We will never truly revitalize the downtown core until we can overcome our parochialism and cast away our lingering suburban mindset.
By Mahesh P. Butani
Published January 25, 2010
My comment last week on A Tale of Two Downtowns touched on the festering fault lines in the evolving LRT project – and the bipolar nature of our downtown core.
In developing this thought further, it is important to recognize that although empirically untested, there are no fundamental doubts about the economic benefits of the LRT – amongst majority of those living and working in the core.
However, the routing of the B-Line through the International Village / Gore sparked concerns amongst a few who do not necessarily represent a true cross-section of businesses, owners and tenants in the core – but nonetheless rushed to judgment on behalf of the many.
This issue could have been satisfactorily addressed internally amongst all BIA members themselves, if only a more professional approach was taken by the BIA boards in understanding urban design, planning and marketing issues – by operating in a non-parochial manner.
If an evidence-based stance was adopted in studying the proposed King Street East route between Wellington and James, it would have been quickly apparent that except for a small portion around the monolithic concrete and steel gates at Wellington street, this road, which appears to be narrow to some (primarily because of the existing sidewalk bump-outs and edge strip for trees and plants), is in fact the width of a standard four lane road.
With the simple removal of the bump-outs/edge strip from the existing sidewalks, the resulting street width can comfortably allow for the sharing of two centre tracks for the LRT with two flexible driving lanes on the outside.
Trams and cars, living together on a city street
The picture above, from my earlier post, shows a perfectly valid and elegant real life example of a road that has a similar urban density found in the IV/Gore area.
In-ground two-way LRT tracks and two-way car lanes can co-exist with each other, while simultaneously allowing for alternate-side - time-of-day/week curbside parking. This example also allows switching the one and two car lanes in-between the north and south sides of the road on a time-of-day basis, if directional densities need to be accommodated during peak hours.
The concerns put forward in support of the decision to reject the LRT from the IV/Gore area included: the fear of losing curbside parking; loss of business during construction; and congestion!!
The kind of urban growth and its resulting economic benefits that we all desire so much is a direct result of urban density and not suburban density in urban settings.
Unfortunately the majority, if not all, from the two BIAs and their executives do not live in the heart of the core.
The bipolarity of our core springs partly from urban issues that continue to be defined and driven by suburban mindsets.
I can only suggest to those that continue to express frivolous concerns such as above, that you do spend some serious time investigating this with an open mind and a positive attitude, before making unilateral judgments on behalf of others.
There are many positive real life urban solutions from all over the world, many of which can be easily applied in the IV/Gore context, without traumatizing so many in our community with redundant approaches and preferences.
Hamilton's planning and economic growth problems are not unique; its parochialism is.
The bipolarity of our core springs partly from this debilitating human condition. Focusing on eradicating parochialism from our midst is critical to our collective economic and cultural success. It is the best legacy that you can leave behind.
Embrace true diversity and harness the local talent of hundreds of truly talented young and middle-aged professionals who have already moved into the core. It is about their future that we are talking about here. Many of you may not be here to see the LRT roll by. So leave legacies wisely which permits others following you to celebrate your efforts and not desecrate them.
Planning is about their future and not ours.
Our concerns should be focused more on fundamental issues such as sustainable financing and operational costs of the LRT; and we should be doing our best to ensure that all other conditions that make for an economic success, are in place – for the LRT's benefits to spread through the entire city.
By saying Not in our front yard - but our back yard is okay, you are essentially asking for Main Street to be turned into not just your back yard but our city’s backyard.
Intensification of the King Street East carriageway via LRT and two-way conversion, will add the much-needed urban scale and character to an already rich canvas, while bringing the critical body heat that is required to look, feel and perform as an truly international urban village.
Forcing the hand of the City to move the B-Line onto Main Street would in all probability result in the creation of a super transportation artery in our core. Architectural ugliness is all that can result from this move, with its corresponding near fatal other side of the tracks syndrome.
We simply cannot afford to divide the lower city laterally into two halves by a Main Street transportation artery – our kids will never forgive us for that!
It is imperative that we reduce the scale of our downtown core fast for economic activities to flourish. As in most urban examples, the LRT can be absorbed seamlessly into the renewed bustle of street life on the IV/Gore axis.
For Main Street to be revitalized, it needs to be humanized in scale via a majestic two-way boulevard with tall trees and landscape features, and ample room for the worlds most unique trans-Hamilton bike lane connecting the East and West ends of our city.
Celebrating true urban villages, unlike the IV/Gore area, is about focusing on the our collective achievements and aspirations; while allowing the multi-tasking, networked generation (that already is, or will soon, be living, working and playing in the core) – the grace to define their world.
Be it pedestrianization, high densities or yet undiscovered mixed-uses and economic activities, our NEXT is rightfully their call. It never was our call to begin with. Our efforts to date simply do not measure up.
We may be perfectly happy playing urban with suburban sensibilities, or even parading our preferences in place of promoting the multi-coloured lives and talents, that we are so lucky to already have in our core - but we must remember that our preferences are nothing more than cynical expressions of sycophancy and pathetic marketing plugs.
Just like the simple removal of bump-outs from our sidewalks, if we can quickly get rid of our parochialism we may actually being to accrue the benefits of the LRT before its arrival.
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