Suburban Bureau

Planning Over a Cliff

Hamilton can become the city of the future if we can bravely face the reality of the future.

By Trey Shaughnessy
Published April 30, 2008

Bison going over a cliff

Back in 2004, when our meetings and email discussions turned into the website you're reading today, one of main topics of discussion as it related to the City of Hamilton was energy.

Even four years ago, the evidence of peak oil was not as obscure as you may think. There were many books and energy experts warning the world that the current situation and consumption was not sustainable and very nearing a crisis situation.

The mainstream media and the status quo supporters did everything possible to ignore the subject, but the internet - the best thing to happen to democracy since Pericles - contained a wealth of information and a variety of studies from petroleum experts.

Raise the Hammer was born in part from the imminent Peak Oil crisis and the necessary paradigm shift in living and city planning to mitigate the crisis. The City of Hamilton was 'planning' for a future based on cheap oil/gasoline and to some extent still is.

Almost four years have passed and the denial of an energy crisis is still steering the city planning, even with surmounting evidence of present a $120 barrel of oil.

The City of Hamilton still believes that box retail centres with supply chains and business models based on cheap oil will be the employment opportunities that keep the next generation in the City.

Employment land use in Hamilton: new box-store near the Red Hill Expressway.
Employment land use in Hamilton: new box-store near the Red Hill Expressway.

Much of the status quo denial is finding blame in anything but the obvious - supply not keeping up with demand.

The deniers chose to lay blame in an area of the world that is experiencing 'turmoil', as if the Middle East and Nigeria were ever 'stable' in the 20th century and striking workers in Scotland apparently is a new phenomenon.

Or they point blame to speculators who are driving up the cost of oil, as if capitalism didn't exist in the 20th century.

Or they claim that the tax on gasoline is too high and needs to be lowered to make sure we can continue our lifestyles of happy-motoring in our car-dependent cities.

Any gas-tax cuts will have to made up somewhere else. The best place for taxing gasoline is at the pumps as a user fee, and not another subsidy for automobiles by taxing everyone - including people who don't drive.

I'm afraid that the 'good old days' of $0.39/L or even $0.89/L will not return. No, it will more likely be a return to even older 'good old days' of the milkman, streetcars and walking.

Circa 1935: A milkman chats with a father holding a baby, as he leaves the daily quota of milk on the doorstep. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
Circa 1935: A milkman chats with a father holding a baby, as he leaves the daily quota of milk on the doorstep. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Ironically, it is the staunchest free-market advocates who are in favour of socialist-style regulations and who lay blame at the oil companies for making too much profit in a capitalist society.

It's time to make the necessary changes to our city now, changes that will include creating higher density, walkable, and mixed-use neighbourhoods (something that is illegal given the City's current building by-laws), light rail transit, and an immediate stop on City boundary expansions and greenfield development.

The City's current layout still has plenty of room to grow upward and inward for many generations. Just visit a European city to see how much further we can intensify Hamilton, resulting in a city that is more livable. Former industrial and underused 'brownfields' are an opportunity, not a blight, for Hamilton to reinvent itself.

Hamilton can become the city of the future if we can bravely face the reality of the future. If we were brave enough to have started planning for this crisis ten years ago, the pain of the adjustment would have been less painful and the paradigm shift more gradual.

Instead, the world's population risks being stampeded off a cliff like the American Bison hunts due to our shortsighted planning. The food-crisis is a domino from the Peak Oil reality and even now mainstream media was quick to say that it won't affect 'us'.

The truth is, this is how things start. They start small and almost seem insignificant until we are over the cliff and wondering what to do next.

Trey lives in Williamsville NY via Hamilton. He is a Marketing Manager for Tourism and Destination Marketing in the Buffalo-Niagara Metro.

His essays have appeared in The Energy Bulletin, Post Carbon Institute, Peak Oil Survival, and Tree Hugger.

And can't wait for the day he stops hearing "on facebook".


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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted May 01, 2008 at 08:22:05

Excellent write Trevor and great supporting images! You mention (of Peak Oil) that the mainstream media "did everything possible to ignore the subject" and "was quick to say that it won't affect 'us'." And that the food-crisis is "a domino from the Peak Oil reality."

Now what of the other dominoes lined-up in nice neat rose? Are they too thorny I suppose?

Massive mainstream media has an agenda to form, rather than to inform the public. The mainstream news has a chloroform affect and as a result, what's now appearing through the haze, is the more uniform shaped maize of things to come.

It is up to folks like us to reform the shape of that gloomy specter and convince people they're not just seeing a ghost. Doom is a very real apparition we will face as a city if we don't act now.

But there are many hurdles to overcome as status Quo is won of them. Business as usual must be maintained and the mainstream masters that men. We cannot move the hands which place the dominoes down hard but we can shove them aside or shore them up guard.

Food and our waters and our good attitudes These we protect with our fond platitudes No matter how many key words there fuse clues

Honorable sirs and respectable ma'ams Lister carefully of alternative plans Tell four friends when shaking their hands

We're to build here a cosm of grandeur not small Not mini, eeny-meany nor remotely micro at all It macro defacto depends we won't fall

Please don't uninstall!

The bees make us honey Recollect as in money Pride as horse ride Stakes are tall!

Only a chump Would jump


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By cjwirth (anonymous) | Posted May 01, 2008 at 09:29:50

This is an excellent article. All governments are ignoring Peak Oil, and they are planning for an ample energy future that does not exist. My report is designed to convince local governments that catastrophe looms, and that most of the problems of Peak Oil will eventually fall on the shoulders of local government. See the 40 page report at Peak Oil Associates. I specialize in informing governments, as I was director of the Master of Public Administration program at the University of New Hampshire for many years and I am now "retired," working and specializing in Peak Oil. I am very convincing about the reality of Peak Oil impacts. It is hard to escape the reports of scientific and government studies.

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By shastatodd (anonymous) | Posted May 01, 2008 at 11:16:00

Here is a simple fact:

Unlimited growth cannot happen on a finite planet.

We are bumping up against those limits now and having overextended the earth's carrying capacity with cheap energy one wonders what will happen to all those people now that we are facing resource decline. This will likely not be pretty.

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By flaver flave (anonymous) | Posted May 01, 2008 at 11:36:53

i just wanna know why can't the govament just take away all cars and give us hybrid cars they got the power to do that booooiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2008 at 03:51:39

Trevor, that new box store near the Red Hill was a contaminated brownfield before Lowes spend hundreds of millions to locate there. So, don't criticize it. you should applaud it but youre skewed thinking has you criticize every good thing that is happening in this city.
The only thing that is wworse than planning over a hill is exaggerating over the top!

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By Bill (registered) | Posted May 07, 2008 at 20:59:34

“that new box store near the Red Hill was a contaminated brownfield” That new box store is not a box store. It is a “JYSK” store. The 23,000 square feet store located at the Parkway Plaza - 200 Centennial Pkwy at Centenial and Barton. Other major retailers in this shopping plaza are Future Shop and Food Basics. It is where a White Rose store was until they went out of business. It is not a big store compaired to other stores. It has displays all through the store and stuff on the sheives just like any other stores.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 08, 2008 at 21:57:01

sounds great. now, hopefully my kids will be able to stay in Hamilton when they are older and work at Lowe's or JYSK. Thank goodness for all that new employment land.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted May 09, 2008 at 11:23:53

Can somebody pu-leeze put up some pie-chart stats about how much of a consumer dollar spent stays in the community (and country) by development type? Mom and pop coffee shop vs. chain store, local lumbar yard vs. home despot, etc?

This may reveal the solid arguments and the empty ideology. Without this info, all I hear is static.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 09, 2008 at 17:18:46

actually, I'd rather see a chart that breaks down the annual salary of employees at places like Walmart, JYSK and Lowe's vs. auto assembly plants, manufacturing plants and other highway-related 'prestige' industrial uses like we see along the QEW.

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 12, 2008 at 10:34:51

No, Ted and others. Let's put up a pie chart that shows how the previous brownfield empty for many years was paying people a salary and put up a pie chart on the current Lowes location to see how many people are employed and what their salaries are. While you are at it, add the assessment dollars that are going to the city and calculate what that money is buying compared to what was being collected before.
Also, talk to the people in the neighbourhood to see if they are happier with Lowes or the empty brownfield. Factor that in too in the chart.

On second thought....a pie chart may not be necessary. Maybe removing your side blinkers will do the trick.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 12, 2008 at 11:52:26

So our only choice other than an old brownfield is a big-box store?

Constantly knocking down and rebuilding low-quality structures (or simply expanding urban boundaries and putting them out there) is such a colossal waste of capital dollars that it practically bars all but the market's largest players - Home Depot, Wal Mart or Tim Hortons, etc. In return, the financing needed drains profits from the neighbourhood for years to come, and the company brings the rest home to its head office, usually abroad. Yes, you can still buy hardware, groceries and furniture, and yes, you can still get a (low wage) job, but all of the other economic benefits flee the area like rats from a sinking ship. Ever tried selling products from your local business to a large chain? Fortinos, for instance, will only buy food if you can supply the entire chain, further elbowing small, local producers out of the economy (and meaning that even while organic beets are in season in Flamborogh, the store still ships them in from Peru).

This type of development is economic colonialism. We now operate in homogeneous institutions designed from corporate command centres afar, sending back all surplus profits (rather than reinvesting them locally), leaving us McJobs running only the day-to-day infrastructure like shipping/recieving or cash registers, with next to no meaningful input in either the shaping of our workplaces or communities. And like all empires, it masquerades as the "best" and "most efficient", while simply using the resources it funnels from existing client-communities to smash its way into new ones. Free markets? Yeah, right.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 13, 2008 at 11:13:24

how silly of me to not realize that our entire future must consist of either empty brownfields OR $7.00/hour retail jobs. That sounds like a recipe for smashing success. And it also sounds like a great payoff for the billion dollar RHVP/Linc. Whatever happened to the mighty 'list' of tech/light industry/manufacturing/assembly plants that were literally storming city hall like it was the Bastille?

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2008 at 13:19:07

I just checked out Lowes web site on careers. It might be worth a look, Jason. Careers span from accounting to engineering to HR to assemblers to sales staff and more.

I'll bet each pays more than 7 bucks an hour.

Why I'll bet there are many Hamiltonians that would love the opportunities provided.

Is it the McMaster Innovation park? No. But hey, we need all kinds of jobs.
You must have a great paying job to dismiss the opportunities provided by Lowes. Good for you; but there are many poor hamiltonians that would not be as dismisive as you.

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By uncommon sense (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2008 at 14:09:27

Let's not kid ourselves. Lowes isn't hiring engineers or accountants at its retail store in a strip plaza.

This is also not a false choice between low-paying jobs for "poor Hamiltonians" and nothing. We can position for low-paying jobs in strip plazas on the edge of town that are hard to reach without a car, or we can position for low-paying jobs in better connected buildings closer to where low-income Hamiltonians live.

We're spending hundreds of millions of dollars making it easy for the strip plaza jobs, but hardly anything to make it easier for the downtown jobs.

Which one do you think is more helpful to poor Hamiltonians?

Now ask, Who benefits from the strip plaza developments?

Do you really think it's about jobs and "opportunities"?

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 13, 2008 at 22:14:22

Uncommon Sense indicated that "We can position for low-paying jobs in strip plazas on the edge of town that are hard to reach without a car, or we can position for low-paying jobs in better connected buildings closer to where low-income Hamiltonians live."

We are talking about Lowes on Barton and Woodward. Hardly the edge of town. And look at the streets around that area...hardly middle class suburbia. At least do us the courtesy of knowing what you are talking about. This store (and it isn't a strip plaza either) is exactly where it will do the most good. And it sure beats what was there before: a pile of rubble. For years and years...and all because of the Expressway...imagine that!

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 14, 2008 at 08:50:21

I have 2 friends who just graduated Mac with engineering degrees. they were going to move to TO and Montreal, but now they don't need to since I told them about the new Lowe's and JYSK stores! How exciting...we get to keep our university grads here now! No more wandering the aisles of Home Depot looking for the in-store engineer (always a pet-peeve of mine).

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By uncommon sense (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2008 at 09:19:13

Bada Bing,

You're right, I was mistaken about the location. It's not out in the suburbs, though it is a box store, and it is land that was supposed to be for employment.


Don't waste your time. Every time he gets proven wrong Bada Bing doesn't admit it, he just moves the goalposts. Notice how he didn't acknowledge how his argument about Lowes hiring engineers and accountants is totally irrelevant to whether we should be putting box stores on employment lands?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 14, 2008 at 09:47:14

"And it sure beats what was there before: a pile of rubble. For years and years...and all because of the Expressway...imagine that!"

The pro-expressway cabal promised us that the expressway would bring loads of high-quality employment, that there were all kinds of companies who would just love to locate here if only we had an expressway! So what do we do? We smash the largest gash into the face of a UNESCO World Biosphere and destroy the last remaining natural link between the lake and the escarpment, and what do we get? Crappy, low-wage, part-time jobs at a far lower job/hectare ratio than we were promised. That and subdivisions. Imagine that! And this is supposed to be some kind of triumph that proves the pro-expressway people right? It's exactly the opposite. Expressway opponents warned that all we would get for the mountain of debt that our children have incurred is subdivisions and big box retail. It is they who have been proven right so far, not the expressway proponents.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 14, 2008 at 10:03:41

Bravo, highwater. You've expressed the heart of the matter with poignancy and succinctness.

I'll officially start the countdown for someone to post the drearily predictable response that "beggars can't be choosers" - as if the choice was ever between sprawl/big box and nothing.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 14, 2008 at 11:33:32

It's worth mentioning, too, that a very large part of Hamilton's losses of high-quality jobs is due to the flight of manufacturing to the third world. While much of this has to do with trade policies and world economic situations, the link with large corporate retail chains is unmistakable. Take a walk through some of these retail warehouses and check the tags...the only local industry they're supporting is shipping.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 14, 2008 at 15:04:01

"the only local industry they're supporting is shipping."

That's why we need aerotropolis! You see? It all makes perfect sense!

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2008 at 16:07:21

I am far from an expressway apologist; in fact I would have done things differently, but I can tell hypocrisy when I see it; and the handwringing that goes on here is amazing. Ryan, stick to light rail. You make sense there. Highwater, you have common sense, even if ideological blinkers. jason, well, you must be a young man and a one trick pony; you will learn with age, I hope. You mimic other thoughts rather than being original. Give the city a chance. Don't pick on the business class and don't discriminate on jobs that you think are inferior to you. We have diversified opportuinities here and should welcom them all. But recognize when good things happen and the road was way the wrong place perhaps but way overdue. Congratulations to those with the drive to face adversity and get it done. Would they had been around when there were real options about location.
As for Aerotropolis or whatever....that's a whole other topic.

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By uncommon sense (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2008 at 16:23:00

What a copout. Bada Bing you just make ridiculous statements and then backtrack when people call you out, moving the goalposts again and again instead of just admitting you're wrong.

"I would have done things differently"

Sure, and the people banging the Iraq war drums "would have done things differently" too once everyone could see that the idea was just as bad as its opponents said it would be.

Face it: Red hill is turning out EXACTLY the way the people who opposed it said it would, a big whack of single family houses on the mountain and a few box stores to service them. No industry. No jobs. No economic development. What a waste.

You are absolutely an expressway apologist. You don't get to duck criticism by saying you were crossing your fingers.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 14, 2008 at 17:19:01

"Don't pick on the business class and don't discriminate on jobs that you think are inferior to you. We have diversified opportuinities here and should welcom (sic) them all."

Sweet of you to defend our sensitve business class, but no one here is picking on them, only on the leeches putting up residential sprawl and big boxes that take more from the local economy than they give back. In fact, any business person with a positive vision for this city is given near-blind devotion. Witness the Harry Stinson phenomenon.

And you can stop with the notion that we oppose low-quality jobs out of elitism. We oppose them because they are damaging to our long-term economic prospects. Would you like fries with your 'diversified opportunity'?

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2008 at 18:18:24

Such anger at being disagreed with. Highwater, your opposition to jobs may not be elitism, but it isn't realism either. In fact its nothing more than myopia. Go down and see who works there. As for engineers and other high paying jobs...someone designed the place; someone works in accounting; someone manages it...those are all jobs folks. Wake up and smell the opportunity.
Uncommon Sense: Iraq? Now there is a non about moving the goal posts..hou have just changed the playing field!

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By uncommon sense (anonymous) | Posted May 14, 2008 at 22:59:00

If people are getting angry with you, it's not because you "disagreed" with them, it's because you're just trolling. I mean, you're trying to say that opening a big box chain store on industrial land somehow creates jobs for engineers and accountants. I don't think even you believe this.

Re: my Iraq comment, it's called an analogy, look it up. You're making the same excuses everyone makes when the idea they supported turns out to be a bad idea. 'Oh, I wouldn't have done it THAT way, so I'm not responsible for the screwup.'

I'm still waiting for you to admit that a big box chain store isn't the industrial jobs the Red Hill shills promised us, that Lowes IS a big box store, that new tax assessment from big box stores will not pay for Red Hill ($20 million a year in debt, operating and lifecycle costs), that there are other alternatives between a brownfield and a big box store, that a big box store will not produce engineering and accounting jobs, and that a big box store doesn't create "diversified opportunities". I guess I'll be waiting a while.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 14, 2008 at 23:01:36

This conversation is quite useless now and going nowhere quick, but just to add my final two cents - I don't "oppose" low paying jobs. I oppose spending 1 billion tax dollars to subsidize their creation. They can be created anywhere (and are) for much less than that. Also, I'm no fan of being lied to (which I knew I was) all these years about the huge list of companies waiting to build new factories and real employment centres in Hamilton once RHVP was done. So far Ryan is correct - the Red Hill opponents are bang on the money.

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2008 at 06:51:05

I will not be drawn into the Red Hill debate. Search for others. What I'm commenting on mr. uncommon sense is your far fetched analogies trying to compare the red hill with the Iraq war; how insulting to all those who are currently fighting there.

Also, what I began to comment on was the constant complaints about lack of jobs in Hamilton and your insistence that an empty brownfield property was better left empty waiting for goodness knows what. That neighbourhood deserved better and it got better. Admit that, or admit to elitism. I guess I'll be waiting a while too.

Check and Mate!

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 15, 2008 at 08:01:05

That brownfield was better left for all the high-quality jobs that people like you promised us. That neighbourhood deserved better than a big box store. Trying to label people who want the promises of the RHVP fulfilled as 'elitist' is pure nonsense and just shows the weakness of your argument. Like uncommon sense said, I don't think even you believe this.

And how about our Mac and Mohawk grads? Don't they deserve some 'diversifed opportunities' too?

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By uncommon sense (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2008 at 10:18:47

Bada Bing -> "I will not be drawn into the Red Hill debate."

Bada Bing earlier -> "This store (and it isn't a strip plaza either) is exactly where it will do the most good. And it sure beats what was there before: a pile of rubble. For years and years...and all because of the Expressway...imagine that!"

Guess what? YOU brought up the Red Hill, not anyone else. YOU launched the debate, but now that you're proven wrong yet again, you once again want to pick up your toys and go home.

You don't get to just throw out whatever ridiculous statement you can think of, but then self-righteously cut off debate when the facts don't go your way. People are going to call you out on it.

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By Bada Bing (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2008 at 20:30:53

Uncommon Sense earlier: "Guess what? YOU brought up the Red Hill, not anyone else. YOU launched the debate, but now that you're proven wrong yet again, you once again want to pick up your toys and go home."

I was only stating fact, not opinion. Lowes is there according to their own press releases because of the convenience of the road. This is not an endorsement or a criticism. It is a point of fact.

you know what I've noticed is that if you don't agree with an opinion you pile on in the most exaggerated way....employment is good; high paying employment is better; face the fact and admit that at least Lowes is better than an empty contaminated lot. It is also not accepting the lowest common denominator. i know someone on Vansitmart who I visited recently. For that family having a nice clean new store near their home is a point of pride. They told me the landfill is being turned into a park and were happy that for once this struggling neighbourhood is getting some notice.

What is wrong with that?

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By western guy (anonymous) | Posted May 15, 2008 at 21:27:50

I used to live in Hamilton but am currently moving to Alberta. I think the hammer has much to learn from Calgary in particular, whereby each new community built is built compete with shopping. This makes walking the preferred option there not driving...woo hoo

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2008 at 20:59:44

"For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction". Newton was talking about physical objects moving in space, but this law also applies to life in general. For example, if you make it hard on businesses to make money, you will get less businesses. If Hamilton really wants good paying jobs for its citizens, there is a very easy way to do this...give them a reason to set up shop in Hamilton. The obvious way to do this is to have the lowest municipal tax rate in the province.

The city has been lowering business taxes recently, and new developments have been sprouting up as a result. If the rates were lowered even further, this would be a great incentive for business to move to Hamilton. The Golden Rule tells us to treat others as we would like to be treated. Instead of being critical of business, Hamilton should strive to help businesses in any way it can.

Hamilton has decided to look at the world as a zero sum game, if business wins, the the workers lose. It doesn't have to be this way, in fact the more you help people (in this case business owners), the more you get rewarded. The opposite is true as well, the harder you make it for businesses to make money, the less they will want to help Hamilton.

Take your pick.

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By trey (registered) | Posted May 24, 2008 at 12:29:00

The cost isn't everything when deciding where to locate. If that was the case.... why are all those businesses located in downtown Toronto? The most expensive real estate to operate a business within.

Lifestyle and Image. That's what businesses also want, and are willing to pay for it. Having a well running, functioning City with a high quality of life is something everyone agrees is worth the cost. Otherwise Royal Bank would move to Baffin Island, lots of cheap land and taxes up there.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 25, 2008 at 11:41:23

Compared with access to resources and network benefits (proximity, skilled workers, venture capitalists, other similar businesses, etc.), cost is a small p's why so many computer start-ups go to Silicon Valley or MIT/Boston, even though everything (including labour) is far more expensive there. If we try to compete on price, we will ONLY attract the bottom feeders.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 00:46:49

I mentioned taxes in my post, but the point I am trying to make is more general. For example, when the city of Toronto eased zoning restrictions in the King/Parliament,King/Spadina areas in 1996, this led to the condo boom Toronto experiences today. Whether or not you like condos, the City of Toronto is now enjoying higher tax revenues as a result.

On the national level, Paul Martin cut the corporate tax rate from 28% to 21% from 2001 - 2004. Corporate tax revenue now comprises 19.02% of total federal revenue (2007), up from 15.78% in 2001. Not only did the corporate tax cuts not hurt revenue, they grew it as a percentage of overall federal taxes.

The point is not that cutting taxes helps poor people get ahead, it doesn't necessarily do this. The point is that when you help someone, you get rewarded in return. That is why poor inner city areas are not helped by handouts, rather the rich people who pay the taxes are made even richer. This can be seen in the growing income disparity between the rich and the poor today. In fact, the more government tries to decrease income equality, the worse the problem becomes.

Under Bill Clinton's 8 years as President, total government spending on non military, non interest payments went from 24.27% of GDP to 23.12% of GDP. This "social" spending comprises medicare, food stamps, welfare, etc. As this figure decreased over Bill Clinton's tenure, median income grew by an average of $565 dollars. Do you see the connection? Bill Clinton
shrank the very programs that are designed to lift people out of poverty, and the result was real wage increases for the poor and middle class, not just the rich.

George W Bush has increased "social" spending from 23.12% of GDP to 26.24% of GDP. The result is stagnant to a slight decrease in median wages. The idea that getting things for free from the government will help you is not borne out by the numbers.

People mention Toronto, and the fact that it has expensive real estate. Toronto also has the lowest property tax rate in Ontario. Residential tax rates in Toronto are 0.85%, in Hamilton they are 1.59%. The city of Toronto is easier on its citizens, and as a result, they get rewarded in higher assessment values. The lesson is that you tend to get more with honey than vinegar.

Even though it is hard to resist getting our fair share of government handouts, becoming less reliant on government would make Hamilton stronger and more self reliant. Hamilton should aim to be a net contributor to the provincial coffers, not a net beneficiary. We are mocked by Toronto, and it is not without reason. Hamilton has attacked capitalism for decades now, and the result is all around us.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 27, 2008 at 08:24:02

Hi A Smith,

I've been touting the King-Spadina Secondary Plan as an excellent example of how to attract reinvestment for a few years now. Here's an essay I wrote last year:

In brief, the King-Spadina plan mandates the following simple rules:

  1. Urban public transit (Spadina streetcar)
  2. Build to the curb
  3. No parking requirements
  4. Buildings open onto the street
  5. Relaxed zoning based on performance, not use
  6. Simple, fast approval process

Eliminating parking requirements takes over $20,000 per unit off the cost of a condo development, and light rail transit means people living there don't need cars to get around.

The performance based coding allows compatible uses to mix so that a variety of amenities and destinations are all nearby.

In terms of your Reaganomics, I think you're playing fast and loose with your definitions. Bush's tax cuts were deeper than Clinton's and more tightly targeted to corporations and the very rich, and his "social" spending increases went more to enforcement, failed "faith based" initiatives driven by narrow morality and bureaucratic overhead for NCLB than to actually helping the poor.

However, I don't want to get sidetracked into an unproductive debate about the merits of corporate and income tax cuts, since municipalities don't control those taxes anyway. My point is that tax cuts in themselves can be good or bad depending on how and where they're implemented, and on what else is done concurrently.

In Toronto, the residential property tax is much lower because Toronto's businesses carry a much higher share of the total tax burden. In Hamilton, we have cut the business property tax several times and it has resulted only in residential taxes having to cover a bigger share of the total.

In 2008, the city's planning and economic development department projects zero percent tax assessment growth.

I think the real problem in Hamilton is not "attack[ing] capitalism" but rather rank parochialism: backroom deals with connected players, lax and inconsistent bylaw enforcement (particularly on property standards), looking the other way when developers cheat (e.g. building houses without permits), approving endless sprawl on the lowest greenfield development charges in the region, rezoning employment lands for single-use residential, building highways we can't afford, maintaining mandatory "free" parking requirements throughout the city, and maintaining a property tax system that rewards property owners for demolishing buildings for surface parking but punishes them for actually constructing, maintaining or restoring useful buildings.

Again, when we run the city like this and then try to compete on cost, we end up attracting only the bottom feeders.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 16:16:14

Oh, for a critique that is not ultra-narrow in focus.

For every comment like A Smith's

in fact the more you help people (in this case business owners), the more you get rewarded

there is the opposite argument, in that higher taxes allow things like universal health care and better social services, which in the case of the auto industry up to now has been a major reason for why Ontario has done so well in this sector compared to states with lower costs.

Not to mention all the other big picture factors that are just as important to business success mentioned above.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 17:52:56

I find it interesting that you mention the King-Spadina plan mandates relaxed zoning, a fast approval process, and eased restrictions on parking. In effect what you are saying is that by not interfering with private land owners (as much), government has allowed for the renewal of this once poor area.

The take away from this is that government gets in the way. Shrink government rules and regulations, and watch progress move forward.

The great thing about this is that all the solutions for Hamilton are already in place, all that needs to happen is for non property owners to get out of the way.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 19:19:01

Higher tax rates have nothing to do with increasing tax revenue to the government.

In 1961, US federal tax rates topped out at 91% vs 35% in 2007. In 1961, total tax collections as a share of the US economy were 25.98% of GDP.
In 2007, total tax collections were 30.42% of GDP.

Lower tax rates have resulted in higher amounts of revenue for the government.

To be honest it really doesn't matter if tax rates are set high or low in Hamilton. The point I am trying to get across is that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Everybody wants more money from the province and the feds, but where does this money come from? It comes from other Canadians. Hamilton craves handouts, and like a junkie it makes us sick. Drugs work the same way, they give you a quick high, but there is a price to pay. Nothing in life is free, so if Hamilton wants to be a prosperous city, it must start acting like a prosperous city. Prosperous cities all over the world pay more into government coffers than they receive.

Instead of whining about how bad we have it, Hamilton needs to suck it up and start acting like a leader. The great thing about carrying
a heavier burden, is that eventually you get really strong.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 27, 2008 at 23:55:29

"The take away from this is that government gets in the way."

You're projecting your libertarian sympathies onto my argument. King-Spadina is not an example of deregulation; it's an example of good regulation: simple, clear, sincere, constructive, and effective.

The rules are essential for creating a good urban environment: build to the curb; open onto the street; prohibit off-street parking in front of buildings; and the linchpin, public light rail transit to connect the neighbourhood with the rest of the city.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2008 at 14:26:54

The only sympathies I have is for the truth. I find it interesting that my posts have been called "Reaganomics", and "libertarian". I have not addressed your posts as "left wing", or "central planning", and nor will I. When you rely on labels to prop up your argument, rather than addressing the ideas, it shows the weakness in your position. Lets argue the merits of the ideas, rather than labeling them. Name calling is best left for the playground.

That said, the King/Spadina, King/Parliament rebirth is entirely a result of smaller government. Prior to the city's decision to remove zoning restrictions, the area was doing nothing. The great idea the city panel came up with was to let nature take its own course, and allow the market decide what was to be built in the area. This is the complete antithesis of government planning. It is not a complement to planning, it is the complete opposite.

The argument you are making is that it takes government to unleash the market. The market is the default system in the world, it does not require government, it exists in spite of government. Any credit that the Toronto government gives itself regarding the condo boom in Toronto is not theirs to take. Their only contribution was the recognition that they were the cause of the problem.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 28, 2008 at 15:05:53

I'm not sure why you accuse me of "name calling".

"Reaganomics" is a common term used by economists to refer to the economic hypothesis that reducing taxes pays for itself by increasing economic growth and tax revenue, on the argument that free markets have better allocative efficiency than governments. I'm not sure why you would regard my use of the term pejoratively.

If I had followed George H. W. Bush and called it "voodoo economics", you might have a point. As it is, Reaganomics is a generic term for the economic policy that helped define his presidency.

(Again, I think this is a distraction from the issue, since cities do not have the power to to tax income or corporate revenue, but I will point out in passing that the evidence in support of the Reaganomic hypothesis is controversial at best.

The US economic recovery after 1982 was not the result of tax cuts so much as it was to the Federal Reserve finally relaxing the prime rate after jacking it up over 20 percent in an attempt to kill inflation by driving the economy into a severe recession.

Job creation tracked population growth over Reagan's terms, while savings rates plummeted and the federal debt increased 2.5 times, or from 32.6% to 51.9% of GDP.)

Similarly, your arguments about the respective roles of government and free enterprise are straightforward libertarian philosophy. To take issue with my calling it that is essentially to take issue with the role of language, i.e. to give names to things, actions and concepts to people can discuss them.

"the King/Spadina, King/Parliament rebirth is entirely a result of smaller government. Prior to the city's decision to remove zoning restrictions, the area was doing nothing. The great idea the city panel came up with was to let nature take its own course, and allow the market decide what was to be built in the area. This is the complete antithesis of government planning. It is not a complement to planning, it is the complete opposite."

Go back and read the King-Spadina Secondary Plan. It mandates a particular built form, a particular connection to the street, a particular location for parking, and a particular relation of each building to its surroundings. It also hinges on higher order public transit to provide access in and out of the neighbourhood.

It is absolutely not the "antithesis of government planning." It's exactly what I wrote above: smart regulation that produces a desirable outcome simply and effectively.

"The market is the default system in the world, it does not require government, it exists in spite of government."

No. At a bare minimum, the market requires a legal framework including property law, contract law, tort liability law, and so on, including enforcement. Beyond that, markets self-evidently require public infrastructure to connect private enterprises. Markets also require cultural and social norms around responsibility, fairness and trust.

Beyond that, markets simply do some things very poorly, things our society has decided are essential. Markets are particularly ineffective at providing universal public goods like education, health care and so on; for the simple reason that markets balance supply and demand. For people too poor to pay for education or health care, they have no "demand" and the market ignores them.

Because markets tend to maximize allocative efficiency, they discriminate against people who have difficulty learning or tend to be sickly through risk selection and rationing by price.

Here's an example to illustrate my point: When Toyota opened a new manufacturing plant in Woodstock, Ontario rather than the southern US, they specifically pointed out that Ontarians are much better educated, healthier, easier and faster to train, and more productive. Even though several US states offered huge tax advantages, Toyota decided that Ontario provided better overall value despite higher taxes.

In summary, free markets cannot produce the necessary preconditions under which markets function most effectively. For that you need a liberal, democratic government with strong respect for the rule of law, high levels of transparency and accountability to the public, prudent public investments in essential social programs, and smart regulations that encourage productive investment and sustainable development.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2008 at 20:25:45

I really don't care about ideology. I am not a Reagan lover, nor do I subscribe to any particular school of thought. I like trying to understand how things work, and in order to do this, there must be no sacred cows.

My overarching point is that things always balance out.

Therefore, when you try to plan for growth, or help poor people, you end up doing the opposite of what you intend.

There are so many examples of this phenomenon that I don't know where to begin. Take the Iraq war for example, part of the reason for this war was to secure cheap oil. The result has been the complete opposite though, high oil prices, and a booming alternative energy sector.

Another example is Canada's decision to live within our fiscal means. Since 1998 the Federal government has run a budget surplus. The cost of doing this has been real, but the benefits have been real as well, an extremely strong currency.

The Americans on the other hand have not been as disciplined as us, and as a result, their currency has fallen appreciably.

That is why Milton Friedman said there was no such thing as a free lunch, all good things must be paid for in some way.

To bring this back to Hamilton, if this city is to prosper, it must be willing to pay the price. The price is changing its stripes from a union loving, pro working class town, to a business friendly, open for business, flexible partner.

If Hamilton can become the best friend of businesses and investors, it will get paid back many times over. Things always balance out.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted May 31, 2008 at 01:31:20

you've chosen the screen name 'a smith' and you paraphrased milton friedman - methinks you're VERY ideological.

you wanna better understand how 'things' work? look to the economic and humantiarian disasters of south america, eastern europe etc., brought about by free market, chicago school economic ideology. there was no balance, just economic ruin for most and bounty for a few. that's balance, baby!

personally, i prefer honesty from these people. just admit that you want vast riches at the expense of the population at large. it's not economic ideology at all, it's greed.

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By Freed Man (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2008 at 12:29:34

A Smith...don't you know if you advocate any kind of market support you are a greedy bastard making money on the poor downtrodden and marginalized members of society.

This site isn't called "Raise the Hammer" for is a clever disguise of Hamilton boosterism with communist infested propaganda! And you thought the Berlin Wall's demise spelled the end of this doomed ideology? You ain't seen nothing yet. What with peak oil, climate change, war mongers in the middle east, road construction in Ontario...there are many battles to fight by the dedicated followers of Trotsky and Marx.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 02, 2008 at 13:21:50

Freed Man,

You may be forgiven for thinking the title "Raise the Hammer" has some kind of marxist connotation - you aren't the first. However, the name comes entirely from a common nickname for Hamilton, i.e. "the Hammer".

If you read through the various article we've posted, you will have difficulty concluding that we espouse any form of communism. He have argued repeatedly and in a variety of contexts that market forces play an important role in creating an economically viable, environmentally sustainable city.

We're not anti-market; but nor are we free market fundamentalists. Where we tend to differ from, say, A Smith is that he seems to believe market forces in isolation are the most effective way to do this.

By contrast, we argue that markets work more effectively when they are regulated sensibly and when public policy promotes non-market public goods (like universal access to education and health care) which benefit everyone and even improve market performance, but which markets themselves cannot provide.

This approach is strongly supported by overwhelming evidence from the various industrialized liberal democracies. Countries (and cities) that employ a judicious mix of market and public policy policies are more productive, more equitable, and provide more robust civil liberties and better quality of life for their citizens.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 02, 2008 at 13:37:11

I'm not sure what the problem is... One Jysk store in place of White Rose. As someone previously stated and quite correctly, that's not Lowes it's Jysk. I am still disappointed about the lack of industrial high quality jobs in the RHCE area. I guess we'll see... Home Depot sure lost no time building another store. If that turns into another Meadowlands, I will be severely ticked!

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted June 03, 2008 at 09:53:10

I think the best metaphor for the market is a flotilla of ships on the ocean that, left to their own devices, have only one goal: maximum speed.

Direction, velocity, these things need to be imposed, internally by the private captains, or externally by governments. Only then can you have most of the ships mostly going in the desired direction.

Otherwise, they run aground, ram each other, or just go madly off in all directions.

Those who believe the market is fundamentally good and self regulating, need to reset their metaphors away from that religion. There is just no evidence for it if you are being objective and not rationalizing away the unfavourable data.

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By life long hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2009 at 22:11:57

Since Lowe's moved in at Barton and Woodward the area appears to be on a upswing. It would be interesting to see if the property values have increased with this one store moving in.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted February 23, 2009 at 13:26:10

What I think will happen to Centennial Parkway is a 'Limeridge Road fiasco' only on a much larger scale. The City had to pay out millions of $ to businesses that failed after the Linc broke the thru traffic on Limeridge Rd.

I think you'll see Centennial stores start to close, most of the traffic will use the RedHill where they formerly drove on Centennial. The shopping area was meant to be a regional destination, it's much too large to function now as a local retail supplier, which it now is. It'll be forced to contract without so many cars driving by.

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By Passing Through (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2010 at 12:39:40

Who is this A Smith? Seriously, I'm sure we all have our mental images of him, but who has the amount of time and rage and borderline paranoia to do what he does?

A Smith, what is your biography? Who are you, where do you live, are you for real, or is this a bait and laugh game? I'm genuinely interested.

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