One exciting theme that has come out of this week's municipal elections across the Golden Horseshoe is the very clear and obvious demands of residents to start building our towns and cities properly.
Runaway sprawl has turned Canada's most prosperous region into a laughingstock for folks in Vancouver and Montreal. The suburban growth surrounding Hamilton and Toronto has been devastating to the area's agriculture industry, quality of life, air, water and soil quality (essentials of life), and the resulting huge impacts on human health - obesity, cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease, and so on.
The billions of dollars spent in Ontario each year trying to treat these ailments is stunning. Add to all this the toll on our cities. Urban infrastructure is imploding while urban taxpayers subsidize shiny new infrastructure out in far-flung sprawl projects.
As the world's energy resources begin to dwindle and become more expensive, I shudder to think of how folks are going to afford their mega-homes out in treeless regions that surround our two main cities.
It seems people have finally realized that we going the wrong way - and fast. Of course, we could have simply learned these lessons 25 years ago from cities like Detroit, Buffalo and LA, but instead we've chosen to learn - and now attempt to fix - the hard way.
Here in Hamilton, Fred Eisenberger campaigned heavily on curbing sprawl and growing our city from within. He will be held to that platform and needs to show the rest of council the immediate need to change our patterns of growth.
RTH will have more policy papers and working documents coming in the next few weeks, but I would suggest to our new mayor that one of his first orders of business should be taking one final look at Hamilton's GRIDS planning process.
There is much to like in our city's new plan, but one huge mistake being made is the watering down of urban infill requirements. The province has mandated that cities plan to house 40 percent of their new growth within the already-urban area.
Hamilton has managed to squeeze this down to around 32-34 percent by fudging numbers and including empty swaths of land such as those found south of Rymal Rd as our "current built up area". Yes, those lands are in the current urban boundary, but are still empty fields. They should not be included in the "current built up area".
I'm no expert, but I do know that the city of Toronto is planning to house all of their next two million residents within the current built up area. That's right - 100 percent of their growth is targeted for the city.
Hamilton certainly won't be seeing two million residents, yet we are planning to open up a huge swath of land south east of the city for more sprawl. I think Hamilton should strive to house 70-80 percent of new growth within the current built-up area.
There is plenty of undeveloped land in Hamilton as well as far too many massive one-storey plazas and strip malls. By simply encouraging these building owners to add two or three stories of residential and commercial space to their buildings, we could see tens of thousands of new residents housed along main arteries and begin to use our land better.
Planning and public input is essential, but I don't think we'd see a huge outcry if the local Fortino's added three floors of condos above it. We've mentioned this before in RTH, but it's worth repeating - smart growth and infill does NOT require 140 Century 21 Towers to be built in Hamilton.
Paris, France was built with most buildings topping out at seven floors. The result: a bustling, vibrant city that practically defines "world class".
Hamilton's plan to allow 60-68 percent of new growth to take place outside of the urban area is more bad planning. I don't think Mayor Fred wants to revise the entire GRIDS plan, but increasing the amount of urban growth is essential to our future success.
The nodes and corridors plan chosen is perfect for intensifying main roads, which house most of our parking lots and one-story plazas. The Bus Rapid Transit plan and bicycle plans put forth in GRIDS should also be ramped up and made a near-term priority. This will allow our city to grow in size but give people alternative ways of getting around.
Downtown streets need to be calmed and switched to two-way as much as possible and Hamilton must begin to demand excellence in new architecture. I was in Buffalo recently (a more in-depth report on this remarkable city will come later next week) and was stunned at the vibrancy of their downtown Allentown neighbourhoods and the cleanliness of the streets and excellence in new architecture.
That city is at the early stages of a major rebirth. Hamilton could be as well.
On a lighter note, mayor Fred should encourage a "Colour Hamilton" initiative that sees building owners spruce up their buildings with vibrant colours and funky, unique facades.
The city, of course, should match efforts by "freshening" our urban streets with new lighting and banners, and encourage public art and murals as a means of brightening the city and beginning to develop a fun, funky image for our city.
RTH will develop some simple and doable ideas for our new mayor and council to sink their teeth into, but I firmly believe that Fred can show the city that he means business about sprawl by having our GRIDS plan adjusted to reflect a true "smart growth" agenda, which is what it was originally intended to be.
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