Debating DeSantis

By Jason Leach
Published March 16, 2005

Reading the recent letter by Hamilton-Halton Home Builders' Association president Anthony DeSantis Jr. to the Hamilton Spectator in response to their editorial endorsing the Greenbelt, I'm starting to understand why Hamilton is in the shape that it's in.

The issue, of course, is smart growth and the province now demanding that 40 percent of new growth take place inside the current urban area.

Progressive cities that understand urban development don't face the same small-minded thinking we in Hamilton face. Toronto has a plan to house its next one million people entirely inside the urban area.

Mr. Desantis uses a juicy piece of fear-mongering to aid his point:

For Hamilton over the next two or three decades, [40 percent of new growth] means 80,000 people, or the equivalent of approximately 140 Century 21 Towers, will have to be housed in our existing built form.

Anyone with a slight education on urban intensification understands that new growth can be accommodated with some high-rise towers downtown, but will also involve more low and mid-rise buildings in the rest of the city.

Instead of a never ending streetscape of one-storey plazas on Upper James, we could add three- to five stories and begin intensifying the population while also bringing more customers to local businesses.

Let's remember that the area north of Mohawk Rd. in Hamilton has lost 60,000 residents since 1981. I don't seem to recall the city knocking down 100 Century 21 towers.

Desantis claims, "the province's intensification targets cannot be achieved within only the downtown area and will ultimately destabilize existing neighbourhoods elsewhere in our city."

I'm sure the merchants in the Barton/Wentworth area or the Queenston/Kenilworth area would hate to see thousands of new residents living in their area. It might actually help mainstream businesses succeed in those neighbourhoods instead of just the drug and prostitution trades.

Maybe Mr. Desantis is referring to the amazing balance that has been achieved between pedestrians and automobiles in areas like the Meadowlands and Upper James. We'd sure hate to "destabilize" those pollution-spewing neighbourhoods built by our local development industry.

The real issue here is simple: this is an industry that has done as it pleased in this city since the post-war era: slap up thousands of cardboard boxes and sell them at an amazing profit with no regard for the health of the buyers or surrounding city.

Now, with smart growth initiatives being developed, the homebuilders in Hamilton might actually have to start being creative and start looking at the health and sustainability of streets and neighbourhoods instead of simply what's best for their wallets.

In the meantime, they should refrain from speaking on behalf of Hamilton's neighbourhoods and trying to get any of us to believe that more residents living walking distance from a commercial strip like Westdale, Locke South or Ottawa St. will somehow "destabilize" the neighbourhoods and send our city down the toilet.

It's the development practices of the past 30 years that have us hanging onto the inside of the bowl as the flusher is pushed over and over.

[Aside: DeSantis also writes, "Unfortunately, this very important debate was required prior to the greenbelt legislation being passed, not after." This, if anything, confirms the fantasy world that developers are living in. The "very important debate" has been raging in the mainstream for a decade and at the margins for some 40 years. -Ed]

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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