Revitalization

Seattle Christmas

By Jason Leach
Published December 21, 2006

It's an amazing time of the year in proper cities. Notice how many of the buildings on these streets are 5-8 floors, yet they fill in the streetwall beautifully. People, wide sidewalks, trees and good building design make a world of difference in an urban environment.

Christmas in Seattle
Christmas in Seattle

Hamilton destroyed a lot of this by demolishing too much in the 1960s and '70s and not building anything in its place. See the expanse of York Blvd and the massive parking lot ring around downtown: the King William/Jackson/Hunter/Hughson South/King and Bay corridor.

The final shots of the Seattle skyline are something else, too. Imagine looking across Hamilton Harbour at a more impressive skyline with the ships in the foreground like Halifax, Vancouver and Seattle.

In the meantime, be sure to get out and enjoy what we've got. Gore Park and King East have been busier than normal this Christmas, although I think 'normal' is changing with each passing year as we revitalize our city bit by bit.

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 schmadrian (registered) | Posted December 21, 2006 at 20:45:36

I visit this site regularly. I've spread the word about it to former Hamiltonians who are still very pro-Hammer. The site regularly features great articles, with cogent observations about the city's travails, as well as offering up suggestions as to how to improve things. Some of these are common-sense, some are innovative, some are provocative. All-in-all, I'm very heartened by what's shown here.

However...

There's consistent talk about re-development, of planning, etc. And yet as I walk the streets of the city, as I take transit, sometimes I wonder if some of the contributors have blinkers on.

As I mentioned to a friend, now living in Toronto, but Mountain born and bred, there's an underclass to this city that it's quite easy to forget about. There is a ton of impoverished Hamiltonians. People with dead eyes. No hope. Young people you can tell have no sense of future, no plans, nothing.

Admittedly, all cities have an underclass. But Hamilton... Hamilton is another case entirely. We (my friend and myself) talk about the city as the great future place. Once it reinvents itself. Once it decides what it wants to be...and stops clinging to its past. Until then, it's little more than a ghost town with various thriving neighbourhoods thrown in for good measure.

I read some of the articles here about transit, about a resurrected downtown core...but I most often find myself wondering if the writers are missing the point entirely. That there are issues that will have to be dealt with before anything substantive can be addressed. And those issues have to do with the people.

How do you lift up a broken and battered underclass? It seems to me that an entire generation of 'Hammerites' have already been 'swallowed by the cracks'. Is anyone in the city actually talking about them?

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By adrian (registered) | Posted December 21, 2006 at 21:21:20

Schmadrian (great name!), I understand where you're coming from completely.

In a recent email I sent to the editor of RTH and some of the other contributors to the site (I am also a contributor), I said:

"[W]e should try and identify some of the gaps in what RTH typically reports on, and then either fill them ourselves or do some looking around to see if we can find someone else to fill them. We talk about environmental issues a fair bit, mostly in the form of discussions around climate change and air quality. The effect of Hamilton on the surrounding ecosystem is not something I recall us talking about much lately, however.

Other gaps (I think): poverty, women's issues (e.g. rates of violence against women in Hamilton), minority and immigrant issues (e.g. does Hamilton have many talented, skilled immigrants driving cabs?) These are all related to urban renewal - Hamilton can't move forward if kids are going hungry, women are unfulfilled and/or abused, and our skilled residents can't find proper work."

Raise the Hammer needs contributors who will focus on some of these other important issues in the city.

Schmadrian, you sound like someone who cares about these issues. You clearly know how to write. Why don't you write an article about the issues you've identified for the next issue of Raise the Hammer?

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 21, 2006 at 22:43:56

great suggestion Ade, and great comments Schmadrian. Don't get the impression that we don't see and understand these same things you mention. Perhaps we don't do a good job of linking the two (perhaps intentionally so as to present our ideas as good for everyone, not just the 'underclass') but they are linked. Bogota, Colombia recently made cycling a human rights issue. They have built thousands of km of bike lanes and implemented the world's most comprehensive Bus Rapid Transit system. I've been there twice and guess what? The difference in the city was remarkable...only 3 years later.
In North America we have destroyed our cities at the expense of everyone, but most harmed has been this middle/under class. Folks who live along Barton, King or Cannon can't just walk around the corner for all of life's necessities as people have for generations in those same neighbourhoods. We've closed down inner city schools to build ones in the suburbs. Fortinos closes all neighbourhood stores and replaces them with massive boxes on the outskirts. The Barn closed their Hess street store and had a ruling passed that would not allow another grocery/food establishment on that site for 20+ years. Transit is slow, crowded and incovenient, yet we spend billions on roads, highways and acres of suburban parking lot.

I see these issues as very inter-connected. A city can't just strip away all of the basics that make up a good healthy neighbourhood and concentrate all public spending and development in the wealthy suburbs. The end result (thankfully we aren't anywhere near this) of that line of planning is US ghettos.
You are so right - people are what matter. We have thousands of acres of unused land in our central city and port lands, yet all the economic development department can talk about is 'getting more shovel ready land' out in the boonies for our future jobs. How will this help create work for ALL in our city? It won't - it's only for those who have cars and can get out to Glanbrook or the airport. If the city is serious about addressing poverty they need to do as Bogota did and realize that these things should be considered basic life necessities for all, not just for the wealthy or stable. Most of our underclass works, yet can barely make ends meet. Imagine dozens of new plants springing up along Burlington St linked by bike lanes and efficient public transit so people - rich or poor - could get jobs there?

City planning has much more impact on poverty - it's growth or reduction - than people realize. Most central city residents are used to being looked at down the noses of 'privileged' suburbanites who judge, scorn and reject them because of where they live. Why? Because the city has done the same. If you live at Cannon and Gage you better own a car or figure out a way to get to the Bay or Fortinos or Bulk Barn cause there ain't one for miles around. And the vacuum effect takes hold...people get tired of driving out to the burbs or sitting on horrendously long bus rides for their work and shopping so they strive to move there. Poverty will never cease to exist, but in Hamilton we could do a heck of a lot to minimize it and see it shrink. Starting with the Planning department. Our social agencies do great work in this city...some of the best in Canada. Yet we're spinning our wheels until city hall decides that it will treat all citizens equal and do it's best to create opportunity everywhere as Bogota has and not continue to rob from the poor to subsidize the rich.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted December 22, 2006 at 10:56:10

with all this talk of micro-credit loans, i wonder whether a similar system might not work here in hamilton. bangladesh will see those living in poverty reduced to half in the next few years. not too shabby for third world country of 140M. maybe it's worth a sniff.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted December 22, 2006 at 12:21:28

What a great discussion. I almost don't know what to add as so many great points have been made...

A couple of years back I interviewed the Leader of Leeds City Council for an article I was doing. He oversaw the most dramatic revitalization period in Leeds history. When I asked him if he had any regrets, anything he would do differently, he told me, "I regret the people we left behind"

He told me that despite the improved facade and economic vitality he had helped introduce, his measures had done almost nothing to improve the lot of Leeds' impoverished citizens.

A few years ago when we first started this site we talked about the analogy of the city's downtown as it's 'heart' Many of us felt that the people were more analogous to the town's heart, and if the urban revitalization solutions we proposed did not take into account the needs of ALL the citizens, then they weren't worth proposing.

I recall a comment to one of our articles where a reader said something like, 'we're talking about gentrification here right?...we want people with money to move in - yes?' It's unfortunate that this is the assumption of many readers - that urban revitalization is all about attracting the money crowd and ignoring the rest. Perhaps we at RTH really do need to articulate our vision a little clearer - it does encompass ALL Hamiltonians.

Solutions like improved transit and cycling/walking routes benefit everybody - especially the working poor. And no solution is going to work unless it ensures that nobody is 'left behind'

Another brief example comes to mind... a friend of mine was talking to a Hamilton cop one day, he was late for a meeting. "Why are you late" she asked him The cop explained how he had just stopped a guy for a missing licence plate sticker. By the time he had done with him he'd ticketed him for no licence, no insurance, no registration - you name it. The guy was up to a thousand dollars in tickets. The cop was upset though, because, "It was obvious the guy was destitute...he just needed a car to get to work. It will take him years to pay those fines off"

Taking a stab at transit is not a bad starting point in dealing with Hamilton's poverty issues. There are many other solutions we can propose (and I'm sure, after this discussion, we probably will), but in car-happy Hamilton, improved transit is as good a start as any.

I'm sure you'll be reading more about this on RTH in the next few issues.

Happy Christmas

Ben

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 22, 2006 at 14:04:25

hi Peter...could you ellaborate on the 'micro-credit' loans?? I have no clue what that is....perhaps other do, but I'm interested to hear what that is you're proposing. Great comments Ben. I think it gets very tough to present all of our ideas and issues as 'something for everyone' but in reality that's what they are. I suppose part of the problem is constantly trying to get the powers that be to see the importance and payback of investing in the city. I think of the Robert Land community group that has purchased that old school and doing something great for that community. Sure, folks 'with money' will move downtown and already are in large numbers as things turn around. But it's the folks working full-time jobs yet needing food banks for their families along with new immigrants who need a bit more of our support. Not a 'free handout', but real opportunities to get established and become a success. We have doctors driving cab and lawyers working at gas stations. It shouldn't be that way. Folks like the one you mention above should be able to happily and conveniently live in a city our size with no car. But he can't. I really think the transportation sector is a huge one to start with. Transit, cycling and safer sidewalks/streets that are welcoming for PEOPLE, not mini-QEW's would go a long way in helping the working class get rid of the car and spend their money on food, clothing and a better place to live....heck, maybe they could even save money to buy a home instead of tossing money away to rent forever. And more jobs IN THE CITY is essential. For evey high tech tower or Mac Innovation Park there is a need for janitors, garbage men, service providers at restaurants, hotels, retail shops etc..... all of these represent jobs that can help someone slowly 'climb the ladder'. Perhaps we should meet with the poverty roundtable people and see what they think and if they have any interest in making transit/transportation issues a focus of their program.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted December 22, 2006 at 14:41:36

Microcredit is the practice of extending small, unsecured loans to people who are not able to get ordinary credit (because they are unemployed, poor, lack credit history, etc.)

It has been used with great success in some developing countries. It's been in the news a fair bit recently because Dr. Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi who has really developed the concept, recently won the Nobel Peace Prize. Read more about micro-credit here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microcredit

I agree with Peter that microcredit is something worth exploring in Hamilton. Many people in Hamilton need short-term loans, as the lineups at local payday lending companies will tell you. The main difference between microcredit and payday lending, of course, is that payday lending is ridiculously expensive. Rather than allowing people to escape their poverty, payday loans drive people into ever greater debt. I wrote an entire article about that on RTH:

http://www.raisethehammer.org/index.asp?...

Payday lending is another example of a downward spiral into poverty, like the cop who gave the man with no license and insurance all the tickets. The fact that poor people generally pay more for their basic goods and services is another. The people who can least afford it tend to pay the most.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted December 22, 2006 at 22:49:10

here are some interesting facts about yunus and his 'grameen bank': 97% of its clients are women; repayment rates are 99%; it has 6.6 million clients; it has loaned more than $5 billion; the bank will never charge interest if total interest charges exceed the total amount loaned [for example, someone who takes a $10 loan will not pay more than $10 in interest]; it has a programme for beggars with no collateral and no demands for interest, and much more.

it would be an interesting idea to experiment with in hamilton. i'm not ashamed to say that this has long been a fantasy of mine. to be able to offer loans to people in need and charge little or no interest would be a beautiful thing.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted December 23, 2006 at 12:47:07

I've lived in two cities where 'renewal' was effected. Collingwood, and Brighton, UK. Each city had its own pecularities, and I'm not going to hold forth on any of them here. Suffice to say that it seems to me that there are two main elements to consider when 'revitalizing' a city. (I'll use this as an umbrella term to describe wholesale change undertaken by cities, not just by developers.) The physical developments and the people.

The former can include new buildings (office, housing, etc), transportation, entertainment (including concert halls, theatres, stadiums). The latter... Well, the latter usually is somehow lumped in with the former. That is, 'We're seeing a new shopping center/city hall/concert venue/recreation centre/mass transit being built; this will enhance the quality of life for the residents of the city remarkably.' But it rarely (and please, correct me if I'm wrong) brings into play the fact that usually, when you've got a city in need of renewal, you've got yourself an impoverished underclass. And I guess this is where my cynicism rises up. Has anyone actually taken the HSR recently? I have. Daily. Many routes. And I can tell you that this is how our underclass travels. The old, to be sure. But the young...and all those in between. I'm sorry, but I fail to see how enhancing the ability to get people from Point A to Point B in a timely, humane and comfortable fashion is going to change these people's existences.

This point also leads to the topic of 'perceived gentrification'. I know this may be a distasteful subject for many people, but when a city is 'revitalized', it means that something new and invigourating is injected into the mix. This 'newness' doesn't manifest itself within the underclass. (It can; but only by way of raising-up this underclass to a less impoverished level.) It's usually seen when developments are constructed that will attract a fresh batch of residents. I saw it in Brighton, and I've certainly seen it in Collingwood. (A third reference that comes to mind personally might be the Ocean View neighbourhood of Norfolk, VA.) What happens to the 'locals', the underclass? Well, unless we're talking about entire neighbourhoods being obliterated and rebuilt in a new vision, if we're talking about a reborn downtown, they simply don't frequent the 'revitalized' areas anymore. I worked downtown in Hamilton from the mid-80s to the early 90s. And I can tell you that the cross-section of the average 'attendee' back then was far different than what you see there today, even taking into account the fall of Stelco Tower. The riff-raff, the rummies, the young ne'er-do-wells, the down-and-outers... Sorry, I don't mean to be crass; I am the one who brought up this issue, after all, but really; there's a profile of Hamilton that almost everyone seems to be ignoring, this underclass. And these are not the people who will benefit by any 'revitalization' efforts downtown, unless there's a accompanying element put into play to include them, along with all the pretty, new facilities. They'll simply feel out of place...and push their 'activities' elsewhere. So where's the accomplishment in that...?

When we're talking about 'revitalization', there's an implication that the state of affairs has fallen into disrepair. Disuse. Within this context, we're not talking about urban change. In any major city, this occurs daily. Building use changes. Buildings are torn down, other developments rising up in their place. That's not what we're talking about when we refer to 'revitalizing' Hamilton, is it? If it is, I feel we're having the wrong discussion, focusing on the wrong issues. What needs to be discussed is not how to solve the riddle of the Lister Block. And it's not how to create a more efficient and morally responsible way of moving people. And while microcredit is a fantastic 'innovation' that certainly has a role to play in this community of ours, I fear it's merely a tertiary means to a much larger end: 'How do we raise up our underclass so that we can stop the downward spiral of poverty, not only for those thus affected, but also to include them in the overall scheme to revitalize Hamilton (which, let's face it, will be preaching to the converted, a more affluent middle-class)?'

This from a dear friend of mine: "The poverty issue in Hamilton is something my wife and I discuss a lot. However, we tend to focus on the kids in schools. She gets much feedback regarding the state of some of the schools in Hamilton, and many are described as war zones. If kids are in fact our future, then it doesn't look good for many of them."

Again, sorry to sound like a broken record, but I applaud the hell out of this site, out of its editors, out of its contributors. But seriously; someone has to start talking about a much broader vision of Hamilton, one of prodigious hopes and dreams, not just of well-intentioned, energized visions of issues such as mass transit, otherwise, in due course, we're all going to be holding our heads, wondering "How on earth did we end up falling this far?!?"

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 23, 2006 at 13:57:01

Hi Schmadrian,

Thank you for such a thoughtful post. (Please do consider submitting an article - it sounds like you've given this issue a lot of consideration.)

Part of it, I think, is that there's an important difference between the mentality of "renewal" vs. "revitalization".

http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/04...

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted December 23, 2006 at 21:13:16

Jason: I was curious about your references to Bogota and what they've done. I don't mean to be dismissive out-of-hand, but with their population at around 8 million and the fact that they don't have to contend with up to six months of snow, don't you think that we should be comparing apples with apples? In regard to the former aspect, economies of scale play a huge role in getting things done, as I'm sure you're very cognizant. And one should never underestimate the effect that four full seasons can have on the practibility and overall effectiveness of any transport effort. Having lived in Brighton/Hove in the UK, where it's 'perpetual autumn', I can testify to this truth.

Ryan: Thanks for the additional invite, but I think that if you read the letter I CC'd to Jason and Adrian, you might understand why I'm skeptical as to my effectiveness as a contributor. Still...

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 23, 2006 at 23:31:05

I'm actually planning an interview with one of the fellas responsible for overseeing the cycling and transit improvements in Bogota during those few years. The cities are different, but consider this: - it rains there like crazy - they are a 'poor' nation that shouldn't be able to so quickly and beautifully do stuff like this (at least that's what Westerners would think) - they have a much larger poor population than us and are seeing poverty and crime decrease as they've made huge strides towards sustainability. - and of course, 'modern' Western cities like Portland or Montreal that have poverty as well, but seem to have a more vibrant, enjoyable mix of people in their cities...and again, both (to name two in very different climates) are very sustainable.

Sustainability has a great impact on cities....on the people and the built environment. Bogota was filthy and rather drab when I first visited...my second visit I was coming in from the airport trying to figure out what was different. I realized late in the week that all these physical changes had been made to their infrastructure... I saw it and used it. the air was cleaner, cranes were all over the place and I read up on crime and poverty stats...it was remarkable.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted December 24, 2006 at 08:19:50

Jason:

Again, I feel like I'm going to be pegged as a nay-sayer and nihilist...especially when the core of what I believe in re: Hamilton is so utterly divergent from just about anything I've read on RTH. Having said that...

-Montreal has three times as many people. I really think that any discussion about comparisons, paradigms, models, should primarily concern Hamilton-equivalents. -Montreal's social history over the past thirty years has been completely different from Hamilton's, especially the way in which 'vibrancy' is expressed. Montreal, its various neighbourhoods, they're locked-down. There's bedrock there. Hamilton doesn't have that. Hamilton is, if you take away the peripheral aspects, dormant. Nobody's cared about what Hamilton is (the downtown) in the same way that most other cities do, Montreal included. (Has anyone really, really taken a good look at the amount of vacant land in Hamilton? Can anyone name another thriving city where so much land has been sitting for as long as it has in Hamilton?!? The 'business as usual' mindset that I've seen proposed as the city's mentality is shameful. Does anyone in Hamilton, anyone who has any say, any input, have any initiative at all to change things? Or do we need an outsider to come in and shake things up?) -I'm beginning to think that eyes were taken off the ball when the 'regional' approach was initiated back in the days of Anne Jones. Why? Well, to go back to my current pet phrase, looking outward is far more 'sexy' than addressing what in almost every case you can cite defines a city, its downtown. Maybe the shift in emphasis to the 'suburbs' was a pendulum-swing, and therefore no surprise at all; from '69 through the mid80s, Hamilton's downtown was entirely changed. As was noted in your previous article (thanks for the link, the heads-up on that one), what was begun with the greatest of intentions (Jackson Square, etc) suffered from a lack of understanding of the complexities of how cities thrive. And you know what? I see the same thing happening now, with so much emphasis on the 'outer limits' (fantasy reference fully and completely intentional), instead of the 'core' needs.

While I was on the bus the other day (yeah, what's new there?!?) I had a bizarre, self-indulgent thought: that someone rents out a large room in Hamilton, sends out invites and holds a symposium. "Hamilton Imaginings: What Could The Future Hold For It, For Us, For You?" Not accredited. Not associated with any organization, any party, any school of thought. Just a chance for 'dreamers and schemers on the loose' to actually discuss stuff in a free-form way.

Crazy, huh?

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted December 24, 2006 at 08:45:04

OK.

Here's my final pre-Christmas rant. I promise. I hate to think of all those e-trees being chopped down to make it possible for my words to be read...

This connects to a point I raised in my previous post: vacant land. If I had a hundred million dollars, I'd be buying up undeveloped Hamilton real estate. Why?

Think of the GTA. Think of the growth that's taken place. In Toronto-proper, to the north-east, the north, the north-west, to Scarberia in the east, Etobicoke to the west, Mr&Mrsauga, Oakville, Burlington-

Oh, that's right. Then we come to Hamilton.

Hamilton is going to be developed. Come hell or high-water, it's going to be developed. And someone is going to make a killing off what transpires. Because just as communities like Brighton and Bournemouth and Eastbourne and Littlehampton are becoming satellite communities for London, the same thing's happening here. In the Golden Horseshoe. And if 'Hamilton' doesn't have a vision of what it wants to become...something that goes much farther then deciding where the next mega-strip-mall is going, or how quickly the Red Hill Vavoomway is going to be completed...or whether Hamiltonians can handle changing what were once two-way streets long ago, back to that state from one-wayers...then the decisions will be made for it.

Yes, this sounds so very cloak-and daggerish. But it's a fact: Hamilton has somehow managed to remain undeveloped in the face of all other Toronto-vicinity communities having been 'launched' by what amounts to the engine of Ontario. That's not going to last forever. It's going to change. And it won't matter who's in power here. Money talks. And in due time, that money is going to start talking. Some of you may say 'Hurrah! Finally an influx!' Well, be careful of what you wish for.

I return to one of my original, seminal questions: What does Hamilton want to be? It can no longer be a 'steel city'.

"Evolve, or perish."

Except it won't be a question of perishing. It'll be an abrogation of responsibility, a ceding of vision and intent, leading to what I'd project as a real mess.

Despite the gloom and doom of some of my words, I'll state this: Hamilton is positioned for the future in an extremely good way. In fact, it's blessed. Ironically, blessed by its own inteptitude. (Or that of its governors. Semantical gymnastics; doncha love it?) It's got so little going on, so little momentum, that there are all kinds of opportunities, just waiting to be acknowledged.

What we need for starters, is some vision. Not neato ideas to augment the vision, like sensible –and innovative– approaches to transit. I'm talking about vision. Breaking-convention, wow-that's-an-amazing-concept, ballsy-projections of what this city of ours could be, should be.

Otherwise, get ready to hand over the keys to someone else whose vision we'll (by dint of lack of our own initiative) be kowtowing to.

Anyone brave enough to step up and have a go?

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 24, 2006 at 22:38:21

these last 2 comments are right on the mark. bravo! I regularly fear that when the money starts rolling our way, we'll just end up like an older version of Mississuaga - malls, big box crap and strip plazas everywhere...why? because we don't have a vision of what we want to be. we're so desperate for any investment that we'll settle for the rotten version instead of holding investors and companies to a high standard by saying "no way are you plopping down more big box stuff at Centre Mall or QEW/Centennial. We have plans and vision already set in place for those lands - mixed use, proper building materials, lots of trees, a great public realm etc..." The way we're going now I really hope that the money doesn't start flowing anytime soon....but the problem with that is the lack of opportunity and investment keeps us in perpetual poverty. City hall needs visionaries (like yourself) and it needs them fast!

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