Special Report: Walkable Streets

One-Way Streets are Holding Hamilton Back

Until Hamilton's main east-west streets are returned to even a modicum of livability, there's really no point in talking about inviting new business or slapping up snazzy banners and calling it something-ville.

By David-James Fernandes
Published June 18, 2012

I officially moved to Hamilton on February 1 of this year. On that auspicious day, with a friend in the passenger seat and a VW station wagon full of stuff, I got into the first car accident of my life. A rear-ender on Main Street near Wentworth.

I was traveling eastbound at a pretty healthy clip when the traffic ahead of me suddenly and unexpectedly stopped. I slammed on my brakes, felt the ABS stutter in, and probably because I don't tailgate, I had enough room to avoid hitting the car in front of me... barely.

A split second later I checked the rear-view and braced myself as an Acura sedan pummelled the back of my car. It was a loud, violent, solid hit. I heard glass break. After screaming a bunch of profanities, and ensuring my passenger and I were intact, I shakily stepped out of the car to check the damage.

The man driving the Acura was immediately apologetic and unnervingly calm. The whole front end of his car was badly bruised, losing both of its eyes and most of its teeth, but incredibly, my wagon seemed to have only a little nick on the bumper. German engineering or fantastic luck, I don't know which, but thankfully no one was seriously injured.

Welcome to Hamilton, I thought.

Scary Downtown Driving

I have driven some 250,000 km in the ten years I've been driving. I've driven in New York City, Los Angeles, Montreal and in Portugal as well. All of these places are infamous for aggressive, fast-paced driving. So when friends warned me of the crazy driving in Hamilton, I thought, yeah yeah, been there, done that.

Hamilton, let me tell you: if there is a prize for fastest, most dangerous, scariest downtown driving - you most certainly take the cake.

I live on a residential street between Main and King near Sherman Avenue. In the five months I've lived here I have seen about 15 traffic accidents (most of them T-bones) and witnessed two, including my own.

I've seen young parents scramble for their lives pushing a baby carriage trying to cross Main Street while a wall of traffic barreled down on them without slowing.

I've been tailgated more times than I can ever remember, cut-off constantly, honked at for going the speed limit, screamed at for slowing down to make a freaking turn, and had several more near misses with drivers going way too fast, not signalling lane changes and generally being douche bags.

If you've driven in Hamilton, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It is downright scary at times.

Cab drivers just laugh. "Oh yeah, why do you think they call it the Hammer?" one boasted to me.

Walk Beside the Mayhem

Great. Now, let's talk about how fun it is to walk alongside this mayhem. Or cross it without running. Or, god forbid, ride your bike along it. I've tried all three. There is no fun to be had.

Hamilton's one-way downtown freeways of King Street and Main Street are dangerous to drive on, awful to walk beside, scary and unsafe to cross and suicidal to cycle on. Of all the users of streets in Hamilton, only one group actually gets what they want out of this scenario: douchebags. And because of this, you can see the effect it's had on the economic life of these major streets.

Let me tell you about some of the closest places of business to my house. Out of the storefronts within two blocks of me on both sides of King East, there is a rub and tug, a gas station, a car wash, a coin and stamp collecting store (which incredibly still looks open), a closing or closed reptile store, a computer store, lawyers offices, and a specialized surgery clinic.

There are also at least five boarded storefronts and another five or so that seem to be turned into residential, which is against zoning, but no one seems to give a crap.

The closest place to get groceries is a Big Bear Convenience a few blocks further. The closest place to get vegetables is a No Frills ten blocks away.

There are no restaurants, no cafés, few retail stores, no flower shops, book shops, bakeries, hardware stores, clothing stores, doctor's offices, libraries, post offices, or anything else that might be useful and convenient to local residents of all income levels. Not even a beer or liquor store. If I want a blow job and a lizard, however, I'm in luck.

Dismal Picture

And it's not just my stretch of King East I'm talking about. The picture on Main Street near my house is similarly dismal. In a span of two blocks, there are no less than three Pizza and Wing fast food joints, in addition to a KFC.

Go east or west in either direction and you will get block after block of the same thing. Boarded storefronts, illegal residences, drive-in one-floor office buildings with massive parking lots, struggling fast food joints and more auto garages than there seem to be cars to need them.

This is the scene along Hamilton's most prominent east and west thoroughfares: high speed, aggressive and dangerous roads to drive, walk or cycle on. Why on earth would anyone open a business there?

Are one-way streets solely to blame for the economic assassination of King and Main? Obviously not. Suburban sprawl is probably most guilty - with cheap, big box stores littering the Mountain, small business everywhere in lower town have suffered.

Another culprit is the fact that large swaths of King and Main don't have active BIAs, so it's basically a free-for all for any land owner to break zoning without any repercussions. Who's paying attention?

And let's not forget the decline of the steel industry and the massive effect that had on incomes in Hamilton. So with too much big box competition, too few BIAs, declining incomes and two incredibly hostile, unfriendly main streets, there really is no mystery to why King and Main suck so much.

But it actually doesn't have to be this way.

Leslieville

I moved to Hamilton from Toronto, where I had lived for most of my adult life, minus a five year stint in Ottawa. In the late '90s I had a friend who had moved out to Leslie Street and Queen Street East - the east end of Toronto, sandwiched between Riverdale and the Beach.

At that time, having only lived in the well-developed west end of the city, I thought my friend had moved to another country. I went out to visit him one day for breakfast at a brand new restaurant that had opened and I just couldn't figure it out.

The area seemed really depressed. Lots of boarded up store fronts, struggling mom & pop diners, fledgling convenience stores... it just wasn't the picture of urban living that I was used to in the west downtown.

That run-down little stretch of Queen East, fifteen years later, is now the beautiful, walkable, drivable, cyclable main street of what became known as Leslieville. I even bought a home and lived in the neighbourhood for five years.

I can't think of a single illegal residential storefront, and where there isn't a business, there is a for lease sign and a line-up to get a coveted spot. These are two lane streets, shared with streetcars, trees on both sides, parking on both sides and bicycle ring posts everywhere along the sidewalks.

And although there is some congestion at rush hours, during the day and weekends it mostly moves very well. It is a model for what a healthy street looks like.

A Theory

So how did this happen? I have a theory.

1) Not so unlike Hamilton, Toronto's east-end fifteen years ago was a bargain compared to the over-priced west end. So, younger folks moving out of condos or rentals and looking to start families started buying up the homes. Average prices at the time? About $150-$225k. Over time, an influx of new people and new money flowed into the neighbourhood.

2) Some smart entrepreneurs started to take notice of the flux of new people and rightly figured out that these folks would eventually want to eat and shop in their neighbourhood. So they took advantage of the rock-bottom leases and building prices and started opening businesses on Queen East.

Eventually, some big names in the restaurant biz took note and started opening new places. Within six years, Queen East had become a hot spot for foodies. Then in 2007, a Starbucks moved in and the rest of the street exploded with new, locally run shops and restaurants.

3) With new residents and new businesses came re-invigorated BIAs and resident's associations. This lead to some much needed resources to fix up parks, move a community health clinic, put up some street banners and generally improve the street presence.

It also led to the forming of the powerful East Toronto Community Coalition, which to this day has stopped the all powerful Smart Centres and Walmart from colonizing some former industrial land on Eastern Ave. That's right, they stopped a Walmart. Seriously.

4) I'm not sure how or when it happened, but real estate agents started branding the neighbourhoods with nice names like Riverside and Leslieville to compliment already existing, well-branded hoods like Riverdale, Danforth and The Beach.

So, what used to be a nameless stretch of Queen East suddenly became a place. And it became a place associated with affordable homes, nice restaurants, great parks all within spitting distance of downtown Toronto and two major highways.

Repeated Formula

This basic formula has been repeated many times successfully in Toronto. New residents, new business, active associations, and new names for undefined neighbourhoods. It's exactly what happened on Queen West in the '80s and '90s and then again on Queen West West in the 2000s.

Same with Ossington Avenue. Same with Kingston Road, St. Clair, strips of Yonge, Bayview, Eglinton, Dundas West, and on and on. And not one of these streets is one-way (and to be fair, never were).

So while this scale of gentrification definitely has deleterious effects for lower-income residents - rents increase, homes get converted back to single family, smaller, more affordable establishments die out - it's not all Starbucks and designer baby carriages.

In Leslieville in particular, there are to date twenty-one social housing units with frontage on to Queen Street East from Broadview to the Beach that pre-date gentrification. These are mostly city owned and run but there are some private ones as well. In addition, there are dozens more homes on almost every residential side street that are run as social housing. I lived beside one for five years.

So in the midst of all these changes, the city still made sure there continued to be space for lower-income families to live in the nice revitalized neighbourhood that sprung up. And as a result, there are better streets, better parks, better transit service, and much better access to community-based health than ever before - for everyone.

So, with proper safeguards, and the right intentions, Leslieville continues to be a vibrant community with very mixed incomes and an eclectic mix of businesses and services that meet a broad range of needs (and notably, there's no Walmart). It's not to say there aren't tensions - there are jerks who would love to close every social housing unit in the city, the mayor included - but for now, it's a balance that for the most part works and works well.

Where is Hamilton?

So, back to Hamilton. Where are we at on my four part list? I'd say it really depends on where you live. Clearly Locke Street and James Street North have seen a revival and Ottawa Street is certainly up and coming. Barton is trying.

Thinking about my hood, I'd say we're at number one - there's incredibly beautiful homes here that compared to Toronto are a fantastic bargain, and there are a hell of a lot of people moving over here every month. On just the short block of street I live on, I can count six of my neighbours who've moved here from Toronto and several others from other parts of Hamilton.

So we have the influx of new people - but smart entrepreneurs have to look no further than the one-way dodgeball of Main and King streets and it's game over. These awful one-way streets are keeping us stuck.

There aren't any new businesses out this way yet, and not surprisingly, there's also no BIA, and no residents' association (although I hear rumours one has started).

And what the heck is this area called anyway? My neighbours have no clue. Google Maps puts us in the middle of Gibson and Stipley, but real estate agents call it St. Claire (though I'm pretty sure that only covers the part of my hood south of Main, and we are north.)

It Has to Start Somewhere

Obviously it's going to take some time for Hamilton to become a healthier city with healthy, vibrant, multi-use streets. The transition from primarily a resource processing and manufacturing city to whatever it is becoming now has not been quick or easy, and it's not ever going to be quick and easy.

It's taken Toronto the last twenty plus years. And that's been twenty years of hard fought council battles, energized, progressive councillors and mayors, active citizens coalitions and a whole hell of a lot of economic development that has transformed the downtown and all surrounding neighbourhoods into lovely, livable places.

This simply can't and won't happen overnight. But it does have to start somewhere.

I think we should start with converting Main and King streets - from Dundurn all the way to Gage park - into two-way streets with parking and shared bike lanes. Doing so will not solve all the zoning and economic development challenges these streets face, but at a minimum, it will make them safe to drive on, walk along and cycle.

And until that happens - until Hamilton's main east-west streets are returned to even a modicum of livability - there's really no point in talking about inviting new business or slapping up snazzy banners and calling it something-ville, it would be dooming the project to failure, and there's been enough of that already.


Editor's note: This essay is part of a series on the future role and design of our downtown streets. We encourage Hamiltonians to submit well-written, thoughtful and evidence-based essays that move the discussion forward. Please send submissions to editor@raisethehammer.org.

David-James Fernandes is a filmmaker, small business owner, driver, pedestrian and cyclist.

83 Comments

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By BeulahAve (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 07:54:41

Great article! Here's to hoping that businesses and residents can mobilize and work together in your area of town.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 08:22:22

This is so accurate and well said. I have friends in your area, and yes, TO folks are moving in like crazy. But no business owner worth his salt would dare try to open something worthwhile on those streets. And you're right about nobody caring....they have been dead freeways for decades and apparently city hall loves it that way. Such a shame...beautiful tree lined streets that could be a healthy, booming neighbourhood being drastically held back by the people we all pay to make Hamilton better. I hope some BIA's and neighbourhood associations start up there. It's the only hope you have of fixing the problems. Welcome to the Hammer!

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 08:56:34

Fantastic journey you took me on and I loved where you left me. I can so visualize a beautiful vibrant Main Street. Thank you.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 08:59:19

And what the heck is this area called anyway? My neighbours have no clue. Google Maps puts us in the middle of Gibson and Stipley, but real estate agents call it St. Claire (though I'm pretty sure that only covers the part of my hood south of Main, and we are north.)

Depends on where you are. If you're East of Sherman, you're in Stipley. If you're West of it, you're in Gibson. Here's a map.

As far as neighbourhood associations go, Brian McHattie has a reference to Gibson's assoc, but I can't find anything about it. Stipeley has a website, but it has two posts, and hasn't been updated since April 2011.

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:22:38 in reply to Comment 78613

Yeah, I'm west of Sherman - on St. Clair ave. So I guess that means it's Gibson...

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 21:11:49 in reply to Comment 78620

regardless, I've always loved the idea of developing neighbourhood identities and one of the small ways it can be done is through marketing a certain name/feel etc.... of course, the feel has to match the marketing.
St Clair Village would sound great....but in real life it would suck with the current state of King/Main.
I've heard rumblings about a 'Pearl District' idea floated by the owners of the Pearl Company....great idea. The Delta could be a cool hood with it's triangle blocks etc.... the potential is endless along King and Main, but zero will happen as long as city hall demands that they be used a freeways above all else.

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:43:30 in reply to Comment 78620

There is undoubtedly a latent essay in Hamilton's press-stamped imposition of gridded neighbourhood identities (rigidly dystopian compared to the Western European style crazy quilt of neighbourhoods in Montreal or Brooklyn, the volumble tumble of Chicago, tropical eruption of Los Angeles, etc etc.), and the populace's acquiescence to it.

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By Dundas Forever (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 23:43:05 in reply to Comment 78624

Don't paint everyone with the same brush...

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 18, 2012 at 09:44:14 in reply to Comment 78613

I tend to think the granularity in the neighborhood names is a bit too high between James and Gage, I can never remember the names of all the neighborhoods in there. I always catch myself referring to Landsdale as Beasley

With such small areas to cover, it's no wonder that there aren't enough people to have a substantial association.

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 10:31:35 in reply to Comment 78618

I'm going to recklessly posit that property owners are the people most likely to form/inform/invigorate neighbourhood associations. (This would seem to be the case in Landsdale, for example.)

Areas that have unusually high populations of renters may be sufficiently transient to make the NA work a bit more of a grind, and NA boards may be biased in favour of membership that lends itself to stability. There may also be differing organisational philosophies. Beasley NA has meetings twice monthly; Landsdale NA has apparently nixed regular meetings in favour of issue-specific huddles.

Results may vary. The only way to find out is to roll up your sleeves and get involved.

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By tron (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 09:25:14 in reply to Comment 78613

The most active neighbourhood association in your area is the South Sherman Hub. They have regular meetings on the first Monday of each month at St. Giles Church (I think): http://southshermanhub.wordpress.com/

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By Steve (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 13:44:49 in reply to Comment 78616

Hub's aren't neighbourhood associations. They are funded from outside the neighbourhood (Hamilton Community Foundation) and have a paid social service representative (community development worker) as part of their make-up.

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 09:02:35

Welcome to Hamilton.

"I think we should start with converting Main and King streets - from Dundurn all the way to Gage park - into two-way streets with parking and shared bike lanes."

As innocuous as that sounds (setting aside the planning department's regimens and protocols), history suggests that there is every possibility that City's implementation will choke the life out of the areas it treats and take decades to roll out.

It's true that the one-way programme was an overnight job, but it has also been hugely problematic, not to mention a subtractive event: Less signage, fewer stoplights, simpler traffic engineering. Puttting the toothpaste back in the tube is bound to be trickier, though well worth doing. The faster it happens, the more nuance will be lost. In other words, little street parking, slipshod bike lanes, no greenery or streetscaping. (See Main west of Longwood or east of Gage for a sense of the yardstick.)

I've been living in Hamilton for 20-some years, and things have been has been slowly changing for the better, but this city has always lived in the shadow of Toronto, and tended to define ourrselves as that-which-is-not-Toronto. If they've got stratospheric real estate prices, we've got budget-bin bargoons. If they've got globetrotting career tracks, we've got life-work balance and a fertile foothold for entrepreneurial ventures. And so forth.

I understand the frustration you feel just four months into your new life as a Hamiltonian. And I'm encouraged that you don't simply demand an immediate change, as is often called for. I've seen enough swift 'n' sloppy implementation originally intended as transitional that wound up institutional. Although it's before my time, I also appreciate that game-changing design shifts are uncommon here, and that best intentions often fall wide of the mark (eg. York Boulevard, Jackson Square). Considered (but not glacial) implementation is the best way to go, but something tells me that old habits will die hard, and that more care will ultimately be given to turning lanes than bike lanes.

As you point out, it has taken Toronto decades of pitched battles to make measured progress, and that has accelerated because of private development and market dynamics and consumer demographics.

Almost 30 years elapsed between the frontier days of The Last Pogo to the inspiration of the "Drake You Ho" graffito. There is plenty of history spooling out ahead of us here in Hamilton as well.

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By rear ended (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 12:08:49

I saw a car get rear ended in exactly the same fashion as you on Upper James. Does that mean its 2 way streets that are the problem or is it simply some moron following too close the same as any other street or highway in North America?

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By RB (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 13:42:44 in reply to Comment 78626

Of course a rear-ender can happen anywhere, but I'd imagine that speedy, multi-lane one-way streets are a lot more conducive to causing accidents.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but I think you'd agree that driving east on Main can be pretty nerve-wracking to say the least.

And it could definitely be a case of someone tail-gating, which again, seems to proliferate along Main (and other one-way streets). I drive it everyday home from work, and I'd have to agree with the author of the post: only the douche bags seem to "come out on top".

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By Meridian (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 21:18:00 in reply to Comment 78630

Despite the prevailing prejudice, Main is two-way for much if not most of its length. Yes, there's a 7km slash of one-way in the middle, but there's 4km west of Longwood that's two-way and 3km east of Kensington that's two-way (and that's not taking into account the the Main/Queenston mash-up, which runs two-way for 21km east, from the Delta to the heart of Grimsby).

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 21:13:04 in reply to Comment 78630

Not to mention, Upper James is designed solely around high speed auto traffic. Downtown retail/commercial/residential streets should not be.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 23:23:30 in reply to Comment 78651

Where do you come up with this stuff? You totally contradicted yourself.

Upper James has tonnes of retail/commercial/residential. In fact, almost all of it is densely packed with retail, commercial, and residential space. Then you say that Upper James is "designed solely around high speed auto traffic"? What?!

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 05:48:48 in reply to Comment 78660

Well...it is. That's not to say that it should be of course.

Also, I do wonder about your use of the word 'densely' in describing commercial on Upper James. That might be a stretch.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 09:23:02 in reply to Comment 78663

it's the opposite of dense...hence the auto-dependancy. If someone can't tell that Upper James was built 100% around cars, we're probably dealing with a troll. Some spots still don't have sidewalks....and nobody seems to mind.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 10:29:01 in reply to Comment 78671

Saying that Upper James is "designed solely around high speed auto traffic" and "Upper James was built 100% around cars" are two totally different things.

Yes, I agree that Upper James was designed with vehicles as a top priority. However, I don't agree that is designed solely around HIGH SPEED auto traffic. That simply isn't true.

Out of context, your comment doesn't seem so bad, but when you put it in the context of trying to rationalize why collisions on Upper James are somehow more justified than collisions downtown, it's ridiculous.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 19, 2012 at 09:41:39 in reply to Comment 78671

Back in 2006, I proposed transforming Upper James into a European-style boulevard. Needless to say, the idea hasn't taken off yet.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 10:32:04 in reply to Comment 78672

I haven't read that link carefully, but if your idea is what I'm picturing, I think that is a good idea.

I find Upper James (and similar roads such as Centennial) so uninviting and ugly. They remind me of the ugly parts of America (if that makes sense?). Anything to make these streets visually more inviting and more accessible to everyone would be an improvement.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 09:48:33 in reply to Comment 78672

haha... Maybe we can convince the locals to do the Euro-boulevard idea once they finally decide they want sidewalks.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 09:13:38 in reply to Comment 78663

I don't understand how you can say that. Upper James has many lights and is stop and go traffic because of it. I hate driving on Upper James because of all the slow traffic and the repetitive stopping for lights.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 14:05:13

For restaurants, you'll have to go a little farther east for now.

There's a new restaurant/deli opened last week in the former Apollo at King East & Garfield North, there's Randy's burgers at King East & Spadina, which seems popular though I found them too salty.

No Gibson NA, there were some folks who tried to start one a few years ago, but they were a little naive and their one meeting was 'hi-jacked'. I don't think they had the stomach or drive for the long term thank-less slog it takes to establish a NA and then actually keep it going. I think they hoping they'd have one meeting and then a bunch of others jump up and run the show.

Have you been to The Pearl Company yet? If not, go! You'll do better to find and support the positives in the neighbourhood vs. focusing on the negatives. The Pearl Company seems to be one of the positives, but can it have spin offs? None yet, but one can always hope.

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 07:57:23 in reply to Comment 78632

Ive been to the pearl twice. Love it. :)

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By BeulahAve (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 15:48:41 in reply to Comment 78632

What about Rankin's Restaurant? Not sure how it is after the owner retired.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 15:27:14 in reply to Comment 78632

Newman's Menswear is another place to support and the Italian restaurant across the street from them. Also, the Greek bakery and Rebel's Rock for a pint, or 2.

Zum Linzer on Main Street is also very good.

Will post more as they come to my sometimes foggy memory.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 18, 2012 at 14:25:23

If I want a blow job and a lizard, however, I'm in luck.

Is there someone in the Tourism Hamilton office paying attention? I'm pretty sure that this there is a promotional campaign here somewhere- much more specific and less likely to disappoint than "the ambitious city" or "A City of Many Communities".

I'd develop the idea further myself, but I need to finish cleaning my keyboard, which got sprayed with coffee when I read Mr. Fernandes' line above.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-06-18 14:27:17

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By BeulahAve (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 15:23:31

Hi David,

Further to the above discussion, maybe a way of getting people out to a kick-off neighbourhood meeting would be to solicit ideas for how your Councillor (sounds like you are in Ward 3, so Morelli) should spend the money he will be getting from the "area rating fund." (See article in The Spec:

http://www.thespec.com/news/local/articl...

Even if he has already spent the money for this year, it will be coming again next year. It's your tax dollars at work, and that always motivates people to give an opinion.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 18, 2012 at 15:54:08 in reply to Comment 78635

... Farr keeps being full of pleasant surprises.

$240,000 for three pedestrian-activated stop lights, at Herkimer and Caroline, John and Robert, Kelly and Ferguson ($80,000 each)

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 15:52:15 in reply to Comment 78635

Thanks for the heads up!

I have friends that just moved on to Beulah!

I'm going to ask my neighbour if she can find a flyer she purportedly received advertising a meeting for a new NA. If there's something already going on, I'll get involved. And if not, I can certainly try to pull something together...

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 17:38:04

awesome article. Thanks.

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By Sucralost (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 18:21:20

While I appreciate what recovering Torontonians see in Hamilton’s centre-east end, it is apples-to-cabbages.

Being 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 kilometres from the heart of downtown Toronto is a dynamic that is pretty hard to replicate in Hamilton. (We can do better in terms of proximity to beach/marina, but not both, as in Leslieville.) On top of that, Downtown Toronto has had a fevered real estate market for some time – 20 to 30% of the housing starts in the GTA for the last 30 years have been in the City of Toronto, which started regularly posting 10,000-start years in the late ‘90s. Hamilton’s real estate attractiveness owes to the explosion of zany Toronto price wars, and transplanted owners seem to be of the happy-to-hold ilk, which dampens the market turnover that feeds sky-high valuations. It seems as if only the moneyed and driven have stayed in Toronto. Many of the others have been defecting to the 905, even if it means commuting back into the city to work.

When real estate is hot and the marketplace is competitive, those who are active in the market tend to have financial muscle and ambition. When real estate is affordably priced and the marketplace is forgiving, investors are less obligated to make something happen right away. The small-town-big-city/big-fish-small-pond reality of Hamilton is as much of a constraint as any of the detrimental factors you’ve cited.

For years, most of Hamilton’s new development has taken place in the deep suburbs; Glanbrook is where the action is, and downtown Burlington is closer to downtown Hamilton than many new subdivisions.

Downtown Hamilton is still trying to bootstrap its way out of the 1982 recession. There is precious little new residential development happening in the lower city, and the majority of new investment in the core has come from the public purse. And the population in neighbourhoods along King and Main has eroded for a decade or more, even as other parts of the city experience robust growth and transformative investment. The climb

Toronto has a large and comparatively wealthy population accustomed to restaurant dining (for status as well as practicality, space-challenged condos lending themselves to eating out). A lot of people eating out a lot of the time. That becomes a precursor to gentrification, as conspicuous consumption and disposable income can be casually quantified. While there has certainly been a modicum of this evident on Locke or in Downtown Dundas, these cases remain somewhat isolated and their value as a restorative tonic for more a few blocks is unproven. It's certainly a stretch to say that anyone is considering building a condo because of Quatrefoil or Chuck's Burger Bar. This has historically been a very cautious and conservative developer ecosystem, and while that is changing, it is changing gradually.

I suspect that Hamilton’s variation on the “recipe for success” will be uniquely its own. As much as some yearn to make the city around them more like Toronto’s, many more ache to see it regain some of its former greatness on its own terms.

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 18:01:53 in reply to Comment 78644

Hi. I don't feel like having successful multi-use, livable streets is a Toronto-specific thing to want, and I don't think the pattern of gentrification I theorize about here is endemic to Toronto alone.

I get that some long-time/life-time Hamiltonians get their backs up when being compared to Toronto, but a lot of these things that make cities nice really do apply in any city. People want to live close to services, shops of interest and dining with streets that are safe to walk on, drive on and cycle on.

And of course it will happen in Hamilton's own way - how else could it happen?

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By Sucralost (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 23:05:13 in reply to Comment 78685

Of course having Main and King fully two-way will make them more pedestrian-friendly. It's the apparent non-sequitur about the gentrification of Toronto neighbourhoods subject to considerably different dynamics that elicit raise eyebrows, not merely the comparison to Toronto. You can cite case studies about how gentrification has proceeded in Williamsburg as well, but again, the local real estate considerations are entirely germane to the investments taking place. It is not a matter of stubborn Hamilton pride and more a matter of there being a vastly different local economy, developer culture and real estate psychology. We all understand the textbook gentrification recipe, but it's the rate of chanhe that will vary from market to market. What took 20 years to accomplish in the hothouse market boom of Canada's largest city will take slightly longer in a city whose economy and investment have been gravitating toward the outer-ring since the turn of the century. Those decisions have little to do with the scarcity or plenitude of two-way, livable, multi-use streets and everything to do with political convenience and ROI. It's certainly not that we are incapable of appreciating nice things or that we take broad exception at being compared to Toronto. That wasn't the thought I was attempting to convey.

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 09:35:54 in reply to Comment 78700

Fair enough. I mostly agree.

I don't think I said change would come swiftly or be exactly like Toronto. And I don't agree with your statement that it's apples to cabbages.

Leslieville is located in the heart of a formerly industrial area. And it's still very industrial to the south of Eastern ave. Yes, there's traditionally been more real estate pressure in Toronto.

I think one can argue that these pressures are now spilling over into Hamilton. And with a full-day GO line coming in, I think it's fair to speculate that these pressures could very well increase substantially in the near future (economic collapse or peak oil notwithstanding).

In comparing what happened to Leslieville to what could happen to east downtown Hamilton, I'm not trying to gloss over the fact that it will be different here, or take longer, or maybe even not happen at all. But as this is my own experience, where I lived and worked for 5 years, I can see similarities and I think those similarities are worth looking at.

Between where I live now and where Leslieville was 15 years ago we have:

1) Economically depressed neighbourhood 2) Close to large and shrinking industrial area 3) Minutes from the downtown of a major city 4) Clear lack of resources 5) Lack of successful, thriving main streets. 6) Tonnes of zoning issues 7) High proportion of renters

I'm not suggesting that what ever happens to the east downtown of Hamilton will be the same as Leslieville - and in fact, I'd go further to say I wouldn't want that. I don't personally care for shmancy restaurants, designer baby boutiques and 10 coffee shops per square inch. I'm suggesting there are similar forces at work. And yes, they are different too, but not so different that it doesn't warrant a closer look.

Thanks for the discussion!

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By native Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 18:08:24 in reply to Comment 78685

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By nativist (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 07:37:41 in reply to Comment 78686

Yo Hamilton, this ^ is why we can't have nice things.

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 18:16:08 in reply to Comment 78686

It cuts both ways. Most people in Toronto think Hamilton is a stinky crap hole. Ignorance is bliss.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2012 at 07:09:50 in reply to Comment 78687

My suggestion is not to feed the troll.

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By native Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 07:20:33 in reply to Comment 78708

I'd suggest you actually read whats written below to get a handle on the attitudes you are dealing with rather than labeling anyone who you disagree with a troll. The single biggest impediment to making positive change for all is the failure to understand the group you are dealing with. Its pretty simple actually. If the majority desires a different vision than yours you must first look to see how you fit in their vision and how you can get them to adapt some of your goals into their vision rather than try to force your vision on them. Thats a concept that seems to be lost on this group.

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By native Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 18:19:53 in reply to Comment 78687

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 18:29:24 in reply to Comment 78688

I'm saying that Torontonians who think stupid, untrue things about Hamilton are as ignorant as Hamiltonians who think stupid, untrue things about Toronto.

Going to Toronto for a Jay's game or Mississauga to catch a flight isn't going to give you any idea at all about Toronto.

And I happen to live here in Hamilton and I chose to do that to get away from the gridlock and the density and posturing that you hate so much. But I can still appreciate what's good about Toronto, and there's lots, and also appreciate what's good about Hamilton - and there's lots of that too. It's not either or for me.

But, you're trolling, and I'm biting, so yeah. I'll stop now. Keep hating Toronto if that floats your goat. I've got better things to do than hate a city...

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By native Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 18:45:49 in reply to Comment 78689

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 19:06:55 in reply to Comment 78690

haha. I'm anything but miserable or disappointed and I knew exactly where I was moving to. I'm not griping at all, I'm illustrating a case for why one-ways have sucked the life out of Hamilton's major streets and I'm suggesting that with a hot real estate market (like in my hood), there's some of the conditions for change - but the one-ways are what's in part stopping progress. And yes, I think a street full of thriving local business is progress.

Yes, home prices are what caught my attention, but I certainly didn't move her for cost alone. I love that my neighbours not only say hi, but want to chat. I love that strangers on the street will make eye contact. I love that I got chewed out by a Tim Horton's staff person for not answering her question, "How's it going today?" I love the hiking and cycling along the escarpment, the easy ways in and out of the city. The slower pace. The two great farmers markets. The fact that I can wear jeans a sweatshirt and no one will think it's not appropriate for a night out.

I'm not advocating that every street should have gourmet restaurants and starbucks - that's what Toronto wants. But hey, wouldn't it be nice to grab a bite somewhere nearby that isn't pizza or wings? Or a coffee that isn't Tim Hortons? I know I'm not alone. And as the neighbourhood continues to evolve, I'm hoping new businesses will pop up to serve what people need.

I see that taking a lot longer if Main and King remain freeways.

And seriously, if you want to get across town quickly, Burlington ave already is a real freeway and it's never been busy any time I've used it.

Ok, one more thing: We love cooking at home and that's another thing we appreciate about the Hammer, having the time to do that.

Cheers!

Comment edited by djfern on 2012-06-19 19:15:20

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By native Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 19:16:56 in reply to Comment 78691

BTW, try getting to Mac via Burlington and staying off Main King Wilson/York or Cannon. It can't be done from your house

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By native Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 07:22:20 in reply to Comment 78693

seriously? downvoting fact? Please advise me of an alternate route.

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 19:18:30 in reply to Comment 78693

So instead of taking 8 minutes to get to the highway, it will take 15. I can spare that time, believe me. I would trade that in a second for safe, multi-use streets.

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By native Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 19:36:14 in reply to Comment 78695

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By native Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 19:12:32 in reply to Comment 78691

Not according to the marketplace. I like pizza, wings and subs. So do most in your area apparently. I love my own coffee so that really makes no difference to me but the market says Timmy's Its a Hamilton original so thats what we have. Starbucks or small specialty coffee shops would fail almost everywhere but in the core because there is no market. Better get used to it

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 19:17:02 in reply to Comment 78692

I go to Tims every week, several times, believe me.

Let's revisit this conversation in a few years.

I don't think you know my neighbourhood very well. It's changing very quickly...

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By native Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 19:39:23 in reply to Comment 78694

Actually I do know your neighbourhood very well. Maybe you can go to the next Stadium Precinct Planning Meeting. Here's how to gewt to know your neighbourhood. https://www.facebook.com/groups/102941263108125/

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By native Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 07:23:55 in reply to Comment 78697

seriously? downvoting a recommendation to get involved in a neighbourhood initiative or community group?

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 09:37:24 in reply to Comment 78711

Well, you did sort of start off with 'go back to where you came from'... I mean, with that kind of attitude, what do you really expect?

Whether or not you intend to Troll, you are trolling.

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By native Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 10:55:17 in reply to Comment 78719

I'd expect the same from the trolls as what you have given. Objectivity when reading posts. Considering you are complaining of my behaviour that mimics those that post here, you are correct, I really don't expect anything but the hypocrisy I get

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By Sucralost (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 18:23:24 in reply to Comment 78644

Urk. Close of para five was meant to read "The climb is considerable."

Also: Good read. Thanks for sharing your passion, and keep at it.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 19:11:59

Morelli decides where the money is spent, not the people in the neighbourhoods. Welcome to "his" ward, http://www.thespec.com/print/article/722...

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By CouldaWouldaShoulda (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 19:37:55

An old friend of mine owns a very well-established business in Leslieville. I asked him about the references to the neighbourhood in the article and he responded at length...twice. Here are his thoughts (He's a Hamiltonian-who's-moved-on, so please appreciate the fact that he felt compelled to contribute; even after they leave, they still care.):

"Having worked in this neighbourhood for almost 20 years now I've seen "Leslieville" gentrify drastically
over the years. The big factor that seemed to catalyse a lot of the change was the rezoning and/or razing of the factories in the area. The Colgate factory was razed, all the garment/textile buildings became work lofts, and the Wrigley factory became a huge condo development. Virtually all the factories disappeared and this totally changed the face of the neighbourhood. Just on Boston where the houses had factories right at their front door now look out over very well designed townhouses and condo's with much of the historic character still in tact. And of course the semi's that used to sell for 180k 15 years ago are now fetching close to 800k. Once that money started moving into the hood then along came all the trimmings. However, it's still a very mixed neighbourhood. Right in the heart of Leslieville there is a medical centre that has a methadone clinic so at any given time of the day there are a number of junkies still hanging around the streets. But that's city life. It's the developers that drive the change. In a city like Toronto where a 500 sq ft condo can fetch 300k then they will look at every possible option for this kind of development. Most impressive is the distillery district. Incredible transformation. But it's all driven by big money. Downtown Hamilton is so ripe for this kind of transformation but until the big money and private interests get involved I don't think it can make the leap. Something really big has to happen. Two way streets and bike lanes are a start and the article makes some great points in that regard. But until the big money developers have grabbed every inch they can get and soaked every penny they could get out of T.O. they won't look at options in Hamilton. But I do think it will happen at some point."

"I wish I could offer more insight but from where I stand all the big changes seem to happen when a bunch of suits (MIB) show up with boat loads of money to buy up a large swath of property, spend boatloads more gentrifying, then walk away with boatloads after selling it all for insane prices in a real estate market that won't quit. In Leslieville it didn't seem community driven. It was a "build it and they will come" scenario. And really, what else was left in Downtown. The vendors came afterward. One by one starting with... you guessed it, Starbucks. But even Starbucks is now overwhelmed with an incredible amount of competition from the local roasters and brewers. It was amazing to see this neighbourhood transform from a time when after work going out to my car I never knew if my wheels would still be on the vehicle (the theft was crazy) to a a neighbourhood where I can drink coffee from a private roaster, have a workout in a spin only boutique, eat the best sushi in town, get my bread fresh baked, eat french cuisine and go to a Mac store for my tech needs (Carbon). "

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 17:56:11 in reply to Comment 78647

HI. I appreciate the contributions. Yes, there's been a lot of condo development. Although I didn't live in Leslieville for 20 years, it did seem to me that most of that condo development (Colgate excepted) is happening much more recently. And Colgate was only town homes.

Not to negate the power of Developer ad budgets to rebrand a neighbourhood, but the number of houses throughout Leslieville vastly outnumbers the number of condos.

Up until literally five and more like two years ago, there were almost no condos higher than three floors in the entire neighbourhood, now there are like five I can think of off the top of my head, and several more on the way.

So from the late nineties until now, most of the economic power for local shopping has been coming from home owners - and condo dwellers will certainly only add to it.

Basically, I don't agree with the sentiment that it's only Men in Black big money developers who drive change. I think regular folks moving in en masse to a neighbourhood are equally if not more powerful - wether it is coordinated or not.

And in the case of beating down the Walmart - that was highly coordinated and had lots of help from local councillors as well as the MP and MPP for the area (Jack Layton and Peter Tabuns. It went to the OMB (a rubber stamp for developers normally) and lost. Smart Centres appealed and they lost again. If that's not community action, I can't think of a better example...

Comment edited by djfern on 2012-06-19 18:11:32

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By lakeside (registered) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 23:08:20 in reply to Comment 78647

Another factor which helped to determine that Leslieville would become the next great thing was the fact that most of it straddles the eastern leg of the Queen Street streetcar, with the Gerard streetcar as well just to the north. As a bonus, these routes move more quickly than the legendarily slow Queen West and King West routes.

One of the first condo developers to see the potential there is actually called Streetcar Developments.

Comment edited by lakeside on 2012-06-18 23:14:45

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By CouldaWouldaShoulda (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2012 at 20:09:00

Regarding neighbourhoods and the such, a few points.

First off, as can be expected by two of the signature links, I'm a big proponent of neighbourhoods. Of promoting the sense of belonging, of 'pride-of-place', and everything that engenders. The area of the city that the author is in... Well, it's in a state of flux. I know of several movements to get more going, as well as the recent re-location of someone who could profoundly change the environs. But this is a beleaguered area with a contentious history of engagement (or the lack thereof) with the councillor...as well as some stage drama-esque goings on at the street level in terms of 'who supports whom'.

Secondly, while there is a relative dearth of practical information available from City Hall, there is an online resource, still very much in development for neighbourhoods, including NA contact info...and maps:

http://hamiltonneighbourhoodassociations.blogspot.com/2012/03/neighbourhood-maps.html

And I'll leave it at that.

http://townhallshamilton.blogspot.com/
http://hamiltonneighbourhoodassociations.blogspot.com/

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By Conrad66 (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 13:29:58

Nice article and i agreet with everry thing he said here ... but we will hafe to elect a new couseil .. i juste saw Bernie on the couseil edition on cable 14 ... and he did not look to concern to turn main and king back to 2 ways ... Hey Bernie Morellie i have voted for you last electon .. im not sure im mit next time

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 25, 2012 at 21:10:03 in reply to Comment 78678

Please, invest in some time to proofread your comments. Your spelling and grammar are atrocious and make it extremely difficult to read what you've posted, let alone make sense of it.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 14:56:54

One-way streets are definately holding Hamilton back. For the love of God can we please convert King and Main to two way traffic so the dt doesn't have to look so dead? esp at night.

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By hankypanky (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 16:09:39

Where exactly is the rub and tug? Just wondering...

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 17:47:13 in reply to Comment 78681

King west of Sherman. North side. Check Google Street View

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By Hammer head (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 16:10:32

"If I want a blow job and a lizard, however, I'm in luck."

Well, you might think so at first, but as a Hamilton "lifer" let me suggest that availing yourself of either of those seemingly attractive purchase opportunities is likely to result in an exotic, persistent, and rather nasty fungal infection that most would say was not worth it.

That said we do have more medical facilities per person here than most anywhere else, so if the 6 month wait list for the tropical disease specialist does not seem excessive then I'd say go for it. Jump in with both feet and get the full "Hammer welcome package with happy ending"! If you pay cash for the lizard they will probably throw in your first package of live meal worms for free. Try finding a deal like that in Toronto.

Shame about your car. Drive more aggressively in the future and you'll be fine. The key to surfing the Green Wave is to stay as close to the front of the pack as possible at all times, and solve all driving issues with the gas pedal, never the brake.

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By Amber Wave (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2012 at 23:51:08

The population of Ward 3, like that of Wards 1 and 5, declined by approximately 1,800 residents (around 5%) between 2001 and 2011. The extent to which street directionals has contributed to this is unclear.

Http://raisethehammer.org/blog/1159
http://raisethehammer.org/article/1541

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By Emerald Light (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 00:51:15 in reply to Comment 78703

Ward: 3
CT: 5370051
Area: 0.55
Density: 7738
2006: 4236
2011: 4236
% Change: 0

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By Emerald Light (anonymous) | Posted June 22, 2012 at 07:12:28 in reply to Comment 78704

I neglected to explain that 5370051 is Gibson.

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By Strawberry Rash (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 06:55:37 in reply to Comment 78704

Ward: 3
CT: 5370051
Area: 0.55
2001: 4626
2006: 4236
2001-2006 population change: -8.4%

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By djfern (registered) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 09:38:14 in reply to Comment 78706

Any thoughts as to why?

Is it rental homes being converted to single-family?

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By Strawberrt Rash (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 11:25:21 in reply to Comment 78720

As of that tally (2005), roughly two-thirds of the residences in Census Tract 5370051 were rentals, and two-thirds of the private dwellings were apartments:

http://goo.gl/ZSFLP

I'm not sure how much this is reflective of the ward-wide reality or what kind of buildings have served as what kind of residences, so any thoughts on the impact of conversions since that time would be guesswork.

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By native Hamiltonian (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 10:52:21 in reply to Comment 78720

The reasons for low to negative growth in the lower city have much to do with the aging population and the fact that most young people with families who have the means to do so choose to live outside Wards 2 and 3. The closings of all area high schools certainly adds to this downward spiral of economically mobile families. The suburbs are growing while the urban core is stagnate. The other reason ward 3 in particular is not growing but remaining stagnate or witnessing a reduction in population is that the ward is already fully developed and redevelopment is not really wanted through the more desirable south side while the north side is home to the city's poorest. Where are developers going to find a desirable location to redevelop? It is true some illegal multifamily dwellings are being converted back to single family dwellings and that the proliferation of multifamily dwellings has been slowed by by law enforcement, denial of permits etc, but I would not characterize that as significant.

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By non native (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2012 at 10:11:25 in reply to Comment 78723

Congratulations "native Hamiltonian" on the classic phoned-in opinion that projects your prejudice to the world and reminds the rest of us why Hamilton is stuck making the same mistakes over and over again.

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By Lex (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2012 at 09:57:01 in reply to Comment 78723

sig·nif·i·cant
Adjective
Having a particular meaning; indicative of something.

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By Strawberry Rash (anonymous) | Posted June 21, 2012 at 08:48:49 in reply to Comment 78723

Ward: 3
CT: 5370051

INCOMES
Median income in 2005 - all private households: $25,222 (Hamilton CMA: $51,936, Ontario: $52,117)

Median income - Persons 15 years and over ($): 17,292 (Hamilton CMA: 28,416, Ontario: 27,258)
Median income after tax - Persons 15 years and over ($): 16,737 (Hamilton CMA: 25,423, Ontario: 24,604)
Government transfers - As a % of total income: 27.9 (Hamilton CMA:10.5, Ontario: 9.8)
% in low income before tax - All persons: 49.6 (Hamilton CMA:15.7, Ontario: 14.7)
% in low income after tax - All persons: 42.0 (Hamilton CMA:12.1, Ontario: 11.1)

EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT
25-64 population in 2005: 2,015
705 of whom had completed some form of post-secondary education
690 of whom had never completed high school

http://goo.gl/sI1Gc

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By hankypanky (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 08:50:05

West of Sherman? Are you sure it's on the north side? Can't quite see it...

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By Cleveland Steamer (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2012 at 18:04:07 in reply to Comment 78716

King Sherman Sauna: "We Treat You Royally"

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By Popper (anonymous) | Posted June 22, 2012 at 13:08:19

As a home owner in the area (Arthur Ave N) I can say that this neighbourhood is struggling. I do know there are plans in the works to try to improve many of the run down areas of the city to make them more walkable and encouraging to businesses.

Check out the ideas from the City of Hamilton Planning & Economic Development
http://www.hamilton.ca/CityDepartments/PlanningEcDev/Divisions/StrategicServicesSpecialProjects/Planning+for+Nodes+and+Corridors.htm

Lots of good information here. It ll be nice to see if they actually move forward. I also noticed in the plans to replace to prostitute infested motel on the corner of Sanford and King. That would be nice.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted July 05, 2012 at 10:03:45

Interesting statement by Morelli in a CBC article by Paul Wilson today.

"There are still some hurdles to overcome," Morelli says. One is that the developers want Victoria Avenue made two-way again. The councillor thinks that might be doable.

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