(this blog entry has been updated)
Watching the recent goings-on at City Hall, I'm more convinced than ever that we have a Council who either loves boarded-up neighbourhoods full of crack houses, prostitutes and empty storefronts, or seriously needs to go on a field trip to see what sorts of innovative ways other cities are using to breathe life back into their oldest, often neglected, neighbourhoods.
Terry Cooke wrote a fabulous piece in today's Spectator about the ongoing Pearl Company saga in Lansdale. Living downtown, I see the prostitutes, 'social' clubs and druggies on these streets every day of the week.
The folks at the Pearl Company are trying to do something. They've invested money into a neighbourhood ignored for decades by the city (other than blindly stamping zoning application after application for more halfway houses and social service facilities) and builders.
This is exactly the sort of thing that other, more progressive cities try to encourage. It's how King West in Toronto went from run-down, empty warehouses to the fabulous neighbourhood we see today.
On the other side of downtown we have Hess Village. Council heard from Hamilton Police last week about the incredible violence in Hess Village. I think it was something like 34 assaults in an entire year with tens of thousands of people patronizing the area. Hardly skid row.
There are one or two establishments in the village that should be made to clean up their act a little, no doubt. But Council voted to fight a patio expansion of Smooth Hermans, attempting to add 50 seats to their patio. The previously applied to add close to 200 seats, but lowered the number upon request from Council.
Anyone who has frequented the Village knows that Herman's is probably the last place in the district that we need to worry about.
But that's the Hamilton way:
Punish the Pearl Company and demand 150 parking spaces (in a neighbourhood built before the automobile), and yet do nothing about the constant, 24-7 illegal activity surrounding the Pearl.
Punish Smooth Hermans despite a great track record, instead of going after the couple establishments that need to shape up somewhat.
Perhaps Council is hell-bent on making everywhere in Hamilton look like Barton East or Parkdale. It seems they can't wrap their head around the fact that their relatively minor investment into Hess Village a few years ago has been such a smashing success.
It's as if they say to themselves, "But this is Hamilton. People aren't supposed to flock here from all over southern Ontario to enjoy anything in our downtown. Let's shut 'er down!"
The Pearl Company and Art Bus have brought tourists from the Burlington-Toronto corridor in great numbers over the past few years into a neighbourhood that most Hamiltonians avoid.
Give your head a shake, city Council. Cities like Portland and Boston have theatres operating in homes, breweries in empty buildings, residents in industrial districts, restaurants underneath major highway overpasses, and so on.
Existing, old urban areas require flexibility and broad zoning. This isn't Markham or the Meadowlands. It's downtown Hamilton and you are standing in the way of its rebirth.
I urge someone on Council to stand up and become the champion for our downtown. We need it now, more than ever.
Update - This blog entry originally included the line, "I've yet to see an arrest or hear council try to do a single thing to combat this problem." On re-reading it, I realize that's not a fair statement. I don't think Council is focusing enough on the right things, but I can't truly say that they've done nothing. You can jump to the changed paragraph. -- Jason
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