Parents may be enticed by a slogan, but until the City and the Jobs Prosperity Collaborative substantially improve the regional employment market, they will be disappointed by reality.
By Keanin Loomis
Published January 28, 2010
The City of Hamilton strives to be the best place in Canada to raise a child. The Jobs Prosperity Collaborative was apparently so inspired that it adopted the same vision. It is a laudable effort, and this goal resonates with me as a parent of two young children looking for a community in which to put down roots. (Wouldn't it be irresponsible to settle my family in the second-best - or worse - place to raise a child?)
It takes effort to penetrate Hamilton's dismal image and discover that it really is a fine place to live and has many assets that appeal to parents (or anyone else, for that matter).
Based on what I've experienced and the people I have met, I don't need much convincing that Hamilton would be a great place to raise my family, which is not immediately apparent to anyone who hasn't spent some time here (or even many who have).
It's necessary to mobilize an effort around this vision and promote Hamilton's many appealing assets. But from my perspective, to be the best place to raise a child, you must have three things: jobs, jobs and jobs. And they must be quality jobs.
Richard Florida posits that the creative class evaluates where to live first and then searches for employment. If that's true, my experience, albeit anecdotal, is that it is difficult for professionals to choose to settle in Hamilton. I assume that the same goes for any other person, regardless of level of education.
So far, my wife and I have been here five months and, given our qualifications and efforts, our quest to settle in Hamilton has been much more difficult than it should be. I have met many other talented people in similar predicaments.
As such, the City and the JPC have yet to prove to me that Hamilton is the best place to raise my children.
Over the last few months, I have learned a lot about Hamilton's history and its present. I know that there are significant structural obstacles and decades of economic decline to surmount, as Hamilton's Rust Belt cousins can attest.
I also know that there are significant resources invested and scores of people devoted to the effort of creating jobs in this city.
Hamilton's current political and economic leadership, in an effort to bring progress, have developed lofty goals and generated great visions of a transformed city that will be even more enticing to families. Thus, they have created a yardstick against which they must be measured.
As a lawyer (and a concerned citizen), I like to be presented with evidence that the considerable human effort and taxpayer dollars are not being wasted. Maybe it is too soon, but thus far, the only successes the JPC can tout are working groups and that it presented Hamilton with one remarkable speaker (I was there and he was remarkable).
I can't find any claims of success from the City, which would make sense if there are none to make.
I'm sure that as they emptied City Hall for renovations, mounds of dusty ten-year plans, consultant reports and other grand designs from decades past were found in a dark corner.
For some reason or another, the goals went unfulfilled, elected officials invented excuses and citizens shrugged (or moved).
But today, as politicians and business leaders in this city draw inspiration from and repeatedly invoke the successes of other cities like Pittsburgh, Edinburgh, Austin, Seattle, Portland, et al., they are acknowledging that there are proven formulas for urban renewal.
Leaders in those cities succeeded in creating vibrant communities and a thriving job market. That is the statistic against which the political and economic leaders of Hamilton ought to be held accountable.
It is fair to say that though Hamilton has seen better days, it has also seen worse. Almost every person I've met in this city, from the homeless to the Mayor, believes that Hamilton is on the cusp of revival. With its assets and attributes, if Hamilton continues to languish it will clearly be due to a failure of leadership.
Thus, the citizens of Hamilton must demand results and refuse to listen to excuses. If the JPC fails to prove that it is more than just an opportunity for the privileged to gather for cocktails and hors d'ouvres, I assume it will lose credibility and relevance.
To the extent that our elected officials are failing us, the October 2010 elections (and all subsequent ones) should be their moment of accountability.
In the meantime, my family and many other talented people will continue to try to make Hamilton their home.
Just last week, however, my wife asked me if we have a Plan B. It is something we are starting to formulate.
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