Downtown Bureau

Best and Worst of Summer 2005

Jason Leach runs down the ten best and ten worst aspects of Hamilton this summer.

By Jason Leach
Published August 22, 2005

The hottest summer on record brought more than its share of smog days, premature deaths, record electricity consumption and plenty of interesting tidbits around the city. Here is my top ten list for your pleasure (in no particular order).

Top Ten Favourites from the Summer

1. Hamilton Mardi-Gras Carnival festival and Parade

This is, without a doubt, the best parade in the city each year. The weather this year was perfect, the music was hot, and the crowds showed up for the new parade route along James St North.

Why we ever used Bay Street for a parade was beyond me. While standing at the side of the street, my wife and I pumped a modest four dollars into nearby businesses for two African pops at Rama Tropical Food Market and a huge five-meat sandwich at Bonanza Bakery. Hey, we were stuffed for four bucks!

2. Autorickshaw at the AGH sculpture garden

My wife and I enjoyed the amazing sounds of this Indo-jazz group. There was standing room only at the AGH and we truly got to appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of this venue. Kudos to the folks at AGH.

3. Staybridge Suites Hotel

Hamilton's newest downtown hotel opened on Caroline St North and is a beauty. Darko Vranich, the developer, has also been reported to have bought most of the HMP site at Main and Bay, the old federal building next door, and the sisters of St. Joseph's building at King and Queen.

I hope that a loft or office conversion plan is in the works for the St. Joe's building. Demolition or surface parking at King and Queen should not be an option.

4. Bikes, Bikes, Bikes

Even with streets designed for the exclusive use of speeding cars and dangerous high speed transport trucks using our core neighbourhoods as a shortcut (someone will die from a truck flip or accident one of these days, and Council may find themselves in court after being warned tirelessly about this real danger), there were way more bikes on Hamilton's streets this summer.

Let's hope with the rising gas prices now and in the future that more people will get out of their metal machines and add their voice to the growing number of people desperate to see sustainable development in Hamilton.

5. Galleries Everywhere!

James North is now home to seven new galleries and art venues. The Imperial Cotton Centre held some very successful events, as did the Kensington Gallery in the east end. Bravo to all involved. Hamilton is becoming a richer city for your hard work and vision.

6. Sky Dragon Centre

The Sky Dragon Centre has bought a building on King William and will develop their community centre with green technology, organic coffee, and a market, along with art classes and studio space. If city council won't "go green", then these guys will.

7. Urbanicity

Urbanicity, Hamilton's newest magazine, had their first issue launched and the feedback has been tremendous. Congrats to Reg Beaudry and his team. We look forward to future issues.

8. Hamilton Eat Local Project

Started up by Environment Hamilton, the Hamilton Eat Local Project (HELP) aims to bring local growers and consumers together by raising the profile of locally grown food so less of our meals have to travel across the continent to get to our tables.

As city hall tries to pave over 3,000 acres of Canada's best farmland, it's good to see that there are many in our city who truly appreciate the agricultural industy and desire to eat healthy, local food.

Perhaps city hall has secret plans to open a hospital and wants to ensure that our citizens continue eating chemical junk shipped in from thousands of miles away to fill the rooms of their new business venture. Hmmm.

9. Trees Across Hamilton

Maybe you've noticed tonnes of new trees across the city. They are living proof that citizens can make a difference. Without the tireless lobby efforts of community groups and a couple of councillors who care about our city's environment, this wouldn't have happened. My wife and I have ordered our red maple to be planted this fall as we do our part to beautify Hamilton.

10. Life in Hamilton!

Saturdays at the Farmers' Market and relaxing at the Bad Dog patio. Strolls and bikerides along the waterfront and Dundas Valley. Picnics at Whitehern and Websters Falls. Hess Village. Gage Park. Ottawa Street. Westdale Bookworm. Chapman Books. This city is an amazing place to live. Our family had a great time during our vacation, simply enjoying all that Hamilton has to offer.

We regularly hear the grumbling and complaining about Hamilton from our Mountain friends. I'd probably complain too if life consisted of drive-thrus and big box stores.

Living downtown is remarkable and seems to get better with each passing month. New restaurants, shops, patios, streetscapes, galleries and overall increased cleanliness downtown are adding up to making Hamilton's core come back to life.

The only complaints we have living downtown usually revolve around various "suburbaninzing" attempts in the core: freeways like Main and York; the amazing Farmers' Market being hidden in an underground parking garage; big box proposals creeping forward by Shoppers and Staples (get ready for the fight of your corporate lives if you try it!); and constant whining about the life and "noise" in Hess Village. Unless the excessive noise consists of air brakes or speeding cars, it's not allowed in our core. After all, we want downtown to be more like Upper James, right? Not according to those who live up there.

Bottom Ten Happenings This Summer

1. Aerotropolis

Look, I want new jobs in Hamilton as much as the next guy, but this process is a mess. Council is lying to us about the number of jobs to try and ease the opposition. Farmers are being told their land will be rezoned whether they like it or not. This land is among the best in Canada and the Glanbrook Industrial Park has sat mostly empty for 15 years.

If any companies do decide to come here, we can easily accommodate them there. Add in the growing oil crunch and it becomes apparent that air travel is not a mode to invest all these millions into. That was 50 years ago. Times have changed.

2. Selling Hamilton's Farmers

Shame on the rural councillor who had the gull to tell farmers at a public meeting that California has enough land and food growing capacity to feed us for decades, so we don't need all this agricultural land. That's a paraphrase as relayed to me by some farmers who attended the meeting.

He might want to start looking for a new job.

3. Downtoen Car Glut

Gore Park and King East are still dominated by cars. Will we ever get it in this town?

4. Hess Village Jazzfest

A sudden family death led to the cancellation of the Hess Village Jazzfest. We wish all the best to the affected family and friends during this time.

5. Staircase Café and Theatre

We knew the closure of the Staircase was coming, but still can't believe it.

6. Smog Central

Hot weather exacerbates the problem, but at the end of the day it is you and I that have caused such a massive surge of bad air and climate change.

7. The "New" Hamilton

Not really. With news of a possible pig plant moving to the city, the Spectator editorial team have been falling all over themselves in praise of this great new venture for our city. You would think Microsoft decided to move their headquarters here by reading the city's only daily paper.

A slaughterhouse is just what Hamilton needs to rid ourselves of that old dirty image... If that doesn't do it, I'm sure the new incinerator planned for the east end will.

8. No Pigs Here!

"Put them downtown." I was hardly enthused by this suggestion from local residents of the southeast mountain opposing the pork plant.

First of all, allow me to correct some horrible weather statistics presented by that group. They say with prevailing winds the plant will affect 200,000 homes on the Mountain. For those counting, that's pretty much every house on the Mountain. Secondly, in North America the prevailing winds blow from the west, not east. Hence, any odour would be carried eastwards toward Highway 20 and beyond.

Perhaps a few thousands homes may be affected at worst. Furthermore, groups like us at Raise the Hammer and other community groups like Environment Hamilton and Transit Users Group (TUG) work tirelessly to bring positive change city-wide. It was a predictably small-minded, suburban response to hear this community group outline all the negative environmental effects of this plant, and then smugly suggest it be located downtown in the northeast industrial part of Hamilton.

Thanks, folks. Great vision you have for our city. I'll remember that the next time Trees Across Hamilton decides to plant some new trees along the Linc or when TUG tries to improve suburban bus service. By the way, the wind blows from the east much more frequently in the lower city than above, due to geographic effects from the lake and escarpment. Hence, tens of thousands of homes would be affected on a regular basis if the plant was located in the lower city.

You knew Red Hill was coming, and in fact, most suburbanites voted for it. It's too late to complain now. Mind you, I'm happy to see some suburban residents get angry and disgruntled with City Hall. Remember this fiasco next time you vote. Please!

9. Federal Halfway House

It's still downtown and is still having residents walk away into family neighbourhoods.

10. Two-Way Streets Someday

Maybe. Can this city move any slower on their two-way street plans? At this rate, my kids will be in their fifties before we see Hamilton's downtown street system made friendly to pedestrians and cyclists (by the way, my daughter is two).

The James/John South project is a fiasco in the making. The almighty vehicle continues to rule the day as the city designs this ridiculous plan with three lanes south and one lane north on James, then flips to two lanes each way for a while before going back to the three-and-one design.

Hey "planners": ever heard of the Claremont Access? It's empty at all times of the day. Now James and John South will lose their street parking, which wouldn't have been the case if the two-way plan followed common sense and was two lanes each way on both streets. Buses need the east lane of John and west lane of James, but parking could have been allowed on the entire length of both streets during off-peak hours if it was two lanes each way like most cities.

Queen, King and others in Toronto have this design executed perfectly, and guess what: there are more bikes, pedestrians, transit users, shoppers and less 'shortcut' traffic using these overly successful retail streets in a city with five times our population. The east lane of James and west lane of John could have parking most of the day and evening if we simply converted these streets into normal two-way streets.

But alas, this is Hamilton. We don't like to do things properly, do we?

Stay tuned for more tidbits from around town in future issues. Rumour has it that there will be some major downtown projects announced in the next month or so. We'll fill you in as we hear new info.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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