Special Report: Light Rail

Civil Discourse and Calling a Neighbourhood 'Nowhere'

When I told the LRT Sub-Committee that people living on the line don't like being told they are "nowhere", Councillor Whitehead took it personally and impugned my character.

By Karl Andrus
Published January 31, 2017

Yesterday I had an opportunity to speak to the Hamilton LRT Sub-Committee. I made my delegation because I wanted to speak to the history of the debate, the community organizations currently rallying to support businesses on the line, and to the prolific use of the term "nowhere" in the debate and discussion about this infrastructure project.

I had jokingly talked about the previous Rapid Transit debate in Hamilton and the quote from former Mayor Bill Powell, when he called the proposed line from downtown (my neck of the woods) and the mountain "a system from nowhere to nowhere".

I said to the assembled councillors, "My key point, and I really wanted to come back down to it is, especially listening to my neighbours and friends who live in this area, we're just really tired of hearing it called 'nowhere'. You know, regardless of what your stances are on LRT or anywhere else. I don't call your home 'nowhere' so please stop calling mine 'nowhere'."

I was hopeful that this might stir a conversation about the negative tones of language that are creeping into our civic and political discourse on this side of the border, as well as the other side.

I did not specifically mention Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead or anyone else. However, Councillor Whitehead took this concern quite personally.

He went on to impugn my character, saying, "I'm just insulted when people come in and conflate a comment that was literally talking about transit lines and stations and not neighbourhoods, just to shift the discussion and the narrative to something that it's not. And it's unfortunate that people want to do that, because I think that creates more division than being honest about what the discussion's really about."

Mr. Whitehead, I intended no personal affront. If I can take a page from your book, I was merely speaking to the dictionary use of the word "nowhere", which as I am sure you know reads:

adverb: nowhere
1. not in or to any place; not anywhere.
"plants and animals found nowhere else in the world"

1. no place.
"there was nowhere for her to sit"
2. a place that is remote, uninteresting, or nondescript.
"a stretch of road between nowhere and nowhere"

adjective: nowhere
1. having no prospect of progress or success.
"she's involved in a nowhere affair with a married executive"

There is no reference to nowhere as a transit hub, as a destination hub or as a consideration in the LRT debate.

Please do not take my comments personally but rather as an attempt to keep a discussion about civic matters, well, civil. No one needs to feel like they are from "nowhere".

I agree wholeheartedly with you that the Queenston traffic Circle is not currently a transit hub or the ideal end for LRT. However, there are plans to turn it into one, and eventually to extend the line to Eastgate Square.

In the meantime, people still live there, work there and it continues to not be nowhere. So stop using derisive and dismissive language and mean what you say.

Thanks to Joey Coleman, you can watch a video of the exchange:

Terry Whitehead is insulted.

Councillor Terry Whitehead was challenged on his "nowhere" comments by Karl Andrus, Whitehead says he was insulted by the delegate. Video from today's LRT Sub-Committee

Posted by Joey Coleman on Monday, January 30, 2017

Karl Andrus has returned to his hometown of Hamilton after attending Brock University majoring in History. He is a proud son of journalist and local activist the late Kate Andrus. He lives in Stinson, loves the vibrant and growing city, is former Co-Chair of the Stinson Community Association, VP and of Community atthe Hamilton Community Benefits Network and is active in many local groups and initiatives.


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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted January 31, 2017 at 10:44:43

Another definition of "nowhere" in the context of this LRT debate is, a place I don't personally need to go to very often or a place I don't think of as important because it has nothing or anyone, I am personally interested in. It has no place I consider important and no one I know living near it that I want to see on a regular basis. A place I don't have any emotional or personal connection to, or plan to have in the near future. Unfortunately, rural residents, suburbanites and urbanites, my self included, are guilty of these feelings from time to time. Its troubling though when you see city council members spout these types of opinions on a near consistent basis.

This is why I have always felt that a really good rapid transit system and its associated operating technology, LRT included, is a way to get too not only better transport options but a means to end, to create places that are not described as "nowhere" and that almost everyone will care about!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 31, 2017 at 12:32:44

Whitehead's comment about a "train to nowhere" and similar comments about a train "from nowhere to nowhere" are troubling and ignorant for many reasons, beyond being insulting to those who live or work near the proposed east end terminus. And he has repeated this "train to nowhere" comment over and over.

First, transit lines very commonly terminate somewhere other than a dense urban core or attraction. Indeed, this is usually the case since the terminus is often a maintenance yard, or at the edge of the city. A rapid transit line is not like a high speed train between major city centres. Its usefulness is about getting around in the city, not travelling from one end to the other. It would make more sense to continue to Eastgate, but the line we have now is not "nowhere".

Also, it suggests that there is nothing interesting or worthwhile along the entire line, since the focus is entirely on the end point. As others have pointed out, there is no other straight route in Hamilton that could take in such a big population and range of employment and other attractions: McMaster (about 40,000 students and staff), McMaster Innovation Park, Westdale, Westdale High School, Downtown (25,000 jobs around 37,000 residents in ward 2), Art Gallery, City Hall, Jackson Square, Hamilton Place, Convention Centre, Hunter Street Go Station, Gage Park, stadium, Ottawa Street, etc, etc.

Finally, it really sends the message that Hamilton itself is "nowhere" and not worthy of a billion dollar infrastructure investment, which seems to be the underlying feeling of many anti-LRT people.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2017-01-31 12:46:54

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted January 31, 2017 at 15:42:35

I watched the video. I see a citizen taking the brave step of going down to City Hall, taking himself out of his element, to speak about his neighbourhood and community. And a professional politician who is good at talking at meetings (because that's what a lot of his job is), in a position of authority at a meeting, using his power not to explain his position but to bully a citizen who has taken the time to participate. I don't think he thought Mr. Andrus was being "disingenuous" at all. I don't think any reasonable person would guess that Mr. Andrus was trying to "shift the narrative."

Whitehead's point about the Queenston circle not being a great hub is a good one. But the "nowhere" comment was unfortunate. I'm sure a two-second explanation that he did not mean to offend with his less-than-ideal wording choice would have been more useful than what he did say.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 31, 2017 at 16:09:44 in reply to Comment 120646

Yeah, that. Everybody's disappointed with the Queenston Traffic Circle terminus, and if Whitehead just apologized and clarified, everybody would be on the same page. But instead, he's so full of bluster that dealing with conflict like an adult isn't an option.

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