Downtown Bureau

Farmers Market Renovation Process Painfully Slow

One only needs to look at old photos of our market and market square to realize how much we've sacrificed in this city for the privilege of high speed commuter and truck traffic.

By Jason Leach
Published November 04, 2008

this article has been updated

An interesting recent article in the Toronto Star talks about a possible renovation to the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. (See the plan as a PDF.)

In Hamilton, we've been enduring a painfully slow process to possible reno plans for our Farmers Market. So far, the concepts that have been made public are underwhelming, though it's still too early to see any public releases from David Premi Architects Inc (DPAI), the firm the city has hired to redesign the Market.

The area around Vine, McNab, Cannon and James Streets is not much more than empty lots, empty buildings and ugly parking lots. We could easily build a new market place with outdoor stalls, residential units, retail storefronts and close lightly-used streets such as McNab and Vine to pedestrians-only.

A project like this could tie into James North by using the buildings at the southwest corner of James and Cannon.

In fact, the city's urban design department did some concept drawings (PDF link) of what could possibly take place in the James and Vine area. Their 'Asian Village' concept would be wonderful for our Farmers Market.

Instead, it appears as though we are going to keep one of Canada's best Farmers Markets inside an old parking garage along a York Blvd that is currently ugly, with little opportunity for street vendors or street life (unless you enjoy sipping a cup of coffee while speeding transport trucks roar by, creating the atmosphere of a magnitude 8 earthquake every minute or two.

Fortunately, concurrent with the DPAI Market envelope, city staff are also working on a plan to improve York Blvd, with wider sidewalks and street calming measures. Again, we'll have to wait and see how it turns out once the city is finished with it.

One only needs to look at old photos of our market and market square to realize how much we've sacrificed in this city for the privilege of high speed commuter and truck traffic.

The next time you're flying down Main St with the pedal to the metal, think of what could be in the buildings and streets all around you. Think of streets with a similar urban design and scale that you've been on in Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa. Imagine how fun it would be have such life and vibrancy in our own great city.

Hamilton used to enjoy urban vibrancy and easily can again with proper leadership and vision from city hall. RTH has been advocating for light rail to come to Hamilton and we are excited at the progress being made so far. City council slowly seems to be coming on board, although one has to wonder why they would make a statement insisting that no local tax dollars will be used to build the system.

Do we really want to revitalize the city or not? We happily paid half the cost for the Linc and Red Hill Parkway due to the new development lands that would be opened up on the outskirts of town. Is council sending a veiled message to urban residents and business owners about their status in the 'pecking order' by not wanting to spend a dime on light rail?

Having gone on their 'light rail tour' across North America and seeing the amazing benefits it brings to cities and downtowns, you'd think they'd be clamouring to find money to put towards doing this right and doing it sooner, than later. LRT is not a magic bullet, but it would radically change the way our city functions and gets around.

It would also aid in future projects like the Farmers Market reno and two-way street conversions when LRT is seen as viable, popular way to move around the city instead of just cars. The most vibrant cities on our continent and around the world have a few things in common - good transportation options, walkability, urban street life and high density downtowns full of amenities and attractions.

Hamilton has a great base to build upon, including the Farmers Market. Now is the time to learn some lessons from other bustling cities and be sure that we do a proper job at renovating our market. The process has been slow, but may yet yield great results.

Have Your Say

Fortunately, the city is hosting a public information centre on the York Boulevard renovations where you will have a chance to share your ideas. Here are the details:

with files from Ryan McGreal

Update: This article originally stated that DPAI was redesigning York Blvd in addition to the Market building. In fact, the street redesign will be designed by planning staff. Raise the Hammer regrets the error. Jump to the changed paragraph.

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 Balanced (anonymous) | Posted November 06, 2008 at 17:39:35

I'm all for promoting the farmers market and doing what is right. One thing though, I'd like to see more actual farmers involved. From what I understand 90% (approx) of the vendors are people whom buy their produce from the food terminal. Although buying food from the terminal still supports farmers I fail to see why we subsidize space for these people in a publically owned and operated facility. If I can buy the same stuff at Fortino's whom are employing people and paying full commercial taxes to make the community a better place than why subsidize a select few whom are making even more profit. Let's provide an amazing space for the people who actually farm and work so hard.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2008 at 13:57:59

I agree, we need more farmers and less resellers. Although I do believe there is a place for resellers and other non-farmers (bakers, etc.).

The Ottawa Street Market is mostly farmers, and the Concession Street Farmers Market is also mainly if not entirely farmers. It's time the downtown farmer's market made an effort to reach out to farmers.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 07, 2008 at 16:59:35

everyone should check out the link above to 'york blvd plans' on the city's website. Some excellent looking ideas for York Blvd were released on the site this morning. I personally like Option 2 with the wide sidewalks combined with Option 3 and the ability to close half of the street on weekends/special events.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2008 at 19:14:11

What the city did to York Boulevard in the name of modernity over the last few decades should stand as a monument to the failures of "progress" oriented redevelopment projects in which a handfull of architects and bureacrats redesign the most heavily-used portions of the city to suit their own pseudo-utopian dreams. Thankfully, Hamilton has so many of these monuments (City hall, Jackson Square, we could stand to lose this one without missing it much. I only hope today's more "enlightened" planners say true to the logic, rather than the aesthetic, of Smart Growth and New Urbanism (and whatever other brand names you want to attach to walkable, livable communities) and that they don't make such mistakes again.

As for the Farmer's market, the farm stalls which are present such as Dillys or Buttrums deserve great big hugs. As do a number of the non-farming vendors, like the Columbian Coffee folks, or Ercillia's (I'm not sure about the spelling, though). I'm all in favour of grand renovations and new buildings, but let's think for a moment about the current urban structure of downtown first.

a) Are there large open spaces near the Market which are frequently unused, at least on weekends? b) Are these spaces subdivided into allocations of space usable for market stalls? c) Are these spaces currently making little or no money from those allocations?

Yes, yes and yes. The rough third of downtown devoted to shady, open-air parking lots could house every market vendor from here to New York city, and they almost all stand empty on weekends. $3/day is a small price to pay for a space big enough to fit a minivan - I doubt any market in the nation can boast rents that low.

Simply allowing people to put up stalls there, without interference from business licencing folks or shady parking lot operators (who'd be making a profit anyways) would allow a huge increase in the amount of goods available downtown, offer up opportunities for the multitude of people living in poverty nearby to make a few bucks and prove that Hamilton's downtown can indeed be vibrant, creative and unconventional. Flea marketeers, crafters, artisans, tailors, junkers, food-terminal raiders and backyard gardeners could all have a shot at slinging their wares without the hassle involved in renting a storefront, getting a business licence or insuring the lot. It'd be dirt cheap, it could be done by the end of the week if the will were there, and it would attract people downtown like nobody's business.

So why not?

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By wearetrying (anonymous) | Posted November 15, 2008 at 16:03:16

Great ideas above.

Markets like Makers' and Sabawoon are hoping to make going to the market part of the local culture.

We need more things like this!

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By volterwd (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2008 at 17:19:40

The problem I have with the farmers market is that there are so few actual farmers or at least people acting on behalf of the farmers.

Resellers are a waste of my time, especially if the quality isn't comparable to fortinos. In fact I'd wager that the quality is no better than No Frills.

When we have a real farmers market then I will care and I will join the calls for expansion, BUT THIS IS NOT A REAL FARMERS MARKET.

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