Comment 33108

By LL (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2009 at 17:07:26

Important comparison. I was a weekend Annex resident for about two years and it also blew my mind that developers wanted to level such a great neighbourhood - along with the incomparable Kensington market - for an expressway. Hamiltonians should think about the treasure the City has degraded in the Red Hill.

There are some important caveats to keep in mind. Hamilton and Toronto might be close by, and may share a history of early industrialism. But their histories have diverged considerably in the last 50 years. This divergence is certainly not primarily the product of urban planning, but of macro-structure of global capitalism. In other words, both cities occupy radically different positions in the global division of labour. Toronto is the financial capital of Canada. Hamilton is an example of deindustrialized rustbelt. As a result, the two cities have faced completely different options.

However, that is not to say that it was preordained that Toronto preserve it's human-scaled neighbourhoods while Hamilton destroy them. If it were not for the activism Jane Jacobs led, Toronto could have very well ended up with a "Los Angelization" of its downtown. Conversely, there was a time in the 70's that Hamilton's civic activism (against the Red Hill and against the "urban renewal" of Strathcona) could have tipped the scales on urban politics against the sprawl party. If so, we might have gotten in on the tech boom, etc. Who knows?

Today, Hamilton is at an interesting juncture. The strength of Toronto may spill over. All the city has to do is make a few reasonable changes to the downtown, and the influx of Toronto white collar workers will continue. Capital will certainly follow them, since (all this yammering about tax rates aside) one of the most important locational features that capitalists look for is an exploitable labour force that suits their requirements. Techy, informational, contemporary capitalism just isn't seeing that in Hamilton, with its mulletheads from the mountain and east end invading the downtown in their souped up cars.

We've got beautiful greenspaces, some neighbourhoods that have managed to survive, a major University - all the ingredients to attract skilled labour. But that damn asphalt cult that makes up the majority of the civic establishment keeps holding back the downtown...

Now, if Hamilton's establishment does manage to get its head out if its collective ass and pull off the "nobrainer", we should look to the Annex for insight into the next problem. The "decline" caused by gentrification is real. Jacobs, Kunstler, and the new urbanists on this site have not dealt with this issue adequately. In my opinion, it comes from seeing good neighbourhoods as an exchange value to promote growth and wage inter-urban competition. We should be thinking of neighbourhoods as a use-value in their own right - as a way of resisting.

Hamilton can do it a different way. Instead of attracting yuppies with "higher order transit" and boutique retail, we can build good neighbourhoods on a more grassroots basis. Housing co-ops, guerrilla and community gardening, bike culture, artist colonies that resist gentrification, DIY green tech, rebuilding the labour movement when manufacturing inevitably returns...

Or maybe a bit of both.

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