Commentary

We Missed The Show

New ideas can flourish again if we are reverent about our past.

By Paul Vicari
Published February 19, 2011

Mark Richardson's Citizen Journalism, The Rewards and Risks discussed the 'information vacuum' and the compensatory rise of citizen journalists (cit-js). It motivated me to contribute my first RTH article that surely preaches to the choir.

As a long-time Torontonian, my a priori of Hamilton was it had been Toronto's counterpart and rival for decades, with concurrent growth and comparable legacies, but by mid-century it endured brutal job losses, suburbanization and urban renewal, far worse than Toronto ever experienced.

I finally visited Hamilton and found a gem, with sorely devalued house prices. A few months of house hunting later, it was our new home. We like it here, but I have this recurring thought (and clumsy metaphor) that we missed the show, by about thirty or sixty years.

The Prints of King

I recently discovered the Gary Evans' prints series of Hamilton. The Prints of King: A photographic look at Hamilton's heritage street is noteworthy for its continuity (focusing on a single street) and resonated with me because I now live close to King (at Garfield).

Gary Evans, The Prints of King (Image Credit: Historical Hamilton)
Gary Evans, The Prints of King (Image Credit: Historical Hamilton)

There it was the show. The astonishing transformations hurt my chest; it's heartbreaking how much we've lost. The stunning vibrancy and healthiness of King Street as a two-way street, the one-way conversion mentioned in several captions.

A closer look at the photographs reveals that people were drawn to this place, discernible in their gait and pace. There was a great diversity of viable businesses and large stores like Kresge's and Woolworth's, and theatres like The Capitol, it's marquee that tragically read, 'you will long remember, I know where I am going'.

Exquisite architecture like The Waldorf Hotel, replaced by another grand hotel The Connaught which now sits derelict. The topical picture of the last streetcar before the tracks were ripped up, another topical reminder of an old mistake.

So?

Do we gripe too often about the past? RTH is clearly rich in sustainable and logical ideas to improve our city, but how to reverse the apathy of some politicians and the public, both downtown and in the suburbs?

How else can we prevent more losses, like the Revenue Canada Building?

In those photographs I saw entire blocks that no longer exist. Of course, modern structures displace old ones, but entire swaths of streetscape obliterated for something like Jackson Square? Or surface parking?

People need to see old pictures like these, they need to be reminded again what happened here. Maybe the Hamilton Spectator should exhume some rare or unseen pictures from their archives and run a weekly piece, call it 'The Show'. At the very least, it might persuade drivers to slow down on Hamilton's favourite one-way heritage throughway.

Paul Vicari lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a web developer in Toronto.

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By PO'ed (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2011 at 21:57:12

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By George (registered) | Posted February 19, 2011 at 22:47:15

As a lifelong Hamiltonian, I completely agree with Paul's musings. It's always nice to see "transplants' to our city that get it and appreciate it and its history.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 00:49:49

I fear that reading those books I get a huge feeling of depression and not outrage. I've lived here all my life and perhaps I have a terrible case of Hamiltonitis. I wish I could find the cure.

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By Peter (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 01:23:39

I'll never forget stumbling upon a copy of "Prints of Hamilton" on my mom's shelf many years ago. It was fascinating and depressing to see what we'd lost in such a short time. A dozen or so similar retrospective books later, I felt it necessary to pack them up and fire them into the closet, lest I slash my wrists because of it all. ;-)

Naturally, it's important that people understand the history of their city, architectural or otherwise, so as to have a greater appreciation for what they have. If more people did that in Hamilton, we might not be in the situation we're in, losing our built heritage faster than we can save it.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 02:40:38

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted February 21, 2011 at 12:09:45 in reply to Comment 60051

Well much as I don't agree with a word of this, I hope you can keep saying it and hope that people can tolerate the different point of view.

A few points.

There is a lot to bring people downtown - there is the market and main library for one, which you even talk about in your post! There is dining with a variety and quality that simply isn't available anywhere else in the city, there is the AGH (and the private galleries), Copps, Hamilton Place and the convention centres. There is City Hall, both YM and YW (I suppose there's always the mountain or Flamborough Y, but for most people that's more of a trek than downtown). Those are many of the reasons I come east to downtown at least once a week. Let alone that I used to come downtown five days a week to work! Lots of people still work downtown and we all hope that the number will continue to increase. For employers it's the most convenient place to locate.

Most of the people I know who don't go downtown often, don't refrain because of traffic or parking or any of that stuff. They don't go downtown because they prefer to stay in their own areas, or downtown doesn't offer what they need. People prefer to shop and have fun in their own neighborhoods - I prefer to stay in the McMaster area, Ainslie Wood and Westdale because it's closer for me. The key for downtown is to allow it to build attractions that don't exist elsewhere - and that means supporting a vital community of merchants and businesses downtown, and supporting downtown residents. Let's listen to what they want for their neighbourhood, shall we?

No one blames 100% of downtown decline on one way streets, just as no one credits 100% of the slow revival of James Street to two-way conversion. But there is plenty of evidence that it's a factor, it's a factor under our control, and two-way conversion, let's face it, is what most people downtown seem to want.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 14:54:02 in reply to Comment 60051

There never were a lot of parking spots on York near the market and library and now there are exactly none and the traffic is worse. How does this attract anyone new to the core.

There are a lot of spots on York in front of Copps and now parking spots on Park St come right to York, further than before. I was on York last week and looked down the street and was thrilled with all the people walking on both sides of the road and enjoying the nice weather. It felt like a real city street for the first time in my life. The very last thing we need to worry about in Hamilton is where cars will park downtown - York has a massive parkade with dirt cheap rates. Ditto for the underground at Jackson Square. And in case you've never opened Google maps, go check out downtown Hamilton and look at the surface parking. Anyone who says they won't come downtown because of a lack of parking is lying, and if they stay home that's just fine with me.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted February 21, 2011 at 12:15:44 in reply to Comment 60069

Right on about the parkade, which EVERYONE knows about. I basically never drive downtown (HSR is too convenient) but we used to quite a bit and always used the parkade. Never without a spot.

As for a lack of parking, I can sympathize with someone who bemoans the lack of free parking downtown - malls have free parking, for example. But there is never a lack of parking. Of the dozens of downtown lots, there are only ever a handful that are full even at 1pm on a weekday. Most are half-empty.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted February 23, 2011 at 16:11:22 in reply to Comment 60101

Yeah, I'll beg to differ a bit on this one. Periodically on a lunch hour, I'll go into downtown Hamilton (from Burlington) for whatever reason. But, usually it involves a trip to Jackson, government office, whatever. I'm always surprised at how many people are down there (contrary to popular belief) and parking isn't a breeze. I've never gone without finding something -- and, I'm more than happy to walk a bit, provided I've got the time -- but, thankfully (I guess), I don't usually see half-empty lots that are open for public parking.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 20:45:44 in reply to Comment 60069

I guess I must be blind. I drove on York and did not see a single parking spot on the street between Bay and James. I will have another look sometime.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 08:38:36 in reply to Comment 60077

between Bay and Park there are several spots, and they have their own bumpouts to provide separation between the parking spots and the bike lanes. Also, a whole pile of new street parking spots were added on York between Caroline and Bay as part of the streetscaping plan. I was glad to see some of that mega-freeway calmed and converted to street parking.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted February 21, 2011 at 12:16:55 in reply to Comment 60077

How on Earth did you miss the gigantic parking garage on your left as you neared James Street? It looms RIGHT OVER THE STREET!

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 14:53:10 in reply to Comment 60102

I was talking specifically about street parking. You know where I can just pull over and jump out and get in quick, the most attractive parking spots.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 18:46:26 in reply to Comment 60069

It's not the lack of parking that is claimed...it's the lack of "free" parking.

The provision of parking spaces by business proprietors is an expected norm in the age of the big box. And this norm is only possible within single use spaces (e.g. malls, plazas and the like).

However, as its often stated, there is not such a thing as a free lunch. You pay for the parking in the cost of the things you buy, and the precariousness of their low-wage, low-margin business model.

Is it any wonder why when the big chains, or even the mall stores get just a smidgen of extra competition, they very quickly become bankrupt? Without massive subsidies from the rest of the retail operation, and ridiculously low land costs from building outside of urban areas, providing this "free" parking just isn't sustainable for very long.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 14:50:38 in reply to Comment 60051

A couple of trams, a couple of autos and horse wagon. Is this really what you aspire to?

Ummm, yes. Human beings on the sidewalk allow for a successful business district, not cars flying by to the suburbs. It's not rocket science. Remember, people have money in their pockets. Vehicles don't.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 10:26:58 in reply to Comment 60068

Let's assume that the city put a freeze on new developments in the hopes of making Hamilton like Manhattan, would this actually work, or would it simply drive people to places like Milton?

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted February 23, 2011 at 09:41:59 in reply to Comment 60135

It wouldn't work to make Hamilton like Manhattan, nothing would. So that's a silly thought. And freezing new development won't work either; there are a lot of developing neighborhoods in the newer developments that are underserved. You can't blow those people off, it's unfair.

(NOTE: This is different from a setting a firm urban boundary, which does make sense; this is different from freezing new development)

In all things, what is needed is balance. Quality development in all areas and all modes of living. Striving for equitable treatment and making sure that standards stay just as high (in its own way) for the East Mountain as the West Lower City.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 16:59:57 in reply to Comment 60135

it worked in portland when they froze their urban boundary many years ago. Let me clarify: it didn't turn the city into Manhattan, but it made it more livable, walkable and along with LRT and mixed-use zoning it helped to bring vitality back into the city.

Hamilton could do the same, but we won't...the old boys club reigns supreme.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:37:17 in reply to Comment 60135

Yes, I think.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 10:59:07 in reply to Comment 60135

The reason I ask, is because I have been doing a lot of walking recently. My most recent routes have been on the mountain. Not very enjoyable. It's got neither the tranquility of the country, or the vitality of the city.

In contrast, the downtown, while poorer, at least offers some eye candy. Old buildings, run down buildings, interesting looking folks.



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By jason (registered) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 17:01:15 in reply to Comment 60138

I agree with your observations. Walking gives a great perspective on ones surroundings. you can really see the potential downtown on foot IMO.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:41:40 in reply to Comment 60138

Indeed. I can walk around the Strathcona, Durant and Corktown neighbourhoods for hours. The West mountain? The Stoney Creek mountain? No.

The suburbs and the city are very different things. Hamilton is an OK suburb. It's a pretty good city.

People who want suburbs can go all sorts of places to find them - Hamilton offers some of the cheaper ones, not some of the better ones.

But when it comes to cities, well - Hamilton only has some much competition. And, as most people here on RtH must surely believe, it's a pretty good city, despite its problems.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 17:03:28 in reply to Comment 60147

check out how much a nice 3-4 bedroom home with a decent sized lot and in great condition costs downtown (west of Wellington I'm talking) compared to the new homes on the south mountain, meadowlands or stoney creek. The sheer number of half million + homes and $300k + condos downtown is testament to the desirability to live here.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted February 22, 2011 at 11:04:44 in reply to Comment 60138

Reasonable post from A Smith. IT'S A TRAP!

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By George (registered) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 12:38:41 in reply to Comment 60051

I found the "lack of people in the streets comment" somewhat amusing, when you consider there were no burbs back then, and most everyone lived in the core of city. Also, one must consider the popularity and affordability of the automobile back then. The comparison to the 60s and 70s is ridiculous, IMO.

Also, it's just one picture that could have been taken very early on a Sunday, or some such circumstance. To draw conclusions from the one picture and compare it to the highway versions of the one ways of the 60s and 70s? I don't see the logic at all.

People in the downtown streets?

People in the streets

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By TnT (registered) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 10:02:45 in reply to Comment 60051

I think that you are not really finding evidence of success. The entire gist of your argument seems to be that you don't see enough people in old photos. I don't think that would hold up in the lab for evidence. There has been loads of articles and studies that show a wide array of things need to be incorporated for a successful downtown. Two way conversion, mixed use, density of living, transit, etc. It can't be single use (i.e highway) or it will fail and it has. I don't see the evidence of a failure in the past reading the retrospective books. Even after 1930 when things moved heavily towards industry, they still had vibrancy.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 07:53:25

Meanwhile, in Toronto...

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/nati...

Interesting that these "urban big boxes" have been set up without any surface parking, without multi-lane traffic arteries funneling consumers to them, and with a little bit of deviation from the traditional model in order to meet the needs of their neighbourhoods. A lot like Kresge's and Woolworth's used to do.

This notion that "everyone wants to live in suburbs and drive cars" is just as ridiculous as the notion that "everyone wants to live in high-rises and take buses". Different strokes for different folks. Hamilton seems to have catered only to the former in the last 60 years, and has lost out on the opportunities that other cities have had because of that sole focus on the suburban commuter and the automobile.

Comment edited by arienc on 2011-02-20 07:53:35

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By Matteo (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 09:10:30

Great to see you published Paul, an interesting article!

I must come to Hamilton to see you.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted February 20, 2011 at 09:25:47

So?

Do we gripe too often about the past? RTH is clearly rich in sustainable and logical ideas to improve our city, but how to reverse the apathy of some politicians and the public, both downtown and in the suburbs?

Yes, there is a lot of griping about the past and fantasizing about the future but clearly nothing is done here in the present; RTH is all talk and no action. Reversing this apathy will require some kind of richly active and logically well-funded phenomenon.

People need to see old pictures like these, they need to be reminded again what happened here. Maybe the Hamilton Spectator should exhume some rare or unseen pictures from their archives and run a weekly piece, call it 'The Show'. At the very least, it might persuade drivers to slow down on Hamilton's favourite one-way heritage throughway.

These old pictures may steer us down memory lane and we would be right back where we started again, where "we gripe too often." I do not need to be reminded of what once was since IT is past tense, I want to get to the root cause and turn IT around in a positive sense. Forget theSpec because Berton's in a fog and in retrospect I see no solutions forthcoming from this blog! Besides, why would anyone want to "slow down" on King without any meaningful destinations for stopping, shopping or propping-up anything?

The gateway to King begins at The Delta near the now friendless Gage Park where Pizza Pizza, a slumlord's version of a Rising Phoenix and a McDonald's sits on the left. There is a funeral home and lots of parking on the right. Why would I go there unless I got the munchies or died from a drug overdose overnight? Sure a few blocks further down I'll find Central Cycle, but other than that IT is pedal to the metal; I wanna get through the desolation to Westdale towards the big Mac just as fast as is legal and without looking back!

Paul Vicari lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a developer in Toronto.

If you decide to develop in the Hamilton area Paul and you need a good plumber please give me a call if you can find my number..

Thanks for sharing.

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By Ditto (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 10:58:30

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By PaulV (registered) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 11:35:46 in reply to Comment 60057

You mean developer as in real estate? Not at all, I have now added 'web' to my profile. Still, it would be nice someday to work in the Hamilton area. Cheers.

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By George (registered) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 11:02:16

@ arienc - Great article. I love reading stuff just like that.

Right back at ya...

A New Urban Village Is Set For The Etobicoke Waterfront:

http://www.nationalpost.com/homes/This+s...

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 11:37:46

Paul,

That was a great article and thank you for taking the time to write and post it.

I'm finding more and more that the folks who are passionate about what Hamilton and what it can become are people who were not born here. I see it on web-sites and in op-ed articles and letters to the editor in the Spectator. I'm a transplant here myself, although with 18 years in this city I can't call myself new anymore. We lived spread out between James and Sherman for 17 of those years and some Hamilton battle fatigue set in. Reading articles such as this written by those with fresh eyes for Hamilton refreshes my love for the city and restores my hope for the future of our home.

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By imetser (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2011 at 14:57:12

Apparently one or two above told this writer to go back where he came from. As we say in xlpjles, meg alle dumbkopfen tzu tea-party gayn tsu brainnocked biem concussion, es zolt bein farshur

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By JPalloopa (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2011 at 06:38:04

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted February 21, 2011 at 13:05:53

I have been wrestling with this RTH negativity phenomenon, this propensity for a clique of registered users to down-vote other users out of spite and I believe this brings my point directly into light:

The truth is that the "establishment" is constantly trying to divide us and get us fighting with one another. They pit the Republicans against the Democrats (even as though control both sides). They pit one race against another. They pit one gender against another. We are told that the rich are against the poor, the north is against the south, urban is against rural and that there are even "generational battles" going on. Frustration and hate are rapidly growing in the United States today, and a lot of that frustration and hate is unfortunately aimed at the targets that the mainstream media has programmed all of us to hate. Meanwhile, those at the top of the pyramid who are controlling the whole game love it when we are divided because we can never become united and challenge their control.

Please don't misunderstand me I do relish old photos, sometimes they can jar a stagnant imagination. Take for example this photograph I exhumed from my private archive of Hamilton Spectator pics from around August 2007:

HAM-UAV JPG Image

I couldn't locate the original article but I recall this was one of two, heavily armed and iron-plated delivery trucks that were to be used in the event that Italian-Canadians in Hamilton neighborhoods became unruly during the Second World War. This Urban Assault Vehicle from the 1940's should serve as a reminder that the past wasn't always sweeter than the present and that the future is always uncertainly omnipresent.

I adore this city just as much as the rest of you and I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is to help make her prosper: I will put up $100 towards something, ANYTHING, that gets the ball rolling. I have ideas and I want prosperity/security just as you do, but I won't waste my precious time on these silly vote4me games, I'd much rather spark reason through rhyme than fan flames.

Prove me wrong that RTH isn't all talk and a just few folks being lame. There are a great many writers here who are much better than I could ever hope to be; I barely graduated high school (my final mark in English was a D) and I still keep running back here because I honestly believe RTH is evolving into something IT's creators have not yet spied and I absorb all the criticism quite happily in stride.

So get ready. Unless there is some kind of dramatic transformation in this country, in the years ahead we are going to see some horrific economic riots.

I am a simple regular guy but I like to dream dramatically big and I realize that rebuilding/securing an entire city will require ACTION from many folks like myself, SO PLEASE accept my $100 challenge and let's get some big ideas off the shelf.

It would be nice if we had a brighter future to look forward to, but we don't do ourselves any favors by living in denial.

The ball is in your court RTH readers and please be good sports as you put out your feelers.

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-02-21 13:14:58

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By Ideas (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2011 at 15:47:11

I like the things Detroit is doing to instill some civic pride and to promote the rebirth of the city. I think we should do some things like this:

I nominate Defendor :)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1358778/RoboCop-statue-planned-fans-raise-50-000-Detroit-sculpture.html


Or a video like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJjMULMcS4k&playnext=1&list=PL42FE10190974EB8D

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