Better days are still ahead for Hamilton. I just wish it didn't feel like a majority of Council was a millstone for us to drag there.
By Rob Fiedler
Published January 23, 2015
More than a day removed from Council's latest foray into city "unbuilding," is there anything else to be said? Well, I have few things to get off my chest.
Let's review. Council wants development. It wants downtown revitalization. It wants to improve our downtown tax base. Yet City Council - six councillors and the mayor notwithstanding - doesn't seem able to connect the dots between providing a modicum of support for the urbanism that might help achieve any of this.
Like magic it will just happen - perhaps "organically".
I went to City Hall on Wednesday evening hoping to be surprised, but more or less knowing what to expect. Nevertheless, this "whiny urbanist" took it all in and still managed to find it a galling spectacle.
The wrecking crew seemed to be pleading with us in the gallery: we love transit, we want better transit, we just don't support a two-kilometre bus lane on King Street.
You'd have thought they were debating putting a transit-only lane in.
To remind myself we really have a great city - and to cool off - I did the only thing that made sense to this North End Neighbour. I walked home with a couple of fellow neighbours, stopped for a coffee on James North, and later met another neighbour for a skate down at the outdoor rink by the Discovery Centre.
By the time I finished (not playing hockey, which isn't permitted) I had almost forgotten the whole thing. Well, more like convinced myself that it was a bad dream - kind of like the sprawl-inducing Airport Employment Growth District - and that I'd wake up and all would be fine.
A day later, all isn't fine. The bus-lanes are going and Aerotropolis is still coming.
Still, I ask whether we can turn this lemon of a situation into lemonade. The short answer is yes. (What can I say, I'm an eternal optimist).
Several councillors voted against the bus-lane but nonetheless went on the record supporting the need for improved transit service across the city. Others insisted that this wasn't a vote about LRT.
Most of them seem to support and understand the need for a vibrant and accessible downtown.
Let's hold them to this when the new director of transit David Dixon presents Council with a 10-year Transit Plan next month.
Let's talk about a ridership growth strategy and service standards. Let's remind a certain Councillor about best practices should he chose to ignore them or cherry pick.
Most importantly, let's make it clear that successful cities don't focus on making it easy for everyone to drive downtown. Successful cities can't afford to have valuable downtown land sitting as surface parking.
Likewise, successful urban streets can't function like expressways.
Naysayers can say, "The future is not now". That we aren't Toronto. And they'd be right.
Toronto needs subways and GO for a reason. Crunch time for them happened almost immediately after World War II. I've seen a late-1940s story in The Globe and Mail that described Toronto's downtown as "suffering acres".
As they put it in the byline: "more than 105,000 cars jam downtown area, parking lots hold 16,500".
When we talk about modal shift, this is what we mean. A successful, vibrant downtown makes it less convenient to drive than take transit. Parking lots become buildings and people take transit to get to them.
That's the nub. Presumably, everyone on Council seems to want downtown revitalization. Only some seem to understand what it entails.
Should we be fortunate enough to have our current renaissance continue, developers will increasingly achieve what Council seems unwilling to do - make it hard to park downtown.
Will the suburban 9 oppose development applications on the grounds that surface parking will be lost, and congestion will be increased?
Then again, Council's anti-urbanism may just save them from that "essential confrontation with reality".
After all, would you want to buy a condo in downtown Hamilton given the blatant disregard shown to residents across the core by a majority of this Council on Wednesday?
That's probably over the top. Better days are still ahead for Hamilton. I just wish it didn't feel like a majority of Council was a millstone for us to drag there.
There's another issue that badly needs more attention from us. House prices and rents are rising in the North End (and other parts of the core).
We've been "affordable" for so long - and remain so relative to cities like Toronto and Vancouver - that it's tempting to see this as a non-issue. But we are seeing the amount of affordable rental housing shrink.
There is considerable development planned and anticipated for the West Harbour Area, which includes the Barton-Tiffany lands, the Waterfront, the opportunity spaces identified in the James North Mobility Hub Study, and a few other places.
Before "the future that is not now" arrives, maybe we should start a serious conversation about inclusionary zoning and affordable housing. Intensification and revitalization doesn't have to mean displacement.
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