Revitalization

Hamilton Still Looks Like the 1970s

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published February 26, 2013

There was an interesting article by Doug Saunders in yesterday's Globe and Mail on the 'Vancouverisation' of city centres. It begins:

I recently flipped through aerial photos of Canadian cities in the 1970s. One thing stood out: the parking lots. They were everywhere. Downtown Vancouver was a checkerboard of them. Post-Olympic Montreal was streaked with them. Toronto, especially south of King Street, seemed to be nothing but one giant, contiguous grey parking lot yawning across the lakefront.

In September, I returned to Canada after living abroad for almost a decade, and was struck by the disappearance of those acres of cement emptiness.

Unfortunately, aerial photos of downtown Hamilton today still show huge expanses of surface parking, 40 years later.

Surface parking in downtown Hamilton
Surface parking in downtown Hamilton

Block after block of surface parking
Block after block of surface parking

I remember seeing such downtown parking lots gradually disappear in Vancouver, starting in the early 1980s. It's strange that Hamiltonians still seem to believe that keeping up to 50 percent of its prime downtown real estate as unproductive surface parking is actually good for the economy!

The article goes on:

Vancouver has been remade dramatically, rendered into a thickly vertical city jammed with people and activity. Its combination of high population density in cozy downtown neighbourhoods, intimate street life and popular public transit has become one of Canada's leading exports: When I visit cities in Europe and the United States, their officials talk earnestly of adopting "Vancouverism."

[...]

To Vancouverize, in the minds of mayors, is to make residents realize that having a crowded, people-packed downtown core is not a problem but a solution.

Here in Hamilton, our Mayor and Council still seem more concerned about the parking and traffic problems created by a people-packed downtown than the overwhelming benefits.

The attitude seems to be, 'downtown would get so busy and crowded that no one would go there any more.'

It is this kind of overly cautious approach that only looks at the costs, not the benefits, that seems to be bogging LRT down. The opportunity costs of leaving much of downtown as 9-5 weekday surface car storage is enormous.

Half-empty parking lot at Main and Bay (RTH file photo)
Half-empty parking lot at Main and Bay (RTH file photo)

Saunders concludes, "We lived for six decades with sprawling outskirts and the anomie of parking-lot downtowns. Now that we're famous for inventing an alternative, it's time to embrace it."

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 07:03:52

What day/time was the picture of the parking lot taken?

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 08:23:58 in reply to Comment 86768

Downtown this must of been after 5 pm not long after its like a desert , get rid of thoses parking and biuld towers and make parking UNDER then so the city will bring in more tax money not peenys of thoses in parking now days

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By Lebowski (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 11:58:56 in reply to Comment 86784

What in God's holy name are you blathering about?

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 13:17:46 in reply to Comment 86804

God has nothing to do with it ... you must be a parking lot owner

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By Lebowski (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 14:21:44 in reply to Comment 86818

All of a sudden you speak English?

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By Conrad664 (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2013 at 05:45:03 in reply to Comment 86823

Yes i speak french not to bad for a french guy and tapping it from my blackberry , im thingking for getting the z10 .. at least there the keys will be bigger like the IPhone

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By Spit it out (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 08:06:50 in reply to Comment 86768

We know you just want to accuse "the powers that be at RTH" for "conspiring" against "the silent majority" by "cherry picking" a photo taken at 8am chrismtas day or something. So out with it already.

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By erskinec (registered) - website | Posted February 26, 2013 at 07:25:58

Turning the downtown into parking lots creates huge barriers to future growth because your only option is to invest millions in constructing a new buildings. If the old structures were left in place then new and small businesses could use the space. Look how James Street North, Hess Village, Locke Street and a portion of King Street West (between Bay and Queen) have developed over the years.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 07:45:07

"Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings."

There go our hopes for an innovation economy.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 08:35:19

It's strange that Hamiltonians still seem to believe that keeping up to 50 percent of its prime downtown real estate as unproductive surface parking is actually good for the economy!

Do any Hamiltonians actually believe that?

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted February 27, 2013 at 10:37:19 in reply to Comment 86786

I'm always blown away by the number of old guys (a few of my family members in particular) who lament that 'the problem with downtown is that there's no place to park'.

Usually my jaw drops, before informing them that I didn't have much trouble finding a spot when somewhere around 40,000 or so flooded to Supercrawl, or during Bulldogs games attended by between 4 and 8k.

If anything, the one-way, 5 lane freeways make it difficult to access some of the parking lots -- but overall, parking abundance in downtown borders on embarrassing.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted February 27, 2013 at 13:41:59 in reply to Comment 86863

Yes, it's baffling.

Are people just unaware? Or unwilling to walk more than a block? (which is something one rarely has to do) Or completely ignorant because they haven't been downtown in ages? (my money is on that one ;-)

And the city's parking requirements for new buildings seem to ensure that the abundance will not be lost, just moved indoors.

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By believeit (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 08:44:18 in reply to Comment 86786

Try tuning into CHML once in awhile, you may be shocked.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 10:21:18 in reply to Comment 86787

Try tuning into council meetings...

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 11:33:19 in reply to Comment 86796

Parking always seems to be of prime concern when it comes to discussions about downtown development issues.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 09:42:39

Thank you for posting this. I read the article and was going to blog it, but thought people are getting tired of me always comparing Hamilton to west coast cities. I suppose I could compare us to cities that suck, but generally speaking the whole point of comparing is so we can raise the bar.

Vancouver has literally built every aspect of their city intentionally.

Everyone interested in urban issues and design needs to follow these twitter accounts:

https://twitter.com/BrentToderian

http://toderianurbanworks.com

Even down to the airy, light glass colour of Vancouvers condos, and street-front retail podiums, the city has ensured that good development and density takes place. They now have 7,000 kids living downtown.

Hamilton has an enormous opportunity with our glut of parking lots, empty buildings and massive waterfront lands at the West Harbour. We can go low-density stucco and faux stone with tons of parking, or we can learn from Vancouver and become a vibrant, model city in Canada's most populated region.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-02-26 09:42:54

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 10:32:11

And now we're tearing down Sanford School for sure. Awesome.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 11:15:26

Baby boomers may well be on the move over the next five years, but don’t expect them to be downsizing to condos, according to a new report by realtor Royal LePage.

“They love their garages and their yards,” says Royal LePage CEO Phil Soper.

In fact, they love them so much that 40.6 per cent of 1,011 boomers surveyed for the study said they plan to move out of the family home to another house — some 25.9 per cent into one of a similar size and almost 18 per cent of them into something even bigger.

While 54 per cent of boomers surveyed said they do intend to downsize, less than a quarter (22.9 per cent) are looking to condominiums or apartments, the report notes.

That could mean lights out in more than a few of those glass-and-steel units over the next decade, given that Generation Y kids born between 1980 and 1994 were also part of the survey and made it clear they don’t plan to be living the high life in the bustling downtown forever.

Expect a rush to the suburbs over the next few years as they hit their child-bearing years: Almost 77 per cent of the Gen Ys surveyed said they will be looking for townhouses, bungalows or single family homes and less than 25 per cent of them close to downtown.

“Like their parents, they dream of owning a lovely house in the suburbs, which provides value as well as access to parkland for children to play and the perception of greater family safety,” said Soper.
http://www.thestar.com/business/real_estate/2013/02/26/baby_boomers_may_be_planning_to_move_but_not_into_condos.html

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 12:04:12 in reply to Comment 86799

Not entirely sold on the phrasing of this article. Yes, of course couple having children aren't going to necessarily stay in a tower forever. But nor does it mean a flight to the burbs. Also, let's not discount the 23% of boomers wanting condo living and the "less than 25%" of Gen Y's staying close to the core. That's a LOT of people. Far more than the Boomers parents and when the Boomers were young couples are showing a desire to stay downtown. For smaller cities like Hamilton the author's "flight to a lovely home in the burbs" can happen here:

http://goo.gl/maps/KgOXY

  • lovely homes, huge properties, quiet street, school at the end of the block and great park across from the school. A 10 minute walk to Locke South and the Farmers Market.

http://goo.gl/maps/jUyuj

  • walking distance to schools. Waterfront parks, quiet streets, nice properties. 10 minutes to James North, Market/Library etc....

http://goo.gl/maps/SxA5G

  • city's largest park adjacent to these streets. 10 minute walk to Ottawa St and future LRT on Main. Local schools, quiet neighbourhood, nice properties....

You get the point. Hamilton will see it's share of new condo towers as boomers and young professionals crave the King/James/Locke/Augusta lifestyle, but for the other demographics mentioned in this article, they aren't necessarily all running for Waterdown. This is one of the great things about Hamilton. A housing type for everyone exists right in the heart of the city. We need to focus on making these areas desirable, livable and attractive again.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-02-26 12:04:29

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 12:45:21 in reply to Comment 86805

Hey thats my street St Clairs i live near Cumberland and Gage Park is only a few blicks away , i don`t think il never mover from hear

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 12:50:12 in reply to Comment 86813

Oh and should i say i walk to work juste to give you a hint there is 2 schools near by

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By HWDSB (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 13:09:48 in reply to Comment 86815

I hope to god you aren't a teacher

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 12:19:37 in reply to Comment 86805

More detail from the source:

http://www.newswire.ca/en/story/1120147/most-baby-boomers-have-no-intention-of-downsizing-according-to-royal-lepage-national-survey

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By reality (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 11:55:33 in reply to Comment 86799

Intentions are newsworthy now? We'll see how their dreams live up to the reality of early onslaught of physical limitations brought on by a sedentary lifestyle. When you can't drive, climb stairs or bend over, living in the suburbs in a big house with a huge yard and garden becomes a lot less "fun".

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 14:16:00

Solution? High rises that are 1/5 above-ground parking.

http://www.cbc.ca/hamilton/talk/story/2013/02/25/hamilton-architect.html

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 22:13:08 in reply to Comment 86821

Ugh....I can't believe 7 floors of parking...

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted February 26, 2013 at 16:01:00

I always thought that the free market was the best way to remove parking lots. If the land becomes truly valuable then it won't make economic sense to leave the parking lots in place - right?

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 16:39:44 in reply to Comment 86828

I agree with the need for projects to be supported by a positive economic case. Not every parking lot will be associated with one.

But the city's end of that equation needs to be questioned - i.e., whether the property taxes are also set at an economic rate... if too low for the type/location of the land, it creates a stronger economic case for the lot being created in the first place.

Comment edited by ScreamingViking on 2013-02-26 16:40:41

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By Today (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 18:15:20

I'm a baby boomer at 56 and one loves backing onto a ravine on two sides and cutting my lawn and having a nice 4 car park driveway for less than $300,000 in an older part of Hamilton. I have no intention of living in a trendy area of this city or any city where I can't have some land and lawn to mow for the sake of being "trendy". No thank you. And I enjoy walking to work when I can even though it's over an hour to do so. Problem with James St. N. now is you pay dearly and don't obtain much real estate for it for being in a "trendy" "young professional" or however else it's called. Again, no thanks.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 26, 2013 at 19:48:24 in reply to Comment 86830

that is fantastic to hear, and certainly many folks share your opinion. Based on your description of "older part of Hamilton" I think it helps confirm what I wrote above - there are a lot of options for living in Hamilton that don't involve a 'flight to the burbs' for a townhome surrounded by dirt. Your spot sounds fantastic!

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By Today (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2013 at 12:00:41

Yes jason, I could not figure out my brother who lives in London, ON and has money. They bought out in a new suburb, nothing around it but expensive homes and not very large lots, he has another house backing right onto his. With the money he and his wife have, they could have easily bought in an older part of town and had almost a dream lot and put money into the house for renovations. But I guess everyone is different. Even if I had the money he had, I wouldn't have purchased his house, older areas of the city are also nearer the downtown which I prefer as well.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 27, 2013 at 15:02:15 in reply to Comment 86865

well, some folks like that, which is fine. I was just pointing out that not everyone is going to do that, as the author of the article made it sound.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 28, 2013 at 12:48:19

Its no wonder why Hamilton is know for Obies peoples way too many parking close to were they whant to go , there affraid to walk a block or so

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted March 04, 2013 at 18:56:33

Even with vertical densification of which I am a huge proponent, we are still going to need parking. Guess what? You can go vertical with that as well. The York Blvd parkade is a prime example and the developers of the Connaught project have come to the same solution and incorporated 7 levels of vertical parking into their long awaited tower project.

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