Smoove D: An Interview with Mayor Larry Di Ianni

Say what you want about Larry Di Ianni: the man can talk.

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 22, 2005

Say what you want about Larry DI Ianni: the man can talk. The Hamilton Mayor agreed to share 45 minutes of his time to respond to my questions about the city's controversial aerotropolis plan. When we sat down, he had a copy of my July 1 editorial and showed signs of having perused it.

It proved remarkably difficult to pin the Mayor down on any hard figures, which was the original purpose of my meeting with him, but he was open about his political values, from his unapologetic support for the Red Hill Expressway to his confidence that aerotropolis is central to Hamilton's economic development (however peripheral geographically).

Mayor DI Ianni refused to quote numbers for aerotropolis, insisting that the city is only investigating its options for the size and cost structure before deciding whether aerotropolis is desirable. However, he proceeded to muse, "My hunch is that it's desirable; otherwise, we wouldn't even have launched the studies." At this point, the Mayor's "hunch" sounds suspiciously like a fait accompli for the city.

He made some supportive noises about expanding public transit and even suggested a role for light rail, but such options are noticeably absent from the city's plans and budgets. When I cited the example of Portland, Oregon, which has enjoyed tremendous new investment around its light rail line, he expressed polite interest and suggested he would "be willing to investigate that for sure." We'll have to follow up with him on that one.

He cited Maple Leaf's interest in Glanbrook Park as vindication for the Red Hill Expressway while bemoaning the naysayers: "Now they're saying, 'It's not the right kind of industry that's going there,' even though we're creating twenty-five hundred jobs. So for some people, you can't do enough, and it's never good enough, and that's fine." His distinction between economic optimists and environmental killjoys was a recurring theme.

He also highlighted the many positive developments downtown, insisting that he was not putting all his eggs in the airport "basket". Indeed, Mayor DI Ianni has worked hard during his time in office in an attempt to overcome the deep suspicions of downtown residents that he is a 'suburban mayor' who doesn't understand what the core needs.

The Mayor tried to use progressive language to make his case. He described the city as "holistic" and claimed that business developments are "interdependent" with critical infrastructure. In his lexicon, everything is about "community". He suggested that opposition to development around the airport reflected a (presumably) elitist attitude toward rural lands. "Hamilton is 1,200 square kilometres. Every square inch of that - every square millimetre of that, I guess I should say - is part of this community."

Above all else, Mayor DI Ianni was the consummate politician: genial, attentive, always eager to make his case and work every angle. It's telling in itself that he was so willing to give his time to an independent, web-based magazine with a presumably limited readership. (A couple of months ago, he also agreed to an interview with Matt Jelly in Mayday Magazine.) Will his efforts to mollify political opponents be enough make his vision for the city into reality? Only time will tell.

Without further ado, here's the interview in full.

The Interview

1. The Price of Aerotropolis

Ryan McGreal, Raise the Hammer: Now, I have some questions here. The reason - actually, I didn't originally ask for an interview. I sent an email to your office looking for some more information about the hundred million dollar number that's been bandied around.

Larry DI Ianni, Mayor of Hamilton: Right, right.

RM: Marjorie Walker replied, and she wrote, "The city is NOT investing 100M on this project (funding for this includes many options). Unfortunately this is information that seems to be put out by CATCH [Citizens at City Hall], and repeated by those equally misinformed."

Now, I talked to Don McLean at CATCH to find out where he got the number from, and he got it from the [Hamilton] Spectator, which was citing Guy Papparella, City Director of Industrial Park and Airport Development. So, the hundred million dollars: if that isn't correct, then, first question, what does the city expect the number is, and who's going to pay for it?

LD: Well, here's what staff has said, and they've been asked at open council, and staff has said, and we're convinced that the private sector is funding the investment around the aerotropolis. And that's going to be done in a number of ways - development charges primarily, and individuals going to develop their own, whether it's going to be a building they're putting up, or some, whatever the operation is, the city won't be paying for that.

Private individuals invest in those businesses in order to receive a return on their investment. That's what our system is based on, right? No surprise there. In terms of the servicing for those lands, it'll, it'll come from the development charges that we have put in place now, with considerable increases in development charges that we've put in place in order to recapture the costs of servicing some areas.

At the end of the day, my feeling is that the city will also be contributing some money, whether to fix a road or construct some access points, put some stoplights in place. I mean, these are things that cities typically do when things are developed. But to give you, how much it's going to be, I mean certainly it's not going to be a hundred million dollars.

The majority of that's going to come from the private sector. Is going to be ten percent of that? It depends on what the development is at the end of the day. What we've launched is a process to explore how big of a development, what kind of a development, what sorts of infrastructure’s required. To give you a guess on that is way premature, because we don't know what the final thing will look like in terms of the development there, right?

RM: Okay. In that case, then, I guess, I mean I understand the idea that the city lays the infrastructure, businesses move in, they pay property taxes, they build buildings, but -

LD: They also pay for the infrastructure.

RM: Right, but at the beginning of the day, before any businesses move in there, what's it going to cost the city to lay out that infrastructure?

LD: Again, it's a question that's going to be answered once the studies that we've commissioned, moving forward, will be answered for us. How big is the development? You know, people have talked about three thousand acres; is it going to be three thousand acres, or is it going to be a thousand acres? Some of the councillors who were against three thousand acres said, 'We can support a thousand acres.' Maybe that's what the answer is at the end of the day.

I can tell you this, categorically, that if the city has to come up with a hundred million dollars to make this project go, it's not on for me. I'd be against it.
-- Mayor Larry DI Ianni

So, the bill for that is different from the bill for three thousand acres, and who pays for that will be determined by the interplay between the private sector and the community and the servicing costs that occur currently. So I can give you a precise - not that I wouldn't want to give it to you, but that's why we've launched the studies that we've just undertaken to see what the cost will be.

I can tell you this, categorically, that if the city has to come up with a hundred million dollars to make this project go, it's not on for me. I'd be against it.

RM: Okay, that was actually my next question - does the City Council, or do you have a ceiling in terms of how much money the city has to put up front?

LD: Well, again, you see, we're back to the same sort of question. You're asking for an answer before we do the investigation. We're in the process of doing the investigation, but I can repeat categorically, and I said this when we were debating this, that if it's going to cost a hundred million dollars to do this, then I'm not on for it.

RM: So is it possible, then that the city, the studies could come back, and, and find that in fact it's not going to be a good investment for the city, I mean, is that -

LD: I suppose...

RM: Is that analysis or conclusion still available to city council?

LD: Sure, it could be. I mean, we've just launched a process now that's going to investigate what happens, when it happens, what the cost will be, these sort of things, and whether, when you put all of those things together, it's desirable for this to go forward.

My hunch is that it's desirable; otherwise, we wouldn't even have launched the studies. But let's look at the results of those studies before we jump to those conclusions that some have already jumped to that this is not appropriate.

2. Countering Opposition

RM: Okay. Now, the next question is, according to city transcripts - I was wading through them yesterday and today - most of the citizens who spoke at the June 15 and June 28 meetings were opposed to aerotropolis or expressed some real concerns and reservations -

LD: Yes.

RM: But city council voted to go ahead with the plans anyway. How would you respond to the concerns?

LD: Well, I think we need to take people's comments very seriously, and I think City Council did take them very seriously, and that's why we commissioned the study that will try to answer some of the questions people raised at the meetings. For example, let me give you an example: people raised the issue - and you did in your article - around, you know, peak oil, and airports, really. I mean, your article is against airports.

The aerotropolis is about using the lands around the airport for airport related businesses and industries, but they have nothing to do with the fact that jet airplanes consume the kinds of fuel that you say are consumed, so some people came there [to the meetings] who don't like airports or are concerned about the noises that airports generate, and are concerned about the impact the airport has on their lives currently.

Well, you know what: the airport is there. It's not going to go away. So how do you answer those questions about people who are against the airport or who don't think that the airports are lending to a, to an oil conservation or an energy conservation scenario they'd like to see. We have no control over that.

The fact is the airport is there, it's there, and that's why we want to, now, see if we can use it as more than just a landing strip, and that's the point that I make, because if you look at any airport anywhere else, take Toronto - not that we ever want to be Toronto, we don't want to be a Toronto - or Buffalo, or any airport.

You look around the airport, and what do you see? You see head offices, you see high-tech manufacturing, you see some resident- some commercial, hotel uses, and all of that generates an activity that is supported by the airport traffic but is independent from it in the sense that, you know, people who go to a restaurant in the airport strip may enjoy the restaurant but they don't need to be taking off in the airport either. They're taking advantage of that particular venue, and that's what we're trying to create, because when you go up to our airport you don't see anything but a landing strip.

So you've got all the negatives of an airport - if you think airports are negative, I don't happen to share that opinion - but you've got all the negatives without some of the benefits, and we're trying to balance it to get some of the benefits for us as well.

RM: Okay...

LD: So that's just one. The other is over expropriation. People are saying, I heard one lady saying, 'Should I renovate my house if I'm going to be expropriated in a few years?' Well, nobody's going to expropriate anybody. These are privately owned lands. If people want to continue doing what they're doing on those lands, farming or whatever it happens to be, then they can do that. But we're looking at some options some people might have to do some things in a different way. Or we're looking at different areas in the airport catchment to be able to facilitate some different things being done: some commercial, industrial, business, job-creating opportunities for the city.

3. Peak Oil and Air Travel

RM: I'd like to return, just for a minute, to the points you made about oil conservation -

LD: Yes.

RM: I mean, it seems to me that any reasonable outcome of having an aerotropolis type development would be, first of all, to increase the traffic through the airport, and second of all, that the activity around would be dependent on the airport. Otherwise, there'd be no point in putting it there. But it seems like you're trying to characterize the two as being -

LD: No, no, no.

RM: - independent of each other.

LD: No, no, they're interdependent, but quite different operations. Whether we develop an aerotropolis or not, planes are going to land, planes are going to take off. Can we find some, some, opportunities for some activities around the airport that will complement that side of the operation? A head office, perhaps. An operation that flies in and out of whatever that might use the airport and also benefit the community, create some jobs there. A hotel use, with some recreational or restaurant uses. An industry, a high-tech manufacturing or some sort of knowledge-based industry that will be copacetic with the airport but quite independent in terms of the pure operation from the airport as well. I mean, these are all good uses of the airport too, and benefit the community.

RM: But the argument that people are raising who are concerned about the idea of peak oil -

LD: Yes.

RM: - is that, and I mean, this is not something that some flake has come up with -

LD: Yes, yes, I read the book; I read the book that Councillor Braden gave me. It had a very compelling argument.

RM: I mean, the argument is that if oil goes into decline, those airplanes are not going to be taking off and landing any more -

LD: Well, you know what, here's where my worldview and yours may differ. Yours is very pessimistic that we have a finite resource, and once it's gone, it's gone. I think if you look at the history of mankind [sic], certainly over the last twenty-five years that you've been around, Ryan, and over the fifty years that I've been around, if the story of mankind teaches us anything, it's that innovation is the order of the day.

I remember when I bought my first house, back in 1973, it hit almost to the day when I signed my deal, was the first OPEC crisis. OPEC got together, and the price of gasoline just jacked up tremendously, though what was tremendous in those days is quite a bargain today. But I remember as a young, married person, thinking, 'My God,' and I was commuting to Mississauga, that's where my job was, from Stony Creek, I thought, 'My God, this is the end of the world. I will not be able to drive my car, I will not be able to afford this house, and buy gas,' and so on.

So my view of the world is that in a hundred years' time, or fifty years' time, the technology - if, indeed, we will have the crisis that is there, and it's not manageable - will shift to some other form of being able to get these airplanes to fly. In fact, I think we'll see more air travel rather than less.
-- Mayor Larry DI Ianni

Well, if we've seen anything, in fact, it's that, you know, based on that, we got away from it for awhile, but more efficient cars came into being, governments started lowering speed limits to control the consumption, and it wasn't just in terms of gasoline, it was also energy, more generally. And, people started looking at alternative fuels, and I'm being told that, in fact, those alternative fuel sources are readily available, and it's only that the oil companies like the profits that they're making, and they won't allow that technology to move forward. Whether it's solar powered technology or whatever it happens to be. [Aside: solar powered technology is not going to keep airplanes in the air - Ed.]

So my view of the world is that in a hundred years' time, or fifty years' time, the technology - if, indeed, we will have the crisis that is there, and it's not manageable - will shift to some other form of being able to get these airplanes to fly. In fact, I think we'll see more air travel rather than less.

I mean, I don't want to, you know, be overly simplistic about this and point to some futuristic dream like we've seen in movies or in cartoons about, you know, having our own means of flying around with our own personal little machines, but I think that's probably doable. And quite frankly, I think that innovation and technology - although I don't put all my eggs in that basket - mankind is clever enough to find some solutions to the oil problems that we're going to be experiencing.

4. Sustainable Development

RM: Now, I just want to talk a little bit about the Places to Grow legislation. The preamble to the Act advocates, in part, quote: "building complete and strong communities, making efficient use of existing infrastructure, and conserving natural and agricultural resources" in order to get the most out of growth. How does aerotropolis fit in with that mandate?

LD: I think it fits in beautifully with the Places to Grow direction. I mean, you read that legislation, for Hamilton they specifically mention our airport development as something that is desirable for the city.

The Premier of this province [Dalton McGuinty] was on Roy Green [the Roy Green talk radio program on CHML, 900 AM] and he was asked about the aerotropolis. He said it was an exciting opportunity for the city of Hamilton.

I've spoken to the Infrastructure Ministry and to some of the other ministers and staff who think that we're absolutely on the right track. There's a little bit of discussion going on around the sequence of things but there's no question that the legislation will allow us to do what we want to do, what we hopefully want to do around the airport.

But understand that this is a community that shouldn't be segmented. I prefer seeing this community as a holistic community. So you don't just look at what we want to do up at the airport and think that we're putting all our eggs in that basket. That's a project that's going to evolve over the next five, seven, ten years.

And I wish some individuals from the public said, when we had the public meeting up in Ancaster, that if we had started this fifteen years ago, we'd be much farther ahead today than we are. Nevertheless, we are where we are, and we need to move forward then.

Look at what else we're doing. We're trying to move forward on the Glanbrook Park, the Glanbrook industrial park. It's been sitting there for twenty-five years without being noticed. Now it's getting some attention, very positive attention, for both job growth and potential further job growth around the use of that park, and the naysayers were telling me, up until yesterday, almost, that you know, 'you guys are going to build homes in that park because nobody wants to put industry there.'

Well, guess what: industry wants to go there. We don't want residential to go there. And now they're saying, 'It's not the right kind of industry that's going there,' even though we're creating twenty-five hundred jobs. So for some people, you can't do enough, and it's never good enough, and that's fine. I understand that. But we're putting some action there as well.

Look at the downtown redevelopment. Look at what's happening to our downtown. Look at the momentum. I just had lunch today with the executive director of the International Village BIA with the momentum that we are seeing in our downtown. I was at the Staybridge Hotel on Market St. behind the new Federal Building, where a ten-year-old former Postal sorting station has been a blight on this community and an eyesore, and we just opened up a new hundred and eight room, hundred and ten room hotel this morning right there, and the person who wants to do it, wants to do more for the community, and wants to do more for that particular neighbourhood as well.

The Royal Connaught, the Lister Block, and there are a number of other projects that will come on-stream in the next little while. So, we're moving aggressively in our downtown.

Look at what we're going with the harbour. Look at the news that we've been pressing out of this office, specifically with our partners, for some harbour clean up and some major investment from other levels of government and we're this close to making that occur.

RM: We just saw the, saw the photo of the new Port Authority Building, which looks very impressive.

LD: Absolutely. We were talking about that in China. We just came back from China. There are some investors who are interested, might be interested in having that occur. At least, you know, be participants in that. We're trying to look for some investment dollars overseas. And I've seen that proposal, it's a great proposal, and there's more in the West Harbour plan.

So, think about it, eh? We've got the airport in terms of aerotropolis, this is a long-term project. We've got a more immediate project around some business and commercial development in Glanbrook. We've got downtown revitalization. We've got harbour clean up. We've got the Red Hill Expressway - that's controversial with people like yourself, I'm sure.

RM: (laughs)

LD: But it's what's caused the Glanbrook folks to look at redeveloping there. It's causing some major investors to look at putting in a lot of money in the Centre Mall to redevelop it. This city is coming alive, quite frankly, after some years. I'm not casting aspersions or blaming anyone at all. It takes time, but after some years of being a little sleepy, it's now coming alive and we need people to push in the same direction rather than to naysay.

And you know, I think Council is absolutely focussed on trying to improve this community. Groups like yourselves - and I read Jason's letters, in fact, he sent me some more stuff today, and I love it. I don't agree with everything he says, I think he's totally wrong about, I read a letter that he wrote about the Glanbrook project that's on-stream, but it doesn't matter. You know, you take all the opinions, you put them all into the mix, and you move forward, and that's what we want to do.

RM: I was going to ask you, you mentioned briefly there was some discussion about the, in terms of the aerospace and the GRIDS process. There was some concern or disagreement -

LD: Aerotropolis?

RM: Aerotropolis, thank you, yes. It does seem like City Council is circumventing its own integrated planning process, jumping the gun on the Aerotropolis.

LD: No, no. Understand, that the GRIDS staff has said this publicly when they were asked: things line up. It's a continuum, frankly. It's not, you know, you start and you finish, the day's done. We've started a process into which the GRIDS process will work very nicely and into which the GRIDS process fits very beautifully.

In fact, all of the options that were given in GRIDS - it wasn't, you know, that we were trying to get the answer before the question was asked, but it makes sense, for the reasons that I stated now I won't go through the spiel again, it makes sense to move on the aerotropolis deal. And, in fact, GRIDS is very much in sync with that, and things will line up as we move closer to the approval of GRIDS.

GRIDS will be approved, one way or the other, way before the aerotropolis materializes in any concrete way, but it's the planning that has started that's going ahead.

RM: It would have been nice, you know, to have - the six GRIDS proposals all included aerotropolis - and for comparison, it would have been nice to see some proposals that didn't include aerotropolis.

LD: Except, Ryan, it may have been nice for people who don't believe in aerotropolis for whatever reason, but it wouldn't have been honest, though. Because the region before us, and the city since - even before amalgamation and certainly since amalgamation - has always said, you know, 'The answer, part of the answer to some of the problems that we've got is around the best use of airport lands.

So that, so that Proctor and Gamble don't have to move to Brantford. So that Ferrero Tockliss [sp?], that was looking for a place to land but we didn't have the space, don't have to move to Brantford. And I give Brantford all the applause that they deserve, but they market the airport and their proximity to the airport, and they take advantage - which is our facility, and we're spending money on it, and so on - and they take advantage of that by creating employment lands not very far from it.

It just doesn't make any sense, so it wouldn't have been honest to say, 'Look, let's look at an option that doesn't include the airport lands,' because it would have contradicted all the other policies that councils before us and our council has put together in terms of trying to use those lands for the best use of our community.

RM: I've been looking at the city's background papers, and it just seems like aerotropolis sort of sticks out like a sore thumb. Most of what the GRIDS process talks about is, you know, making better use of existing facilities, trying to limit sprawl, trying to limit air pollution, you know, and then you have, you have certain major developments occurring several kilometres from the centre of the city.

LD: But, you know, it's part of the community. You know, look: Hamilton is 1,200 square kilometres. Every square inch of that - every square millimetre of that, I guess I should say - is part of this community. And so we shouldn't see any component as hinterland, quite frankly, and I don't want to suggest that.

All of it is important, and we need to, in an orderly way, decide how we're going to grow and how we're going to take advantage of this whole community.

I've just come back from China, and look: I've been in cities of 22 million people, 18 million people, seven million people, a city that considers itself a medium sized city. Seven million people. A city of two million people that considers itself a small community. Tens of thousands of square kilometres in area.

And they have a plan - a very good plan - for each sector - in some cases they do a circle plan; Beijing, for example, has five circles of development. Shanghai has neighbourhoods, and we linked, in fact, with the neighbourhood of Zha-be [sp], which is a neighbourhood of about 850,000 people. Can you imagine 850,000 people in just a neighbourhood -

RM: Sure.

LD: - in a city of 22 million people. Dalyan [sp?] that has quarters and Yinco [sp?] that has development. And what they're doing is they're saying, 'What makes sense in each of these areas?' We need to learn from that. It doesn't mean we want to see development unfettered all over; that's why we've got the GRIDS process. And what's GRIDS going to concentrate on, I think, down the road? Downtown redevelopment - brownfields as well, harbour development, and the aerotropolis. I think those are good areas of focus.

5. Modes of Transportation

RM: I was reading a little bit about - on the background of aerotropolis. It seems to be working well in some places and badly in some places. Kinston, North Carolina - I don't know if you've heard of it, but it's actually right around the corner from where John Kasarda lives and works. He's the person who came up with the aerotropolis concept -

LD: I don't like that name, by the way. But anyway, that's neither here nor there.

RM: (Laughs) Sure. Anyway, the idea is that, in the 18th century, cities revolved around ports, the 19th was around rail, the 20th century was around highways, and he believes the 21st century is going to revolve around airline travel. But even now, air transport accounts for two percent of the goods moved by weight. I mean, these 18th and 19th century technologies, rail and shipping, still move the vast majority of all the goods. It seems like Hamilton is ideally situated -

LD: But here's the answer, though, Ryan. I don't know this person's work, and I would use a different title than 'aerotropolis' quite frankly, because it conjures up these space people moving about. But the answer isn't in one solution; it's in multi-modal solutions.

And so Hamilton is ideally situated for a multi-modal approach because we've got good road infrastructure, we've got good rail connections, we can do [garbled], and we have the water system that is under-utilized, that we think we should utilize more. As well as that, we've got air travel. So it's not, let's put all our eggs into the aerotropolis. We want to make sure all the modes are looked after.

That's why I spent so much time campaigning for, and advocating for, a road that's been blocked for 54 years. If we'd built it 20 years ago, it wouldn't have cost as much, and it would have advanced the needs of this community by a generation.

That's why I fully support, and went to China to see what we could learn how we can improve our water port, in terms of being a real port, because right now, even though we're a port, it's more of a landlord than a real port in terms of the operations that I saw happening overseas.

And, of course, I'm talking to CN about rail and goods movement by rail. I fully support opening up a connection from us through Oshweken in New York State, because I think we can benefit from full year water transport rather than shutting down the St. Lawrence Seaway for, you know, almost six months of the year.

Not one of those is a solution that's going to help us, but together, in an integrated, smart way, they'll all contribute. And by the way, I'm not an expert in which airports work well and so on, but we will engage people who will give us some expert advice, Ryan.

But I can tell you that Hamilton cut its teeth on the cargo side of the business. I mean, the passenger side is just now starting to pick up a little bit of steam. We lost some of it when WestJet went, but we've picked almost all of it up -

RM: And that wasn't actually Hamilton's fault. WestJet was responding to JetsGo and the market.

LD: I'm glad you realize that. Having said that, the cargo side is still good. I spoke with the president of CargoJet who just built a new facility near the airport, and who thinks we're absolutely ideally situated for 24/7 service and so on for the cargo business to continue growing.

UPS is there and there are some others who are interested. So we shouldn't say no to that, but by the same token, by the same token, we shouldn't put all our eggs in that basket, and that's why we need to explore those other sides.

RM: I'm interested in hearing more about Hamilton expanding its rail network.

LD: Yeah. Well, you know, it's not so much the rail network, but the services. CN - I met with CN not too long ago to talk about their rail yards near the harbour. They've told me that in the last year, they've had to double their service to Hamilton because the business has been here. Which is good, because business is being done, you know, factories are working and all of that stuff. But we need to bring other services. VIA Rail, we're close to doing that.

RM: Sure.

LD: We're fighting now over location. I don't know what will happen on that, because they seem to have dug in their heels, but we need to improve that. GO - I'm on the GO Transit board - I want to see more GO Transit train service into the city. It will respond to the market demand, and I think it will be there in the next couple of years.

I think downtown for us makes sense [to locate a VIA station], but it doesn't seem to be making sense for the folks up at VIA. So downtown would be great, but if not downtown, I just want it in Hamilton.
-- Mayor Larry DI Ianni

There are some plans that either one will connect to the Red Hill Expressway. Once that's operational in 2007, it should be ideal for a connection there. So, you know, there's lots of plans, and you'll hear about them, you'll read about them.

RM: Where would you like to see the VIA Rail station?

LD: I think downtown for us makes sense, but it doesn't seem to be making sense for the folks up at VIA. So downtown would be great, but if not downtown, I just want it in Hamilton.

6. Environmental Impacts

RM: Now, one of the major concerns - I'm going to take it back to aerotropolis, because that's why I'm here - one of the major concerns is its environmental impact.

LD: Yes.

RM: A lot of the citizens who spoke at the [public] meetings expressed concerns that aerotropolis will harm Hamilton's air quality, destroy farmland, result in more and longer commutes, more sprawl. Has an environmental impact assessment been done?

LD: Well, that's part of what needs to be done as far as the studies, right, so people are - we're being criticized both ways. We're being criticized for launching a process that will get some of these answers, and then we're being criticized for not having the answers before we launch the process, I mean, I know, but you understand what I'm saying, that there's a process, where: here are the questions, now go out and get the answers and we'll see what we do at the end of the day.

However, [unintelligible] one of the things we're trying to do by creating jobs in Hamilton is so that people who live in Hamilton can work in Hamilton without having to go like my son does, every morning, to Mississauga to work in Mississauga. My other son lives in Saskatchewan and flies planes, so that's where he happens to be right now. I want them, once they - well, except for the pilot, who's all over, I guess - by the way, that's not why I'm supporting this -

RM: (Laughs)

LD: Understand, that's just a career that he's chosen. But I want Hamilton's youth to be able, if they choose, to work in the city in which they grew up. When I was a kid growing up, I didn't think I'd ever have to go outside Hamilton to work. I never dreamed of it. I always knew that Hamilton would provide the opportunities right here in our city.

I was in a grade ten class at Delta high school not too many months ago. Thirty kids, 32 kids, I don't know how many, and I said to them, two questions I asked them, 'How many of your parents work in one of our steel companies or a steel company related job?' About three kids put up their hands. When I was a kid, three kids wouldn't put up their hands and the rest of us would put up our hands because our parents were connected to steel. So that shows the transition that we've undergone as a community.

The other question that I asked was a really depressing question, because I said to the kids, I said, 'How many of you think that whatever you want to do, you'll be able to do it in Hamilton when you're old enough?' And I'm not talking about, you know, about you choosing to go to New York City to play for the Yankees. If you want to do that, God bless you, you know, go to Broadway or whatever.

I'm talking about a realistic job, and is there an opportunity in this city for you to follow your dreams in terms of a vocation? I had about five kids put up their hands. The rest of the kids thought they'd have to leave Hamilton to do what they wanted. I was really concerned about that, perturbed about that, and that's why we need to create opportunities in this city for people to do some work here if they choose.

And so, when you look at where it is that we can create this employment, there are only limited options that we have. All the experts are telling us that, in terms of development, in terms of jobs that will be good paying jobs, the airport lands surrounding the airport is one of those areas that can create those jobs.

So people are concerned about somebody living downtown and driving to the airport? Hopefully, we'll have public transit, first of all. Wouldn't it be great to have some light rail system that connects up [unintelligible] that would be great? But even if people have to drive cars, you know, a 15 minute ride to the airport may be better than a 45 minute drive to the GTA, right? Maybe not as good as having all the jobs downtown, but better one than the other.

RM: Okay, sounds good.

LD: You're just saying that.

RM: (laughs) I'm just giving you an opportunity to explain your position.

7. Whither Downtown?

RM: Now, I don't know if you caught Jason Leach's downtown investment proposal in our last issue.

LD: I haven't read it.

RM: Okay. Well, for around the cost that has been bandied around for aerotropolis, the $100 million number -

LD: Which is not verified, right?

RM: Fair enough. But for around that kind of money, Hamilton could speed up its downtown street redevelopment, and make the downtown streets two-way, set up a light rail system from McMaster out to the Theatre Aquarius area, and move the Farmers' Market to the corner of King and James. This is Jason's proposal.

LD: Sure.

RM: I realize I'm just dumping this on you, but what do you think of the idea?

LD: Well, for a long time I've been a proponent of light rail. In fact, when I visited Dalyan [sp?] recently, and saw their light rail, it was just wonderful, just a wonderful system. And I'm keeping a close eye on Waterloo, which is undergoing some planning now for light rail. We'll see how that goes. Their challenge will be how to fund it as well, at the end of the day.

So, I don't think the issues are mutually exclusive. I think we're working - we are working, I mean, look at what we're doing in terms to two-way conversions. We're moving fairly aggressively; some people are telling us we're moving a little too aggressively with that.

The Farmers' Market issue is a little touchy because I was told that, a few years ago, there's a lawsuit going on now from Yale Properties that says that when the city first agreed to keep the Farmers' Market there ad infinitum, and so that's a bit of a touchy issue.

RM: You'd have to find a way to get Yale Properties on board. I mean, it's in their interest; it will make a better use out of the space.

LD: King and James, is that what you're saying for the Farmers' Market?

RM: Bruce Kuwabara made a similar suggestion [in issue 2 of H Magazine]. Basically, where Jackson Square is, the northwest corner. Just take that, make it so the walls can open up, and you can have it right there. You'd have close access to Gore Park, it - right now, it's hidden away. This brings it out into the front.

LD: Well, and of course, I remember when it was out in the open, a couple of decades ago. I don't know, I'd have to give that some thought, in terms of advantages and doability. What was the other point?

RM: Moving faster, if possible, on the two-way conversions. All the research that's been done is that these big, five-lane, one-way streets - it's not pleasant to be around them.

LD: God bless Jason, I mean, an observer like Jason can make suggestions, but politics is all about the realism of implementing some of those suggestions. I think we're heading in the right direction. Some people say we should go faster, some people say we should go slower, so we're probably just about right in terms of - I think we're headed in the right direction.

RM: Just one more thing about the light rail. Portland, they spent, I think it was around $70 million system through what had previously been - actually, the northeast part of the city - kind of run-down, economically depressed. In the five or six years since they finished that, they've seen nearly two billion dollars in new investment in the area around the line.

LD: Because of the light rail system?

RM: It's already paid for itself in terms of -

LD: Jason keeps writing about Portland; I've got to visit it some day.

RM: Portland is, I think they're doing some things wrong. They've somewhat shut the city out from families with young children, which is unfortunate, but they've done a lot of things right, and they've proven that you can have dense, in-filled economic development that works and makes a lot of money.

LD: Well, we certainly learn from other communities, and we should be able to learn from other communities, so I'd be willing to investigate that for sure. So, what are you going to do with all this stuff?

RM: Well, we'll publish it as an interview.

LD: Excellent.

RM: Thanks a lot for your time.

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. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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