By Ryan McGreal
Published May 08, 2008
Hamilton has always been a "live and don't learn" kind of place. There's a prevailing sentiment in this city that we shouldn't aim high, because it won't work, or we're not big enough, or we're not urban enough, or we're just a bedroom community, or we're just going to screw it up anyway.
So it was a breath of fresh air, last week, to read the Spectator's report on the economic summit sponsorred by the Chamber of Commerce, which featured keynote speaker Richard Florida, author of Who's Your City? and the already-seminal Rise of the Creative Class.
As the Spectator's Meredith MacLeod summarized:
Florida cautions that Hamilton can still make mistakes on the road to economic prosperity, pointing to tearing down old buildings, failing to focus on innovation and research collaborations and allowing what he calls the old-style thinking of "squelchers" to stand in the way.
He says cities must attract and nurture creative talent by fostering a culture of inclusion, openness and civic engagement, capitalizing on their natural landscapes and preserving and celebrating their history.
Of course, the aptly-named "squelchers" are never far off. A breaking news article from last night, carried in today's paper, reports that the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) has applied for a demolition permit for another building on the Lister Block, on King William just a couple of doors down from the recently demolished Balfour Building.
So much for not "tearing down old buildings". In Hamilton, we look at our rich urban tapestry of heritage buildings and see not an opportunity to be developed, but an "eyesore" to be demolished.
Then, in the letters page, recently-transplanted Toronto property developer Harry Stinson lamented the reception he has received from some quarters for his plan to revitalize the Royal Connaught in an ambitious new mixed use project.
Writing about the economic summit, he observes:
I attended this conference and felt encouraged. The next morning, the day on which we were all supposed to go forth and be positive, I opened The Spectator and found a snarky editorial cartoon portraying me as an evil snake oil salesman.
Whether it is ironic or just puts the reality into focus, The Spectator was a sponsor of the summit. May I suggest the emperor has no clothes.
Since moving here, my family and I have generally been impressed with the spirit and warmth of the people of Hamilton. The one sour note has been the mean-spirited, superficial, personal ridiculing of The Spectator's editorial cartoons.
The "squelchers" have struck again. How dare some upstart developer from Toronto come to Hamilton and shame the local industry, which only seems to know how to build suburban single family houses and big box plazas!
In true Hamilton style, we mock his optimism and sneer at his ambition.
It's no wonder we're still suck in the 1950s while more ambitious cities pull ahead of us and put us to shame.