Special Report: Light Rail

From the Outside In: An Insider's Outside Perspective on LRT and Hamilton Communities

Hamilton is bursting with opportunity to take our community to the next level, but we need to seize those shining moments that will change the face of our city.

By Jaimie Rizzo
Published April 24, 2017

I recently moved back to Hamilton after being away for quite some time. I live in the downtown core, on the edges of Corktown, walking distance to the International Village, to James North Art Crawls, to vibrant culture and community.

Not even ten years ago, if you would have asked me if I would have considered living in the core, I would have scoffed, shaken my head and snubbed up my nose.

I tell people I grew up in Hamilton, but it was really in Stoney Creek - Winona, to be precise, a small blink-and-you-miss-it neighbourhood where we celebrated when we got our first (and still only) Tim Horton's store.

Where I grew up, you had to take a 15-minute taxi to get to the closest bus stop. I have a vivid memory of being 16 and getting grounded for taking a bus from the mountain to Gore Park with coworker friends. You see, downtown was simply not a place for a Winona girl to be.

I was fortunate: I had a car at age 17, though mostly because transit wasn't an option and I had to get around somehow. Many friends of mine were not so lucky, and so they moved away.

I completed my undergrad at McMaster University and was highly involved. I also worked and obviously went out.

Even then, my world revolved around the Westdale neighbourhood, and though I began using transit more regularly, the core was still a little taboo. It was a place we went when we were feeling risqué, or when we wanted to seem be whatever you call the early 2000's equivalent of a hipster and frequent some unknown establishment.

I left in 2009 to continue my education in Windsor, pursuing teacher education with focus (ironically) on urban populations. This was followed by a few years living and working in Burlington. My early adult life was very removed from the goings-on in Hamilton.

Back in Hamilton

Fast-forward to June 2016, I suddenly found myself working in the heart of downtown. I was still nervous in my new role. My work revolves around community, though, so I put my nerves aside and jumped right in.

What I found surprised me. Here, in the land of "despair and desolation and poverty", was more than I ever imagined. Culture, amazing restaurants, brilliant local business who spotlighted other local business. Passionate and inspiring individuals who are striving to build, create, and share their own passions with their community.

Now, don't get me wrong. There are definitely still challenges facing us. But what I see most - what inspired that Winona country girl to become a full-fledged city dweller - is a community striving to build itself up, to reach deep down to its roots of innovation and creation, to thrown our own spin on it and take things to the next level.

Today, I am fortunate. I have a career I adore (props to my colleagues). I still have educational opportunities through McMaster (shoutout to my co-learners). I am a home owner.

I still have a car, but I choose to walk or take transit as much as I can. I adore the fact that I cannot walk the 700 meters from my home to my work without seeing at least one familiar face. I am inspired by the people I see in my small piece of the world - their successes and their struggles.

Understanding the LRT Debate

When I first moved back, it took me a while to understand the LRT debate. But the more I hear, and listen, the more it becomes clear. At it's heart, the LRT debate is not about cost. Everything has been accounted for.

What the LRT debate is about the divide we create, between "us and them." Between rich and poor. Between old and young. Between those with opportunities abundant, and those who may be struggling. But at the end of the day, we all still call Hamilton home. Those of us with privilege and opportunity owe it to those without a voice to build the best city we can for everyone.

For many, downtown is a place to pass through. LRT will take the downtown core and help to continue its growth and establishment as a place to be - a place for people, businesses and communities to exist.

In my adult life, I have moved nine times, a substantial number, considering I am only 30 (gasp! A millennial!). But this has given me the opportunity to see communities built and sustained in many different ways. Hamilton is bursting with opportunity to take our community to the next level, but we need to seize those shining moments that will change the face of our city. Opportunities like the LRT.

Yes, the LRT may bring some new challenges - but we can problem solve our way through those. Yes, there may be unanticipated issues - but we are a creative and ambitious city. The city I know would not hesitate to latch onto innovation, to step up to growth and improvement - with a nod of acknowledgement to our historic roots, and a chin-up approach into our incredible future.

Jaimie Rizzo is a graduate of McMaster Univeristy and the University of Windsor, currently working in the non-profit sector. Once a country girl, she now works, lives and plays in downtown core. She has a bad habit of staying up well past her bedtime, listening to music too loud, and not filtering her thoughts before putting them out into the world. You can follow her ramblings on Twitter @jaimie_rizzo.


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By rgelder (registered) - website | Posted April 24, 2017 at 11:42:12

This. Is. Awesome. Grounded for taking transit from the mountain to the downtown? What's your crime actually taking transit, or just for going into the core?

It is great to see that there are many of us thinking the same way. Particularly those of us who grew up in Stoney Creek. If I see you this August, I am buying you a peach sundae.

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By RustyNail (registered) | Posted April 24, 2017 at 12:55:46

Well said. Hopefully Hamilton can keep attracting people with your experience and perspective so that progressive change doesn't feel like such a struggle.

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