Revitalization

'Benign Neutrality' is What's Wrong

By Jason Leach
Published July 22, 2008

Ahhh, things have become a whole lot clearer today after reading a letter to the editor in today's Spectator by John Dolbec of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.

The most telling comment in this letter is when Mr. Dolbec writes, "The chamber's opinion is one of benign neutrality."

Sadly, Hamilton's economy over the past 20 years reflects that mindset. No city ever revitalizes itself on the back of "benign neutrality".

A changing of the guard among Hamilton's business elites is long overdue. Unfortunately, the majority of them appear to operate by this same mantra.

Until a champion of our city emerges, expect business as usual.

Sigh.

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 mattchall (registered) | Posted July 22, 2008 at 12:25:46

They certainly showed "benign neutrality" concerning the Red Hill Expressway, didn't they.

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By More of the same (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2008 at 21:05:06

Jason get used to it, not here nor there nor anywhere kind of remark isn't it.

Sad really.

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By adam1 (anonymous) | Posted July 22, 2008 at 22:38:36

I disagree, don't get used to it. Tell them what you think. Keep writing articles and contacting city council about what it is we want. We might not get everything we ask for, but if enough people raise a fuss they might just do something.

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By Reason (anonymous) | Posted July 23, 2008 at 21:09:54

Another stellar analysis by Jason. Keep it up sir! Your deep reflections inspire us all!

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 23, 2008 at 22:55:32

lol....I can't help but chuckle along with that one. It's like "Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy". haha.

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By John Dolbec (anonymous) | Posted July 24, 2008 at 09:26:41

"Kill the messenger" if you like; but the basic point being that there is just not a strong concensus amongst business people on this issue, one way or t'other.

E.g. on Wed. AM, I had breakfast with two business people. A guy from Dundas/Hamilton West was adament that we needed two way streets. However, a downtown "store front" guy said that he and his neighbours on King William Street felt that the John/James conversions are simply "killing their businesses".

It is my job to reflect the broad concensus of the views of my members, as a guage of the will of business, my own personal views are largely irrelevant. When I have such sharp division of opinion, relatively evenly split, in my view, I must state that, organizationally, we are "nuetral".

The broad concensus is though that "one way or two- way streets" are not a "magic bullet" which will by itself revitalize downtown.

E.g. I have visited many cities which do have very vibrant re-vitilized downtowns that still do have "one way" streets - LA for one.

As to the Red Hill Parkway, there was no material lack of concensus amongst the broader business community; so we were definately not nuetral, and make no aplogies about that.

Sorry, if all that "offends" you folks; but the raw truth is that support for "one way" streets hardly universal, even amongst "downtown" store front businesses - so, we do agree that City Council neds to be cautious in proceeding with implemenation.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted July 24, 2008 at 10:22:33

Thanks for your response Mr Dolbec. I am the author of the letter you were responding to. There may not be consensus among our local business owners, but there most certainly IS consensus among urban theorists, architects, and just about anyone else who understands how cities work, which is why the obstinacy of some members of our business and political classes is so frustrating to "us folk".

You ended your letter to the Spec by saying that council should "take action on the advice of professional staff". The Downtown Transportation Master Plan that called for the conversions was developed painstakingly by "professional staff" over a number of years. I realize that it is your job to reflect your members' wishes, which in this case are divided, but the expert opinion that you also appear to be advocating, is anything but divided, so you may have to take a stand at some point afterall.

BTW, I don't think LA is a city we should be emulating in the age of peak oil and climate change. A closer example, Toronto, is a thriving city that has some one-way streets. However, if you look closer, you will see that one-way streets such as Adelaide and Richmond are dead compared to their nearby two-way counterparts.

I hope you didn't mean it the way it sounded, but your dismissive use of the term "you folks" to refer to contributors and fans of RTH, conveys an 'us vs. them' mentality that is not constructive in a community that is trying to come together to create positive change. You will do the Chamber's 'Team Hamilton' initiative a great disservice if you appear to be marginalizing passionate, well-informed, creative citizens. My husband and I own a small creative business. I am trying to convince him to join the Chamber since I think voices like ours need to be heard in the wider community, so this is one "folk" who just might be one of your members some day.

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By Mary Louise (anonymous) | Posted July 24, 2008 at 10:22:34

Thanks for your response Mr Dolbec. I am the author of the letter you were responding to. There may not be consensus among our local business owners, but there most certainly IS consensus among urban theorists, architects, and just about anyone else who understands how cities work, which is why the obstinacy of some members of our business and political classes is so frustrating to "us folk".

You ended your letter to the Spec by saying that council should "take action on the advice of professional staff". The Downtown Transportation Master Plan that called for the conversions was developed painstakingly by "professional staff" over a number of years. I realize that it is your job to reflect your members' wishes, which in this case are divided, but the expert opinion that you also appear to be advocating, is anything but divided, so you may have to take a stand at some point afterall.

BTW, I don't think LA is a city we should be emulating in the age of peak oil and climate change. A closer example, Toronto, is a thriving city that has some one-way streets. However, if you look closer, you will see that one-way streets such as Adelaide and Richmond are dead compared to their nearby two-way counterparts.

I hope you didn't mean it the way it sounded, but your dismissive use of the term "you folks" to refer to contributors and fans of RTH, conveys an 'us vs. them' mentality that is not constructive in a community that is trying to come together to create positive change. You will do the Chamber's 'Team Hamilton' initiative a great disservice if you appear to be marginalizing passionate, well-informed, creative citizens. My husband and I own a small creative business. I am trying to convince him to join the Chamber since I think voices like ours need to be heard in the wider community, so this is one "folk" who just might be one of your members some day.

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By John Dolbec (anonymous) | Posted July 24, 2008 at 13:32:31

I do sincerley apologize if I seemed "dismissive" - no such tone was intended -sometimes e-mail is just an imperfect means of communications.

I am certainly not dismissive in any way about RTH, which I do follow closely; and, as anyone who knows me I think can attest, I am alwasy fully open to any diolgue, even (perhaos particularly with those with whom I may disagree).

However, may I tactfully point out that respect and diologue are indeed two way streets (no pun intended).

If one wants respect, one should treat others, particularly those whom one may disagree, with equal respect.

Just becasue I may have an alternate viewpoint, does not mean I am say: "backward", "stupid", or "evil", as some of the previous entries seemed to imply to me.

Certainly, I would hardly classify many of the above comments as particularly respectful in tone.

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By Mary Louise (anonymous) | Posted July 24, 2008 at 16:01:38

I agree that some of the comments weren't particularly respectful in tone and not very conducive to dialogue. It's a good reminder to be more mindful of who might be reading.

Like it or not however,you are a public figure, and rightly or wrongly, public figures inevitably come in for more than their share of vituperation. I don't think any of it was meant personally, but was born out of extreme frustration at the unwillingness on the part of some of our business and political leaders to see the evidence and expert opinion that supports two-way. I don't think anyone believes that conversion back to two-way is a magic bullet, but it is a relatively quick and cost efficient way to make a positive change that will have many beneficial spin-off affects, and it's very frustrating that we can't get our act together to take this one tangible step forward.

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By adam1 (anonymous) | Posted July 24, 2008 at 16:45:29

Mr. Dolbec, maybe you conducted a thorough analysis of people's needs, but this doesn't come across very well.

You stated that you talked to "a guy in Dundas Hamilton West" and "a downtown storefront guy" this Wednesday. It doesn't leave us with the impression a thorough analysis was done. Would it make sense to you to do a survey of some kind to find out what people want?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 24, 2008 at 21:28:21

Highwater/Mary Louise, who decided that the urban planners, and architects should have the final say on what gets built in society?

I personally don't remember signing away my own self interest, and I doubt other people have either. If you want to let the "experts" tell you what is good and what is bad, that is your choice, it's also rather pathetic.

Why don't you try thinking for yourself, and stop being a mouthpiece for the elites.

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 24, 2008 at 22:44:21

Hey Mr. Dolbec. thanks for chiming in and joing the discussion. Great to have you!

I suppose your organization is in a tough spot considering you are supposed to represent your businesses, but at some point it would seem prudent for the Chamber to promote ideas that are proven to help business (as you have with LRT for example). I can think of several other boarded up and collapsing reasons why a business owner on King William might be getting 'killed' these days. The fabulous effect of two-way on James and John can't be disputed. Downtown streets should be all about people. I was in TO this week on College and Queen East in the Beaches. Both neighbourhoods were full of shops, patios, cafes, and TONS of people. As a previous poster mentioned, you can go around the corner onto one-way streets in downtown TO that are dead by comparison. People spend money. Speeding cars don't. We've used downtown as a cut-through freeway for far too long. I fully believe that downtown can become the centre of Hamilton's retail economy once again, but it will never happen with trucks roaring past the Farmers Market at 70km and 5 lanes of screaming traffic flying down Main on their way to somewhere else.

I hope the Chamber can do some more analysis on the issue and promote the formula that will help to bring more people downtown every day and evening to spend money in Chamber shops/stores and allow hundreds of new shops to open up in our core.

Thanks again for your thoughts John.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 24, 2008 at 22:55:28

Quite frankly, any issue that the Chamber of Commerce or "Hamilton's business elites" want to stay out of is a-ok with me. Lord knows it doesn't happen often enough.

undustrialism.blogspot.com

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By Ollie Garky (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2008 at 17:58:30

We own businesses and belong to the Chamber of Commerce. That gives us a special say in how the City is run. So what? It's how democracy works.

All power to the BIA's!

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By Mikey (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2008 at 19:12:00

I trust that was snark.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2008 at 23:28:36

The King William angle is interesting to me since it is a one-way street. have you talked to storefront owners along James? Perhaps the problem with King William is that it used to be one of the "turnaround" streets for people who overshot their destination on James or John back when they were two way. And now, James and John are so successful that people don't want to leave them for the one way side streets :-)

I think we can all agree that slowing down the through traffic will positively affect street life throughout the core. Converting back to two way is a reasonable step which can achieve that goal without the loss of lanes and without the expenditure of full-out curb repaving (bump outs, street parking, etc).

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