The poverty that grips this city is our problem - and our shame, if we continue to pass on the challenge and the opportunity to come to terms with the despair and heart-crushing waste of human potential we've allowed to take shape.
By RTH Staff
Published April 12, 2010
We urge you to read the Hamilton Spectator's Code Red series comparing public health indicators across different city neighbourhoods - and not just to see how your own neighbourhood ranks.
The first installment, published over seven pages in this past Saturday's edition, ought to serve as a serious wake-up call to a city that has grown complacent with the extreme levels of inequity between the affluent and the disadvantaged.
Steve Buist is a talented writer and investigative journalist. He has a proven ability to synthesize large, messy data sets and unravel the stories buried in them. In some ways, Code Red is a project that has been waiting for him: big enough and important enough to be worth his considerable skills.
We applaud the Spectator's goodwill and proactive intentions. At a time when many newspapers are making panicked retreats into the most banal infotainment, it's a credit to the paper that they tackled a hard-news project that is sure to generate a lot of controversy.
We especially look forward to the later installments in which the reporting shifts from articulating the problems to sketching out some possible solutions.
And yet. As fairly long-time observers of the political process in Hamilton, we find ourselves struggling against the urge to respond with mere cynicism.
After all, this report is not telling us anything we don't already know. The divisions may be starker than we expected - a 21 year difference in average life expectancy between the best and worst neighbourhoods in the city!? - but the pattern is well-understood.
Likewise, we already understand that cutting funding for disadvantaged communities is a false economy. When we cut support to ensure that everyone's fundamental needs are met, we end up spending more money reactively on emergency health care, policing and social services.
Given the staff recommendations and council decisions over the past four years, it's hard to believe the city's leadership is willing to make a real, lasting commitment to revitalizing the lower city, cultivating healthy neighbourhoods and honouring the official goal of making Hamilton the "best place to raise a child".
We've been down this road before, and with little substantial change to show for it. Will Code Red go the way of Lament For A Downtown, the Beasley series and other hard looks the city's newspaper has taken on the state of the lower city?
How many people will read this and simply reinforce their fear and loathing toward the north end? How many will emerge from the series more determined than ever to detach themselves and their communities from the troubled heart of the city?
Will our municipal leaders seriously address any solution that does not involve approving more Wal-Marts on greenfields on the edge of town? The city has clearly shown where its priorities lie.
We're more interested in building Smart Centres than being a smart city.
It's an election year, but poor people don't vote, so it's easy for politicians to ignore their needs. In this context, cynicism on our part would serve their desire to punt on hard problems and to pander instead to the chauvinism of sheltered elites (ourselves included).
If we've learned anything, it's that real change must start at the grassroots level through neighbourhood associations and nonprofit community development organizations working directly with disadvantaged communities to experience and understand their needs.
If we want higher levels of government to commit the stable, predictable funding necessary to establish and sustain effective long-term preventative systems, we as a city need to start by committing to the idea that we're all in this together.
The poverty that grips too much of this city isn't someone else's problem. It's our problem - and our shame, if we continue to pass on the challenge and the opportunity to come to terms with the despair and heart-crushing waste of human potential we've allowed to take shape.