Hardy to Zone 6

The Lizard Brain and the LRT

If we want LRT to work in thic city, someone is going to have to take the first step to address the fear through meaningful dialogue.

By Jason Allen
Published February 04, 2010

So I'm listening to the audiobook of Seth Godin's latest effort, Lynchpin. It has all sorts of interesting things to say about the nature of work and art, but the part that appealed to me the most was his discussion of what he calls 'the resistance'.

The resistance, is basically the part of your brain Dr.s call the Amygdala – or as some call it, the Lizard Brain. The Lizard brain is the second most primitive part of your central nervous system, and it only has a few concerns: Eating, Not being eaten, making more lizards (or whatever species it might be), anger, revenge, lust, things like that.

In other words, all of the baser emotions that 'civilized' people know they have, but try and deny.

So when you are in a situation with an otherwise rational person, and suddenly they go Crazy Ivan, chances are that their Lizard Brain feels threatened. You have (however inadvertantly) threatened their ability to eat, reproduce, or avoid becoming prey. The threat itself may have come just from suggesting they do something differently. And such threats make people cranky.

Which brings us to the rather odd debate playing out in the local newspaper about the potential implementation of an LRT line across the centre of the city.

The pro-LRT side has lined up on one side of the debate citing grand and glorious future benefits – greater investment in downtown, greater pedestrian activity, a greater sense of community – all good things. But in and of themselves, good things down the road sometime. In some not-too-distant, but totally unquantifiable future, things will be made immeasurably better by the LRT.

So of course, on the other side of the debate, the Lizard Brains of the various opponents are doing their collective nut. Letters and comments in the Spectator recently revealed a terrified, highly vocal group of business owners downtown who thinking with their Amygdalas. And when animals get cornered, they strike.

Simply put, they say the LRT will not work – because it's not what we have now. It's new, it's different, it's gasp unproven! The whole concept of an LRT track running through the downtown has made them feel threatened in their ability to eat, or not be eaten (in a figurative, competetive sense) – and they are lashing out.

The reality is that the PRO-LRT side has done what most groups do when opposing bald faced NIMBYism. They have responded with facts and arguments and reams of data supporting their argument. “Look at Portland! Look at Calgary! Look at all of this data proving how many more people will use it!”

What has not happened is any head-on effort to address the basic emotion in play here: Naked Fear.

This situation may stem from a common misunderstanding about how people make decisions. Most people think that decisions are reached after a careful analysis of the facts.

Nothing could be further from the truth. People decide things based on 'gut reaction', and then spend enormous amounts of time and energy coming up with facts and figures to justify their decision.

As a result, they cannot be swayed by facts, not matter how compelling. Don't believe me? Go out right now and try and change someone's mind about abortion or capital punishment. Go on. I'll wait.

There. Futile, wasn't it? You had all the arguments, all the data, all the facts. And they were irrelevant, because they didn't address the emotion.

Well, the first thing they teach you in customer service school about dealing with an angry (or in this case fearful) customer, is acknowledge the emotion head on (if a customer service representative has ever told you, "I understand why you are upset...now let me see how I can help you..." then they are doing what they were trained to do).

Next, we need to enter into an honest dialogue about what is causing the fear and how to resolve it. That means not devolving into name calling and pointing fingers – even if the other side started it.

That probably means the Chairperson of a Pro-LRT group inviting the Downtown BIA to a meeting to discuss issues and concerns in a respectful, non-confrontational way. If we want LRT to work in thic city, someone is going to have to take the first step to address the fear through meaningful dialogue.

Those of us who want change have the most to lose from things staying the same – and keeping the status quo is much easier to do than making meaningful change. We're the ones with the heavy lifting to do - we need to be the ones who extend the olive branch.

Dialogue is the most basic building block of community. Face to face, real time dialogue. Not through twitter, or emails, or Raise the Hammer, or the Spectator; but real people sitting across the table (preferably with food involved) to discover that in the end they really want mostly the same things - a better city for everyone.

this article was originally published on Jason's blog.

Jason Allen is a chronic hive whacker in the Kirkendall Neighbourhood.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 10:02:20

Excellent article! (And not just because I agree.)

Well done.

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By zippo (registered) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 13:26:53

Jason: It seems that you assume it ought to be universally agreeable that "greater investment in downtown, greater pedestrian activity, a greater sense of community" is a desired future goal and that it is simply "lizard brain" thinking from the anti-LRT group that stands in the way. Perhaps, I don't dispute your description of the immediate human decision making process, and as far as I know the results fMRI scans of the downtown BIA members when shown pictures of streetcars are still pending... :)

That said let me suggest what to me an obvious alternative explanation: "Economically rational" selfish commitment to "business as usual" on the part of the anti-LRTers

If you owned / lease a car wash, or a "drive through" pod, or a gas station downtown and understand that LRT will reduces car traffic past your door would you support it?

If you owned / lease a rooming house, or a crack house, or a pawn shop, or a dollar store, or a bingo parlor downtown and understand that LRT will "gentrify" your catchment area and drive your clients elsewhere would you support LRT?

I could go on. If "you" were "versatile" this would not be a problem, but what if you're not confident that you can make more money by converting your bed bug infested rooming house to a trendy cafe with lofts on the upper floors? Maybe you think you just don't know how to do that, and if so odds are you are correct. Then LRT is not something you want to see happen

Comment edited by zippo on 2010-02-04 12:32:16

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By TD (registered) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 13:52:32

zippo,

It is obvious that there are rational, economic reasons to oppose LRT. Anyone whose business relies on Hamilton's car-centric design appears to have little to gain from LRT and potentially much to lose. However, rational, economic arguments are rarely employed by opponents of light rail. Instead, we hear fearful prognostications unsupported by any data. Of course, proponents of light rail often fall prey to the same fallacies; suggesting that light rail will make life in Hamilton "immeasurably better" is more wishful thinking than hard fact. Personally, I'm afraid that light rail won't happen - I guess my lizard brain is at work here, too. Of course, I knew from the start that it was involved. It always is, whenever something shiny and futuristic is in the cards for this dingy old town.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 13:53:06

what if you're not confident that you can make more money by converting your bed bug infested rooming house to a trendy cafe with lofts on the upper floors?

LRT = rising property values = selling your bug infested rooming house for a profit.

Jeez, you'd think the slumlords would be jumping for joy at the chance to cash out.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 15:43:36

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 15:58:02

^ Repetitive troll is repetitive. Please don't feed it.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 16:34:32

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 16:48:15

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By do{babble;}while(1) (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 17:03:45

http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/
http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/
http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/
http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/
http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/
http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/
http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/
http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/
http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/
http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/
http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/
http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/
http://hamiltonlightrail.com/article/economic_case_for_lrt/

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By syntax error (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 17:11:40

do{babble();}while(1);

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 18:04:49

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 19:10:25

Jason >> Simply put, they say the LRT will not work – because it's not what we have now

No, they say it won't work because they recognize that the downtown already has lots of subsidized transit, that the LRT is essentially the same as a bus and that the primary rationale for mass transit is to reduce traffic congestion, which is not the case in downtown Hamilton.

A much better way to help our downtown economy is for the city government to start acting SELFISHLY and stop trying to coddle residents. This would include paying off all of their municipal debts, building up a massive reserve fund and perhaps even pushing for a city sales tax. In the mid to late nineties, when North American governments did just that, acted selfishly, the economy boomed and millions of jobs were created.

Prior to this latest recession, governments have done the complete opposite. Both Bush and Harper increased spending on social programs, saved less/borrowed more and basically catered to the people when they should have been looking after their own finances.

The road to prosperity and prestige for Hamilton is up to the government. It can either be "nice" and do what Buffalo has done, taken on lots of debt to give residents services they didn't pay for and watch as tax revenue dries up. Or, they can act selfishly, raise taxes, be stingy with handouts and try to make themselves as rich as possible.

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By MarkWhittle (registered) - website | Posted February 04, 2010 at 19:14:50

Unless some other level of government pays for it, LRT in Hamilton is dead on arrival. Taxes would have to be increased, no local Alderman would even consider running on a tax increase, never have. All Hamilton is going to get from the province is more Hybrid buses, nothing more.

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By g. (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 19:22:39

yawn... scroll, scroll, scroll, yawn...

is A (hole) Smith done yet...

no one reads your posts anymore dude. give. up.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 21:37:37

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By A sign of the times ... (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 22:40:45

@A Smith:

You have got to be joking. A sales tax downtown would be yet another reason to not shop downtown. Have you lost your mind?!

I would love to see the LRT started NOW and before it becomes another broken election promise. The Provincial election is fast approaching, Ontario is broke... I can see local Liberal and NDP MPP's running on an LRT completion. Hopefully we don't fall for that again.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 23:32:05

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By g. (anonymous) | Posted February 04, 2010 at 23:34:45

yawn... scroll, scroll, scroll...

really dude. not reading. at all. seriously.

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By jones, the. (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2010 at 01:41:30

monoraaaaailll...(what's that word?) monoraaaaillll!
all for the LRT. make it run into the escarpment and have a combo LRT/ Subway.

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By Amygdalian (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2010 at 08:15:36

Boy the Lizard Brains are out in force in this comment thread. I haven't seen anything so crap filled on RTH in months!

But let's get back to the authors point. If people are afraid of change (and whatever else they're afraid of, change is definately part of the mix) how do we, the people who are afraid of not-change, find ways to communicate past the fear to our common interest in a thriving city?

(I hope that by asking this question we can 'reboot' the comment thread and have a more useful discussion...)

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By jasonaallen (registered) - website | Posted February 05, 2010 at 08:35:10

Thank you, Amygdalian. The comment thread on here, however, perfectly illustrates my point that people on both sides of the argument have fallen back to a sort of ideological Western Front. No progress is going to be made unless we (the Pro-LRT side) are willing to engage in meaningful dialogue.

The people who like to argue just for the sake of arguing will always be there - the challenge is when people who take really obstinate positions (i.e. Blog Trolls) start to influence the thinking of the broader group in the middle who are still sitting on the fence about the the LRT issue.

At this point, I'm talking more about change management, then LRT specificaly, but it's all relevant. I still think a coffee or dinner between Hamilton Light Rail and the Downtown BIA would at least take the barking out of the media. Then iff (if and only if) there was a meaningful attempt at finding a common ground, raise the possibility of some kind of mutually agreed upon position on LRT.

Then, if the BIA and Hamilton Light Rail can say that they agree on some - any - points in the LRT debate, suddenly the A Smiths and Serwatuks of the world become voices from the fringe - and have much less ability to influence the debate.

Again, maybe I'm hopelessly naive, but I have seen some pretty amazing initiatives dumped in the bin because nobody was willing to swallow their pride and extend a welcoming hand - this pretty much describes the entire rebuilding of downtown Calgary in the 70's/80's - the loss of a century of priceless architecture, and the building of an 'anti-people' downtown that Calgary is only NOW starting to recover from (thanks to the LRT!).

I have also seen a couple of really amazing projects get pushed through because someone had the Emotional Intelligence to take the first step towards dialogue. These conversations, when they go well, end up becoming part of community legend - and the seeds for greater dialogue and greater cooperation in the future.

Sure it's a gamble, but the alternative is: the trolls win.

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By frank (registered) | Posted February 05, 2010 at 09:03:16

The only problem with dialog is that people have to listen in order to hear it. All the concerns I've seen put forward by Lizard brains have been addressed in some form or other (here or on any number of LRT sites online) yet the arguments never change. When one side talks and the other does nothing or spews the same arguments they've always had despite the fact that they've been addressed, the side that's talking eventually just gives up. That's where we are now.

As a statement of fact, I've asked twice on another forum what they're scared of and have yet to receive an answer... My guess is the answer simply is "change". For that, there's no remedy.

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By jasonaallen (registered) - website | Posted February 05, 2010 at 11:34:22

Thanks for that Clarification Ryan.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2010 at 16:27:05

Frank >> All the concerns I've seen put forward by Lizard brains have been addressed in some form or other

How much will the LRT add to Hamilton's debt?

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By capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2010 at 17:37:16

>> How much will the LRT add to Hamilton's debt?

Every successful business in history started with a debt.

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By MarkWhittle (registered) - website | Posted February 05, 2010 at 18:19:28

How many city Councillors are supporters of LRT, and will say so publicly, besides Mayor Fred? Truth seems to get more down votes than speculation as to the benefits, there are good and bad examples of LRT all over the world, LRT is not inherently evil, this we know. Hamiltonians should make this a ballot question for the municipal election in the fall. If there's a solid business case supporting this, I'm all for it, so would be investors and banks. As they say, Metrolinx should show Hamilton the money, or put an end to the speculation. This is the key, without that funding, LRT will not happen in Hamilton. Let the thumbs down vote fest begin.

Comment edited by MarkWhittle on 2010-02-05 17:20:48

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2010 at 18:24:49

According to the 2008 financial report, Hamilton had $1,231,673,000 in assets, $909,555,000 in liabilities and $322,118,000 in equity. In contrast, Burlington had $300,829,000 in assets, $130,110,000 in debt and $170,719,000 in equity. This means that Hamilton has a debt/equity ratio of 2.82, while Burlington's is 0.76. In other words, for every dollar of equity that the City of Hamilton is worth, it owes $2.82 in debt. In contrast, Burlington only owes $0.76 for every dollar of equity it is worth.

Even more telling is the cash position of each community. Whereas Hamilton had $39.084M in cash and temporary investments at the end of 2008, Burlington had $99.44M. That gives Burlington a cash/debt ratio of 0.764, while Hamilton comes in at a low 0.043. Therefore, for every dollar of debt, Burlington has 76.4 cents in cash and equivalent to pay it off. Hamilton only has 4.3 cents in cash/equivalents for each dollar of its debt.

If Hamilton had a track record of making good investments, we simply shouldn't have more debt than equity. The fact that we do indicates we need to rethink the role of government when it comes to taking on debt.

A much better way to approach the future would be to focus on being a net lender, rather than a net borrower. When you build up savings, they produce income, even when you sleep. In contrast, when you borrow, you end up working more, simply to pay back the interest. That's the position Hamilton is currently in.

Let's stop digging ourselves deeper into debt and start saving for the future. If Hamilton stopped swinging for the fences with grand ideas and simply took care of the basics, we will slowly, but surely create a wealthy community. This will require discipline and restraint, but in the long run, we will all be better off.

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By J Morse (anonymous) | Posted February 06, 2010 at 07:25:48

Ryan >> There's a list of individuals and organizations that have endorsed LRT.

We need to get these supporters to make themselves heard in the mainstream media. They need to write letters, get interviews, press releases, etc. The pro-LRT case must dominate the spotlight.

The media's message is the vote.

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By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted February 06, 2010 at 11:20:40

In addition to the factors of primitive needs vs. higher level thinking, and people speaking in support of their own economic interests, I also think another factor is simple xenophobia - fear of outsiders and their zany ideas.

People who support this LRT business seem to some Hamiltonians to be outsiders who wish to disrupt the status quo. This status quo may appear dysfunctional and bizarre to outsiders, but to many Hamiltonians it is cozy and dependable.

The fact that the pro-LRT types can provide articulate reasons why the LRT would help Hamilton may just be more evidence of their outsider status. These smartypants are not like us! Or, as the English say 'NQU: not quite us.'

Eventually, with work, community interactions and dialog, outsiders become insiders, if they have the stamina to put up with all the hoops along the way. Hamilton will surely improve over time. However, the opportunity cost while this happens (if it happens) may be too steep for some.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 06, 2010 at 16:49:52

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 06, 2010 at 23:50:38

Seeing that LRT supporters are clueless when it comes to paying for the LRT, but continue to whine about the possibility they won't get it, I will suggest some ideas. The city should start by tolling the Linc and the RHVP, raise water rates to true cost levels and introduce a 2% sales tax.

Furthermore, start writing this guy, be polite and don't stop until he hands Hamilton a big fat cheque.


https://www.premier.gov.on.ca/feedback/feedback.asp?Lang=EN

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 07, 2010 at 13:44:15

"Let's stop digging ourselves deeper into debt and start saving for the future. If Hamilton stopped swinging for the fences with grand ideas and simply took care of the basics." - A. Smith

LRT is hardly a "grand" idea... well, maybe to a Canadian it is. For most other cities in the world it IS a basic. This is a country (not just a city) that is in great peril of falling behind globally due to analysis (or polar argument) paralysis. The rest of the world is charging ahead (specifically Asia) investing in modern infrastructure, infrastructure IS what enables and drives the economy. If we do not invest we will be left behind. Plus, in the long term, and that is what we need to be planning and saving for, LRT will be more cost effective, (a basic life cycle cost would reveal that), so you're not spending you are investing.

Sometimes when I come back to Canada after travelling and seeing how other places solve problems and invest in solutions and I read some of the irrational, nimby, status quo arguments that many Canadians embrace, I am amazed we ever made it out of grass huts in this country.

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By bigguy (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2010 at 15:36:44

If people want LRT just dig up the old rails along King St. They are still there buried under the current pavement.

As much as I would like to see some sort of rapid transit in this city, I just don't see it happening.

First of all the current proposal for LRT down King St. will not happen. It's not just the people who have businesses who will oppose it. The rest of the city who will derive no benefit from it are not going to support their taxes going towards it.

The provincial government is not going to give us funding for LRT. If we are lucky we will get a few busses. We were only included in the process to shut us up.

Keep dreaming it may happen someday, but not anytime soon.

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted February 07, 2010 at 18:47:21

really shooting for the stars there, bigguy. cynical much?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 07, 2010 at 20:41:09

In addition to the factors of primitive needs vs. higher level thinking, and people speaking in support of their own economic interests, I also think another factor is simple xenophobia - fear of outsiders and their zany ideas.

People who support this LRT business seem to some Hamiltonians to be outsiders who wish to disrupt the status quo. This status quo may appear dysfunctional and bizarre to outsiders, but to many Hamiltonians it is cozy and dependable.

Too true. I put forward some progressive ideas at a community meeting on the future of our neighbourhood park. It wasn't long before the whisper campaign started: "She's a Toronto yuppy who wants to come in here and change everything!" (I've lived here for 11 years.)

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 10, 2010 at 13:53:34

Too true. I put forward some progressive ideas at a community meeting on the future of our neighbourhood park. It wasn't long before the whisper campaign started: "She's a Toronto yuppy who wants to come in here and change everything!" (I've lived here for 11 years.) - Highwater

Most gentrification is the result of "outsiders". This attitude needs to change.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 10, 2010 at 15:51:39

Most gentrification is the result of "outsiders".

You're right, of course, but the irony of my example is that I am not an outsider, but I was immediately perceived as one because I was suggesting something relatively radical. Until I saw Michael Cummings' remarks, I had assumed this reaction was garden variety fear of change, but I think he is correct that there is an element of xenophobia to it as well.

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By Fanbut (anonymous) | Posted February 12, 2010 at 09:31:52

Culturally we are disposed to linear arguments based on dualities. Something is either good or bad. You are either for it or against it. People line up politically at either end of the argument. They're either with you or against you. You're smart and they're stupid.

LRT is, in and of itself, not an argument for its own use. LRT is a good way to deal with traffic congestion. Traffic congestion is a consequence of large numbers of people wanting to go to roughly the same places at the same time. I don't think that's at the heart of downtown Hamilton's problem.

A number of business people along the proposed lines appear to doubt that they are an attraction to those they percieve to be the "types of people" who use public transit. So they're against the LRT. We might suggest their businesses are in the wrong location, but it's not that easy to move when your livlihood is tied up in a business that is barely surviving and property values will take some time (a year or two) to rise. Further, many businesses do not own the properties where they are located, especially downtown. Profit margins in most businesses are narrow. Landlords may be able to sit on undeveloped properties waiting for better times, but business tenants often cannot afford to lose even a small percentage of their clients for even short periods of time.

I find that few advocates for social change actually appreciate the costs involved in running most small businesses: rents, taxes, utilities, advertising, financing and staffing are underestimated if recognized at all. For those who undertake a small business these can be truly harrowing. They're often much greater than the cost of the products that are offered for sale. Most do it not to get rich, but out of a passion to engage in a more independent lifestyle. They'd rather work long hours at something they enjoy than spend 40 of them weekly playing office or shop-floor politics. Once you've sunk your savings and mortgaged your home into a specific business at a defined location based upon existing criteria researched for your eventual success, you might be forgiven if you're less enthusiastic about change.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 12, 2010 at 11:38:16

I find that few advocates for social change actually appreciate the costs involved in running most small businesses: rents, taxes, utilities, advertising, financing and staffing are underestimated if recognized at all.

Then you've been hanging out with the wrong advocates. Many of the advocates I know, and many of the writers and commenters on this site, are in fact small business owners. I take exception to the notion that the two are mutually exclusive.

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By canbyte (registered) | Posted February 13, 2010 at 23:36:57

I personally will probably benefit from LRT induced property increases and have no qualms about change in my little corner. But A Smith and others raise an important issue about cost and debt levels in these uncertain times that enthusiasts are not addressing except with hopeful statements about development. Projects completed quite a few years ago in a booming America or Calgary are no comparison for a struggling, declining, debt and public sector riddled city, seemingly unable to attract wealth generating private sector businesses, especially during the continuing derivatives and credit meltdown. Will both our steel companies survive the next downleg in the US? Hmmm.

Overall, this seems not the right time but hey, Hamilton could go ahead anyway and then just declare bankruptcy as California and a dozen other states will do when interest rates rise in its natural cycle. Maybe Ontario too, given our debt. Not sure what happens then but maybe it gets privatized. Maybe GM will buy it up like their successful 30s effort to bury public transit systems. Perhaps this might even suit GM's most recent investor -- that would be you and I, the hapless taxpayer (or have folks forgotten already!). Go Peak Oil!

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