Revitalization

History Only Repeats When it is Allowed

By Mahesh P. Butani
Published February 26, 2010

Two cities in Ontario - Hamilton and Brantford - are presently witnessing lots of dirt being shoveled around in the name of progress.

Both cities, quite distinct and yet similar in their obtuse public ways, are on a development trajectory that has left their citizens gasping for breath from incomprehensible political actions.

One is hell-bent on destroying its past in the name of progress. The other is hell-bent on building an unsustainable future upon the toxic remains of its past.

For societies that are already thriving in many parts of the world on social enterprises that achieve public good while making a profit, understanding the current development approach of Hamilton and Brantford can be confusing.

They rightfully ask: Aren't such things supposed to happen only in the Third World?

Both these stories are unfolding in the First World in slow motion, under the hesitant glare of public scrutiny - both under the assumption that their brittle claims of transparent governance are good enough to continue governing.

Watching these two unguided projectiles hurtling through space, fueled by arrogance and ignorance, can be very sad and scary for those who already know better.

Sitting back and cynically watching these projectiles implode is now entertainment, for the many Ontarians who have been numbed out of their senses.

With the Canadian parliament prorogued, the province in deep debt, and municipal governance on a self-destructive trajectory, never before has a more clear path to self-organizing behavior been posed to the people of Hamilton and Brantford, than this moment.

I once again draw the attention to The Facelift and the Wrecking Ball: Urban Renewal and Hamilton's King Street West, 1957-1971 (PDF link) by Margaret T. Rockwell. Political futures and legacies depend on a successful reading of this document.

Before calls for heritage conservation and fiscal prudence turn into indignant international calls to protect the very ideals that Canada has projected to the world, we hope sanity will prevail in Hamilton and Brantford.

History only repeats itself when it is allowed to.

Ontarians can do better than this. Canadian politicians can do better than this. Canadian educational institutions can do better than this.

Let them look to the past, but let them also look to the future; let them look to the land of their ancestors, but let them look also to the land of their children.
-- Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Mahesh P. Butani is a non-architect, and a developer by default. He is involved in re-developing properties in downtown Hamilton; and has an MA in Arts Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, NYC (1986), and bachelors in Architecture from Bombay, India (1982). Currently he is not an architect in Ontario on account of not having enough Canadian Experience; and does not qualify to teach as he carries too much baggage to fit into the Canadian education system. He refuses to be re-trained to fit in, on a matter of principle, and is a passionate disbeliever of icons and self-regulation of professions in Canada - but still maintains his belief in collective self-organizing behavior; and feels that the large swath of intellectual brownfields across Ontario are far more harmful to the economy than the brownfields left over from deindustrialization - and in response has set up a social network called Metropolitan Hamilton. http://metrohamilton.ning.com/

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 26, 2010 at 11:33:31

Mahesh: As you've referenced Rockwell's paper twice recently, I'm hoping that you might do an entire article elaborating on this sentence: "Political futures and legacies depend on a successful reading of this document."

Specifically, how would you quantify a 'successful reading'? I can imagine that you have specific opinions about what began to unfold in Hamilton fifty years ago, but as much as I see this document as being a wonderful testament to how things can go wrong 'urban renewal'-wise, I suspect we wouldn't see eye to eye on all points. (Mostly because I think it's quite easy to get latched into revisionist viewing, ignoring the context of the times...and for some -not necessarily you, but some- the prospect of 'demonizing' is a more tempting exercise than actually generating an understanding of 'Why?')

In the meantime, thanks again for furthering the general discussion.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted February 26, 2010 at 13:17:20

Thanks Mahesh for posting the paper by Ms Rockwell. Wow, what a trip down memory lane to see all those pictures. It is rather sad you know to know that all that history went under the wrecking ball.

I remember many years ago osmeone had gone to europe and had pictures and I was simply amazed at all the really old structures that they photographed that were still in existance.

We have destroyed our heritage, and replaced it with cold, empty structures, that have no life.

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By MarieJ (registered) | Posted February 26, 2010 at 13:27:54

Brantford, "Telephone City".

Has literally destroyed almost everything that gave us the name Telephone City.

Home where Alexander Graham bell made the first ever long distance phone call = demolished. Home of the first business call ever = demolished. Pharmacy of the first business call ever = demolished. First Telegraph Office ever = demolished. First Telephone Factory ever = demolished.

There is a building or more on the South Side (currently target for demolition -- contracts are apparently signed), that relates back to the first days of the Telephone and Alexander Graham Bell. Does that matter? Apparently not.

What we do have to prove we are telephone city? The Bell Homestead. Oh, and a plaque where the home from which the first ever long distance phone call was made. That one was demolished, admittedly, by mistake. They felt it was an eyesore and had to be torn down. Ooops!

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 26, 2010 at 15:10:18

don't forget the sign on the way into town says "Brantford - the Telephone City".

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By blue collar (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2010 at 15:53:01

I drove by the old buildings today on Colbourne street.
I sure am going to miss the discarded needles, the vacant and
run down shops, the prostitutes, crack addicts and tattoo parlour.
What am I going to tell the children about the "heritage " we destroyed?
Hurry!, Hurry! The fences are in place, there's just enough room for you to handcuff yourself before the big kaboom!( Bring the Natives, too)

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By z jones (registered) | Posted February 26, 2010 at 15:55:03

^Those who don't know history...

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 26, 2010 at 23:56:25

I drove by the old buildings today on Colbourne street. I sure am going to miss the discarded needles, the vacant and run down shops, the prostitutes, crack addicts and tattoo parlour. What am I going to tell the children about the "heritage " we destroyed? Hurry!, Hurry! The fences are in place, there's just enough room for you to handcuff yourself before the big kaboom!

Don't worry. You won't miss anything. All of that stuff will remain, and probably even more so in the dark, empty, weedy lots that will replace the builidngs - of course the few shops that do exist and draw in customers won't be there, so it will be even more convenient for dealers, pimps to do their thing with nobody around.

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By Idiots (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2010 at 11:09:09

http://oneyearbibleimages.com/goldencalf2_1.jpg

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 27, 2010 at 13:06:24

"Most people arrive at tortured conclusions via blind and painful routes. They don't like it when someone shows up in a balloon. You can't expect anyone to trust revelation if they haven't experienced it themselves. Those who haven't, know only reason. And since revelation is a thing apart, and cannot be accounted for reasonably, they will never believe you. This is the great division of the world, and always has been. When reason and revelation run together, why, then you have something: a great age."

Mark Helprin, 'Winter's Tale'

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted February 27, 2010 at 13:08:17

schmadrian >>> "I'm hoping that you might do an entire article elaborating on this sentence: "Political futures and legacies depend on a successful reading of this document."

Thank you schmadrian. I do hope to elaborate on what you are suggesting soon.

The good news is that we achieved most of the destruction of our Heritage in Hamilton - without the direct help of our University and College – our institutions of training!

Unfortunately, Brantford has the challenging task of training their trainers, before they can regain lost grounds.

The prospect of demonizing unfortunately is real and in many instances unavoidable in communities that have suffered many cultural and economic travesties in the name of progress for decades.

Look forward to sharing more on this soon.

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By woody10 (registered) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 23:03:24

Please clarify one thing "The other is hell-bent on building an unsustainable future upon the toxic remains of its past." I'm assuming you mean the Rheem lands and the new stadia. I for one believe this is sustainable and can provide a legacy for many a decade. Lets hope they do make the velodrome a permanent structure and it's uses are many. If this wasn't your meaning, oops, lol.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted March 02, 2010 at 10:14:06

Hello woody10 >>> "Please clarify one thing "The other is hell-bent on building an unsustainable future upon the toxic remains of its past.- I'm assuming you mean the Rheem lands and the new stadia. "

Sorry for not being explicit with that! As mentioned in my intro blurb: I do feel - that it is the large swath of intellectual brownfields across Ontario - that are far more harmful to the economy than the brownfields left over from deindustrialization!

The waterfront lands although contaminated, can be cleaned up for a cost which - even if it is now higher that anticipated, can be recovered with smart design programing. It is the land use proposed there which in my opinion raises the question of it becoming sustainable or not in the long run.

I feel that if this waterfront zone is developed appropriately, it could result in one of the finest example of live/work solutions in North America, and in the process give the city an international profile along with a steady stream of substantial assessment revenues for decades.

So to clarify again, I feel we are trying to build a sustainable future on the toxic intellectual brownfields of our past... which is what makes us keep asking wrong questions - that continues to impact our communities.

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By adam2 (anonymous) | Posted March 16, 2010 at 11:36:47

Thanks, interesting comparisons. looking forward to reading more of your articles!

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