I'm writing out of fear that, if they put a casino in our core, all the jokes and comments that people make about our beautiful city will come true.
By Lauren E
Published February 08, 2013
I did not grow up in Hamilton. I used to drive through on occasion to visit my Aunt and Uncle and would often remark on the smell of sulfur and the smoke stacks that seemed to belch huge clouds into an otherwise clear sky. I thought it was a dirty city, an unambitious city. I called it "Hammer Town" and snickered like everyone else I grew up with.
Then I moved here two years ago and I fell in love with every nook and cranny of it. From Locke Street to Barton Street, from Westdale to Ottawa Street, I love it all. But above all things, I fell in love with the core.
Everyday I'm both humbled and enchanted by the people, artists and businesses I encounter downtown. The passion and the ambition and the desire to make Hamilton the best place is can be. I'm astounded at the encouragement and support that is handed out freely and happily to anyone that wants to be a part of making that happen.
The people of this city seem to look past exteriors and into the depths of possibility, into a future they want to create. They look at a dilapidated building and instead see a dream waiting to come to life.
Then they do the most important thing of all: they take action.
This is what makes the crucial difference. Hamiltonians take action and turn a possibility into an opportunity and then they make that opportunity a reality. Maybe it's the strong sense of community that drives us, that makes us feel like we cannot fail with so many behind us.
Maybe it's because it's so affordable and you truly feel like you can take a chance on yourself and not lose everything. Maybe it's both of those things. But I think the real reason is because it's time.
It's Hamilton's time to shine and to grow and to do so organically. If it's built on the dreams and with the hands of the people that are committed to the betterment of themselves and their city, it will blossom beyond any of our wildest dreams.
There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come
— Victor Hugo.
PJ Mercanti used that same paraphrase, except he was referring to the potential opening of a downtown Casino. Unfortunately the idea whose time has come is not his idea. It's ours.
Hamiltonian's don't only see past the exteriors of decrepit buildings, they also see through the veneer of flashy sales pitches. We see through catchphrases and we see through patchy statistics. We know what it takes to make our downtown great because we're doing it. Every day we work towards a better Hamilton.
We strive to create a more liveable and enjoyable core. A place to walk your dog, to take your kids, to ride your bike, to have a coffee, to buy something fresh, to smile at someone you know, to be a part of your community.
Not to put money in a slot machine. Not to eat at the Hard Rock Café.
We won't only take action to create a better city, but we will also take action to protect it, and protect it fiercely.
Do I think casinos are evil? No. Do I think the idea is bad? No.
But do I think it belongs downtown? No.
Speaking as someone who is looking to both open a business and buy a home in the core, I am completely honest when I say that I would do neither if a casino was to open there. It has no appeal to me as a home owner, business owner or potential customer.
And I'm sure there are others just like me who feel the same. The city needs to be cautious about any decisions they make that could in any way discourage organic and sustainable growth in our core.
Because without it, where would we be? Without the change created by these small and mighty Hamiltonians, our downtown would be nothing but a shadow of what it has become today, what it is working feverishly to become tomorrow.
Don't scare them away.
I've taken day trips to Niagara. I've never walked their strip and eaten at a quaint local restaurant or shopped in a sweet little boutique.
Because I couldn't find any.
It's fast food and currency exchange and gift shops and tattoo parlors. You don't go to the Niagara Falls strip for the arts and culture, you go for the flash and gimmick. To eat at Copacabana, to visit Ripley's Believe It Or Not, to ride the giant Ferris wheel. To me, it's always felt like a caricature, a carnival.
I don't want that for my city.
I'm writing out of fear that, if they put a casino in our core, all the jokes and comments that people make about our beautiful city will come true. I'm afraid that we will become the image that we've fought so hard to rise above.
I'm writing out of fear that those who can afford it least will lose the most. I've been to Vegas, I've won on slots, I know how it feels to see all that money come from nowhere and that little voice in my head that said "just keep playing, you could win so much more".
I've had drinks handed to me in an effort to keep me playing, to stop me from walking away from a table. It was terrifying and it was the last time I ever went to a casino.
Sometimes I go to the A&W on King Street and every so often I see a homeless man emptying his cup on the table and counting his change to see if he has enough to afford a meal. My fear is that one day those coins could end up going into a slot machine.
Will the Hard Rock Café buy him dinner when he loses the money he was supposed to spend on food?
I always tell people to come to Hamilton, come downtown, see the changes, see the growth and experience it for themselves because I'm so full of pride. If there was a casino here, I don't think I would make the same invitation. I can't envision a downtown casino that would make me proud.
I shop in Jackson Square, I get my smoothies on James North, I eat Vietnamese food on Cannon once a week, I buy vinyl at Dr. Disc, I walk to the Farmers Market, I sit in the stands at Copps, I pace up and down the street during Art Crawl.
I may have only been here a short while, but this is my city too.
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