Revitalization

Smart Thinking About Smart Centres

By Jason Leach
Published November 29, 2006

Smart Centres, one of Canada's largest "power centre" developers (that's the juiced-up name for big box projects like the Meadowlands Power Centre) has just bought over 12 hectares of land at one of Hamilton's most strategic entrance points - the QEW and Centennial Pkwy.

Plans are up in the air still, but one thing is for sure: that entrance needs a good scrubbing. Right now you enter Hamilton to ugly old warehouses surrounded by huge piles of scrap metal.

Smart Centres also builds office and industrial projects so the possibilities for this piece of land are quite varied at this time.

I'd urge local residents and city council to work with this firm from the get-go to ensure that whatever is built is of the best quality design and not just another bland blob of box stores or crummy-looking manufacturing plant.

It will be tough to build something that looks worse than the current set-up at that entrance, but too often we set our sights low in Hamilton - we strive to improve just barely on what we already have.

This is a golden opportunity to see a modern, clean, welcoming development - mixed use, maybe with retail, commercial, condo, hotel, and office use all wrapped in one.

Let's set our sights high and make it known to this company that we want a top-notch development here. Use whatever words we need to use - Toronto quality, Vancouver style, whatever - just not another glorified strip mall with tacky signs and endless parking spaces facing the QEW.

Update

After checking out the website for Smart Centres, I am much more skeptical and worried about what is going to be built at their recently-purchased land at the QEW and Centennial Parkway.

Take a browse on their site to see for yourself. This firm is the brains behind the sprawling complexes at Hwy 53 and 20 in (Hamilton, I guess ­ I'm not sure where exactly that is. It's supposed to be farmland), and at 53 and Hwy 2 in Ancaster.

They also own the complex at the QEW and Guelph Line in Burlington. I took a look at their Toronto sites to see if perhaps they have the ability to develop proper, urban "smart centres", but no such luck.

The aerial photos of their Toronto locations look ridiculous ­ tightly knit urban neighbourhoods with homes and highrises suddenly turn into a never-ending blob of warehouses and parking lots at these Smart Centres.

Here's hoping city council takes the lead and puts a stop to further big box development in Hamilton as was suggested last year by Councillor McHattie. As it turns out, Smart Centres aren't very smart at all.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2006 at 22:35:18

Hi Jason
I saw this in the spec this morning and thought oh great just another things Hamilton doesn't need. Then this evening I was looking through some local radio websites and came across a vote on the CHML website. The question was as follows. "Are you in favour of more power centers for Hamilton?" of course 57% of people said yes. Anyway what do think the odds are that something usful will come from this?

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By adrian (registered) | Posted November 30, 2006 at 09:44:07

Something useful will come of this if we make a big stink and change people's minds about the issue.

I have no problem with new business coming to Hamilton (in fact we encourage that here on RTH), and I am not an anti-Walmart ideologue, although I take issue with some of their policies, particularly the way they have treated their workers in the past.

I just don't understand why we need to develop our city in this way. Strip malls suck. They are ugly and unpractical and most everybody avoids them unless they absolutely have to. Why can't we build storefronts and businesses in such a way that they fit in with their surroundings and encourage some kind of urban participation? Why is it that "window-shopping" and "strip mall" are rarely used in the same sentence?

There is a McDonald's in Venice. As you might imagine, it is not some pre-fab 50% plastic construction with a drivethrough. It's in an old building in the heart of the city and it's identifiable simply because there is the distinctive M on the front. But it remarkably manages to fit in with its surroundings.

By all means, Wal-Mart and assorted hangers-on, come to Hamilton. Come downtown, we could especially use you there. But for the love of this city's architecture, inhabitants and geography, please do it in the right way. Don't burden us with yet another sprawling, steaming pile of depressing shit.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 01, 2006 at 09:13:23

maybe Walmart wil open a store on Locke Street.....

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By Dave (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2006 at 14:11:08

Stopping this kind of development is a great idea but likely a losing battle. How about imposing some new requirements on developers such as this. Allow the suburban development based on an agreement to develop a smaller property within the downtown core?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 01, 2006 at 14:50:57

Hi Dave,

I'm not sure why you think stopping this kind of development is a losing battle. It violates Vision 2020, GRIDS, and the spirit of Places to Grow; it's based on a land use and transportation model (sprawl development and auto-dependency) with very poor long term prospects due to peak oil, climate change, and air pollution; and it creates an ugly, inhospitable public realm that almost no one actually likes.

A much simpler and more effective requirement on developers is: build to the sidewalk (i.e. no off-street parking in front of your store); locate parking at the curb, in the back, or preferably nowhere (i.e. get rid of mandated "free" parking requirements); and ensure that your development can support mixed commercial, office, and residential uses; and the streetwall height must be proportionate to the street width to maintain a sense of human scale and enclosure.

I guarantee you that developers will have no problem making money constructing these kinds of buildings, while residents get livable, diverse street architecture and investors get good quality amenities with easy access to many destinations.

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By Trishy (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2007 at 22:50:16

I just went to the smart centre website and coldnt find any info on hwy 20 and south service road???
I did find what other stores they are putting with Wallmart at the top of 20 adn 53 woohoo.
I love shopping the more stores the better hehe
Plus did anyone else here that the centre mall is going to be changed to a larger mall??
Thanks in advance
Trish

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By Trishy (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2007 at 22:52:49

Sorry I ment to say Centennial and QEW from the post that Jason was talking about :)

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