Green City

On Becoming the Best Place to Raise a Child

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 14, 2010

this blog entry has been updated

This week, The Hamiltonian's Cal DiFalco sent out a question for his "Perspectives" series related to what Hamilton is doing right and wrong with regards to the city's goal of being "the best place to raise a child".

Here's my response:

I don't see any evidence that the laudable goal of Making Hamilton the best place to raise a child has any bearing at all on the City's policies.

If we were trying to be the best place to raise a child, we would heed the clear evidence that one-way streets are more dangerous for children than two-way streets and just convert them already.

If we were trying to be the best place to raise a child, we would not design our streets for speeds that are all but guaranteed to kill any pedestrian unfortunate enough to get caught in a motorist's path.

If we were trying to be the best place to raise a child, we would not butcher sidewalks and intersections throughout the city to maximize traffic flow at the expense of walkability.

If we were trying to be the best place to raise a child, we would not allow 18-wheel transport trucks just passing through to drive right up the middle of a residential neighbourhood a block away from an elementary school and public park.

If we were trying to be the best place to raise a child, we would hasten to build a continuous bicycle network throughout the city so that children could gain the empowerment to be active agents in their own communities.

If we were trying to be the best place to raise a child, we would not strand our children in housing developments where you need a car to get anywhere and parents need to act as chauffeurs.

If we were trying to be the best place to raise a child, we would determine the best practices for making a city child-friendly, and then we would follow them - with no excuses.

We talk about making Hamilton the best place to raise a child, but the excuses we give for not doing it reveal our real priorities.

Update: The Perspectives article is now posted on The Hamiltonian.

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 Ngaio Marsh (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2010 at 16:07:40

Nice. I'd add that we would [stop local polluters from trying to circumvent clean air standards](http://www.raisethehammer.org/wots/505/postcards_against_the_excess_of_cancer-causing_emissions_deadline_&_community_meeting)

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted May 14, 2010 at 16:10:34

You brought up some great points Ryan, but there are many children in this city that go without. The group I belong to asked someone with influence in this city the following question. If you do not help the parents that live in poverty then how are you really helping the children.

The answer was not really a surprise but one that followed along the lines that parents do not sell well in the whole marketing scheme of things, thus the focus on children.

But no matter what the messaging tries to bring, if you do not help the parents, then you are not helping the children, thus Hamilton is not necessarily the best place to raise a child who live within a certain low income frame.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2010 at 21:20:02

I know what you mean, Ryan. Though I'm not surprised.

I've always taken "best place to raise a child" to be code for "best place to be poor and raise a child" because discussions always seem to involve social services and not a livable city in which children can walk and bike and play and get to where they need to go without a chauffer.

I don't mean to denigrate the latter goal by that statement, I just mean that articles and announcements about "best place to raise a child" generally seem disingenuous and I never take them seriously.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-05-16 20:23:58

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By d.knox (registered) | Posted May 16, 2010 at 22:11:34

I confess that I'm with Kenneth, in that I never saw the slogan as anything other than an anti-poverty initiative. Grassroot's comment that "someone with influence" said that "parents do not sell well in the whole marketing scheme of things, thus the focus on children" only confirms my suspicion. BUT...

I puzzled at your article at first, and then realized that my own bias prevented me from engaging with this issue. If I can reclaim it from the poverty advocates and treat it honestly, I'd say you have identified a real point.

I am afraid to bike on many of the streets in Hamilton - I wouldn't dream of letting a child on those streets. If the City was ever serious about this slogan, that should have been enough to get rid of the one-way streets. The fact that we still have highways through the centre of this city is further evidence that "best city to raise a child" was never meant to be taken seriously.

Comment edited by d.knox on 2010-05-16 21:27:52

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By adrian (registered) | Posted May 17, 2010 at 03:27:32

I never saw "best place to raise a child" as being limited to poverty issues. I think it's meant to be an ambitious vision statement intended as a basis to transform the city.

The problem is that it is simply not taken seriously, as Ryan has pointed out.

"Best" is a big word. The goal is not "to be a good place to raise a child", "to be a decent place to raise a child", or even, "to be a safe place to raise a child." "Best" says that it is not enough just to do everything right for children as a city: we actually have to do everything better than everyone else. Better than Vancouver, better than Montreal, better than Paris.

By that measure this statement is worse than a failure. It's a farce.

"To be the best place to raise a child" ought to be a prism through which all municipal decisions are viewed and evaluated.

On every planning document, there ought to be a section where the planner defends their recommendations in the context of this goal.

The simple fact of having to do this exercise for every plan would likely have a huge impact on planning in this city (imagine being asked to write this section right after recommending retaining a truck route in a residential neighbourhood - the rationalization required would simply be too difficult!)

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted May 17, 2010 at 09:50:55

I never saw "best place to raise a child" as being limited to poverty issues. - adrian

Ya, I never made that connection either. Raising a child in poverty sucks no matter where you live.

I viewed it as an advertisement for Hamilton as a "bedroom community".

It is a joke though, as I said in another post - saying something over and over doesn't make it true. Hamilton needs to find more walk to go with the talk (on this issue and others).

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 17, 2010 at 10:00:47

The fact that we still have highways through the centre of this city is further evidence that "best city to raise a child" was never meant to be taken seriously.

Along with Vision 2020, GRIDS, JPC, never-ending downtown renewal schemes, billions of consultant reports, Economic Summits etc...... it's all a bunch of hot air.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2010 at 14:21:02

A breaking report on today's Spec website reads:

Delegates at the Hamilton Economic Summit's Next Generation Strategy Session Monday morning discussed the need for greener living, downtown revitalization and more employment opportunities to keep young talent in the city.

Will those delegates leave the summit and change their minds about supporting a truck route up Dundurn Street or a five-lane, one-way Main Street, or an economic development plan based on warehousing around the airport, or dirt-cheap development charges, or any of the other myriad policies this city has embraced that make "greener living, downtown revitalization and more employment opportunities to keep young talent in the city" all but impossible to achieve/

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By C'mon (anonymous) | Posted May 19, 2010 at 16:25:29

Surely a stadium that draws traffic onto residential streets can only benefit the children living there. Think of the front-lawn parking revenue to be raised by those budding entrepreneurs. Why, you could almost pay a single term's tuition toward a Mohawk certificate in business with such an income. Sort of have to, now that delivering newspapers is not the steady generator it once was.

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