Revitalization

Chance for Hamilton to Avoid Mistakes of Overpriced Cities

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published June 21, 2013

An interesting article in the Financial Times warns:

The great global cities - notably New York, London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Paris - are unprecedentedly desirable. [...] However, there's an iron law of 21st-century life: when something is desirable, the "one percent" grabs it. The great cities are becoming elite citadels.

This corresponds with what a shopkeeper in the expensive 6/7th arrondissement of Paris told us not long ago: the life of the neighbourhood is decreasing as apartments are bought, not as primary residences, but as vacation homes by the global rich.

Paris is worried that up to 30 percent of apartments in the inner arrondissements are empty because they are either seasonal residences or simply being used as a way to park money by the global rich (and are being rented out short-term to tourists).

This is one reason Paris is trying to crack down on the thousands of apartments being rented out to tourists and temporary residents.

Geared to Income

On the other hand, Paris is building and buying a lot of geared-to-income apartments to conform with the 2000 French law that all municipalities must have a minimum of 20 percent of all residences geared to income. The upper bound for eligibility is very high: about 100,000 euros income for a family of four, if I remember correctly.

There is also the possibility that Vancouver is trying something similar, although not as ambitious.

When we stayed in Paris for a year, I have to say that the families of the children going to our children's school were very mixed, both in terms of income and ethnic origin.

Most of the shopkeepers (e.g. bakers, corner store owners, small restaurants) still seemed to live in the neighbourhood. The 1st arrondissement, where we stayed, is one of the desirable inner arrondissements (1-8 and 16).

Chance for Hamilton

So the picture is not quite as bleak as it seems, but it is a worrying trend. Once again, Hamilton has a chance to avoid mistakes of other cities because we are so far behind the trend.

However, Hamilton's mayor, Bob Bratina, seems determined to squander such opportunities, like the chance to prevent a crisis of congestion through investment in the planned east-west light rail transit (LRT) B-Line.

Similarly, Bratina's affordability strategy for Hamilton seems to be to make sure that Hamilton remains cheap by keeping it dysfunctional and unattractive. Instead, he brags that Hamilton is a "20 minute city" for drivers with its wide, community-destroying one-way highways crisscrossing the lower city.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

14 Comments

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 09:10:01

I don't really get your point. What is 'the chance for Hamilton' that we are missing? What is Bob Bratina not doing that by doing he could somehow make Hamilton more attractive and economically successful while also avoiding this problem of making it attractive to people who are rich (and who presumably don't deserve Hamilton, right?)? The things you want him to do (LRT, complete streets) will all contribute to this problem by making the city more attractive to everyone (including rich 'snobs')

All I'm saying is, if this is a problem, lets come of with solutions for it instead of using it to criticize the mayor on other issues that we are mad about.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 12:36:43 in reply to Comment 89673

First off Bratina can tire to be a Leader for this City

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 09:22:22 in reply to Comment 89673

The solutions are to invest pro-actively in things that make Hamilton attractive to a broad range of residents of all income and skill levels, such as LRT, protecting heritage and complete streets. Liveable attractive and interesting cities are in fact the most important infrastructure for attracting investment today.

Apart from LRT, these are cheap and low-risk solutions that make Hamilton an attractive place to live and work, rather than simply as a bedroom community for those who are priced out of Toronto. It is about having multiple attractive urban centres, rather than extremes of expensive mega-city cores, decaying post-industrial cities (like Detroit or Youngstown) and dreary anonymous suburbs and ex-urbs whose main attraction is cheapness and large lots.

One of Hamilton's main advantages is its urban core: it is a real city. However, much of council seems to think Hamilton (and even Hamilton's downtown) should be competing purely on suburban and ex-urban values: cheap single family homes, wide fast streets and no heritage protection that might discourage greenfield type investors.

One of the positive lessons of successful cities like Paris, Portland or New York, is that they don't just submit to negative trends, they proactively act to shape and reverse them. Hamiltonians all too often take a fatalistic and exceptionalist view: bad things are due to some special aspect of the city that we are powerless to change.

p.s. Criticism is an important part of a dynamic urban culture. Successful cities like Vancouver and Paris are full of hyper-critical people engaging in a public debate about what sort of city they want, and pushing the decision makers to act. Consensus is rare, but having high standards and caring about the public realm really makes a difference in the long term. Sometimes I get the impression most Hamiltonians don't really care much about their own city.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2013-06-21 09:25:27

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 16:04:45 in reply to Comment 89674

Yeah...I just don't understand how your criticisms against Bratina are connected to the rest of your article. LRT, complete streets, heritage designations and progressive zoning/development schemes are all great, and yes he should be criticized for not being willing to push for them - but whether or not we were considering the issues of over-gentrification, we would still want to do all these things, because they make sense in the context of a city, regardless of how gentrified it is or isn't. You haven't really explained how the criticisms you raised fit the specific context of your article, and I think you do need to provide that justification rather than just tacking them on the end.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 10:12:35 in reply to Comment 89674

Seems like you needed to add this comment to the end of this article. The article itself reads as half a thought.

In the end, good luck keeping a desirable city cheap to live in without providing public housing. I don't think there is any political will for that.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 10:27:17 in reply to Comment 89677

Yes: the article needed a bit more development!

Public and geared to income housing MUST be a big part of the picture. And ensuring geared to income housing is mixed with free market housing is necessary to avoid ghettoization. France is doing this on the larger scale by mandating 20% overall (and in Paris this mix has to be achieved in each of the 20 neighbourhoods), and Vancouver has experimented with mandating 20% geared to income in each new condo development.

Even Hamilton, which is still relatively affordable, has a huge backlog of social housing needs, and rising market values could be leveraged to provide more. Just being cheap isn't enough, and wealth can create opportunities (including more employment opportunities).

I am actually optimistic that Hamiltonians fatalistic attitude is changing, partly because of new arrivals who haven't been traumatized by the long decline of the city and partly because of resident-led efforts like RTH.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 22, 2013 at 18:23:15 in reply to Comment 89679

Singapore has also been busy building a lot of geared to income and public housing. I agree with your article 100% I have seen the benefits of public housing in other cities of the world, unfortunately I just think it is going to be a very tough sell here.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 21, 2013 at 12:00:36 in reply to Comment 89679

Yes: the article needed a bit more development!

That's my fault. I merely solicited a short piece from Nicholas to post as a blog entry that referenced an interesting article. I didn't expect it to be a full-fledged treatise on how Hamilton can avoid becoming an "elite citadel".

That said, I'm glad to see further details coming out of the comments, and I'd be happy to see this turn into said full-fledged article.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 09:41:44

"Hamiltonians all too often take a fatalistic and exceptionalist view: bad things are due to some special aspect of the city that we are powerless to change."

Such as Hamilton's fatalism/exceptionalism?

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 14:36:11 in reply to Comment 89675

I've found that many of the kinds of negative comments we hear from Hamiltonians about Hamilton are common to residents of other cities when they talk about their towns.

The grass is always less green at home.

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By Not Sure (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 12:16:23

I'm really not sure what to make of this piece. It seems to me that at least the old city of Hamilton doesn't need to worry about excess gentrification or 1% exclusionism any time soon (maybe Ancaster does). In fact, I'd dare say that some the biggest lower city developers and landlords are primarily social housing providers. Striving for policies to attract the 1%, retain young professionals, and foster local entrepreneurship in the core, would seem to be far more beneficial than sweating over future unaffordability right now. It’s achieving a mix that includes those folks that will help us prosper.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted June 21, 2013 at 14:50:15 in reply to Comment 89683

I agree with your comment. Hamilton is increasingly on the radar for new residents and external investment, and it's a nice "problem" to have, but the scale is still modest and much more can be done to foster good growth before we have to worry about other consequences.

But achieving that mix will require planning across the whole spectrum of needs. It's worthwhile to be thinking more deeply about social policies now, and to start putting them in place sooner rather than later, instead of playing catch-up when it may be harder to effect change.

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