Editorial

First Principles

If we understand how healthy cities work, the citizens of Hamilton can revitalize our wonderful city.

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 16, 2005

Here's a list of the core principles that we believe govern urban life. By understanding and applying these principles, the citizens of Hamilton can revitalize our wonderful city. These principles aren't in any particular order.

  1. Cities are not suburbs, towns, or villages. The great benefit of cities is their complexity, diversity, variety, anonymity, and privacy.

  2. The normal comings and goings of various individuals in the city generate neighbourhoods, local nodes, and distinct characters. This complex process cannot be duplicated in the laboratory or manufactured.

  3. When a city tries to deny its true nature as a dense, complex urban ecosystem by micromanaging, regulating, and separating its various functions, it begins to kill itself. "Rationalizing" the city is like clearcutting a rainforest to plant wheat. After a few years, everything starts blowing away.

  4. The downtown core is the heart of the city. Without a healthy core, the city as a whole cannot function.

  5. The public life of the city is in its streets, or it's nowhere.

  6. Public policies (tax and regulatory) should not subsidize sprawl or car-based transportation. If people had to pay the real price of living in the suburbs, fewer people would do so.

  7. When a city tries to let everyone drive everywhere, it begins to turn into a massive suburb, with roads and parking crowding everything else out.

  8. The built environment should support a vibrant street life: wide sidewalks, street walls, street-level businesses, and mixed uses.

  9. Regulations should be as simple as possible, and they should encourage open, diverse, creative development within a coherent framework that supports street life.

  10. To encourage good streets: build to the sidewalk, make buildings compatible with their neighbours, open directly onto the street, let owners decide how to use their buildings, and never put parking between the sidewalk and the door.

  11. Buildings should face out, not in. Plazas, parks, and atria are insincere attempts to transform city blocks into pastoral theme parks. They also display a contempt for the fabric of city life that make them immediately suspect.

  12. Streets are for everyone, not just drivers. Two way streets, lower speed limits, and market priced curbside parking can slow the cars, make it easier for cyclists to share the road, and make sidewalks safer and more relaxing for pedestrians.

  13. One way streets are de facto expressways right through the city. No one wants to walk, stand, or sit next to an expressway.

  14. It looks very much like cheap energy is soon going to be a thing of the past. Our transportation infrastructure should reflect this fact, emphasizing and promoting the least energy-intensive ways of getting around.

  15. Developments that are small-scale, localized, and idiosyncratic are better than developments that are large-scale, centralized, and dull.

  16. Everyone deserves a decent place to live, and dreary housing projects, decaying ghettoes, and park benches do not qualify.

  17. Mixed housing is a good way to avoid both ghettoes and quasi-gated communities.

  18. Public mega-projects are almost always a bad idea, costing too much and delivering too little. They demolish neighbourhoods to bolster politicians' egos.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Several of his essays have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. Ryan also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on twitter.

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By grahamia (registered) - website | Posted August 14, 2006 at 15:45:05

I agree with the principles, but would like to see what relocalization movement has to contribute. see for example Folke Gunther's work from Sweden on ruralization. see RURALISATION A POSSIBLE WAY TO ALLEVIATE OUR CURRENT VULNERABILITY PROBLEMS Folke G√ľnther Holon Ecosystem Consultant Kollegiev√§gen 19 224 73 Lund S URL: http://www.holon.se/folke/ E-mail: folke@holon.se

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By Say WHAAAA?!?!? (anonymous) | Posted October 30, 2008 at 03:20:30

Ryan McGreedy, who died and made you Karl Marx?!?!

Where is personal responsibility and personal choice in your equation? Roads ARE made for cars. When you are 18 you are an adult. You are responsible to support yourself, your family and to not be a burden on society.

I particularly find #16 offensive. I dont make much $$$$ but it is NOT a RIGHT to have free housing. If you cant afford your housing then dont have kids, budget yourself, get a second job and, if necessary, get more education. As globalization occurs there is going to be a massive shift in wealth away from the North America and Europe to 5 billion other people. People who the US and Europe have been providing aid to for decades and who ppl who responded in kind by pumping out 7 kids per woman. More mouths to feed! More potential criminals to destabilize societies. Wonderful. At a certain point you need to stop feeding the pigeons or you are going to get covered in guano.

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By pamellamma (anonymous) | Posted June 05, 2011 at 20:29:47 in reply to Comment 27095

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

- Love, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights <3

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By Anonymous (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2008 at 14:27:43

Some of these points are great, while others are guaranteed to cause decay. I don't say that with passion, but with observation.

4. While we love to hold onto this concept, I am afraid it is an outdated one. The reasons why downtown has decayed over time are complicated and myriad, but I believe our lower city suffers because we have separated it as such. True, downtown holds its own life and distinct properties, but all the negative properties of downtown are distinctly associated with it because we have failed to do anything but call it "downtown" in idea and mind. To bring new life to downtown we must treat it as we treat the other prosperous Hamilton neighbourhoods -- with a new attitude. This old attitude of "being the heart" is a reasoning for its decay. Downtown must stand its own feet, so to speak, as the rest of the city does.

6. Strongly agree.

16. Involving a mandated living wage would cause more harm than good. Businesses are to carry the highest tax load, so that individuals can afford to live with lower property taxes and higher quality of life. Mandatory regulations of wages in Hamilton would cause a double-take on any business that were considering Hamilton as a destination. It could also cause eventual job loss and incur even more damage as those who are effected could end up accepting social services which creates even more burden on the city.

Most other points are A+ material.

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By Glenn (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2009 at 13:40:45

Mr. Ryan,
This is my first time reviewing your site.

Find it interesting that you seem to view those of us who have chosen a lifestyle different from your own as woefully lacking in accounting abilities, and or more.

My choice was to live where I live, my choice was to run businesses and hire people and pay taxes accordingly.
No time in my past life was I not cognisant of my chosen path and the requirement to pay possibly more taxes or not know that it would cost more for what I had chosen to do.

To state that fewer people would live in an urban suburban or rural envoirnment because as you intimate they have less intuitive skills than you is offensive.

Sincerely,

Glenn

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 15, 2009 at 14:37:01

Glenn,

Thank you for your comment. I think you misunderstand me: I'm not suggesting that people live in suburban areas because they somehow lack intuitive skills.

Rather, I'm suggesting that subsidizing suburban, car-dependent living through a variety of means - including fully-funded "free" roads and highways, "free" parking requirements, low-density single-use zoning, externalized costs of driving including pollution and health effects, subsidies for the oil industry, and so on - has created a demand for suburban living that is far higher than it would be if people had to pay the full costs of their choices.

In fact, it's only sensible that more people choose to live in car-dependent communities when the cost of owning and operating a car is subsidized. It's hardly insulting to suggest that someone would take advantage of a huge price incentive.

However, these structural subsidies have produced a living arrangement that is simply not sustainable. I'm not opposed to spending public money to incentivize desirable activities, but I must oppose spending that money on activities that are harmful - that destroy farmland, that consume non-renewable energy, that produce air pollution and greenhouse gases, and so on - especially when better alternatives exist and are in working display in cities all around the world.

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted January 20, 2009 at 17:54:05

Say Whaaaa?:

Roads are not just for cars. If you look into the history of North American cities, you'll find that paved roads first came into being as a result of the demand for bicycle use.

And contrary to popular misconception, drivers do not pay for roads. Municipal roads are payed for out of property taxes, which people pay even if they don't own a car.

I use a bicycle year-round as my primary mode of transportation. So if you ask me to pay for your roads and then expect me not to use them, aren't you kind of recieving social assistance from me?

And then you have the nerve to criticise subsidized housing. So much for personal responsibility.

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By I'm a HAMILTONIAN (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2010 at 13:01:15

I am 27. The first 13 years of my life were spent in the North End: James and Strachen Streets. The rest Central Hamilton. I now spend only six months a year at home the rest in England...Oxford to be exact.I have a longing for the working class, not so perfect, loud,one way streets of Hamilton while I am away and, from the infistructure, policy, and general opinion of some people in many of the Engligh and Europian cities I work and live in Hamilton is not that dissimilar. Our city is consintrated yes our downtown core for the last 20 years has been a hang out for kids and "undesireables", yes One way streets have been the norm for over fifty years. Ryan please go to work, love your partner, spend time with your friends and generally have a wonderful life! But when you get home from work today please shut down this website it is founded on pretentious elietest lefty morrals that as "nice" as they may sound, WHO CARES ABOUT A CURBSIDE RAMP AT KING AND FURGASON!

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By loveforever (registered) | Posted August 05, 2010 at 14:32:38

Picture going to a Cats game, or perhaps an MLS game or even a festival at a stadium where you can enjoy the waterfront atmosphere before during and after the event! Let's draw people down to our waterfront, and our downtown.

If we drop the ball here, and don't seize this great opportunity, generations of Hamiltonians will lose out. A healthy downtown, with an exciting waterfront accessible for everyone, is a recipe for Civic prosperity. Ask the people of Pittsburgh (a former steeltown like Hamilton) how proud they are of their waterfront (and waterfront Stadium).

STAND UP HAMILTON... FIGHT FOR THE WEST HARBOUR LOCATION!!

SEE YOU AUGUST 7th in HESS VILLAGE!!!!!

Posted by UrbanRenaissance


YES ! BY FREQUENTLY GOING TO THE BAYFRONT PARK, HAMILTON HARBOUR ...FOR ENJOYING THE WALKS, TAKING MY KIDS TO PLAY AT THE PLAYGROUNDS, TAKING THE SHIP TRIP AROUND THE HAMILTON BAY ... I ENVISION THE SAME GREAT THING FOR OUR CITY, OUR HAMILTONIANS AND OUR GENERATIONS WILL BE BENEFIT A LOT WITH THE WEST HARBOUR DEVELOPMENTS: WE CAN BUILD AN AMPHI-THEATRE, SPORT STADIUM, CONDO, CASINO, HOTELS ...

BOB YOUNG AND HIS TIGER-CAT TEAM CAN JUST STAY AT THE IVORY STADIUM/ OR MOVE OUT FROM HAMILTON IF THEY ARE SELFISH ENOUGHT BY ONLY CARING FOR THEIR BUSINESS DOLLARS ! DO NOT THREADTEN HAMILTONIANS BY MOVING TO ...SOMEWHERE (???) POOR PEOPLE (KIDS) CAN NOT AFFORD TO GO TO THE EAST MOUNTAIN TO PARTICIPATE IN SPORTS.

I THINK PEOPLE NEVER BEEN TO THE WEST HARBOUR HAS NO IDEA HOW GREAT POTENTIAL IT HAS FOR OUR CITY !!!

PLEASE SHOW YOUR LOVE AND SUPPORT FOR OUR YOUNGER GENERATIONS !

HAMILTONIANS NEED TO STAND UP ... AND FIGHT FOR THE WEST HARBOUR LOCATION!! CITY COUNCILLOR: DO NOT WASTE OUR TAX DOLLARS !!!

Comment edited by loveforever on 2010-08-05 13:33:17

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By loveforever (registered) | Posted August 06, 2010 at 13:53:04

I urge who are the one supporting the Tiger-Cat games for so many years, if you support the West Harbour for our city's, our Hamiltonians long-term developments, please boycott their game tomorrow to come to support the Rally for the West Harbour stadium at Hess Village !

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By Functionalist (anonymous) | Posted August 11, 2010 at 01:39:33

I'm from Toronto and I'm proud to see you, fellow urban Ontarians, standing up for your city instead of letting the will of drivers in low density suburbs erode it. I love how these principles are almost paraphrasing key points of the late Jane Jacobs' great text, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which is still as relevant today as it ever was.

Keep up the good work. I hope that Hamilton can experience a renaissance and that our cities will be better connected with electrified all-day GO services in the future.

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By Creeker (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2010 at 13:26:04

Just out of curiosity:

1. How much does Hamilton get every year from the gas tax redistribution?
2. How much does Hamilton spend on roads every year?

I'd like to know just how much our roads are being subsidized (or not) by the non-drivers.

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By mb (registered) | Posted January 15, 2011 at 15:41:20

Wow. Great Principles. Hopefully one day, we can all adhere to these principles.

Now, my wife and I are going to take one of our two gas-guzzling trucks, and drive from our home on the mountain, out to the big Wal-Mart store on Rymal Road.

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By mb (registered) | Posted January 19, 2011 at 21:51:14

My principles:

  1. Raise the Hammer does not get to define what a city is.

  2. As long as there are Wal-Marts, Zellers, Best Buys, Future Shops, Cineplex Odeon Superplexes, megamalls, and Canadian Tires, you will not stop urban sprawl.

3.As long as people have children, you will not stop urban sprawl. The majority of people do not want to raise their children downtown.

4.While cars can be damaging to the environment, they serve a purpose, and people should not feel bad for owning a car. Streets are made for cars. Sidewalks are made for pedestrians.

5.Big business, contrary to popular belief, is not evil. Big cities, like Hamilton, will grow and thrive because of big business.

6.Art is not the new steel. Technology and medicine are Hamilton's future. Unless you live in Paris, France, your city will not thrive on art.

7.I agree that two way streets are better than one-way streets.

Comment edited by mb on 2011-01-19 21:54:30

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By hammy (registered) | Posted January 20, 2011 at 08:31:29

Good read MB.

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By mb (registered) | Posted January 20, 2011 at 20:36:03

Thanks, Hammy. I think we're the minority here.

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