Green City

The Unambitious City

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 03, 2007

Wouldn't it be great if people in other cities read wire stories about how a mid-sized city in Southern Ontario called Hamilton was taking the lead on sustainability initiatives?

I was saddened today to read this story in the Hamilton Spectator about the movement to reduce plastic bags (in other places):

A growing number of communities are banning plastic bags, but similar initiatives are a long way off in Hamilton.

"It's something we started researching," said city waste disposal manager Craig Murdoch.

But despite plans to continue that research, he says, the city isn't committing to the idea.

The article notes that while cities like Leaf Rapids, Man. and San Francisco, CA banned bags outright, Ireland charges a 15 cent levy as a disincentive (it has reduced bag use by 90 percent since 2002). Heather Donison from Green Venture believes this is a more pragmatic approach.

The debate over baby steps or giant leaps aside, Hamilton is fixed in place. Our grand, inspirational Vision 2020, drafted almost 15 years ago, languishes in obscurity while our do-nothing council whines that an anti-idling bylaw would be "authoritarian".

Years after it was successfully implemented in other cities and proposed here, a ban on cosmetic pesticides is still kicking around subcommittees and consultations.

Toronto is looking to spend $60-80 million dollars on new light rail lines connecting the city, and Hamilton doesn't even have a rapid transit study group yet.

Portland, Ore. has generated billions of dollars in new private investment around its wildly successful light rail lines while Hamilton is building a half-billion dollar highway to service a billion-dollar sprawl housing development in Glanbrook.

So it goes in case after case. We mock progressive ideas as 'naive' and 'politically unrealistic', even after other cities stick their necks out and prove that they can work. As the rest of the industrialized world moves forward, Hamilton digs in its heels.

Wouldn't it be nice if, just once, we were the leaders and not the ones left behind in the dust, scratching our heads and coughing?

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 seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2007 at 13:15:44

...and we can't even find a place to spend $300,000 on improving cycling conditions to get people out of the driver's seat (even if just on weekend outings!)

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 03, 2007 at 15:05:49

no, we can FIND the $300,000. We just refuse to spend it. So it sits there collecting dust (similar to our lungs).

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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2007 at 21:32:53

Food Basics has a surcharge for grocery bags and people still buy them. Therefore, the city needs to ban them as this surcharge system doesn't have enough affect obviously. After all what's another dollar for the bags if you've already spent $100 on groceries.

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By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2007 at 23:17:57

Whew, you just about covered them all here... transit, sprawl, highways, pesticides, idling, and now plastic bags! Bad day?

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