An 18-Wheeled Shame

By Jason Leach
Published August 22, 2005

A recent Spec article highlighted the amazing amount of creativity in our city. When the newspaper recently did their One Big Idea, campaign, they were flooded with amazing and forward thinking ideas to rejuvenate our city.

A local communications firm hosts a conference each year on the new 'momentum' Hamilton is slowly gaining and how to leverage it in the future. They recently held a contest for citizens to send in their ideas that would bring positive change to our city.

Read the results and you'll once again be inspired by the creativity, passion and focus on the proper things ­ downtown, street, public spaces, image etcc - being presented in these ideas.

This left me wondering. Why can't City Hall ever take one or more of these ideas and begin to revitalize our city from the centre out? Why are the least creative people in our city the ones running the show? Why does every new idea revolve around more paving over farmland, building highways to empty business parks and ripping out trees, animal life and other greenery for another drab depressing subdivision?

Hamilton must be the only city on the planet where one can use the argument, "We've been planning this since the 1950s" as a statement that is supposed to gain support for said project.

Other cities would say, "1950s? We'll get with the times and do the opposite, thanks." Not Hamilton.

One-way streets roaring through town with industrial transport trucks mere meters from family homes may have been 'progress' in 1950, but today it stinks - in every sense of the word.

Imagine sitting the Byward Market in Ottawa with speeding transports and cars flying by drowning out conversation every ten seconds. You wouldn't be sitting in the Byward Market if that were the case. If fact, there probably would be no great place called the Byward Market. It would be a second rate, dinky market with cheap vendors, no customers and an overall bad vibe.

This is the vision our council has for downtown. They develop plans for streetscapes or two-way conversions and then plan on waiting 20 years to implement them. Other cities develop the plans, put them in the daily newspaper, have a few public meetings and start redeveloping their cities immediately.

You're going to hear a lot more of this in the days leading up to our next election, but Hamiltonians of all stripes, backgrounds, political 'affiliations' and social classes had better wake up and smell the truck fumes, because we are constantly electing a group that cares about the suburban developers and that's it. Bottom line. End of story.

Argue with me if you must. I'd rather you travel to Portland, Seattle, Ottawa, Montreal, Boston, and Europe and then come home and vote properly for a change. Until we do, this city won't experience any significant change in momentum, image or attitude. And that's a shame. A filthy, noisy, 18-wheeled shame.

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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By Steeltown (registered) | Posted August 22, 2005 at 02:55:01

When I came home from travelling to Ottawa I was ticked. We could learn so much from Ottawa, ranging from Sparks Street to the Byward Market. If it wasn't for Jackson Square we probably would have a Hamilton version of the Byward Market.

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By doug (registered) | Posted March 20, 2006 at 12:29:42

I was born and raised in Hamilton, went to McMaster, couldn't find a job in the Hammer when I graduated, so I moved to Toronto. (The despised Hogtown.)

At first I hated Toronto as every good Hamilton boy was bred to do, however, as time went on, I began to convert.

I began to see the things that Toronto had done right and Hamilton had done wrong. (I grew up thinking that Toronto oppressed Hamilton, wrong, Hamilton oppressed Hamilton.) For example, when I was living in Hamilton, I used to think that one way streets were the greatest thing since sliced bread because they allowed you to speed uninterupted from one end of town to the other in 15 minutes.

But since then, I have learned that Cities are not supposed to be about efficient traffic movements for suburbanites. Quite the opposite in fact. Cities are supposed to be about people living in residential neighbourhoods.

Toronto never forgot that, Hamilton suffered from the impacts of 1955 urban planning, where it was thought logical (by American Standards) that people would work in the city, then be "wisked to the suburbs" by a series of efficient expressways to be home in time for dinner with muffy and the kids.

Hamiton bought into this line of crap hook line and sinker. The result has been a decimation of the downtown core and inner city.

As the inner city began to decay, Hamilton then bought into the idea of the "Quick Fix", big one ofs that would rejeuvenate the downtown and related areas.

There was Jackson Square

There was the Copps Coleseum

There was the Standard life building and the eyesore CIBC buildings.

There was the Sheraton.

None of them ever did what they were supposed to do - re-energize the inner city.

Because the planners got it backwards as usual.

The key to having a successful downtown and inner city is that you need to have a solid residential base. I realize that this is the old chicken or egg debate, however, I do believe that if you have a solid residential community, you will have a solid commercial community as well.

That is exactly how Toronto's inner city neighbourhoods have prospered. You can turn off Yonge Street right downtown and you are into HOUSES. Houses where people live.

Turn off King Street in Hamilton and you are into abandonment.


  1. Get rid of the one way streets immediately.

  2. Tear down Jackson Sqare and re-establish streets similar to Ottawa, or even Quebec City.

  3. Give tax breaks to those living downtown in single family dwellings if they do substantial renovations to restore their homes.

  4. Consider tearing down everthing between King Street north to Cannon from James to John and building a Central Park for Hamilton. The real estate around the park will sought after if you do it right.

  5. Put the buses outside the perimeter.

I dunno if Hamilton will ever go for it. When I mention my ideas to my Hamilton friends they just roll their eyes and call me a dumb Torontonian. Then they jump in their minivans and drive over to Limeridge or the big box stores on the west mountain. (Where I used to go exploring along the trails there as a kid.)

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