The architect who renovated the AGH says Hamilton needs to focus urban revitalization around Gore Park, which he calls "one of Canada's great urban spaces."
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published June 16, 2006
Bruce Kuwabara, the architect responsible for renovating the Art Gallery of Hamilton and Hamilton Hall at McMaster University, was recently interviewed in downtown Hamilton on CBC's national radio show The Current.
Kuwabara is one of Canada's best-known architects, and has won many awards including the Governor General's Gold Medal for architecture and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada's Gold Medal. Aside from his architectural expertise, Kuwabara grew up in Hamilton and is a passionate advocate of good urban design in the city.
During the interview he pointed out some of Hamilton's urban planning mistakes (notably Jackson square), and then proposed some simple ideas for improving the downtown.
He suggested focusing on the area around Gore park: bringing in a hotel and restoring the buildings for multi-use (live/work spaces). He would also like to bring back a cinema and open up the Farmers' Market to the street. Gore Park should be seen as a "cool" place to be, full of interesting and unique spaces.
He called Gore Park "one of Canada's great urban spaces". He believes that when Gore Park is once again the true City centre for all residents to shop, work and play, the downtown will be solidly on the road to recovery.
A big part of this is to bring back quality shops (instead of the mostly marginal, not to mention exploitative, shops there now).
His comments suggested that generations of Hamiltonian politicians have not really been urban people, and they haven't really appreciated or understood urban living.
The Current's host ended with a comparison of Hamilton and Brooklyn. Brooklyn is now one of the hottest areas of New York, despite having long been seen as the poor cousin to Manhattan. Hamilton has the ingredients in place for a similar renaissance. What is needed now is political will and enthusiastic residents.
I think what Bruce was saying is very much in tune with the ideas being promoted in RTH:
1. Hamilton has suffered from decades of an 'anti-urban' notion of city planning. Many planning and development by-laws (e.g. mandatory provision of abundant free parking, minimum setbacks, tolerance for surface parking lots and one-storey strip malls) are actually based on a suburban model.
Many local politicians have been suspicious of, or antagonistic toward, urban living, and developers often describe urban neighbourhoods as dangerous, unhealthy and undesirable.
2. Mega-projects (such as Jackson Square) are damaging to the local community, especially when they separate street life from shops and entertainment. This is particularly clear in the case of the Farmers' Market, which has been shut off from the street in a sort of underground parking garage, despite being one of the major downtown attractions.
3. Finally, and most importantly, Hamiltonians seem to have one of the deepest inferiority complexes of any large city. They refuse to appreciate in their own city the very things they adore when they travel.
I've been amazed at the number of times native Hamiltonians have reacted in disbelief when I tell them I moved from Paris (and indirectly Vancouver) to their city. In fact, the owners of one downtown business (a carpet seller on King St E) spent half an hour trying to convince me I shouldn't stay in Hamilton, before finally selling me the rug I wanted!
If you missed it, you can listen to the interview (requires the free Real Player) on CBC's website. I'm surprised that this interview wasn't mentioned in the Hamilton Spectator, or during the Lister debate. It is not every day that Hamilton is featured on a national radio program!
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