Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger just made a presentation to the Public Works Committee recommending that the city look at pedestrianizing Gore Park:
We need to create a truly unique environment that has a clear identity that citizens can understand and relate to. For downtown Hamilton, that identity historically has been Gore Park. The Gore was a popular social gathering place, a hub of retail and commerce. We need to re-establish the Gore as a hub once again. A place where all citizens will point with pride when they think of downtown.
I would like for us to consider the idea of pedestrianizing the Gore - closing it off to through traffic and creating a public plaza. [emphasis added]
Citing successes in other cities - Ottawa's Sparks Street, Regina's Scarth Street Mall, Montreal's Prince Arthur Street, and the city of Debrecen, Hungary - the Mayor argued that a similar initiative in Hamilton would attract new development and increase property values by creating a more lively, people place in the heart of the city.
Eisenberger noted further that the presence of Gore Park in our core gives Hamilton a unique opportunity to create a real civic plaza with an existing space, and that growing awareness of the need to reduce automobile dependence, the plan to move the Gore bus terminal to another location, and the planned rapid transit initiative all align toward reclaiming the core for people, not cars.
(He even noted that one rationale for building the Red Hill Expressway was to reduce traffic through the core.)
It's exciting to hear a Hamilton mayor expressing a hopeful vision for the downtown that is based in lessons from other cities, not outmoded planning dogma. However, to be realized, this plan will require acceptance from the Public Works department, which has traditionally placed ease of driving above other priorities.
It will also require buy-in from the Downtown BIA, which in the past has pinned too many of its hopes on making it easier to drive downtown.
Most hopeful is the fact that the Mayor seems to understand that transforming the downtown core will require transforming our understanding of what makes cities work:
Downtown renewal efforts have had a measure of success, but we require a rethinking of how we approach downtown - its strengths and potential, if we are to take renewal to the next level.
This initiative suggests that the mayor regards transformation as a real goal, not just empty rhetoric. We'll be sure to follow this story to see how it develops.