Revitalization

What the Downtown BIA Needs to Do

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 21, 2007

Today's Hamilton Spectator carries an article the Downtown BIA trying to attract more businesses downtown "to offset a 23 per cent office and retail space vacancy rate in the core", down from 28 percent five years ago but still among the highest in Canada.

This is a classic chicken-and-egg problem: with lots of empty storefronts and intimidating blocks, people are reluctant to go downtown. Without customers, business are reluctant to take the plunge.

One of the biggest problems is that the BIA is convinced the solution lies in accommodating drivers. Cars take up a lot of space for driving lanes and parking at every destination, and that actually crowds out real destinations worth visiting.

If the Downtown BIA is serious about revitalizing business in the core, it needs to advocate the following:

These measures would begin a real transformation downtown that would free up capital to reinvest, attract businesses, and draw a lot more people downtown by moving back and by visiting on foot, bicycle, or transit.

The downtown could finally go back to being a dense, mixed, vibrant, healthy centre.

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 June 21, 2007 at 09:49:09

James North is living proof of the benefits of going two-way. Imagine the effect a two-way reversion would have on the (already slowly improving) international village stretch of King.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 21, 2007 at 11:51:28

keep in mind that much of that vacancy rate is due to empty space in office towers. The last I heard the streetfront vacancy rate for King and James streets was around 11%. Down from 16% a couple of years ago.

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By doeraymee (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2007 at 11:58:19

You know, for years I believed the "two way streets" mantra. Never questioned it. Then I went to NYC and noticed their one-way streets.
Hasn't seemed to hurt the liveliness of Manhattan.
Must be something else that's killed downtown Hamilton, eh?
(scratching head)

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 21, 2007 at 12:25:57

I've never been to NYC, but the most vibrant street life there probably does not happen on one way roads designed to permit (and encourage) cars to blow through at 70km/h with a string of endless green lights.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 21, 2007 at 13:19:44

"Then I went to NYC and noticed their one-way streets."

Manhattan is just about the densest city in North America. As David Owen argued in a New Yorker article:


Manhattan's population density is more than eight hundred times that of the nation as a whole. Placing one and a half million people on a twenty-three-square-mile island sharply reduces their opportunities to be wasteful, and forces the majority to live in some of the most inherently energy efficient residential structures in the world: apartment buildings.

http://www.walkablestreets.com/manhattan.htm

Basically, New York is one of the few places that can get away with one-way streets because it is so incredibly dense that traffic still crawls along (and in Manhattan, well over half of that traffic is taxis - less than 30 percent of residents own cars).

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 21, 2007 at 14:18:43

not just 'one of the few places that can get away with two-way traffic' but according to a consultant the city hired a few years ago to study our downtown, "new york is the ONLY city that can maintain such vibrancy even with 1-way streets." go check out the streets in Toronto that are 1-way. Dead. Then around the corner on John, Queen, King etc...there's tons of vibrancy.

New York is it's own animal...and quite a dense, lively animal. You'd probably never move an inch in New York if they swtched back to two-way....wel, you barely move an inch now. lol. no comparison.

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By w willy (registered) | Posted June 25, 2007 at 13:58:31

Okay, enough about the one-way streets already. I think your more important point is about the parking. It seems our downtown BIA people think that the only way to compete with the Meadowlands is to be the Meadowlands. But the downtown can never be that (thank goodness!). What a shame that the downtown "powers that be" are so clueless about what is creating some buzz around downtown, and so tied to "solutions" that will stifle that very buzz! Maybe it will be up to the neighbourhood associations surrounding the core to interject some common sense, because the loudest downtown voices are often those the most obviously out of date.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 25, 2007 at 14:34:35

right on willy! but if the powers that be can't even figure out the one-way thing, how the hell are they supposed to figure out how "buzz" works?

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By Genghis (anonymous) | Posted September 03, 2007 at 13:51:14

Try some no way streets.In Glasgow the areas of Buchanan and Saucchiehall are blocked off for pedestrian traffic in the downtown core.

I drove through areas like Jamestown and it really is a walking area.

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By Genghis (anonymous) | Posted September 03, 2007 at 13:54:41

BTW, if you have ever seen Glasgow over the last 100 years or through the 60s- 70s makes Hamilton look like Dubai or Emirates.

They snadblasted all the beuatiful georgian buldings where they used to demolish them in the 80s and there are areas that are drop dead gorgeous architecture wise.

HAmilton reminds me of Glasgow for some reason.Thinking of moving to HAmilton.

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