We've forgotten our true identity, which was to be always on the cusp of growth and technology. We have a chance to reclaim that if we can just get rid of the knee-jerk reaction to progress and evolution/innovation.
By Lee Edward McIlmoyle
Published October 20, 2014
It staggers me that the concept of fully-funded inner city transportation should even be up for debate.
I've lived in Hamilton my whole life. I remember back when HSR bus service was still considered enviable and viable for everyone.
I could be wrong, because these are anecdotal points, but our streets seemed quieter, our students happier and our attitude towards car culture didn't seem as ingrained as it is today - and this was back in the day when every guy on my block was outside tuning his Charger or applying Bondo to his Mustang.
It's a weird irony that, in an age when cars aren't as mythologized as they were when I was growing up, our attitude toward getting out of them and walking, cycling or riding public transit is seen as an almost unnecessary necessary evil.
I know I'm short on original ideas on this, but I think what we need is a comprehensive re-education program to teach everyone why complete streets and light rail transit (LRT) aren't just some fantasy dreamed up by inner city intelligentsia to take away their easy 'commute'.
It could be a combination of posters, brochures and short videos, using smart infographics and simple animations with voiceovers to help show everyone how the changes aren't that radical, aren't just pie-in-the-sky thinking, and could really revitalize not just the downtown core, but the entire east/west route through Wards 1 through 5 (for starters) if only we'd wrap our brains around the benefits of a comprehensive, efficient, comfortable public transit system.
One of the key points that has to be addressed is this prevalent attitude towards the downtown core. The outer boroughs seem to think they can function just fine without one, failing of course to realize the long-term effects of a rotting inner city.
Blaming amalgamation for the higher taxes and refusing to cope with the reality of our city solves nothing. We can't turn back the clock, and if we really look at the sequence of events, we'll see that there's no point in trying.
It's not possible to undo all of the things that have been done to us and still take care of the myriad problems we currently have. The damage is done. Time to move forward for a change.
And I agree with McMaster researcher Chris Higgins et al. about LRT not being a silver bullet investment. It shouldn't be. Silver Bullets and White Knights are faerie tales, and we really need to get our heads out of the Disney books and start looking at what makes modern cities flourish, including macro and micro economies and organic growth.
I'm tired of the way Hamilton loves to put all of its eggs in one basket. It's that thinking that got us tied to the steel mills and the juggernaut industrial sector and high index pollution and a worn out inner city in the first place.
We have a chance to move past that era now, to get started on building a new city, with a new identity, new relationships, and new economy, but we can't do any of it if we keep looking over our shoulders fondly at a misunderstood, bygone era that will never truly return again. The global economy won't allow it.
The funny thing is: too many people, certain election candidates included, think that Hamilton, is, was and always will be an industrial city first and foremost. But we got that way after decades of being other things.
Study your Hamilton history and you'll find we were once the centre of court justice in Southern Ontario, and then the transit and electricity capital of the region, and a bustling near-metropolis of trade and consumerism, as well as a thriving manufacturing city.
That changed slowly, and part of the problem is that we spent too long bowing at the twin altars of steel and the automotive industry.
We've forgotten our true identity, which was to be always on the cusp of growth and technology. We have a chance to reclaim that, and to make our city all these pleasing platitudes we've heaped upon ourselves recently, if we can just get rid of this knee-jerk reaction to progress and evolution/innovation.
Heck, LRT isn't even reinventing the wheel: It works almost everywhere it's been implemented when it's done right (which we need to consider carefully ourselves).
LRT, two-way Conversion, complete streets, tax incentives and reduced red tape for small business operators - and yes, Brad, fixing our roads and sidewalks - these things can and will all contribute to the revitalization of our city as a whole.
No one is going to come to Stoney Creek Mountain or even Ancaster for a day trip if the majority of the City of Hamilton is dessicated by willful neglect. But if you fix up the heart of the city, all of the city's attractions will become more accessible and desirable attractions for everyone.
This is how other cities function and thrive. Just insisting that it has to be a Hamilton-made solution isn't going to get anything done. Of course it will be a Hamilton-made solution. Only we can make it.
And only we can stop it stone dead. Choose.
Saying no to LRT isn't an option. We need it, and we're paying for it whether we want to or not. And no, LRT alone won't save us, but then, nothing and no one else will, either.
We need to get it together as a city and reclaim our status as innovators and community builders. We need to unlearn old prejudices and learn what it takes to make a city thrive in a recessed, diversified economy.
And we really need to stop listening to talking heads that feed into our fear, angst and reflexive dread of encouraging and being seen as anything other than blue collar shmoes. Historically, we have been - and could still be - so much more.
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