Light Rail

Hamilton's Downtown: A Nowhere Full Of Nobodies

By Adrian Duyzer
Published January 19, 2010

According to a letter to the editor published in the Hamilton Spectator today, I live nowhere (LRT King route will hurt residents by Bill Kish).

According to Kish, LRT is a "fast track to nowhere". "If there is a reason for people to go downtown, they will," writes Kish.

Back in November, Carl W. Ambridge wrote in with a similar perspective: will LRT "turn into a white elephant, pulling empty cars from one end of the city to the other?"

Oddly enough it turns out that downtown actually has the highest population density in Hamilton. According to Statistics Canada figures published on RTH, Ward 2 has the highest population density of any ward in the city, with 23.44 people per acre (2001 Statistics Canada data).

Who would have thought that you could pack so many people into nowhere!

As well as all the people who are living nowhere, there are also thousands of people who are working nowhere, which you can see for yourself if you travel to nowhere on any given afternoon. You'll see throngs of nonexistent people walking nowhere, traveling to and from many imaginary offices and businesses.

Travel a little farther west, and you'll arrive in Ward 1, which as well as containing dense neighbourhoods also contains many city parks, a golf course, and lots of green space.

In other words, nothing.

Ward 1's bustling Locke Street district is yet another nowhere that will be just steps away from LRT stops on King Street. With dozens of shops, eateries and small businesses, Locke Street's total absence of existence has prompted many people to compare it to the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

Fortunately, beyond the sucking void at the center of Hamilton - past the event horizon - lies a different world, one populated by somebodies who live somewhere. And these people need somewhere to park.

That is the crux of the matter, according to Kish: "In the future, I foresee tension due to intense competition for parking spots on the streets where we live."

Reasonably speaking, it would seem to be sensible to balance the need to revitalize the downtown, the need for clean and green rapid transit, and the soaring property values of people like Kish who live near the proposed route, against the need for parking.

After all, there are many solutions to parking issues, and it's an issue Hamilton is not going to ignore as it proceeds with rapid transit plans (when has Hamilton ever put parking and roads anywhere except at the top of the list?). But that perspective would require prioritizing the needs of Hamilton's downtown businesses and residents.

Which don't exist.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz

29 Comments

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 09:56:40

anyone who lives in between King and Main should be rejoicing over LRT. It will mean more people using light rail and as has been the case in every other city that has developed a good LRT line, more people realizing they can ditch their car, or ditch their second car. For those who are only concerned about themselves and their car, LRT will help fulfill the dream of more parking spaces available on the street.
Oh, and get this, you'll be able to drive your car to Main St and go EITHER way with the King St LRT plan. Crazy idea eh? Driving 2-ways on a city street!?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 10:14:32

It's the perennial Hamilton version of the old Yogi Berraism: Nobody ever goes downtown, it's too congested!

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By shaddupsevenup (registered) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 10:54:33

I'm nobody and I live nowhere and I walk everyday to work nowhere.

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By Nowhere Man (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:51:03

He's as blind as he can be.

Just sees what he wants to see...

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 12:19:17

This letter seems to corroborate that theory: http://www.thespec.com/Opinions/Letterto...

Maybe it's blue monday.

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 12:30:51

From the letter:

"I went downtown one day..." and having once gone downtown I now feel qualified to predict that the Gore Park renovations won't work.

Offline trolls are just as bad as the online variety.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 12:33:15

I went downtown one day and walked on King Street from John up to James and people were sitting on the sidewalk begging, and the stores that were open had dirty entrances.

That statement is both hilarious and sad.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 13:43:14

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By Out with the old (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 14:56:47

A good way to improve the downtown would be to make it more like Ancaster. The city should tear down all the old homes and sell the land to developers to build new homes on really big lots. This will increase the average home value, decrease the number of people on welfare and this in turn will bring in more people to shop.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 15:25:24

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 19, 2010 at 15:57:49

Out with the old, the 1960s just called. They want their urban renewal plan back.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-01-19 14:58:16

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By JonC (registered) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 17:05:25

I got the impression out with the old was making fun of smith.

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By Out with the trolled (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 18:25:15

Oh Ryan, you're lovably gullible.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 19, 2010 at 21:54:51

Okay, I call whoosh on myself. Unfortunately, it's hard to distinguish parodies of fanaticism from the real thing.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-01-19 20:55:57

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By Out with the old (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 22:52:22

Okay, maybe turning the downtown into Ancaster is not the best idea, but the downtown needs to look new again. The city should just buy up the old, run down buildings and fix them up. In a short period of time, the downtown will look snazzy and this will attract people to spend their money.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 23:30:48

how about we take care of our old buildings like they do in Boston:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mickle229/2...

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By Out with the old (anonymous) | Posted January 20, 2010 at 00:49:24

That's fine, but it isn't happening. It will be far easier to just buy up old buildings and spend the money required to turn them into gems. As the downtown begins to look healthier, people will see this and they will want to stay. Where there are people with money, there will be businesses. Where there are businesses, there are jobs. Where there are jobs, there is pride.

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By shaddupsevenup (registered) | Posted January 20, 2010 at 09:27:49

Where will the City get the money from in its budget? Something else will have to get slashed.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 20, 2010 at 10:35:03

LRT has the potential to achieve exactly the sort of rejuvenated downtown we all want to see.

One of the main reasons RTH (and the Chamber of Commerce, the City, the Realtors and BIAs) support LRT is precisely because it has been proven over and over to act as a catalyst for investment in under-valued and dilapidated urban areas. Numerous RTH articles have detailed the evidence.

If we wanted to be sure that LRT would lead to renovated buildings, we could do what they did in Bordeaux. Since LRT increases property values, the City of Bordeaux insisted that property owners renovate the facades of their buildings along the line. This ensured that the City was getting maximum value for their investment, as well as being fair (why should deadbeat owners profit from increased values they didn't help to create).

According to Bordeaux city officials I talked to, this led to a very active property market in the years before and during construction as deadbeat owners unloaded their properties because they couldn't be bothered fixing them up. The result was that property values increased significantly even before the line was complete.

This is an example of an effective public-private partnership, and maximum leverage of public investment. It is a true virtuous cycle.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 20, 2010 at 10:51:34

brilliant idea! Lord knows we have a TON of deadbeat property owners downtown. I'd support any program that results in them selling.

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By Fix up the old (anonymous) | Posted January 20, 2010 at 15:48:57

The city needs to buy up all the old buildings in the downtown and fix them up as soon as possible. The building they should start with is the Royal Connaught.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted January 20, 2010 at 17:12:09

The City needs to stop dumping the Poor (working or not), elderly & disabled in the Core ASAP, actually!

When there are people who take pride in the buildings/homes they own, they will keep them looking good. Those who get a 'free ride' of sorts don't own or appreciate the buildings/homes they live in, and therefore don't maintain or renovate anything. Hence why our Core reflects that of an American Rustbelt City (Flint?)

I'm sick & tired of being the butt of jokes re: Me needing a scooter to get around Downtown. I'm also sick of being stared/yelled at angrily, being accosted for drugs and being run-down (or off the sidewalk) by people in scooters who have this arrogance to them where they think they have the right to do so!? Is this because they're used to owning the roads for the last 50years; when they lose their liscences they think they have the right to drive on, and/or, rule the sidwalks? That's why I say there will be 'Scooter Lanes' in this City before Bike Lanes!

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted January 20, 2010 at 17:56:30

By Really: Are you really being objective in your rant. Just because someone is poor does not mean that they do not take care of their homes or where they live. And also, it is not the money people who have bought many of the buildings that are left empty and rotting.

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By scooters are one way forward (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2010 at 02:29:58

That's right. When old One-Tooth-Tony finds a nice box with all the flaps intact, you can be damn sure that he'll take care of his new home.

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By Ferguson (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2010 at 16:49:17

The problem with downtown is the depressed real estate values. While the initial purchase price of property may be cheap, owners can't charge enough for rent or sale to make money. The only reason the Lister Block is being renovated is because the City agreed to lease it and pay inflated rents for many years. The owners of the Connaught wanted to make it into subsidized housing because they need the government to chip in some of the rent money. Look at all of the stalled condo projects, the reason is because there is no money to be made on any of them.

If there was money to be made downtown we wouldn't have the problems that we have there. Property owners aren't stupid. There hasn't been any money to be made downtown for the last twenty years, unless you run a pawn shop or a discount store. Ultimately this is the fault of city planners for allowing urban sprawl to take place and for not giving enough incentives to downtown property owners. The LRT might help raise property values but only as a part of a broader strategy. The bottom line is the City must do whatever it takes to help property owners make money. That's the only way there is ever going to be sustained development downtown.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted January 24, 2010 at 12:39:26

Anyone looked at Queen Street in Niagara Falls lately? Much of the work has been done by one property-developer who is thinking long-term, not get-rich-quick. http://www.queenstreetniagarafalls.com

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 24, 2010 at 15:02:09

I agree to some extent that property values are part of the problem, but I think the bigger problem is the speculators who are just sitting on properties, not keeping them up to standards and not being made to by the city. overall property values have been increasing downtown in recent years. Some folks are seeing opportunity to make money such as Core Lofts, London Tap House, etc.....

Property values will never reach their full potential until the speculators get out of town. New owners with vision and a willingness to invest in GOOD projects will make money downtown.

A new batch of businesses are about to open on James North...we'll see how they do.
A new bar, used bookstore and second location of My Dog Joe will be great tenants on James North. Will the surrounding neighbourhood support them? Let's hope so. I know I will.

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By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted January 25, 2010 at 11:24:23

I think for Hamilton's downtown to improve there has to be a hard-to-prescribe combination of two factors:

  1. Opportunity for possibly non-altruistic business people to make some money in the real estate market. This may require some subsidy or other encouragement from government.
  2. Encouragement for those who are motivated by some degree of altrusim (they want to help Hamilton because it is the right thing to do).

For example, Dave Kuruc may not be making a killing at his Mixed Media shop on James, but it appears he reaps considerable non-monetary rewards from having such a high-end, culturally interesting shop at that location.

What Hamilton has to get over is the idea that doing the right thing is always a bad business decision, or that being a predatory or irresponsible business is the quickest way to profitability. It is the prevalence of such false dichotomies that sometimes makes Hamilton appear parochial and self-defeating (based on my reading of letters to the editor of the Spectator).

Doing the right thing is sometimes quite profitable, especially if it creates a big jump in the value of your assets through careful planning and design. Nor is doing the wrong thing always profitable. Lots of wrong things have happened to Hamilton's downtown over the years but I haven't see too many people profiting greatly from them.

In Hamilton's case it can't all be about money - otherwise you'd be better off to try your luck in Ancaster, Burlington or Oakville. Nor can it be all about altruism since major amounts of cash are required to rehabilitate a place like Hamilton and people with excessive amounts of altruism often tend not to have excessive amounts of cash. It has to be a bit of both.

People are often motivated by both monetary and non-monetary rewards at the same time. In order to create that virtuous circle of high-quality urban development so needed in Hamilton you cannot afford to marginalize either of those two camps.

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By Jobs Jobs Jobs (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2010 at 12:34:12

The city needs to put a lot more money into creating good paying jobs for the people of Hamilton, including people with disabilities. How to do this, I don't know, but it has to be better than simply giving people a welfare cheque and having them wander aimlessly around the downtown.

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