The Future Starts Now

By Jason Leach
Published October 03, 2007

With so many great news stories and ideas coming forward in our city recently, this seems to be the perfect time to remind everyone of what type of city we are trying to build and to examine other cities who have learned to make urban living an absolutely fun, vibrant way of life.

As we've read many times before on RTH, cities should have many destinations and attractions all easily accessible with safe walking, cycling and transit routes.

I recently took a trip to New York and was amazed at the incredible level of fun to be had at seemingly every block.

Hamilton's most famous attractions are Hess Village and the RBG. Beyond that we have various urban neighbourhoods and artistic and cultural attractions throughout the city, but most concentrated in the downtown. The waterfront is emerging as a favourite destination along with James Street, Locke, Westdale and others.

The key is adding more vibrancy and fun to our city while connecting all of these areas in a safe, beautiful manner.

We need to make sure we are looking at this group of upcoming projects as a whole, and not in isolation from each other.

Several construction and building projects are underway and more are soon to start in our downtown area. They are an important part of the mix, and their builders should also take the surrounding neighbourhoods into context when designing such projects, but let's leave them alone for a minute and instead focus on the five most talked-about developments that could happen in Hamilton:

  1. Light Rail Transit
  2. Redevelopment of City Hall
  3. Gore Pedestrian Plaza
  4. Farmers Market reconstruction
  5. New stadium for the Ti-Cats

People in Hamilton will have varied opinions on each of these projects (and considering this is Hamilton, there will always be a segment of the population, usually born and raised here, who will hate and oppose all five).

When you look at each project, you can see tangible benefits that will result. Sure, there will be some inconveniences and even a slightly altered way of life in certain areas of our city.

But when you look at them as a group, suddenly it becomes apparent that we might be on the cusp of bringing some of that urban fun that we all travel the world to see and enjoy right here into our own city.

Learn to Imagine Again

Hamilton residents need to learn how to imagine and develop a vision for our city.

I realize the local media will have a thousand and one reasons why these ideas can't work and shouldn't proceed, but keep in mind that bad news sells more than good news (pay attention to the first ten minutes on the local news tonight.

I suppose it is in the media's best interest to keep Hamilton in a self-perpetuating bad news mode, spinning our wheels and not getting anywhere.

But for you and I, the citizens, we have a very vested interest in seeing our city become all it can be. A new and improved way of life will result in the new economic development and national image makeover we all desire.

Imagine you live near Eastgate Square five years from now. You hop on the LRT and come downtown for a Saturday afternoon at Christmas-time. You spend some time skating at the outdoor rink in front of City Hall before heading over to King Street to do some shopping. (Downtown can and should become the centre of Hamilton's retail scene once again. It's happening in cities all over North America.)

Then you walk over to the Farmers' Market for lunch in their revamped facility. Musicians on York St entertain crowds of Christmas shoppers. Perhaps you jump into the Art Gallery of Hamilton or grab a cappuccino on James North before heading back to Main Street for the train ride home.

You're a Westdale resident and it's game-day. Hop on the LRT and come downtown for an outdoor lunch in Hess Village before walking over to the new stadium at the Sir John A. site across from Copps. Hopefully the Cats don't still suck by then and you leave having enjoyed another win.

You and your mates decide to check out the Friday night jazz series taking place throughout the summer at the Gore while relaxing the night away on your favourite patio.

Here and Now

We do this in other cities. Why not here? Why must Hamiltonians be forced to travel to Toronto or further afield like Montreal, New York or Boston to have a good time in a city?

Believe it or not, folks in those cities enjoy that high quality of life everyday of the year.

We can too. But first we need to get a vision for our city and stop being our own worst enemy. Nobody is flocking to Hamilton to check out our 22 lanes of traffic in a one-kilometer swath cutting through the city.

They will start to come here when we can offer a high quality of life that is fun, safe and enjoyable. This means you might have to start using Cannon Street as your route through downtown instead of King. Big deal. In the other cities mentioned above, residents who wish to drive wouldn't dream of trying to cut through downtown on local streets.

I urge Hamiltonians to support Mayor Eisenberger as he attempts to put our city back on the national map as a desirable place to live, work and invest. The days of being a laughingstock city speeding our way to economic ruin are over.

The future starts now.

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 peter (anonymous) | Posted October 03, 2007 at 21:25:06

thank you for being so positive about this [potentially] great city. his worship, fred-o, seems to have a decent vision of what this city could be but i would expect nothing less from him. there are million other examples around of us to emulate, so let's do it. peace.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 04, 2007 at 08:49:58

Excellent... I do my Christmas shopping early so I'd have more time to look around and enjoy the sites downtown, avoiding the crowded malls...buuuut I love the sounds of taking a train ride downtown at Christmas time. It's time our downtown gets some character of it's own. You hit the nail on the head about our local media. Sometimes I wish the Spec had a section called Local that put forward all the new ideas in an unbiased way and include the pros and cons of each idea. This would be an excellent way to make sure that people are kept abreast of the ideas being tossed around and allow them to make an informed decision about them. Not only would it do that, it'd make the paper a LOCAL paper again!! Imagine that.

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By CameBackToLive (anonymous) | Posted October 04, 2007 at 16:42:11

Everything you noted was BANG-ON! And the longer Council waits the longer we spend money outside our City instead in it. Bravo!

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By tim jacobs (registered) | Posted October 05, 2007 at 11:49:38

Indeed, well put: it's time to dare to imagine once again. Reimagining Hamilton's future is like revising it (revisioning--to see it again, twice, anew).

You're absolutely right about Hamilton's exciting new projects. There is a tangible winning momentum going on in Hamilton right now with the talk of all these projects.

For one, siting the new stadium at the site of John A. MAC school is a brilliant idea. People need to recognize that situating stadiums in the suburbs kills cities (the Silverdome in Pontiac MI did nothing for Detroit, after all).

People also need to recognize how commerce--a series of 'relationships'--works: people spill out of a stadium and instantly look for restaurants, bars, bistros, and cafes, to spend money; before a game, they browse and patronize shops and boutiques.

All businesses are essentially yoked. Keeping the stadium downtown, and anchored around existing restaurants, businesses, and related commerce would alone cause a resurgence in Hamilton's economy. New commerce relationships would spring around the existing ones, too.

Let's keep the momentum going!

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By Josh (registered) | Posted October 05, 2007 at 17:03:49

Those would all be great things for Hamilton. I've always thought that a campus downtown would be a good thing too. This would get some more students living in the core and might stimulate retail. I've also wondered whether Jackson Square could be retrofitted to suit a college or university campus, in the event the aging mall fell on hard times.

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