A Work in Progress: James North in Transition

Three new projects on James Street North showcase a neighbourhood coming back to life.

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 11, 2008

The Google philosophy for application development is launch early and iterate. That also seems to be a good motto for the revitalization of James Street North.

Artists have been taking root on the street for the past few years, including The Print Studio, The Factory, Hamilton Artists Inc, Hamilton HIStory and HERitage, and Under The Moon, among several others.

One of the most visible faces of that revitalization is Dave Kuruc, owner of the Mixed Media art shop and the publisher of H Magazine, a monthly exploration of art, architecture, and urban culture.

New location for Mixed Media: 174 James North (at Cannon)
New location for Mixed Media: 174 James North (at Cannon)

Mixed Media just moved a block south to the building at the 174 James St. North (at Cannon), next to Loose Canon Gallery. Dave and his wife Teresa put their money where their mouths were and bought the building, for $400,000 from a Toronto landlord.

The mighty Paul Wilson wrote an excellent piece on the move in his August 29, 2008 column in the Spectator, noting their discovery of some amazing architecture preserved behind drop ceilings, accumulated signs and layers of linoleum.

Beautiful tin ceiling in new Mixed Media store
Beautiful tin ceiling in new Mixed Media store

I was there last week and the store was nominally open, but boxes still sat on the floor and the door in the process of being painted (by fellow James North resident Gary Buttrum, about whom more below).

Dave pointed out that the building is a work in progress and said he thinks people are happy to be able to come in and see the progression.

"If this were just an art shop and nothing else, then we might as well locate in a strip mall on the Mountain," Dave explained. "It's more than that - we're trying to help build a community, and I think people respect that."

Freshly painted front door
Freshly painted front door

Dave and Teresa, who are expecting their first child later this year, plan to convert some of the upstairs space in their building into rental studio space and leave a couple as apartments.

Downtown Bike Hounds

RTH contributor Sean Burak will occupy the other storefront space in the building, around the corner on Cannon. He's busy getting ready to open Downtown Bike Hounds, a new bike store that will offer repairs and tune-ups, essential accessories (lights, bells, fenders, locks), other parts, and refurbished bikes for sale.

Downtown Bike Hounds logo
Downtown Bike Hounds logo

At first, new bikes will only be available through special order, but Burak isn't casting anything in stone until he has a chance to assess demand.

Burak plans to focus not on high-end or niche markets, but rather on "the everyday cyclist who needs to get around the city in all weather, and has fun doing so by bike."

He feels this demographic is under-represented, and wants to give utility cyclists a better customer experience than merely buying a bike from a department store.

Burak has a passion for cycling, not only for fun but also for utility. "The bike is a simple solution to a huge problem - moving people and goods quickly and efficiently, while minimizing both monetary and social costs."

He notes that there are no bike stores between the east end and Westdale, but downtown has a dense population and a large proportion of residents who need affordable transportation options.

"When I started to seriously think about opening a shop, there was no question in my mind about where it was going to be."

He adds, "As far as the specific corner, there was a great opportunity for me to move into a fantastic space, and even more importantly, James North is doing quite well, and is one of the best places in the city to expose a business to foot traffic."

Noting his frustration with bike shops that keep regular business hours, he also plans operate during the afternoon and early evening - when bike commuters actually need repairs.

"Full time employment often means you can't get to a shop unless you go on Saturdays or during later hours on Fridays if available."

Getting into the community building spirit, Burak plans to donate salveaged and rehabilitated children's bikes, offer free workshops at community events, and host group rides to explore burgeoning downtown neighbourhoods.

He believes a bike shop will add to the mix of amenities an a street that is evolving beyond the arts scene that spurred it back to life.

Burak plans a "soft opening" on October 1 and a grand opening to coincide with the Friday, October 10 James North Art Crawl.

Renovations Above La Petite Spa

Two doors down, at 146 James North, Gary Buttrum and his business partner are busy renovating the the apartment above La Petite Spa, a boutique specializing in manicures, pedicures, hair removal, and general pampering.

Gary Buttrum stands in front of the new facade for La Petite Spa
Gary Buttrum stands in front of the new facade for La Petite Spa

Buttrum completed the new storefront facade a few months ago, and is now working on converting the second and third floor into a single two-story apartment.

He's completely gutted the building and replaced the staircases, framing and insulating every room, installing radiant floor heating and replacing the plumbing and wiring.

The third-floor kitchen opens into an approximately 8' by 16' balcony that looks out into the quasi-private rooftop space inside the block, recently decked in cedar boards. It includes a gas hookup for a barbecue.

Buttrum wanted to create a high-quality urban living space, so he's putting a lot of effort into the details. As he jokingly put it, "I don't want it to be apartment building living where you can hear your neighbour fart."

Hence, the unit is fully insulated instead of leaving exposed brick walls. This will keep it both warmer and quieter.

He also decided to go with radiant floor heating instead of the more conventional forced air furnace. Rather than heating up the air just below the ceiling, heat radiates off the floor from radiant pipes, delivering warmth where people actually live. With the vaulted ceilings, this just makes sense.

Buttrum wouldn't be drawn on when the renovation will be complete, citing a seemingly endless string of those niggling problems that always accompany ambitious renovations, but he was clearly proud of the work he's done so far.

As the street continues to turn around, such projects will become more and more common and people restore vacant buildings, reinvest in run-down properties and carve out a vibrant neighbourhood.

Sidebar: Gentrification

The arts are a well-known vector of urban revitalization. Artists and other bohemians are often willing to move into 'edgy' urban neighbourhoods with great buildings, lots of character and unconventional local cultures.

Such neighbourhoods are often impoverished, usually disinvested and frequently run down. The artists are the first ones to try and take back the neighbourhood from despair and dissolution, one building and then one block at a time.

As the neighbourhood starts to draw arts patrons, the presence of potential customers begins to attract other investors and business entrepreneurs. They gradually start to fill the void in local amenities, accelerating the pace of revitalization.

The artists help create a space for other creative professionals, who in turn help create a space for affluent post-boomers and downsizing empty-nesters in general, attracted by the charm, density and close proximity to urban amenities.

Crime rates go down (at least locally) when more "eyes on the street" take an interest in neighbourhood safety and criminal operations are exposed and shut down.

At the same time, long-time residents may be displaced and dispersed to non-gentrified areas as rents and property taxes go up to reflect the rising value of the buildings.

This causes friction and conflict, not only between the new urbanists and the brokers of misery (drug dealers, pimps and so on), but also between affluent property owners spending money to upgrade their buildings and the long-time residents who often cannot afford to stay.

Eventually, the "bourgeois" values of the gentrified neighbourhood may start to close ranks politically against the poor, with stricter laws against homelessness, conversion of apartments to condos, zoning by-laws to shut down undesirable businesses and building uses, and so on.

However, this thesis is controversial among social scientists. A number of studies have suggested that the migration rates of gentrifying neighbourhoods are not significantly different from those of non-gentrifying neighbourhoods.

A published study by Lance Freeman, an urban planning professor at Columbia University, actually suggests that gentrification makes it less likely that a poor resident will move out of a neighbourhood.

The higher costs are offset by improving job prospects, increased safety, and better local amenities, both public and private.

Contributing to the perception of displacement is the fact that urban neighbourhoods have high rates of turnover anyway, but that the people moving into a gentrifying neighbourhood are more likely to be affluent.

At the same time, gentrification leads to increasing density. While less-affluent residents continue to follow their existing patterns of high turnover, affluent newcomers move into otherwise vacant buildings without having to displace anyone, but start to compose a higher proportion of an (also growing) total population.

Mixed Use Makes Liveable Neighbourhoods

In addressing the issue of neighbourhood affordability and accessibility, it's important to remember first, as James Howard Kunstler points out, that it is an historical abnormality that in North American cities, the poor people are mostly concentrated in the downtown core.

Cities have always had rich and poor residents, but historically in North America, and currently in most of the world, the rich live downtown and the poor live in the periphery.

During the heyday of cheap, abundant gasoline and widespread auto-mobility in North America, this pattern has reversed itself, with everyone who can afford it leaving the core and moving to a suburban house.

This is going to change as the century-long heydey of cheap, abundant petroleum winds down and demographic shifts start to move people back into urban centres.

That shift will be painful for poor and working class people trying to find somewhere they can afford to live. Today, the phenomenon of "driving 'til you qualify" is already well-known in the mortgage and real estate industries; but it will no longer be feasible to live far from where you work as fuel prices continue to rise and become more volatile.

Gentrifying urban neighbourhoods need to promote mixed use through their development to ensure that the city has room for everyone.

Neighbourhood plans should require or strongly encourage the principle that buildings and blocks should have a variety of housing types: small houses, big houses, condos, apartments, and subsidized units, as well as various non-residential uses.

This accomplishes several goals simultaneously, including bringing rich and poor people into contact, allowing people to remain in the same neighbourhood when their family circumstances change, and preventing the ghettoization of poor residents. It also reduces the need for costly automobile tranasportation.

Urban planning won't solve the problem of poverty and income disparity, but it can be part of a successful strategy or ensuring that even the poor have safe, healthy neighbourhoods and opportunities for employment, community engagement and social interaction.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By peter (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2008 at 11:40:14

pure awesomeness...the article and james north, that is. thanks much.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2008 at 23:01:44

Ryan, this a great example of the free market in action.

Individuals, all working for their own personal agenda, transforming a neighborhood, building by building, and business by business.

Sadly, when you hear of these success stories, you begin to analyze it to death, and apply formalized, rigid, top down rules, in order to claim a victory that is not yours to claim.

The fact of the matter is, it is the people who risk their own money who do this, and no one else. Not you, not the government, just the risk taking souls who dream of making their chosen neighborhood a success.

I for one hope they succeed.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 13, 2008 at 04:18:47

A. Smith - Who on earth are you preaching to? I didn't get the impression that the article was anti-capitalist or anti-investment. If you're anti urban planning, on the other hand, perhaps you'd have us living in cities without roads or sewers - or even stock exchanges. As for the buildings themselves, let's not have building codes. Capitalism also requires money, I might add, which entails a certain amount of government interference (Hint: Look at the faces on the coins!). Too much for you, I gather. You'd have us all in camel-hair outfits, cannibalizing, and beating each other to death with clubs, I suppose? That's definitely violent, but it's not quite capitalism. . . Adam Smith would be rolling in his grave if he only knew!

Excellent article, Ryan!

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 13, 2008 at 10:19:17

I concur. Great article Ryan. I had the pleasure of trying out Bailey's the other day just south of Barton. Great spot with good food. James North is well on it's way. That new bike store will surely be a welcome addition downtown! Congrats to Dave, Gary and all involved in this great hood.

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By lorne (registered) - website | Posted September 13, 2008 at 17:28:47

As someone who was raised in the core of Hamilton many years ago, I have retained a nostalgic affection for those times of vitality that I remember so, when grand theatres such as Palace and The Capitol thrived, when stores such as Kresge’s, Zellers, Woolworths, Eames and Sons, Eatons, etc. had no shortage of patronage.

While I know those times will likely never return, I am consistently impressed, not just by those currently taking a chance on the core either by moving there or opening up a new business, but also by the indefatigable efforts of the committed people at RTH. You do a marvelous job boosting the City of Hamilton’s profile, as well as keeping us informed about key municipal issues, far better than the other local media do.

Your labours of love are appreciated by many people.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 13, 2008 at 19:00:03

Geoff, name me one reason why money has to be controlled by the government?

Furthermore, building codes are also unnecessary because building owners have a vested interest in making sure their buildings don't implode. Much more so than some uninvested bureaucrat.

As for sewers and roads, have you ever heard of toll roads? They also have a long history, try reading up on this. Sewers, like roads, could also be financed by private interests.

The problem I have with Ryan's article is that he fails to see the forest through the trees.

He's so focused on figuring out what rules work best, he fails to see that there are none. At least not ones that need to be enforced by third parties.

The fact that he can take individual success stories, and then hijack their success is disgusting.

He is just like any conceited politician who spends other people's tax dollars, and then takes feels the need to take credit for it.

Admit it Ryan, your ideas have had nothing to do with the revitalization of this area, period.

If you feel differently, please show me where I am mistaken, I doubt you will however, because you know I am correct.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 13, 2008 at 23:46:34

A Smith said - "building codes are unnecessary". Ok, so we figured it out - you work for LIUNA. Now it all makes sense.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2008 at 03:38:53

A. Smith, that depends on your definition of government. Taking it at its broadest (and in my view, most useful) meaning, government is simply the existence of leadership in society. There are usually one or two adults that govern the average household of children, in the same way that there is usually a person or a group of people that govern a nation. Money is the way we regulate exchange - and a much neater method, I dare say, than the barter system. Sure, I suppose that if you like, each person could have their own currency, or each married couple, but that would make trade a lot more complicated than it needs to be. How do we size up different value systems? Much easier, it seems, that everybody agree on one standard of economic exchange. If you don't believe me, look at what the Euro has done for the EU.

Your assertion that all building owners have a vested interest in making sure their buildings are livable is ahistorical. It ignores what many buildings were like for the urban working poor in the western world after the industrial revolution. If the people who ran the dirty, disease-infested slums were the same people who operated the factories, one could say, I suppose, that the higher-ups would have a vested interest in keeping workers healthy enough to work in factories. This was rarely the case, however. For the owners of tenement buildings with little or no responsibility for the health and well-being of the people inside (and for whom it is cheaper to collect rents than to pay to demolish a building and re-build), however, there is no incentive to ensure the structural integrity of their buildings beyond the lowest possible standard. The same logic would operate for sewers as well if they were privately funded.

The privately-funded toll-roads of medieval yore would not, I think, measure up to what most people consider to be an acceptable standard of quality. Today, many, if not most, large roads are indeed built with the help of the private sector, but most expensive projects require the aid of government resources as well. Even in the late nineteenth century, before income tax, the private sector did not have enough money to complete a transcontinental railway on its own. Government endorsement was required.

A. Smith, for some reason you suggest that Ryan is trying to hijack the success of the James North rebuilding, which is absurd.

How long did you spend writing your poorly thought-out response to the article? Under 10 minutes? Under 5, I dare say? Frankly, and without meaning to get nasty here (though you did suggest that Ryan was just like a "any conceited politician"), it reads like you didn't even bother to finish reading the article before feeling as if you had the full authority to comment on it.

What is most "disgusting" here is not that your arguments against government involvement are exceedingly poor, but that somebody who does not even bother to apply themselves to developing a reasoned counterargument can so blindly and impertinently dismiss the enormous efforts undertaken by individuals in the interests of a better city. Like many others, I welcome a good argument, but your posts have so far amounted for the most part to a particularly brutish form of political anarchism. They aren't much better than the spam that this website had to contend with last spring. They detract entirely from the core issues that draw many others to this publication, and that are capable of sparking lively, productive debate.

Unfortunately, there are lots of blog sites out there that discuss the social-Darwinist, anarchist nonsense you seem to enjoy. You might find a readier audience there. If you continue to post here, my suggestion would be to either put more effort into your entries and have more respect for the efforts of others, or else be prepared for a more complicated mathematical question devised to deter those who waste volunteer-funded web space with thoughtless, unproductive and uninteresting drivel.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2008 at 16:33:46

Geoff, you say you believe that government is necessary in order to "lead" society forward.

That is an interesting theory, but in the case of James Street North, the opposite is proving to be the case. In fact, it is private individuals that are taking the lead.

It's funny that you failed to notice this, even though you spent an enormous amount of time reading Ryan's article, and then writing your rebuttal to my last post.

With regard to your support for government money, you fail to appreciate that money is supposed to be both a medium of exchange and a store of value. In this respect, early money was backed up by intrinsic value within the currency itself, like gold or silver coins.

Fiat money on the other hand is based on nothing more than promises from elected officals. If the government decides it needs more to spend, all it has to do is start the printing presses.

Presto, your store of value just got diluted, because now there are extra dollars chasing the same amount of goods and services.

As to your discussion about building codes, no rational person is going to spend large amounts of money having a structure built, without taking every necessary step to insure its longevity.

If there are people out there who are willing to do this, they would fail to get insurance, and they would soon likely be bankrupt.

Therefore, the market would filter out the idiots, and allow the smart people to pick up land on the cheap. Since the smart people also build dwellings that last, the market would soon be full of safe structures and homes.

Problem solved, no government rules necessary.

If there is anything else you need me to help you with Geoff, just let me know.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2008 at 17:44:32

A. Smith, you really are infuriating. You ignored my definition of government and provided none of your own, which makes it difficult to converse with you. I won't bother with this section of your retort (which includes a later comment as well).

There is nothing intrinsic about value in money, except that which people are willing to invest in it. There is nothing that money is "supposed" to be. It has been most useful as a medium of exchange, and has little value to an isolated woodsman who wants to keep it in his treehouse.

When the value of money was determined by its being gold or silver, this had enormous limitations on the expansion potential of economies. People reproduce, and there simply is not enough easily accessible gold or silver in the world to accommodate their entry into the world economic system in any efficient manner. Assuming there was, there is nothing to prevent gold-rich countries from hoarding it, while otherwise intelligent, productive parts of the world languish in abject poverty.

Responsible governments do not "start the printing presses" on a mere whim to be wealthy. Read up on the hyperinflation crisis in early 1920s Germany. Then read up on how modern governments manage inflation (post-WWII), and why inflation happens. I simply don't have time to relate all of this to you.

I gave you a perfectly adequate reason why rational people looking out for their own benefit in the marketplace would take shortcuts in building homes. Read this again.

The market does not necessarily filter out idiots. Smart, wealthy people often have babies that, having never had to work the way their parents did, grow up to be idiots. These people use their earnings to isolate themselves from the travails of everyday life. They have babies, which do the same. Read H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" for a fictional rendering of this process carried to its logical conclusion.

Fittingly, given your name, your ideas concerning the inherently benign and rational character of the market are centuries old - they pre-date the industrial and urban revolution. The people intelligent enough to formulate them in the first place had never seen an automobile, a skyscraper, or electricity. They do not take into account the enormous problems faced by the existence from the nineteenth century onwards of large numbers of people living and working in a very limited amount of space. Nor does your simplistic model take into account what transpired in the pre-Keynesian days of the Great Depression - In case you haven't heard, this was a rather significant event in world economic history, and deserves your consideration.

If you're not going to debate things in a rational manner, and with no consideration for what is commonly known history of the last one hundred and twenty-five years, I don't have time to teach you, and I'm not going to give you the time of day on this forum. In which case, I suppose, you can say whatever you like. As much as I disapprove of your behavior on this forum, I refuse to encourage it by responding to your illogical, self-righteous pamphleteering. You have my word on that.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 14, 2008 at 18:58:10

I don't want to stick my nose in the middle of this discussion, but I must ask ASmith a question: If property owners really do operate with that attitude of 'building things to last' etc.... then how do you explain all the crap being built these days? Virtually every big box store built is NOT being built to last. Yet, the owners all seem to be getting insurance. The next generation is going to have to deal with a massive amount of brownfield sites that make todays current stock of brownfields look like a drop in the bucket. Lucky us - we get to "pick up their land on the cheap".

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2008 at 19:31:30

Geoff, I didn't ignore your definition of government (your words..."government is simply the existence of leadership in society."), I simply pointed out that the James St North revival has nothing to do with said leadership.

I also pointed out that it is wrong to associate one's own agenda with the success of others, especially when this agenda has nothing to do with the success in the first place.

As to your points on money, you are contradicting yourself. On the one hand you say that money doesn't have intrinsic value, but then you tell us that responsible governments do not dilute the value of money, thereby implying that money should be backed up by things that people value.

Regardless, your point that money needs to be controlled by the government has yet to be proven.

Your criticism of economic history on the grounds that the people who developed it are not around today is confusing. Algebra was created over a thousand years ago and yet no one discounts the value of it.

Regarding your mention of the Great Depression, I have actually studied it quite a bit. In fact, the main reason for the Great Depression was a massive expansion of government spending in the economy.

Between 1929 and 1932, non military spending grew from 8.6% to 15.7% of GDP, an 83% increase. Big jumps in government assistance also result in producing the opposite effect.

If your going to make arguments, try to back them up with facts, rather than rely on "common knowledge".

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2008 at 20:11:11

Your confidence in a debating forum is admirable, A. Smith, but your diligent scholarly efforts towards achieving a fuller understanding of the Great Depression come as somewhat of a surprise.

For starters, the Great Depression began in 1929, not 1932. That is a fact that anybody who passed a grade 12 history exam or who is well versed in historical documentaries can tell you. Your statistics on government spending from 1929 to 1932, then, are without any value whatsoever for explaining something that happened in 1929 and had been building for some years before then.

With this in mind, I'd be surprised if you had ever given the Great Depression any thought whatsoever before I mentioned it in my previous comment.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2008 at 00:43:09

Sorry for the detour. Any idea what the two-apartment on James N. will go for? Sounds amazing - If I was a professor at Mac (I'm a former student), you wouldn't catch me for a moment in Westdale. I'd be taking full advantage of some of this beautiful property downtown while it's still affordable!

As for artists=sign of a recovering neighborhood, it is a similar situation for Vancouver's Commercial Drive. It used to be quite a sleazy part of town, so I hear. It's developed into quite the arts and cultural district though - and is now gentrifying at a quick pace.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2008 at 00:43:50

That should read "two-storey apartment". Sorry!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2008 at 07:05:20

Geoff, I never said the Great Depression started in 1932, so I'm not sure why you made this assumption.

What I did say, was that a huge non-military spending increase was the cause of reduced output in the economy. My numbers in this case are from the BEA, and therefore reflect the US economy, but those are the only numbers I have to work with.

The greater point, is that all government actions produce an equal and opposite reaction.

Therefore, when government tries to help the people, which was the case with the huge increase in non military spending from 1929 to 1932, it actually produces more harm than good.

That is also why I am against government plans to revitalize neighborhoods, as they tend to backfire as well.

The best thing that government can do is stop trying to help people, sit back, collect a fat salary, and let the people figure things out for themselves.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2008 at 10:38:28

Hope abandoned! Thanks, Ryan.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2008 at 15:58:30

Ryan, instead of calling me names, why not explain to us how your theories apply to this specific story taking place on James Street North.

If they are not relevant, then explain to us why you include them with this story. Otherwise you are giving people the false impression that you actually know what you are talking about.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2008 at 20:41:18

The relevance of the ideas to the rest of the article is largely self-explanatory, but you're too stubborn to recognize this.

. . . And as for hijacking, quit hijacking volunteer-funded web space for your social darwinist agenda. Fund your own website. This would be a test of the entrepreneurial principles you evidently hold dear.

This will be harsh, but I'm not interested in what you have to say, and neither, to my knowledge, are most of the people who read and blog on this forum (there might be the occasional drifter). I have an idea - Find one other person on this or some other forum who agrees with you, and start a club. Meet weekly, monthly - publish pamphlets. There's a slight possibility you would begin to make sense to somebody if you had a patient editor. Just please don't have the impertinence to impugn the efforts of those working towards positive change when, to my knowledge, you do nothing positive in this regard whatsoever. Whether you are troll or human, this is a characteristic commonly held to be troll-like.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2008 at 21:32:57

Geoff, your intense efforts to get me to leave, show just how little faith you have in your ability to debate.

Instead, you resort to name calling, further magnifying the emotional nature of your support for government.

I have offered real numbers to show how government's actions can impact the economy (and people) in a negative way, while you have offered nothing more than reflections of popular opinion.

I might as well be debating a high school textbook with the amount of original thought you have brought to the table.

Regardless, how does it serve anyone who is genuinely interested in seeking the truth, to censor views that don't align with one's own.

Finally, I find it interesting that you think you have the authority to tell me what to do.

You are obviously a person of average intellect, therefore its probably best if you stick to taking orders, rather than giving them.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 15, 2008 at 22:13:14

Your numbers show nothing. The connection between lack of productivity and your statistics on government spending for the years 1929 to 1932 is non-existent. You didn't offer a viable connection between these data. You did, however, demonstrate how governments reacted to the onset of the Great Depression - in most cases, by eventually and reluctantly resorting to increased public deficit spending. This continued until the second world war, when government spending and control over the economy was brought to such a level as to almost eliminate unemployment entirely. This is what is generally agreed to have ended the Great Depression, and facilitated an enormous increase in productivity.

Contrary to what you say above, then, an increase in government spending did not cause the Great Depression, but ended it.

You're right - Not much original thought here. These are commonly agreed-upon facts, equivalent to the fact that Germany invaded Poland in 1939, not the reverse. "Original thought", as you espouse it, which invents nonsense or twists words to push a certain political agenda, has been responsible in history for a number of interesting innovations - Holocaust denial comes to mind here.

With my "average intellect", I've just completed an M.A. in modern European history, and am in the process of filling out PhD applications.

You are hopeless. Good-bye for now.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2008 at 01:02:05

Ryan, look in the mirror. This whole site is a monument to your narrow government loving philosophy. The fact that you felt the need to insert your philosophy into a story about private enterprise, shows how strong your bias runs.

The fact is that James St North is being transformed by individuals, not politicians. Your failure to admit this is simply your attempt at saving face, nothing else.

I ask you again, in what way does your government directed, top down approach to urban renewal have to do with the people you profiled in your article? If you can't give me an answer, then your silence will do the talking for you.

As to your assertion that I have a tendency to throw out insults, you are obviously referring to yourself, since it is your posse that has been throwing around the comparisons to mythological creatures.

Geoff, let's try this one more time. I believe that when government tries to help people, it actually produces the opposite effect. Got that?

The numbers support this theory, since in 1933, after taxes had been raised dramatically, and social spending had leveled off, the economy stopped shrinking.

From 1933 to 1939, non military spending would only grow from 16.5% to 17.3% of GDP. This completely contradicts your claim to the contrary.

During this same time frame, where non military spending growth was essentially stagnant, the economy took off, growing at an average real rate of 5.7%.

Therefore, the "commonly agreed upon facts" that you rely on are simply wrong. The Great Depression was over in 1933, and anyone who argues differently has not looked at the actual numbers.

Before you respond to this post, please get your numbers straight by looking at the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Otherwise, your arguments will be nothing more than folk wisdom. For someone who claims to be learned, I think that is the least I can expect.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2008 at 01:51:45

I'm through with you. Read a book - The best that immediately comes to mind is 'Europe in the Twentieth Century' by Robert Paxton. It has an entire chapter on the Great Depression in America and elsewhere. The book is well written, and is excellent in summarizing recent scholarly debates.

I look forward to the articles posted here, as well as relevant comments on issues presented herein. I'm sorry for the role I played in allowing things to get so off topic.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 16, 2008 at 01:55:04

Sweet Jesus, A Smith, you've really jumped the shark this time. This whole sit is a monument to Ryan's hard work and dedication. I agree with Geoff. If you're so big on entrepreneurship, stop knocking other people's efforts and start your own damn site.

The Depression was over in 1933? That's one of your more absurd statements yet. It was just getting going in most countries in 1933, but then I guess I'm not looking at the 'numbers', just the human toll. Humans. Remember them? Not to mention that you've just contradicted yourself by claiming that government spending 'caused' a depression that apparently ended immediately after the bulk of the spending. Hmmm.

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By so full of crap (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2008 at 08:54:18

You're so full of crap A Smith. You called the author "disgusting" and said he's "like any conceited politician", meanwhile he didn't even actually DO what you accused him of. His article was ALL about individuals making changes on a street, who believe in the downtown and put their money where their mouth is. Then he wrote about how important it is NOT to let yuppies change the rules of a neihborhood they moved into so it locks poor people out. So pretty much the exact opposite of what you accused him of. No wonder he ignored you!

By the way, troll comes from fishing not mythology, it comes from running a boat slowly through the water dragging a baited hook behind you to get some unfortunate fish to grab on and get caught. 26 comments later its clear your a very good fisherman.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2008 at 13:51:07

Geoff, you made specific claims regarding the Great Depression, so it is your job to back them up, not Robert Paxton's. For someone who desires to be a scholar, this should not be too difficult.

Highwater, I agree that Ryan works hard on this site, but hard work does not give him the right to claim others success as his own.

The truth is that individuals are turning James St North around, not rules, regulations, and top down planning that Ryan believes in. Just people, the market, and that's it.

Regarding the Great Depression, what I have said, and what the numbers support, is that increasing non military spending leads to reduced output in the economy. One goes up (spending), and the other goes down (economy). These events happen near simultaneously, so it is easy to see the connection between the two. Therefore, there is no contradiction.

Full of crap, you chose your name wisely.

Ryan, your failure to explain what your theories have to do with James St North is disappointing. Your intellect has obviously been weakened by listening to one too many uncritical opinions, and your ego has now completely taken over the job of thinking for you.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2008 at 14:11:19

"Regarding the Great Depression, what I have said, and what the numbers support, is that increasing non military spending leads to reduced output in the economy. One goes up (spending), and the other goes down (economy). These events happen near simultaneously, so it is easy to see the connection between the two. Therefore, there is no contradiction."

There are inherent flaws in your logic here, especially combined with your previous posts. I could nickle and dime you to death on numbers, but your overall rendering of the cause of (most scholarship identifies a multitude of causes) and solution to the GD is incorrect, along with your chronology

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By taking A Smith to task (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2008 at 14:13:52

@A smith: There's no way you can be that ignorant as to actually believe the bollox you write.
In no way shape or form did Ryan claim anyone's else's success for his own. He gave the credit to the people doing the work in his article and then he turned credit AWAY from himself and onto those people in two of his comments. ALL he said about his "theories" is that the people renewing James North should make sure they keep the street mixed for incomes and types of business so noone gets squeezed out.
You're reading comprehension either totally sucks or you are just going after him from some personal vendetta, I don't know which. Full of crap made good points but you just ignored it and insulted him (funny because that's what Ryan said you do and you just proved it for him).
If you want to be part of the conversation great. But if you just want to go at people you don't like, please go away and do it somewhere else, folks here are trying to be civilized.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2008 at 14:28:11

[Sorry! The touchpad here is apparently very sensitive! And I continue. . .]

. I am gainfully employed elsewhere, and do not have time to present a fully footnoted work of scholarship for your viewing pleasure. Given the amount of time such a work would require, it would have to be valuable to my career. Given that the facts in this regard are so commonly known, it would make no sense for me to do this. Nobody except yourself would care, and even if I was foolish enough to do this, based on what I've seen in this forum, I could not count on any commitment from you to read it from start to finish.

In place of this, I substitute a highly regarded, peer-reviewed book that offers a broadly-based account of the Great Depression and interwar years that backs up what I have said above with archival evidence. If you do not have the time to read part of a book, I certainly do not have time to compile an article for you. Nor is your persona as I have come to appreciate it on this forum sufficiently endearing to entice me to do you any act of such charity.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2008 at 20:12:35

Geoff, what are the inherent flaws in my logic?

taking A Smith to task, read the last four paragraphs from Ryan's article. Here he tells the reader how neighborhoods SHOULD be improved, all which relate back to his view that top down planning, regulations and rules are the golden keys to success.

However, he fails to tell the reader his theories have absolutely nothing to do with the progress taking place on James St North.

If this article was simply written to highlight the success of the neighbourhood, why add the unrelated editorial at the end?

I believe it is because Ryan wants to associate his theories with success stories. In this way, his theories appear to be an integral part of what is happening on James St North, even though nothing could be further from the truth.

For those that fail to see this, ask yourself what Ryan's theories have to do with the people mentioned in this article. If you can come up with any connections let me know.

As to the comments from "so full of crap", why should I respond to someone that begins his comment by resorting to insults? Furthermore, all I said to him was that he chose his name wisely, how is that an insult?

As to the "good" points he made, unfortunately I can't respond to every point that people make against me, there are many of you and only one of me.

Therefore, forgive me if I am selective in choosing who to address.

Just for the record, Ryan's article was not ALL about the people making changes to James St North, as he claims. Once again, forgive me if I refuse to address people with zero grip on the facts.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 16, 2008 at 20:13:29

so, how about all the great folks on James North? Any further thoughts on what's happening down there? I don't want the real hero's downtown to be left out of this discussion. Ryan's piece was brilliant and welcome breath of fresh air (to most of us) in this city.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 16, 2008 at 23:28:26

"Regarding the Great Depression, what I have said, and what the numbers support, is that increasing non military spending leads to reduced output in the economy. One goes up (spending), and the other goes down (economy). These events happen near simultaneously, so it is easy to see the connection between the two. Therefore, there is no contradiction."

What you have shown is correlation, not a cause and effect connection.

Nevertheless, this correlation is not even correct. Government spending increased dramatically immediately prior to economic recovery, and skyrocketed throughout the rest of the decade, correlating to an improving economy.

From 1929-32, the Hoover administration was relatively fiscally conservative. Taxes skyrocketed under Hoover, but spending increased much more modestly, in an effort to balance the books. The years 1929-33 were characterized by a 13% increase in public expenditure to deal with the disaster.

Roosevelt's New Deal, on the other hand, which in its various manifestations did not appear until 1933, the worst year of the GD, in which GDP plummeted to merely 53% of the 1929 level, raised public spending by 24% from 1933-37, and by significantly more in the years leading up to American involvement in WWII.

There are other significant events that correlate to economic recovery after 1933 that you cite above, of course, that cannot be precisely linked to numbers of dollars spent - Perhaps most importantly among them the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insured deposits in member banks.

My numbers are from the BEA as well. They show a marked correlation between a massive increase in public spending and economic recovery.

"Geoff, let's try this one more time. I believe that when government tries to help people, it actually produces the opposite effect. Got that?"

Your beliefs are loud and clear - your logic is often fuzzy, sometimes outright invisible.

You say "The numbers support this theory, since in 1933, after taxes had been raised dramatically, and social spending had leveled off, the economy stopped shrinking."

I say that government spending increased before 1933, but skyrocketed after that time, and that it is actually this increased government spending, coupled with other government actions in the U.S. and around the world, in response both to the hardships of the GD and, particularly from 1936 forward, the aggression of the Germans and Japanese respectively, that correlates to increased economic productivity.

Your distinction between military and non-military expenditure is not necessarily helpful. A soldier or munitions worker is still paid by the government. It is the successful and selective intervention of government in the private sector, and the increase in public expenditure that accompanied economic recovery in the mid to late 1930s.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2008 at 02:13:27

Geoff, just to be clear, my numbers reflect total government(Federal, State, and Local) revenue and expenditure figures.

Considering that at the time, State and Local accounted for the bulk of the spending, if you forgot to include them in your calculations,
your numbers could be a bit off.

I made this mistake the first time I looked at the numbers.

In 1929, "current expenditures" by all levels of government were 8 billion dollars. Gross government investment was 2.8 billion dollars while 1 billion was written off for depreciation. This comes out to 9.8 billion dollars spent, out of an economy of 103.6 billion dollars. This works out to 9.46% of the economy.

Since military spending is usually not considered as being helpful for the average citizen, I make this distinction when referring to "social spending". If you disagree with me on this point, I will try to show you why i feel this is relevant , especially during WWII.

The rest of my figures were calculated in the same way I described above.

My figures show that non military spending (as a percentage of the economy) in the years beginning in 1929 were as follows: 8.59, 10.75, 14.38, 15.67, 16.49.

Furthermore, from 1934 to 1939, non military spending was: 17.42, 16.23, 17.3, 14.36, 16.96 and 17.25 % of GDP.

Therefore, this period, from 1934 to 1939 was not a time of great spending expansion. Curiously enough, however, during this same time period, the economy took off. Averaging over 5% real GDP growth per year.

That is why I am confused at the impression in society that the GD lasted until WWII.

That is why I say that non military spending ( as a percentage of the economy) caused, or as you more accurately put it, was strongly linked with the shrinking economy.

This correlation between non military spending and the economy can also be seen in almost every recession since the GD. I also refer to it to explain the difference in the Clinton economy and the GW Bush economy.

However, you are correct Geoff, I can't prove that non military spending causes the economy to tank, but I truly think the evidence is as strong as any other theory I have heard put forward.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2008 at 03:29:34

This has gone way too far off topic, so I'm going to bring this back to Hamilton.

"Since military spending is usually not considered as being helpful for the average citizen, I make this distinction when referring to "social spending". If you disagree with me on this point, I will try to show you why i feel this is relevant , especially during WWII."

Isn't military spending helpful if it gives the average citizen a job? I'm not an enthusiast of the military-industrial compliex, but in the strictest sense, public dollars appear to have operated much as Keynes predicted (not that I'm his publicist - although his theories represent an enormous advance over their nineteenth-century counterparts in accounting for an element of rationality in everyday economics, they are still somewhat simplistic and idealistic) - as an economic pump primer. Public dollars, in other words, injected into the economy to promote private investment.

Again, we're dealing with correlation, not necessarily direct cause and effect, and there are definitely a multitude of other causes of economic recovery that we hopefully do not have time to debate.

Of course, as the fallout from the disastrous WWI demobilization shows, the mass employment of millions by the government in the event of war could never be more than a temporary stopgap measure. Hence the much greater relative success in re-integrating munitions workers and soldiers after 1945 - through education, housing and other items. This more astutely directed government investment is part of what made the 1950s a much more successful and optimistic decade than the 1950s.

I see no reason why public money in Hamilton could not act in a similar way (to prime the economic pump and stimulate reinvestment in the city core) without requiring a war. A more efficient transit system would be one judicious investment - transportation can entice private investors away from the high rents in places like Toronto or Vancouver. Good education also strikes me as a wise investment for the young, and planting/maintaining trees along public thoroughfares, for instance (even if they grow in front of empty buildings in which nobody has any interest), might encourage more people to walk the city's sidewalks, and in turn make these neighborhoods more conducive to private risktaking - Otherwise, why not take your risks elsewhere, where you're more likely to succeed?

Personally, while I agree that a more efficient private sector is in many ways desirable, the mixed economy, broadly-speaking, appears to have been fairly successful so far. It is rather significant here that post-secondary business schools - which promote competitiveness more than anything else - are actually largely publicly funded. Scandinavian countries have a welfare state proportionately much larger than either Canada's or America's, and yet have managed to achieve a higher standard of living. We are all generally living longer, healthier, stronger, and, by virtue of these, more economically productive lives than our forebears a century ago. The fact that a wealthy factory-owner can no longer build the polluted, dangerous industrial buildings he was once able to, and pay his workers a poverty wage (it wouldn't have mattered if they fell sick or even died), thus creating a dangerous urban environment more conducive to crime - The fact that he is now answerable to public authority for these aspects of his enterprise - represents a considerable advantage over the past. I suppose that in the most abstract sense imaginable, it might be possible for these things to occur without what we know as government involvement. Government investment in these aspects of urban health and safety for rich and poor alike, however, strike me as having been a worthwhile investment thusfar, and I see no reason why it should be terminated.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2008 at 05:02:11

My section on Keynes's contribution should read "irrationality", not "rationality"

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2008 at 12:39:07

Geoff, in WWII, non-military spending as a percentage of the economy went from 17.25% in 1939, to 3.59% in 1944. During this period of rapidly declining "social spending", GDP grew at enormous rates, averaging about 12% per year.

I make the distinction between military and non military spending because of government's intentions. Notably, non military spending tends to be aimed at "helping" people, whereas military spending is often criticized as being a waste of money.

This distinction also explains why some government spending, notably wasteful spending, actually produces positive results, whereas the opposite is true for spending aimed directly at helping people. The fact that the economy could grow at 12% per year, even though the government cut back spending on health, education, and any other soft program proof of this.

You mention Scandinavian countries as an example of how government can drive living standards and I agree with you in some respects. The fact is, both Sweden and Norway have excellent public finances, taxing their people to cover the costs of the programs they deliver. They also both have much lower corporate taxes, which on the surface appear to favour big business over the average citizen, but in reality drive workers wages.

Therefore, if Hamilton wants to build a rapid transit system, the politicians should raise our taxes to cover the cost. That way we would be paying for everything we get. No free lunch, which is what I believe leads to negative results.

Curiously enough, that is why I feel Stephen Harper has been such a disappointment. He has decided to "help" people by lowering their taxes, and increased spending, again, in order to help them. The result has been the worst economic growth in 17 years.

Under Chretien, taxes were allowed to rise substantially, while program spending decreased. The result was one of the greatest economic times in recent history.

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By Maths (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2008 at 13:38:44

^Some basic maths please. If the GDP grows "at enormous rates", OF COURSE nonmilitary spending as a percentage of that enormously growing GDP is going to shrink, even if it remains the same in absolute terms. Just like they never actually paid down the national debt during the time (1945-1973) when the ratio of debt-to-GDP fell from over 100% to about 15%. The debt stayed the same and the GDP grew.

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By Amy Kenny (registered) | Posted September 17, 2008 at 17:18:04

“I can't respond to every point that people make against me, there are many of you and only one of me. Therefore, forgive me if I am selective in choosing who to address.” Ahhhh selective defence! But doesn’t it seem like a contradictory tactic when employed by someone who recently insisted that Geoff offer a point-by-point analysis of Paxton’s chapter on the Depression instead of simply referring readers to the book? From someone whose response to Ryan’s refusal to take his bait is to dish out sixth-grade-style grief a la “well if you know sooOOooOOooO much, then explain it for me, and if you shut your mouth, that just proves you’re a liar.”
On (what shouldn’t have to be) a side note, I enjoyed the read. Nice work.

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2008 at 18:01:20

A. Smith, I'm happy with the relative level of coherency (and even agreement - or at least the agreement to disagree as to premises) our debate has reached. I am not even wholehearted opposed to the notion of raising a particular tax to pay for LRT, provided we taxed the right people, and it was economically feasible at this juncture to levy such a tax.

I can't keep up this pace, however, as I truly am quite busy at this time. I'll join in again later.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2008 at 18:02:20

Amy Kenny, you are a great example as to why it is pointless for me to respond to every post aimed in my direction.

Your words..."someone (referring to myself) who recently insisted that Geoff offer a point-by-point analysis of Paxton's chapter on the Depression.."

My words..."you made specific claims regarding the Great Depression, so it is your job to back them up, not Robert Paxton's."

Where did I say Geoff should explain Robert Paxton's book?

In fact, what I actually said was the exact opposite, that Geoff should defend his own claims, RATHER than Robert Paxton.

If you arguments rely on lies, then yes, I will ignore you. At least Geoff, Ryan, and others on this board make an honest effort at dealing with the facts as they see them.

Maths, you make a good point. However, how do you explain the fact that military spending did not also follow this path, shrinking as a share of a growing economy?

The fact is, as the economy grows, so do tax revenues. The government can either spend that on the military, pay down the debt, or increase social spending.

My argument is that it is better for the economy to either pay down the debt, spend it on the military, or at the very minimum, keep the ratio of military to non military spending constant.

Think of social spending like a motorized cart, it can help make people's lives easier, but at the cost of making your muscles atrophy.

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By adam1 (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2008 at 21:46:47

Great article Ryan!

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By Maths (anonymous) | Posted September 18, 2008 at 09:06:19

A Smith asked, "how do you explain the fact that military spending did not also follow this path, shrinking as a share of a growing economy?" Recall that the US was involved in a gargantuan war effort to fight on two vast fronts. Military spending per year grew much faster than GDP which explains how it could rise as a percentage of GDP.

Just think, the US went from 175,000 in the army in 1939 to 6m in 1945, 125,000 in the navy in 1939 to 3.5m in 1945, 2,500 aeroplanes in 1939 to 80,000 in 1945, &c. That's just a tremendous mobilisation in a very short time, increasing the size of the miliary by orders of magnitude. It's also a very potent form of military Keynesian stimulation for the economy.

P.S. I wholly approve that you have to answer a maths question to post a comment here!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 18, 2008 at 20:49:59

Maths, I guess my question was more rhetorical in nature, but as you suggest, when government wants to spend money, it can do so like nobody's business.

This applies to both military and social spending.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted September 24, 2008 at 18:45:39

I am opening the bike shop on james north, and have been getting my hands (literally) dirty for quite some time. At no point during this article did I get the impression that Ryan was taking credit for any of the james north business owners' hard work. Additionally, the type of city planning that Ryan supports in this editorial is exactly the type that has helped the james north area grow - because the laws in place when james north was built up were closer to ryan's visio nthan what they are now. By allowing mixed use development (back in the day) and, more recently, encouraging conversion of empty or industrial space to residential (often above retail space) - plus the calming of traffic from the tracks to wilson - the city has created a place which encourages this type of growth. A.Smith, Ryan is not fighting for more laws. He is fighting for changing the arcane parking bylaws and ridiculous single-use zoning bylaws. In fact he is fighting for LESS government meddling than we have right now, not more.

You are trying to twist his words by claiming he is fighting for laws where there should be none - but the reality is there ARE laws that we have to live with until they are changed. So are you actually saying that Ryan should have called for a complete removal of bylaws rather than calling for a rewrite? You have certainly confused the situation.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 24, 2008 at 22:51:32

Sean, we appreciate your hard work and vision to open this great new bike shop downtown. Don't let the big mouth ramblings of the odd squelcher get you down. We all know that stripping down the governments insane zoning and parking laws would do wonders for downtown. I can't wait for your shop to open. That corner is really going to boom with you, Mixed Media, White Elephant and the Inc across the street. Exciting times downtown!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted September 25, 2008 at 22:57:34

seancb, read the last four paragraphs of Ryan's piece. You will learn that he is not arguing for more freedom, but rather more top down planning.

Ryan tells us that politicians need to coordinate building styles, sizes, uses and prices. If this is not a recipe for more government intervention into the marketplace, I don't know what is.

The problem is, he then attaches his theories with the recent success that people like yourself are having in renewing James St North.

Even though your efforts have nothing to do with his theories, he combines the two, in order to make his ideas look as if they are an integral part of your progress. In my opinion, that's nonsense.

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