Living downtown can help children grow up with a much better perspective of life than living in a far flung suburb where nobody says hi and there is nowhere to walk.
By Jason Leach
Published October 07, 2005
Living in the heart of Hamilton offers many conveniences and little niceties that enhance daily life. While suburbanites hit the roof over increasing gas prices (you ain't seen nothing yet) I just leave the car at home and hop on my bike, take the bus or walk. Many days I do a bit of each.
We used to fill up our car, a 2005 base model Honda Civic, once a week. During the past month and a half, we have managed to get it down to one fill-up every second week. One tank usually costs me around $35-45, depending on the price of fuel.
Now I spend $8.50 on a pack of five bus tickets each week to week and a half. I use the transfers wisely and live a 10-15 minute walk from the Market, Gore Park, Locke South and Fortinos on Dundurn. Those trips become five minute jobs on bike.
I'm in better shape, contributing to the fabric of urban life and saving money each week.
However, now that my wife and I have lived in the core for over four years, there is one aspect of life that continues to amaze us: the constant change in the urban landscape.
Another café here, a new gallery (or ten) there, a new small grocery/convenience store, a local produce stand popping up on the sidewalk and on and on it goes.
Not a week goes by where I don't notice several building renovations, business openings and urban beautification projects ranging from large scale streetscaping projects to small garden makeovers.
As you've been told over and over and over by our Accidental Activist Ben Bull, I am his largest source of info for Word on the Street.
This column is not meant to replace WOTS but rather to highlight the enjoyment of living in Hamilton's urban core. It is also meant to offer suggestions to readers from other parts of the city who may want to come downtown and become a part of the solution (instead of sitting at home crying the blues like too many Hamiltonians).
I'll give you some great spots to check out and maybe you'll find your favourite new coffee shop, home décor store or park bench.
With the Spectator continuing on their devastating "revolution", which has basically turned that paper into one huge flyer for box stores and drab corporate chains, I feel that there is a need to highlight some of the great local businesses and services that are run by hard-working, honest Hamiltonians just like you.
Remember, each time you buy something at a chain store, most of your money leaves this community and travels to some rich dude in New York or Chicago. If you shop at locally owned businesses, you are actually supporting a Hamilton family who will, in turn, spend their money in local markets, shops and entertainment venues. Your money can go a long way if spent wisely.
I think a good place to start is to try and break down the long-held suburban myth that downtown Hamilton is only a slight step up from inner city Harlem or Detroit.
A quick scan of the MLS listings will show several new loft and condo projects being built in the downtown core with prices ranging from $150,00 to several units in the $250,000 - $380,000 range. Hardly the type of real estate bargains typically found in urban Buffalo.
There are also several new and yet-to-be-announced projects coming down the pipe that will confirm what many of us urbanites already know: people want to live here.
I rarely spend a penny of my disposable income outside of downtown Hamilton. I certainly don't need to venture very far outside the core for leisure and entertainment. From waterfalls and hiking trails to fine art, off-the-wall art and every style of music on the planet, downtown Hamilton has it all.
Last Saturday, I took my two-year-old daughter on a "date". She likes dates with Dad, even though I'm not blind to the fact that I'm not Mom. Given the choice to have cozy time with Mom or Dad, she'll pick the better half nine times out of ten. But she loves our little dates and excursions to the market and local parks.
We regularly head over to Dundurn Park to feed the squirrels, whistle at the chipmunks and sometimes even see the odd beaver, rabbit, and possum. What other city can offer such close interaction with nature's beauty in the heart of town?
Last weekend was the first (annual, I hope) Arts Day in the District on James South. This was a great event, which took full advantage of the wonderful alleyway that runs north-south between Bold and Duke streets just west of James.
You will regularly find historic walking tours, photographers and painters trekking this alleyway and enjoying some of Hamilton's most historic architecture.
The festival got the cars out of one of the parking lots and had a live music stage, art booths, a large mural being painted along with a huge dude juggling on stilts that my daughter called "The Guy" and repeatedly asked for throughout the remainder of the day. "Daddy, where's The Guy?"
"He went home, sweetie." We had this conversation a few dozen times that day and even the following days. "The Guy" made quite the impression on her.
We checked out the wares on display from the local businesses along James South. This strip is really becoming a great shopping and dining destination in downtown Hamilton.
Accent Your World has an amazing selection of housewares for each room in your home. Write Impressions continues to lead the way in unique gifts and cards. I regularly overhear customers from Toronto chatting with the employees and enthusing about how much they love Hamilton and the South Side District.
A new gallery, Parker Pearce, is a spectacular space with a great show consisting of mostly local artists right now. A two-storey loft is being built in the upper floors of the building.
Mike's World of Books offers a soothing spot to sit and read a book without the noise and bustle of a Chapters store. Plus, used books are the way to go.
The House of Java sells hundreds of different kinds of coffee, including some new organic fair trade brands.
The Coffee House is one of the most inviting cafes you'll ever see. You could literally spend hours in here sipping your java and reading a book or magazine without even realizing the time that has passed.
Along with several spas and salons, there are good eateries such as Saigon Soul Food and a new hot pot place across the street. A longtime breakfast favourite in Hamilton is Steve's Open Kitchen. Good grub for great prices can be had here. And this is just the one block stretch between Bold and Duke!
A couple of women's boutiques sit next to the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts, just north of Bold, and a streetfront commercial space is being prepared in the ground floor of the Chateau Royale condo complex.
Upon leaving the street festival, my daughter and I strolled on the east side of James toward downtown. The view of the historic churches and Pigott building set against the modern glass backdrop of the CIBC and Stelco Towers is spectacular from this side of the street.
We were directly across from St. Paul's when the clock struck noon and the bells did their thing. We stopped and my daughter was enthralled with the ringing sound and the immensity of these buildings.
We strolled by the Gore and she excitedly pointed out the pigeons and falcons along with the flowing water from the fountain.
Then it was off to the market. She loves this place. And why not? Full of sound, colour, life and people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
It's so much more enjoyable to shop here than in a big box chain supermarket where everything is about "me" - honking and yelling in the parking lot over a spot three steps closer to the door and folks pushing and elbowing their way in line at the deli counter and checkout.
The Market is jam-packed with people, sometimes like sardines, yet everyone acts like they know each other. Smiles, friendly hellos, and free slices of deli meat for the cutie in the stroller are the norm.
Folks defer to each other when in a human traffic jam and chat while waiting to be served at the fruit stand or meat counter. We had veggie spring rolls and samosas for lunch from the Sensational Samosa and then began the stroll home.
We were walking home and enjoying the great streetwall of historic homes, urban gardens, bikes locked onto black iron railings at every third house and friendly greetings from folks sitting on their porch or tending to the garden when it hit me.
This is an amazingly stimulating way for my little girl to be growing up. In two hours she saw a huge guy on stilts juggling knives, historic buildings from the early 1800s, a good old-fashioned marketplace full of every ethnic group under the sun and food to match, wonderful urban homes, and friendly people chatting her up and pinching her cheeks everywhere we went.
Heck, just as were getting home we stumbled across an organic market on someone's front lawn in the Dundurn/Lochearne area. They had tended to their urban garden all summer and were now selling the fruit of their labour at great prices.
Why eat chemical junk from California or some fast food joint when the urban core is filled with locally grown produce?
Taking all this in, I couldn't help but feel that living downtown was going to help my daughter grow up with a much better perspective of life than living in a far flung suburb where nobody says hi and there is nowhere to walk.
I feel bad for all these kids who have nothing else to do but hang out at Limeridge Mall. Without realizing it, they are being sucked into the vicious lifestyle of greed and consumerism (and debt) and have no sense of place or community.
Of all the people I know, the ones who talk bad about Hamilton the most are the ones who live in the suburbs. Now I know why. Life downtown is great. It's simpler and less controlled by corporate America.
When I lived on the Mountain, I never had to re-arrange my schedule to leave five or ten minutes early for work or meetings due to the probability of running into a neighbour on the street or in the park who would want to chat for a few minutes.
Now I do. And I love it. So does my little girl.
Come on downtown and discover a different lifestyle. One street at a time. One neighbourhood at a time. I guarantee you'll grow to love it. In fact, I'll throw a few tips your way each issue to ensure that you do. We owe it to ourselves and to this great city. Ciao.
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