Revitalization

No Shortage of 'Squelchers'

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 08, 2008

Hamilton has always been a "live and don't learn" kind of place. There's a prevailing sentiment in this city that we shouldn't aim high, because it won't work, or we're not big enough, or we're not urban enough, or we're just a bedroom community, or we're just going to screw it up anyway.

So it was a breath of fresh air, last week, to read the Spectator's report on the economic summit sponsorred by the Chamber of Commerce, which featured keynote speaker Richard Florida, author of Who's Your City? and the already-seminal Rise of the Creative Class.

As the Spectator's Meredith MacLeod summarized:

Florida cautions that Hamilton can still make mistakes on the road to economic prosperity, pointing to tearing down old buildings, failing to focus on innovation and research collaborations and allowing what he calls the old-style thinking of "squelchers" to stand in the way.

He says cities must attract and nurture creative talent by fostering a culture of inclusion, openness and civic engagement, capitalizing on their natural landscapes and preserving and celebrating their history.

Of course, the aptly-named "squelchers" are never far off. A breaking news article from last night, carried in today's paper, reports that the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) has applied for a demolition permit for another building on the Lister Block, on King William just a couple of doors down from the recently demolished Balfour Building.

So much for not "tearing down old buildings". In Hamilton, we look at our rich urban tapestry of heritage buildings and see not an opportunity to be developed, but an "eyesore" to be demolished.

Then, in the letters page, recently-transplanted Toronto property developer Harry Stinson lamented the reception he has received from some quarters for his plan to revitalize the Royal Connaught in an ambitious new mixed use project.

Writing about the economic summit, he observes:

I attended this conference and felt encouraged. The next morning, the day on which we were all supposed to go forth and be positive, I opened The Spectator and found a snarky editorial cartoon portraying me as an evil snake oil salesman.

Whether it is ironic or just puts the reality into focus, The Spectator was a sponsor of the summit. May I suggest the emperor has no clothes.

Since moving here, my family and I have generally been impressed with the spirit and warmth of the people of Hamilton. The one sour note has been the mean-spirited, superficial, personal ridiculing of The Spectator's editorial cartoons.

The "squelchers" have struck again. How dare some upstart developer from Toronto come to Hamilton and shame the local industry, which only seems to know how to build suburban single family houses and big box plazas!

In true Hamilton style, we mock his optimism and sneer at his ambition.

It's no wonder we're still suck in the 1950s while more ambitious cities pull ahead of us and put us to shame.

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 Frank (registered) | Posted May 08, 2008 at 08:46:50

I actually saw that cartoon and almost called the Spectator. I get angry sometimes when I talk about the Core and where it can go and all I hear is "that's not going to happen" or "we can't afford that". Who says? I guess if there was less for the squelchers to complain about, they'd have to find something else to whine about since it's usually the people who put down Hamilton's core who squelch any plans for ambitious development as well.

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By Robespierre (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2008 at 23:33:35

The Spectator is disgusting in its willingness to lionize people one day and vilify them the next. I think Stinson should be given a chance to see what he can produce.

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By Locke (registered) | Posted May 09, 2008 at 13:35:21

Anyone been to Toronto lately and seen the construction towers? There's been a boom going on that Hamilton has largely missed out on... and the boom appears to be slowing. We should be welcoming people who see opportunity... They will lead the way before opportunity is lost.

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By Owl (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2008 at 12:04:26

Harry Stinson's talents as a developer have been proven again and again. His project will be of great benefit to Hamilton, and his buildings will stand as a testament to his vision when the youngest cartoonist has retired. Noone should take the sneers seriously.

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