Economy

EcDev Survey on Downtown Hamilton

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 16, 2009

Downtown Hamilton has come a long way in the past decade, but public attitudes even in Hamilton about the state of its core have largely failed to catch up. Hamilton's Department of Planning and Economic Development (EcDev) is trying to rectify that.

I met today with Michael Marini, a marketing coordinator with EcDev, to talk about his department's initiative to engage more directly with the city to promote Hamilton as a good place to invest.

One aspect of that initiative is to get a clearer sense of the prevailing attitudes about downtown Hamilton. Toward that end, the Invest in Hamilton team has launched an online poll for the next month to garner opinions on what people think of the downtown core.

You can access the survey directly.

Marini noted that his department plans to use the results to decide how best they can counteract perceived negativity about the downtown core and its prospects. In a press release issued today, the department noted $13.5 million in downtown residential loans resulting in $216 million in increased property values and 755 new residential units.

Incidentally, I suggested that the downtown residential loan program should be extended to commercial and industrial projects - particularly to provide bridge financing for brownfield remediation. (Of course, such a program demands full transparency to avoid abuses.)

The two issues are similar in that they both involve banks that are afraid to loan money. The residential loan program has proven that such investment is prudent and viable; the next step is to prove to banks that cleaning up brownfields is also a viable investment.

In light of its long singular infatuation with highway-accessible greenfield employment lands, it's nice to see that EcDev is taking a closer look at how it can cultivate real economic growth and development in the downtown core, including seeking ways to cultivate Hamilton's creative industries.

Upcoming steps include a planned re-launch of the Invest in Hamilton website to make it more user-friendly, a new website called Hamilton Renewal that will redirect to the city's downtown development site, a new website to promote the various BIAs in the core, and outreach into new social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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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By jason (registered) | Posted June 16, 2009 at 14:58:05

good beginnings, but I'm cautiously optimistic.
Call my cynical. I think I'm jaded by years of lipservice from EcDev.

In other words, as far as them making downtown a priority, I'll believe it when I see it.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 16, 2009 at 16:19:29

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 16, 2009 at 18:23:06

Capalist: Your arrogance proceeds you, what makes you think that you are so wonderful eh?

While people may live in low income, you sir, are a lowlife, thinking that you are better human being because you earn more money. You are what is wrong with our society, plain and simple.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 16, 2009 at 18:23:38

Thanks capitalist for giving us an example of the "perceived negativity" of people whose opinions about downtown have "failed to catch up" with reality. On the other hand, thanks for nothing.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 16, 2009 at 19:14:23

It must be sad to live in a world where money is everything.

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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted June 16, 2009 at 22:09:09

I've gone through the survey and find that it is very leading and simplistic. I firmly believe that one of the keys to downtown renewal will be in helping people. Creating new residential space, converting space, offering money for facade improvements, spending money on fancy sidewalks and lights, increased police and cameras are part of it but the human aspect has been largely ignored. The initiatives have been largely addressing the symptoms but have ignored the cause.

Where in the survey is this addressed? I also find it interesting that Michael Marini is administering a survey largely judging the work of his father the Manager of Downtown Renewal. I have very little faith that the results would be unbiased. This department has been the focus of years of police investigation, culmanating with the dismissal of a former department employee just months ago. This individual is still facing criminal charges with respect to a bribery case involving a downtown developer.

I think the survey lacks depth and understanding of the issues. I think it is mostly PR and lip service. Hopefully, I'm wrong but I just fail to see how the results will generate anything worthwhile due to its lack of depth. I'd expect this calibre of work from a highschool student learning about surveying.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 09:17:16

I speak the truth. You folks are just too afraid to speak the truth. You want to know what downtown Hamilton should look like? Go to Lock street or Westdale.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 09:41:28

^is that you, herr obersturmbanfuhrer?

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 09:52:02

Go to Paris, Ontario if you want a downtown with no business district, nightlife or buildings over 3 floors high. Locke is nice residential neighbourhood, as is Westdale. Neither are remotely suitable 'downtowns' for a city of half a million people.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 10:05:05

Let me clarify what I meant about downtown should be more like Lock or Westdale. Both of these districts have clean, trendy upscale shops that you would find in north america's most successful downtowns. They are not rundown. They tend to be frequented by primarily middle class people who also live nearby. These are the attributes that downtown Hamilton should have. However, downtown Hamilton is:

-rundown
-primarily frequented / inhabited by lower income people
-this results in a commercial area with primarily full of low end cheap stores
-this drives out middle class people to live and shop in other areas.

Many people I know (who are regular working stiffs) will not go downtown because it is just to grubby plain and simple.

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By Crapitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 10:21:42

@Capitalist

First thanks for a polite comment that clearly explains your position. It's a nice break from your usual insulting "lowlifes" stuff. I still disagree with you but respect that your trying to be civil.

Second I wonder how recently you and your 'regular working stiff' friends actually went downtown, sure it still has it's problems but many parts are doing well and getting better e.g. James North, James South, International Village, etc.

Third another difference between downtown and Locke/Westdale: the one way death traps. I don't know about you but I go downtown all the time and the only thing that scares me is the racing cars.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 10:31:27


Crapitalist,

This may surprise you folks but I frequent the downtown often. Usually once every couple of weeks (not bad for someone who lives on the mountain and works outside the city). I often go to the central library, walk through jackson square and spend some time checking out some new developments. I am a huge fan of Hess and try to frequent other downtown watering holes as often as possible (however, not nearly as often as back in my university days). It would make me very happy to see a thriving downtown.

I should have also mentioned the one way streets in my list above. In particular, to have both King and Main as one-way expressways does not help the core one bit, especially at night. When all the racing traffic has passed, both main and king look like very dark, lonely places.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 11:09:01

finally....I agree with you!

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 11:48:38

FYI, I think a lot of the perception of downtown Hamilton is very narrow focused in our media etc....

For example, some photo-tours and online communities from downtown Hamilton. The people and places don't look very grubby to me. Sure, downtown has it's problems. Every city does. But a lot of great people, shops and businesses operate downtown and love it.

http://www.jamessouthdistrict.com/photo-...

http://www.jamesstreetnorth.ca/blog/

http://hamiltoninternationalvillage.ca/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hamilton-O...

Just a few links and associated photos, all from the heart of downtown.
It's not all crack houses, empty buildings and poor folks.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 13:04:48

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 13:43:47

Hey Site Admins - how soon until we get part 2 of the new comment voting system???

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 13:44:59

@Capitalist, nice to see you showing your gentle side. Thanks for a positive contribution to the debate!

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By Really? (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 14:35:22

I have to agree with 'Anonymous'. I made my own comments on several parts of the survey re: Property Standards/Enforcement as most people who come down love the architecture, but hate the grit.

Also, most visitors hate the one-way systems (SURPRISE, only people who like them are those who live in Hamilton outside of Downtown).

I don't know if certain people on this board have ever been to Toronto, but the homeless issue is MUCH more severe there and they are much more agressive. I recently had an experience on a streetcar where 3 homeless people snuck on thru the back doors and the operator shut the streetcar down until they got off. They refused until they heard police sirens (from an unrelated matter). That has never happened to me in Hamilton!

All in all, Downtown Hamilton is a great place with the shudders @ the word Potential to be much, much greater! And, although it may be lip service, it's more than EcDev was doing before.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 14:36:25

Capitalist: You seem to have a problem with those who live in low income, I wonder why that is? Why do you blame them and no the source?

While you may be educated, you sure do lack empathy or compassion and blame those who are not in control for the problems of this city.

So let us look at the sytem for a second, so if you lose your job, cannot access EI benefits and forced onto welfare, as a single person you are entitled to $572.00 per month. So please tell us how someone is suppose to pay their rent/mortgage, bills etc on this amount?

Or how about if you get injuried or sick and cannot work, it takes about three years to get on ODSP, which in reality is not much better better then welfare, soo would like to to live in abject povrty because you could no longer work?

If yuo want to lay blame, lay it on the elite of this city, who have the power to make and break decisions, which in reality we have seen the decline in this city, the poverty rates soaring based on their decisions and people like you who are oblivious to the real issues.

Interestingly enough is the poverty rates reductin they keep on going on bout, which coverd the eyars 1995 to 2005, which decrease mostly by the effort to get seniors that were entitled to benefits. The working people have had significant decreases across the board in terms of wagesw and benefits, the contracting out of work, the alck of living wage jobs and here we ahve our city building more stores that paty

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 14:38:05

cont:that pay minimum wage, with no benefits, no access to anything, except to here from voices like yours spouting how wonderful you are because you have an edcuation. Get real.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 15:16:37

"Capitalist: You seem to have a problem with those who live in low income, I wonder why that is? Why do you blame them and no the source?"

I don't have a problem with them nor do I blame them. What I am saying is that this city has turned the downtown into a ghetto inhabited (or frequented by) way too many poor and disabled people. This demographic downtown does not attract the middle class people (and their disposable income) needed for every downtown to be successful. I know that this is controversial what I am saying but it is the truth.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 17, 2009 at 16:26:37

Capitalist: So where are people to go, those that live in low income? Are they to be hidden?

I guess if one looks at the sources, like the Chamber of Commerce, who is always calling for more cutbacks to social services, that affects those who are the most marginalized. How does it make sense to keep building stores and such, when those jobs are minimum wage, no benefits thus perpetuating the poverty levels for the working class.

Who killed downtown? It wasn't the low income people, it was those at the top, the elite, who live in denial of the policies that they have made which have contributed greatly to the decline in the downtown area over the years.

Anyways, many who are in the middle class, those that work for the system, are overpaid and have an air of arrogance, that they are entitled to more then living wages, benefits and pensions, yet have no problem in denying other workers their rights in the same format. I call that a divison in labour, where one side fails to stand up for the other.

One does have to look at the poverty industry, the many NGO's and such who get tax dollars for forcing workers into jobs that continue that never ending poverty cycle. Many of these organziations fail to uphold employment standards or the laws under Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Look at the root causes.

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By Lookback (anonymous) | Posted June 22, 2009 at 16:26:43

Yes, there is a problem ghettoizing the poor in this city. So many city services downtown providing social and economic support. The services are needed, and end up in the central city again and again because of NIMBY attitudes in "middle class" neighbourhoods that are better organized politically.

But a few buts.
1. Westdale isn't the wealthy suburb it once was. It's a student ghetto. Another reason to encourage more Mac development downtown.

2. Downtown Hamilton isn't King & James anymore. In a city that stretches from just south of the 401 to the north, almost the Grand River on the south west and almost Grimsby on the east, Hamilton's downtown stretches from Dundas to Parkdale, from the bay to Mohawk Road. And at that, Hamilton is a segment of the GTA. What we're after is building diverse, liveable neighbourhoods throughout this district.

3. You can't build a neighbourhood by first getting rid of its residents. Are you volunteering your home, and those of your neighbours, Capitalist? Attractive neighbourhoods are, by and large, built by giving residents the power and skills to affect their own communities. For a long time the Downtown BIA mantra has been to get rid of downtowners so that downtown businesses can serve people from the suburbs. Can't happen. I think they may be changeing their approach, but I also noticed when north end residents wanted to control traffic speeds in their neighbourhoods, folks from outside cried in horror. To attract the Pan Am games the city plans a stadium smack in the middle of the same residential area, ignoring what a great in-fill housing development the brownfield location would make, and the economic effect of adding thousands of new, mixed-income residents would have on downtown businesses.

Displacing the poor will never solve the city centre's problems.

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