Notes from Terry Cooke's speech to the Mayor's Luncheon.
By Terry Cooke
Published September 23, 2010
Do you have any idea how hard it's been for me to keep my mouth shut and watch both a municipal election campaign and the Pan Am stadium debate from the sidelines? If you know me, you'll understand my personal hell.
But while it would be imprudent to take sides, I do feel safe talking about the stadium debate as a particularly impressive example of public engagement.
This remarkable phenomenon has included both traditional media and stuff that would have been unimaginable even a decade ago. From the extraordinary outpouring of vision on the Our City Our Future website with over 3500 reasoned testimonials for the west harbor, to thoughtful debates on Raise the Hammer and Graham Crawford's wonderful satire and digital love letters to Hamilton.
No matter how it ends - and at this rate we may never actually find out - the people of Hamilton learned something important this summer: we learned that we can actually make a meaningful difference if we get involved.
That's a vital lesson, because not understanding it - thinking that nothing we do matters - is a self-fulfilling prophecy that leaves us silenced and disengaged.
We're really going to need that lesson in the years to come if Hamilton is to meet the challenges facing our city.
Before I turn to those challenges I want you to think about these words from a recent Tom Friedman column in the New York Times talking about what cities need to do to remain competitive.
Between 1980 and 2005, virtually all net new jobs in the US were created by firms that were 5 years old or less. That is about 40 million new jobs. That means that established firms created no net new jobs during that period. Good paying jobs don't come from bailouts. They come from start-ups. And where do start ups come from? They come from smart, creative, inspired risk takers. How do we get more of those? There are only two ways: grow more by improving our schools or import more by recruiting talented immigrants.
So with Friedman's words ringing in your ears let me turn to the subject at hand.
I'm here today to give you a sneak peak at a new project that takes the Hamilton Spectator's Code Red series as a jumping-off point.
On October 5, HCF and the Spectator will publish Vital Signs, a look at where Hamilton is doing well and where we're struggling. The report offers a snapshot of how we're doing as a city - our changing economy, education, health and well-being, safety, leadership, culture, environment, equity, and inclusiveness.
The data tells us that our challenges are connected, that the solutions we bring to bear must be connected and coherent. It also confirms that we can't afford to be complacent.
Vital Signs tells us that while Hamilton broadly tracks the provincial average for the various metrics we present - everything from our 7.7% unemployment rate (slightly better) to our rate of property crime, which has dropped 28% in the last decade but remains above the provincial average, to our 84% high school completion rate (slightly worse) - those averages mask a deeply troubling reality.
Above all, Vital Signs paints a stark picture of Hamilton as two cities that share the same urban boundary but little else. It is poverty by postal code.
One city is an archipelago of affluent neighbourhoods with healthy, well-educated residents enjoying an enviable quality of life. The other city concentrates shocking levels of poverty, struggling schools, high unemployment, and ill health into poor neighbourhoods that might as well be on a different planet.
Steve Buist and Neil Johnston's Code Red series in the Spectator drew our attention to this sharp divide, and Vital Signs affirms it. For example, poverty rates in Hamilton neighbourhoods range from less than 3% to over 40%. Nearly one in four of our children live in poverty.
Education levels also segregate our two cities. The proportion of 20-24 year-olds who have not completed high school ranges from zero in some neighbourhoods to 65% in several, and 88% in one.
The Spectator's Code Red showed us a shocking 21 year life expectancy difference between our best and worst neighbourhood. Rates of low-birth weight babies in poorer Hamilton neighborhoods that would be the norm in 3rd world countries.
The data in both Code Red and Vital Signs describes an urban malignancy; a cancer on the body Hamilton. And it is the worst kind of ailment because it inevitably spreads. It makes Hamilton less attractive to investors, employers and business location advisors.
This limits local job opportunities; it affects our city's fiscal capacity and the quality of our housing options. It undermines public health and it can suck the life out of a young mind at a time when brain power is the name of the game.
This reality should be an affront to all of us as Canadians, but we seem to be curiously complacent about concentrated poverty. Many people living in better neighborhoods like mine in southwest Hamilton appear resigned or indifferent to the affects of poverty on all parts of Hamilton.
In some ways, it reminds me of the days when smoking was allowed in the last 10 seats of the Greyhound bus. The notion that somehow, the carcinogens miraculously stopped at the 9th row gave false comfort to the rest of us in the front rows.
So it is with concentrated poverty. Ultimately, it affects us all. That's our diagnosis. It sounds bleak, but it doesn't have to be fatal.
We can turn this thing around, and here's the prognosis. Diversity is critical to our economic success and our shared well-being. The diversity I am talking about includes not only diversity by race, gender, religion and sexual orientation, but also and perhaps most critically income.
The body of evidence is clear. Neighbourhoods and schools that are mixed income do well and those that are segregated by income do poorly. People are healthier. They are more literate. They graduate.
The people in mixed income neighbourhoods have a better chance of getting and keeping a job and the city has a better chance of attracting and keeping investment. It becomes a place of choice, not of last resort.
I'd like to spend the a few minutes talking about two places that have moved on the strategy of diversity - Portland, Oregon and Raleigh, North Carolina.
Like Hamilton, Portland faced a rusting industrial base and struggled with similar problems of concentrated poverty in the older part of the city. Starting in the 1970s, Portland's leaders set out to become the centre of excellence for SME's in the Northwestern US. They focused on trying to create neighborhoods that would attract young entrepreneurs.
They established strong region wide planning controls that limited low density sprawl. Because they understood that sprawl sucks economic energy out of the heart of the city while spreading infrastructure costs over more geography.
They used a federal highway grant to build a light rail line instead. Later, they tore down Harbor Drive, a 4-lane freeway blocking the western shore of the Willamette River, to establish a beautiful waterfront park that attracted dense, mixed-use development nearby.
They revitalized aging industrial districts with high quality transit, wide, safe sidewalks with street trees, bike lanes and mixed-use zoning.
Recent economic research demonstrates that young businesses are the main engines of job creation. Today, Portland is a stunning example of economic rebirth and diversification.
Syracuse University Professor Gerald Grant recently published an important book called Hope and Despair in the American City. It contrasts the abysmal performance of neighbourhoods and schools in Grant's native Syracuse, New York with the more positive experience in Raleigh.
Why? Because Raleigh integrated every school by family income levels and gave their teachers the tools to innovate; Syracuse continued to concentrate poor kids together in the inner city. Raleigh took this bold initiative because the evidence is overwhelming that the biggest predictor of educational performance is not the quality of teaching or facilities but rather the socioeconomic status of your classmates.
In 1998, Raleigh set a goal to have 95 percent of grade 3-8 students proficient in math at a time when a majority of inner city kids were failing. Today, a mere 12 years later, they are at 91 percent.
There are lessons for Hamilton in the very different experiences of Portland, Raleigh and Syracuse.
Syracuse was unwilling to talk about the uncomfortable facts of neighbourhood and school segregation.
Portland and Raleigh relished the clash of ideas and civic engagement and accepted the need to make fundamental changes to achieve income diversity in schools and neighbourhoods.
The good news in Hamilton is that we're already seeing signs of progress.
This morning in the Globe and Mail, the Conference Board projects that Hamilton will lead the country in economic growth in the coming year. Hamilton economic base has changed dramatically. Between 2003 and 2009, Hamilton saw a net gain of over 500 employers, most of them in the small business category.
Six years ago, HCF committed to making poverty reduction its priority in grant making, contributing $8.4m to date for community partners that are building tangible neighborhood assets. Vital Signs provides clear statistical evidence that we're moving in the right direction.
Poverty among senior citizens fell from 24% to 17% between 2001 and 2006 because citizens and government worked together to make sure people got what they were entitled to. Hamilton's "Transitions to Homes" program has successfully moved hundreds of chronically homeless men into stable housing. At the same time, Canada's Vibrant Communities network has recognized the Poverty Roundtable as one of the country's leading examples of transformational change.
In just the last week, three very important reports have gone before City Council that could have a profound impact on concentrated poverty.
The City is embarking on a new direction that will complement the work of the Hamilton Community Foundation. Here in Hamilton and across North America one of the most successful poverty-reduction approaches has been to build neighbourhood capacity.
The City is committed to scaling up efforts to support neighbourhoods through an integrated strategy: The initiative will be run out of the City Manager's office and supported by the community services department.
Also last week the City released an important report on Living Wages. The Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction has called in its new Action Plan for Hamilton to become a Living Wage Community - and we can do it. We know 25,000 people work full or part time in Hamilton and yet still live in poverty - improving wages for the lowest income earners benefits us all.
And just this week Councillors endorsed a new direction to ensure that children - particularly in low income neighbourhoods are provided with affordable and accessible recreation opportunities. This direction that will provide opportunities for children to participate which is good for their health as well as their spirit.
Our environmental record is also improving. Overall water consumption dropped by over 50% between 1993 and 2009, and waste diversion from landfills rose from 17% in 2000 to almost 50% in 2008. Citizens took action, encouraged by policy change.
I hope you're aware of what the Chamber is doing with a host of partners to provide Canadian experience to new immigrants. Immigrants have long been integral to this country's development - - even more so today.
But we need to do more. As leaders of governments, businesses, NGO's and as citizens, we have a positive obligation to promote diversity in all of our policies and expenditures. We have to work together to reverse the income segregation of our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces so that everyone can participate fully.
Let's start with the Foundation. We're proud of the $59 million we've granted to the community, but it's not enough. We're looking at ways to expand our own philanthropic footprint. As a result, later this fall HCF will launch a Hamilton Community Investment Fund that will invest a significant amount additional capital Into building the arts, social housing and social enterprise in Hamilton.
HCF has been encouraged to stretch by visionary philanthropists like Murray Hogarth, who is here today, from the Pioneer Group of companies. Murray got his start in Hamilton at Upper James and Mohawk and he has never forgotten his roots and continues to generously give back to this community in many extraordinary ways.
We also worked with numerous community partners including First Ontario Credit Union and the Social Planning Council to fund and launch a micro-credit program in Hamilton that is now assisting immigrant entrepreneurs will small loans to assist in business start up.
Building on one of the priorities from HRPR's new Strategic Action Plan, HCF is acting as a catalyst for a universal school based nutrition program for Hamilton because we know that kids can't learn and won't graduate if they go to school hungry.
Our governments also need to do more-especially by making smart capital investments like better multi-modal transportation - from high quality transit to comprehensive bike lanes - so residents have the mobility to participate fully in our economic and cultural life.
We need light rail transit and full-day GO train service that support urban revitalization and the intensification and brownfield renewal that comes with it.
But in addition to doing the big things, local governments have to continue to focus on the little stuff that improves quality of life. Traffic calming and the conversion of wide, unsafe one way streets, park beautification, crime reduction and litter clean up and contribute to making neighborhoods more attractive to investment and renewal.
We need more entrepreneurs - a lot more entrepreneurs - to put down roots in supportive communities and generate new jobs right here in Hamilton.
We need a more competitive business environment that attracts private sector investment and jobs that pay living wages.
We need better pathways for skilled immigrants to achieve the critical "Canadian-based experience" that will allow them to follow their vocations here - and allow us to benefit from their skills.
Above all, to end concentrated poverty in Hamilton and grow our economy, we must be willing to have a blunt conversation about our neighbourhoods and our neighbours; about our schools and their performance; about the health of our citizens and the magnets we need to glue modern-day investment into place.
As citizens, we need to learn, to understand and to take action on the issues. We need to find the courage to confront our past mistakes and commit to a future in which all our neighbourhoods and workplaces and schools integrate people of all income levels and backgrounds.
Vital Signs tells us where we are. Both conscience and common sense tell us where we must go next.
I am hopeful that Vital Signs will contribute to this conversation.