real life it's anything but. It's damaging socially, economically, financially and environmentally.

Finally, before you listen to nonsense like this:

Check the facts: a bright spot for Hamilton is the 2.6 per cent increase in the population of the downtown core from 2001 to 2006. That's on top of a 10 per cent rise in the five years previous to that.

"It's a great sign," Eisenberger said. "We are on the right path."

Downtown Hamilton is enjoying steady growth more than most stable, urban neighbourhoods in Hamilton or Toronto. Whew! I was starting to feel like a bad husband for allowing my wife and kids to walk down the street and play in the park with all the other kids who walked there too.

Heck, we've even walked home from the Market and Jackson Square on several occasions. We're lucky to be alive!

I think 2006 confirms the continuation of a great trend that began in 2001 in Hamilton. Every other census in my lifetime we would see many areas in the lower city with the deep orange (greater than ten percent loss) colour signaling a mass exodus from our older neighbourhoods.

It was always the suburbs and Mountain that were filled with the dark purples and boundless growth at the expense of the city.

I'm confident that Ainslie Wood has a higher population now than it did in 2001, not lower. That leaves two Mountain tracts as the only areas in the city with losses greater than ten percent.

Also, there are 11 lower city tracts (between Hwy 403 and Centennial Pkwy) with gains between zero and ten percent. Ten such tracts exist on the Mountain, north of the Lincoln Alexander Parkway where things are pretty much built out.

I believe this confirms the beginning of a more sustainable growth pattern within the older city of Hamilton. People are rediscovering our urban, lower city neighbourhoods. I truly didn't expect this to happen until the city enforced a strict urban boundary, but obviously it has begun over the past ten years.

Now would be the ideal time to enforce that boundary. People are moving back into the city and with proper leadership at city hall we could begin to see more lower city and north mountain tracts bump up their populations in future census' with proper infill and higher density development along the nodes and corridors plan put forth by GRIDS.

Despite the obvious problem of sprawl still existing in a big way across Canada, Hamiltonians should take heart that the bleeding has finally stopped. Downtown has posted gains for ten straight years and now other lower city neighbourhoods are turning around as well.

Happy Census 2006.

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 Locke (registered) | Posted March 19, 2007 at 14:38:32

I thought it was pretty sloppy work to report a decline in the Ainslie Wood neighbourhood which doesn't correspond with anyone's experience. I suspect either Jason is right, most of those students didn't bother with the census, or (perhaps more likely) the census records their permament residence as their home address in some suburb.

Either way, chat with folks in the Ainslie Wood/Westdale neighbourhoods and many will tell you that they see a lot of student-conversions back on the market after a few years of profit taking. Remember the double-cohort caused by the elimination of the OAC/Grade 13 year? The strain of that is starting to lessen.

Add to this, new on-campus residence buildings and off-campus student multi-residential developments coming on line and expect to see more and more 6 bedroom student-conversions flooding the market. Expect to see some affordable housing for young families (HWDSB, are you listening?).

Finally, if the McMaster Innovation Park can ever get a firm commitment from the federal conservative government, 1000 scientists are going to need some place to live. I hope they find the Ainslie Wood neighbourhood an affordable and desireable place to buy -- just a short bike ride away over the planned CPR bike route?

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By zanis_e_v (registered) | Posted March 19, 2007 at 18:54:29

The 'mass exodus' from older neighbourhoods was probably less an exodus, and more a result of demographic and wealth effects. First, most houses in older neighbourhoods were built to house large extended families, boarders; had upstairs flats; or were converted to single-room occupancy. During the 50's - 80's our incomes increased to the point where we no longer needed to rent out rooms, nor would we accept living in such 'crowded' conditions. Second, during the first part of that period family sizes were larger - but the kids (boomers) eventually moved out during the second period. Over the past decade or two the parents have slowly moved out and are being replaced by younger families again (albeit smaller ones, living by themselves in an entire house). Hamilton has never had an exodus - which would be visible as significant numbers of abandoned houses - just fewer people living in each house. Obviously cultural norms meant that most people who were able to buy a house during this period went to the suburbs - but this is hardly a new thing (old neighbourhoods are old sprawl). And I doubt that a significant cultural turn has happened - we still instinctively resist any attempts to intensify our neighbourhoods (talk to the Annex's (urbanite) ratepayer association).

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2007 at 21:57:47

Hi zanis_e_v,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I suspect you're right about the demographics of changing family arrangements causing a 'spreading-out' of population that looks like flight from the downtown under a simplistic analysis.

I would just like to address one point you made: "old neighbourhoods are old sprawl". Of course, the meaning of "sprawl" defies precise definitions, but I think it's safe to point out some general characteristics.

For me, "sprawl" means separation and movement above all else. That is, in sprawl development, uses are kept separate, like food in a partitioned child's dish, and residents have to travel a distance to reach any destination.

Specifically, residents of sprawl have to travel by personal vehicle, for which the transportation infrastructure is optimized with wide streets encompassing multiple lanes and abundant "free" parking, all of which reinforces separation.

This essence is expressed more purely in each sprawl iteration, so that in newer subdivisions, even the $279,900 houses are kept separate from the $259,900 houses lest the latter bring shame upon the former.

Take a look, if you will, at Westdale, a master-planned suburb of Hamilton built in the 1920s. It's a classic Garden City streetcar suburb, with various types of houses mingled around a neighbourhood Main Street, itself composed of stores, apartments, and houses, with abundant parks and a network of trails.

Naturally, some of this diversity has evolved over the decades, but the design of the place is fundamentally amenable to use mixing and accessibility, whereas today's sprawl suburbs are fundamentally opposed to use mixing and accessibility.

Compare the Meadowlands in Ancaster, a rat's nest of rididly segregated, winding residential lanes and crescents connected to the adjacent big-box plaza through just two arteries, both of which empty into a single main throughway (Golf Links Road), which is the only path to either the houses or to the big-box plaza. (Predictably, the gridlock on Golf Links is horrendous.)

You could live walking distance from the Power Centre as the crow flies, and still be over a kilometre away by public roads (there are no trails or paths as far as I can tell).

http://raisethehammer.org/images/meadowl...

If you manage to reach Golf Links, you have to cross a five-lane road and cut across a huge parking lot (not to mention fording ditches and scaling retaining walls) to get to any stores.

I think there's a fundamental difference between the suburbs of the early 20th century and the suburbs of today. It's not just a matter of scale but also of design: yesterday's suburbs were built around a community centre, but today's suburbs are built around automobile access between segregated pods.

If some of those sprawling zones (I hesitate to call them "neighbourhoods") manage to evolve and densify in the future, it will be despite their underlying logic, not because of it.

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By Locke (registered) | Posted March 20, 2007 at 11:29:48

There is no doubt in my mind that a "spreading out" has occurred in many neighbourhoods due to smaller family sizes, etc. My own observation is a lot of young couples and new families moving into homes held by the same owner(s) for the past 30 or 40 years as part of that cyclical process.

In the west end, check out enrollments at Earl Kitchener, George R. Allen and St. Josephs schools for confirmation. These schools are very well utilised. The demographics are adding residents to these neighbourhoods, but smaller families do mean the current growth doesn't quite match previous population heights.

The main point of Jason's post (I think) is that the Ainslie Wood area's supposed and reported 10% drop doesn't reflect the reality. Families of 2.3 persons moved out of houses which were converted to 6 person residences. There was in fact an exodus of families leaving an increasingly student residential area but population likely increased. Only thing is, this population is non-permanent and most have permanent addresses elsewhere.

That said, the Spec reports this morning that the federal budget will include $6 million for the relocation of the federal CANMET lab to McMaster University's high-tech research park.

New and proposed purpose-built student housing could free up homes in Ainslie Wood to once again be used permanent homes rather than temporary student housing.

A residential strategy is needed for the west end so that employees at the McMaster Innovation Park can live close to their work. This should include: - transportation links (bike and pedestrian paths) from Ainslie Wood across the 403 to MIP. - multi-residential/commercial developments on Main St for student use to remove demand for student homes - work with the owners of 220 Dundurn to ensure residential development of the site. - a variety of housing styles is needed from student housing to single, couple and family condos and homes to retirement living to ensure stable population densities

The natural result of this would be some intensification through multi-residential, better population densities to support local commercial activity and better transit and the recovery of housing stock for use as homes.

It is all very possible and an exciting time to be living in the west end of Hamilton.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 20, 2007 at 11:49:10

note, there is an upcoming public meeting on March 28th re: the student high rise project at Ewen and Main.

Previously, some residents complained about the height of this project - 12 stories. We need people at this meeting to voice the opinion that it is exactly what we need to see more of on our main streets and to help free up houses in Westdale. www.brianmchattie.ca has more info on this meeting with files and images of the project presented at the last meeting.

We can't allow a few residents to start shouting down very worthwhile and compatible projects like this...especially since there are no homes within a couple blocks of the site. Nobody will be negatively affected, and it will free up more homes in the west end.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 20, 2007 at 15:02:31

Hi Jason,

As a Westdale resident I am always happy to see purpose-built student housing going up in our area, however I am not sure that the scale of this particular proposal is appropriate to the site. The AWWCA has expressed some of their concerns in a letter to Brian McHattie that also went tout to their members. They are very valid concerns and should not be dismissed as "a few residents shouting down a worthwhile project".

McMaster's Growth One of the key blocks in the planning of student housing was that Mac has reached the limit of its growth on the Westdale campus. According to Ian Hamilton, president of the McMaster University Faculty Association, in the association's most recent newsletter, this does not seem to have been formally articulated: Your Association is concerned that the Senate has not formally voted on and endorsed the current enrollment numbers at McMaster. The last Senate-approved target for undergraduate enrollment was 14,400-14,900, passed in 1999. The recent practice is for the Enrollment Management Team to report the numbers to Senate for information. In 2003 the Provost put forward three models for the future growth of McMaster, as part of the Refining Directions process, and there was a lot of discussion but no vote in Senate on these alternatives. Since then, two new initiatives have emerged, namely the McMaster Innovation Park and the Burlington Campus. It still isn't clear what is being planned for the main campus or how the new initiatives will affect teaching and research responsibilities for our members. The AWWCA would not like to be put into the situation of encouraging off-campus housing only to find that it permits McMaster to increase enrollment. At the Sept. 28 meeting with Auburn Developments, Chris Pidgeon, the presenter, stated their building would accommodate the future growth of McMaster. On-Campus versus Off-Campus Housing The campus plan identified a number of sites on campus that would be suitable for building residences. Again, our concern, similar to Number 1, is that off-campus residences would allow these sites to be used for classroom or other buildings to accommodate more students, not as additional residences. Size of the Building The Ainslie Wood/Westdale Secondary Plan (2005) outlines building heights for such off-campus housing that does not exceed six stories. The building proposed is double that maximum figure, even larger than the nine-storey building on the CNIB site. Our concern is that:
a) the work and rational for setting the maximum height to six storeys is being undervalued b) the height would set a precedent for the next developer c) the scale of the building is out of proportion to the size of the lot d) because the building takes up such a large footprint on the lot, there is little space for green areas Timing of the Construction While we hope that the purpose-built housing will free up houses for families, the fact that the building will being constructed so soon after the CNIB-site building creates two potential problems: abruptly putting a lot of houses on the market at once and the possibility that the second building will not fill with students. Traffic There is a concern that, with the existing Cadbury traffic, it would be best for the new building's traffic to exit at Rifle Range Road, where there is a reconstructed intersection with a traffic light. Extended Hours at Billy Bob's This building will offer a ready-made clientele for the bar across the street. There is a concern that this will result in the bar owner trying to extend the nights he is open, creating more misery for permanent residents. If Auburn is given approval to build, we would like to see them provide policing off site during bar hours, similar to what Billy Bob’s is offering. Environmental Issues We would like to see the Auburn development match the LEEDS standard that Dundurn Developments is using. If they cannot attain platinum level, even a lower level would be better than what they are presently proposing.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 20, 2007 at 15:05:34

Sorry...I should have made it clear that the above is a quote from the letter.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 20, 2007 at 18:21:18

thanks for that info highwater. I'm glad to hear that the neighbourhood is involved. Personally, I disagree with the 6 storey vs. 12 storey concerns, but I can appreciate your association being involved and making some excellent suggestions re: traffic, LEED certification etc.... That type of public input can only lead to a better project at the end of the day. While you're at it, encourage Mac to take advantage of the plethora of empty parking lots in downtown Hamilton. They could build 30 storey buildings if they wanted and have quick bus and bike access to the campus for students...and preferrably, increase their presence downtown with a larger, expanded campus in the core.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 21, 2007 at 11:38:40

I also wanted to apologize for smooshing the info into an unreadable block, but it was the only way I could get it past the spam filter.

I'm not sure how I feel about the density issue myself. What I do know is that the 6 story limit was determined by the Secondary Plan process, a consultative process that involved the work of numerous community members on various sub-committees. If a developer can just come in and overide that limit by 100%, it calls into question the validity of the whole process, and makes community members cynical about participating in any future planning. These types of decisions cannot be made arbitrarily and in a vaccuum. Also the fact that the developer is touting this as something that will allow for Mac's "future growth", when the Westdale campus is so clearly at capacity, should set off alarm bells.

As for your second point, oh if only it were that simple! This community has been begging Mac for years to look at private sector partnerships for building downtown residences and our efforts have been greeted with imperiousness and, at times, outright contempt. I'm thinking of one notorious community PACCR meeting (2003 I believe) where a number of community members offered well-thought out solutions based on examples in other near-campus communities. Some of them were real estate professionals who had given a great deal of thought to making residence construction profitable. Peter George got up at the end of the meeting and pronounced the ideas "rubbish" based on "myths". Well, I'll give him points for honesty. The city has also been begging Mac for years to do what you suggest, and has been continually stonewalled. It is no accident that the West Village condos and the Ewen Road developments are entirely private and only connected to Mac by geography. The question is, if the Valvasori brothers can figure out how to make residence construction profitable, why can't Mac? Maybe they could assign the problem to their students at the Michael DeGroote School of Business!

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 21, 2007 at 11:45:24

Mac weilds too much power at city hall in my opinion. Council needs to take direct action to begin talks with the University of Toronto or another major institution about locating downtown. They won't though because they're scared of what Mac might do. And so we end being one of the lamest university towns in the country. An isolated bubble at the western edge of our city. Don't get me wrong. Mac is good, but could be great if the leaders cared to make it so.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 21, 2007 at 12:26:46

Jason,

Dave Braden talked about this in his interview with Maggie Hughes late last year:

http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog/368/

Basically, he argued that City Hall is afraid of dealing with Mac because they know what they're talking about.


"The university, McMaster, is seen as a bit of a threat because they're smart people with real ideas and they're at the forefront, they are the leaders. In our case, the city fathers, they are the ones who are regressive, and they don't want to be seen to be foolish. They don't want to associate with McMaster. ...

"The status of the university didn't go up when a hundred profs signed a letter saying it's a stupid idea to build the Red Hill Expressway, right? The city doesn't want to hear about what intelligent people have to say when they have a broader view and a much more comprehensive view than, maybe, city politicians or city staff."

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 21, 2007 at 14:01:12

Ryan,

You are confusing the faculty with the administration. The city has consistently tried to engage the administration on planning issues that affect the wider community with limited results. There has been some success with policing issues, but little or no movement on such issues as traffic and housing. If the city is afraid of the University it is because of its economic clout, not its brilliance. (Remember, this is the braintrust that can't figure out how to make student housing profitable.) The faculty of course, are much more progressive. Many of the strongest voices speaking out on Mac's impact on our community come from faculty who live in the area and care passionately about this neighbourhood. Most of the people speaking out at the PACCR meeting I mentioned above were faculty and alumni, and the letter I attached above quotes the Faculty Association newsletter decrying the Senate's lack of committment to current enrollment levels and planning for the future. This is something the administration fails to realize in its 'us vs. them' approach. Many faculty and alumni call Westdale home. When they download their traffic, housing, and policing problems onto the community, they are really fouling their own nest.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 21, 2007 at 14:12:44

Jason,

I like your idea of talking to UofT (my alma mater). They already have a tradition of satellite campuses in Scarborough and Erindale, as well as some kind of partnership with Sheridan if I'm not mistaken, so it wouldn't be too much of a stretch. Are you listening Fred?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 21, 2007 at 15:30:34

Thanks, highwater, for sharing your insight. It sounds a bit like the Mac administration is as afraid of its faculty as the City administration.

(By the way, I deleted your dupe posting. I really need to implement code to prevent reposting comments.)

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By zox (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2007 at 00:59:32

Quote from Mr. Leach's story:
"One of them lived in Ancaster and mentioned, "Up there you see people in the grocery store who won't say hi to anyone and try to wear all this fancy stuff and act rich, and then you see the regular working folks who are living insane lives trying to afford their home and cars. Down here (downtown Hamilton) you see a bit of everything. Rich, poor, young, old, hip, techies, vegans, etc..."

I wonder if I would be considered 'riff-raff' in the Meadowlands? I don't walk around (check that: drive around) wearing gaudy jewelry or have a dog with shoes and a coat on. Does that qualify?"

Did the person expressing this see diversity as a Good thing? That's sad, if he lives in Ancaster. Spending a hour dressing,& getting spiffed up to buy a loaf of bread is the rule.
(I think he forget about the people who will try to physically push in front of you in Timmys. Chivalry may be dead, but feudalism sure isn't.)
Would you be considered 'riff-raff' in the Meadowlands? Possibly not, because you are on the border of... (cue the spooky music) ...HAMILTON!

My dog has been repeated charged with public nudity for not wearing shoes, & a 3 piece suit.
His lawyer is currently claiming a religious exemption, & he will be wearing a simple saffron robe & Birkenstocks with white socks in future.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 22, 2007 at 09:45:28

this fellow I overheard at the bakery was saying these comments in a positive way, not negative. He was seeing this diversity and vibrancy as a good thing. I could tell that he was lamenting the way life is in his area and wishing it was more down to earth...like downtown Hamilton.

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By Locke (registered) | Posted March 22, 2007 at 11:30:32

To comment on the notion of student housing in multi-residential buildings and the specific proposal at Ewen Rd., I'd like to say I think the neighbourhood association has very valid concerns: First year urban planning students will certainly be familiar with the concept of 'eyes-on-the-street' design which is possible in low to medium rise development, but which is loss on higher rise developments.

I'm sure the developer has a business plan to maximize profits, but I hope and expect that some compromise can be reached so that the final development would be no higher than the building going up on the CNIB property, and preferably fit within the secondary plan document. As Highwater point out, others are making profits on smaller developments.

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted March 30, 2007 at 00:46:05

Just a short note that last August I moved to Downtown Hamilton. Grew up in the west end, lived on the west and east mountains. I'm now living on Bay St. a few blocks from the waterfront I can say without a shadow of a doubt it's the best place I've ever lived. The vitality of the James St North arts is only getting brighter. There are always good eats to be had, shows to see and it's all highly walkable. I walk to both my jobs and only use the HSR when I'm running late! I don't even make a lot of money but enjoy a better lifestle than I have anywhere else in this city. Similar to Toronto with less yuppies. Go Hammer!

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