Lessons From The Summit, Lessons From The Past

As we hear from urban experts about what Hamilton must do, I wonder: are we prepared to take their advice even if it means major, possibly even painful change?

By Adrian Duyzer
Published May 25, 2011

I attended the Hamilton Economic Summit on May 12, 2011. This was my second time attending the Summit (I wrote about the experience last year too). This year's keynote speaker was Christopher Leinberger, an "urban land strategist and developer", whose topic was walkability.

You can read a summary of Leinberger's thoughts on walkability here. In summary, Leinberger points to compelling evidence that demand for walkable urban neighbourhoods is greatly increasing. At the same time, these neighbourhoods are the favoured places to live for the creative class. Fail to provide those walkable urban neighbourhoods and you risk seeing people head to places that do.

Given my interest in the subject of walkability, I was intrigued to attend this year and prepared some questions on the subject. Unfortunately, although some positive changes to the format of the event were made this year that made asking questions a little less intimidating, there were still minimal opportunities for interaction, and the "open discussion" periods listed on the agenda never materialized.

As a result, my questions went unasked, but their theme is something I've been dwelling on since the summit.

Just like last year, this year's Summit was notable for the intensely positive picture it portrayed of Hamilton. Like many people in Hamilton, I'm very optimistic about our future, and I feel the energy too.

At the same time, I worry that we'll do the opposite of what we're told.

At last year's summit we heard from Storm Cunningham, who told us that the Pan Am Games stadium must be built at the waterfront, and must be an engine of revitalization: "The Pan Am Games can trigger revitalizing critical mass (assuming the stadium is downtown) if it is accompanied by a program of renewal."

We all know how that turned out. But the experience taught us a valuable lesson, which is that a dedicated opponent can derail an entire civic process. We would be wise to be aware of other dedicated opponents that might emerge to stop, weaken, defer or subvert plans to make Hamilton a walkable city.

Consider, for example, the City of Hamilton's Traffic Engineering Department.

I can think of numerous decisions that people in this department have made that favour cars to the detriment of pedestrians, but there is one in particular that has a particularly tragicomic, Kafkaesque quality.

The neighbourhoods adjacent to Aberdeen Street, between Dundurn and Queen, are lively and full of young children and growing families. They also host a fair amount of vehicle traffic traveling between the 403 and the Queen Street access.

As a result it can sometimes be difficult to cross Aberdeen, particularly between Locke and Queen, a stretch which is about 420 metres long. At the centre of this section lies Kent Street. Kent is a natural corridor between the HAAA park and the blocks south of Aberdeen, so residents asked the city to install a pedestrian-activated stoplight with a crosswalk there.

Instead, the city installed these signs, one on each side of Aberdeen:

"Pedestrians, please walk 500 metres to cross this street."

Residents were dissatisfied with this "solution" and started a petition to continue to press for a pedestrian-activated stoplight. At last count the petition, which is supported by Councillor Brian McHattie, had garnered 436 signatures.

However, the Traffic Engineering Department has again refused to install the stoplight, this time based on a study they conducted: they counted the number of pedestrians crossing Aberdeen during a seven-hour period, and found that the number, 40, is less than the minimum of 100 pedestrians per seven hours required by city policy.

I don't know which day they conducted the study on, but given the run of appalling weather we've experienced, chances are it was raining. But the real absurdity here is that they installed a sign telling pedestrians to cross at Locke or Queen and are now refusing to install a stoplight because apparently people obey it.

Consider the combination: recent reports about Hamilton police nabbing jaywalkers, large signs instructing you not to cross a street, and municipal employees monitoring you. Is it unrealistic to posit that the study may suffer some quality problems?

That said, even if the study was entirely accurate and only 40 or 50 people cross per day, why not install a stoplight anyway? Doing so is clearly supported by local residents and it's their neighbourhood.

Is asking drivers to wait 15 or 20 seconds to allow a child to safely cross a street really such a bad thing? Are our policies really so unbendable that we cannot do something that is inexpensive, enhances safety and improves walkability and has the support of residents and their democratically elected representative?

I'm not buying it. It's ridiculous, and if we're going to create walkable city we need to start by changing the Traffic Engineering Department.

Then there is the group of established businesspeople and developers whose interest is best served by maintaining the status quo. This group is typified by people like Ron Foxcroft and Ed Fothergill.

As CEO of Fluke Transportation Ltd., a trucking company, Foxcroft does not hesitate to promote his vision of a sprawl-driven, highway-centric economy. This is not a big surprise: Foxcroft is a trucking magnate, so more highways are clearly in his best interest. But are they in our best interest?

In an opinion piece published in the Hamilton Spectator on May 11, Highway would ensure our future, Foxcroft argues that building the mid-peninsula highway between Hamilton and Niagara will bring "endless opportunites" to Hamilton. In the same article, he says that building the Linc and the Red Hill Valley Parkway have allowed the "opening of a wide range of residential and commercial development on the eastern side of the City."

The key words here are "residential development", i.e. sprawl. Building highways lets us create and support suburban sprawl. The problem is that Hamilton cannot support the endless expansion of our boundaries and the revitalization of our core.

Ed Fothergill is president of Fothergill Planning & Development Inc., based out of Ancaster. He was a panel speaker at the Summit, where he was asked to talk about next steps in Hamilton's industrial corridor in the north end. This set the stage for one of the most memorable moments during the summit, when Jeremy Freiburger from the Imperial Cotton Centre of the Arts and the Cossart Exchange confronted Fothergill after he said that industries ought to be able to build on greenfields at Hamilton's edges.

"Is it not incumbent on industry to clean up their properties when they are finished with them?" Freiburger asked. He pressed on, making the case that it is unacceptable for industry to continue to build on greenfields when there are numerous contaminated brownfields in the core. "We need to allow both," replied Fothergill.

Curiously, although Fothergill's topic was the north end, he probably spent just as much time discussing greenfield development. The word he used was "growth", which is clever, given its connotation of health and vitality. In practical terms, though, growth in Fothergill's context means sprawl.

Both Foxcroft and Fothergill sing the same siren song, which is that Hamilton can have it all - both endless expansion and growth on our boundaries, and a vital core with healthy, well-maintained infrastructure.

The problem is that this is not true. Our massive infrastructure deficit and our growing problems with sprawl development (such as water runoff) demonstrate that Hamilton needs to make a choice. Either we choose sustainable, dense development within clearly established and respected boundaries, or we allow ourselves to be choked by endless sprawl.

Lastly, there are those people who believe that Hamilton and particularly downtown have failed and cannot be rescued. Their cynicism about their hometown shows us that the biggest enemy of Hamilton's transformation may be Hamilton itself.

A few days ago, I read a letter to the editor in The Spec from someone who believes that the reason we don't have better jobs in the city is because we have bike lanes on York Boulevard. Or consider the letter from the guy who thinks downtown is full of "prostitutes running around" and that the reason it is more walkable than other areas is because "a large portion of the populous there cannot afford to drive".

Unfortunately, many Hamiltonians are ashamed of their city. There is certainly room for Hamilton to improve, but that's the point: our city is a work in progress. The same can be said of any city, and the only way the work gets done is by figuring out what needs to happen and investing time, money and effort into making it so.

It will be difficult to convince the most cynical and discouraged Hamiltonians that they ought to spend millions of dollars and suffer through the inevitable inconveniences of construction projects in pursuit of urbanist goals like walkability. But nothing breeds confidence like success, and everyone wants to be proud of their city.

Given an opportunity to see positive, transformational results, could Hamilton's biggest detractors become our most stalwart boosters? Or will they continue to be what Richard Florida - another past Summit speaker - called "squelchers"?

As we hear from urban experts about what Hamilton ought to do and must do, I wonder: are we prepared to take their advice even if it means major, possibly even painful change?

Are we prepared to take immediate, practical steps at the street level to promote walkability, even when our traffic engineers disagree, even when our community leaders protest, and even when many of our citizens say it's just not worth investing in?

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz


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By Just A Thought (anonymous) | Posted May 25, 2011 at 09:24:54

What if we gave our Councilours and senior City staff twice the allowance to walk or bike to work as we do sit in their sedans?
Perhaps if more of them had to face the trials of being a pedestrian or cyclist in this town, we see some changes made.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 25, 2011 at 09:26:29

Not to be a Debbie downer, but history is the best teacher. We will do the wrong thing, repeatedly, until there is a change of the guard at city hall, which could take another decade or two. I noted to a friend last week that I got a chuckle out of CHML doing live coverage from the event, all bullish on Leinberger's speech. We all know that station would be the first to go crazy if we dare suggest a two-way conversion, wider sidewalks, bike lanes....anything but the status quo. Hamilton seems to know how to get up for an event like that and everyone seemingly loves the message, but once the conference ends and everyone goes home, those same people are the ones resisting change much of the time. I agree with you though - things are improving here and will continue to. We just wont' see the wholesale change in our culture like Bogota and NYC are experiencing anytime soon.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted May 25, 2011 at 09:29:28

[Foxcroft] says that building the Linc and the Red Hill Valley Parkway have allowed the "opening of a wide range of residential and commercial development on the eastern side of the City."

Now, I don't really remember what the mountain was like before the Linc (I was 12 when it opened), but the east end near the Red Hill was already pretty developed by the time it opened. Have we really seen a surge of anything, even single family housing, in that area?

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted May 25, 2011 at 10:39:50

Nice article, Adrian.

Did you catch this?

I know this subject isn't new to many/most who frequent RTH...especially its editorial staff...but I'm always intrigued when such topics gain MSM traction.

I salute anyone who wants to make positive changes in their community and puts energies into such ends. (Whether or not they're 'right'; it's the engagement, the discourse that to me, that's paramount.) Bylaws aside, my feeling is that the biggest challenge has to do with the perceived loss of 'power' on the parts of civil staff, departments, elected officials, as 'we' insist on more of a say. The fact is that many of these groups currently wielding the power do NOT want input, do NOT want their authority questioned. They want to be left alone to do their jobs as THEY see fit.

What's wrong with this picture?

It'll take time, but the paradigm shift will occur. (Even if it takes so long that many of these dolts die off or don't get returned to office.) This is a long, long fight, mostly occurring under the radar.

Kudos to those who plug away, tirelessly.

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-05-25 10:40:33

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted May 25, 2011 at 11:02:25

If you really want a grain of salt, consider that while this was the fourth annual Hamilton Economic Summit, the summit itself arguably grew out of the annual Hamilton POWER Conference (2004, 2005, 2006), which fulfilled much of the same function – hundreds of local business luminaries networking and engaging in non-binding visioning exercises – without the leavening effect of an ambitious out-of-town counterpoint.

I too believe that things are changing, but would caution that sometimes the "squelcher"/"cynic" tag can be thrown around carelessly. Not all analysis of the city's failures ends in a cul de sac, and not all extra-urban successes can be transplanted. Acid negativism is free speech but is best countered by instituting measured, positive change. Boosterism alone will not cut it, and no amount of kitschy Milton Glaser knock-offs will make Manhattan materialize. Cities are complex ecosystems and every honest exchange, however uncomfortable, helps us reach the city that we believe Hamilton could one day become.

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By PowerSolution (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2011 at 09:14:17 in reply to Comment 63965

Aahh yes - the Hamilton Power Conference. That was right up there with Di Ianni's crack team of "urban advisors" who trumped public input for our growth plan vision - HHMMMM let's see what the home builders want to do.

The problem that remains is that the leadership of this city stinks. City Hall is run like one giant Power Conference. I'm far more impressed with the level of talent out in the population. Perhaps we can outsource government to the citizens.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted May 25, 2011 at 18:34:44

Modest though some may see them to be, I think that the more we celebrate our successes and promote areas of the city which are case studies of the sort of pedestrian/cycling/urbanist scenarios we want to see, the more that some minds will change.

This article by Ryan is a great example of tracing the changes over time in some of our most popular areas today, all of which are far less car-centric than they once were and are now flourishing.

The success stories are the best evidence we have that changes are for the better and catering to the car fails the neighbourhood on a street. I recently drove through sections of Toronto, which as a driver is an absolute nightmare. Every light turned red. Traffic moved slowly. St Clair West is a particularly ridiculous road for driving on, with one lane through in each direction and the now-infamous St Clair streetcar in dedicated lanes through the middle. But every one of those streets I drove down was thriving. Curious eh?

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By TnT (registered) | Posted May 26, 2011 at 08:32:48

I agree with most points, but the critique of Mr. Fothergill was misplaced. He isn't talking about pollution belching steel plants in those areas. He is pointing totally to diversity as far as I can tell.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:14:39

Via Richard_Florida/status/73366708806627328:

For all the continuing popularity of the suburbs and comfortable towns within commuting distance of the likes of New York and London for families looking for somewhere safe, convenient and offering easy access to the countryside, many cities are successfully reinventing themselves. Not least because of the growing belief in these environmentally-conscious times that city life – with its plentiful public transport, encouragement of cycling and denser housing – is in many ways “greener” than that in villages and small towns. Add to this the dynamism and excitement that results from having lots of people from different cultures and backgrounds thrown together and the attractions become clearer. Even the traditional balancing factors of high crime rates and poor transport are in many cases – such as New York and London – less of an issue than they were thanks to strong civic leadership and, it has to be said, the drive of citizens determined to improve their surroundings in ways that are not always apparent out of town.

This turnaround in attitudes owes much to the work of Charles Landry, a pioneer in developing the concept of the “creative city”. But, as he states, more and more cities call themselves creative when all they really mean is that they have a strong cultural and creative economy infrastructure as well as a large creative class. Urban creativity has far wider scope than this. “A creative city is a place where people feel they can fulfil themselves, there are opportunities. Things get done,” he says. “It is a place where people can express their diverse talents which are harnessed, exploited and promoted for the common good.”

Although Landry and his Comedia organisation have done extensive work around the world – in places as diverse as Glasgow and Bilbao – on helping cities make themselves more creative, it is clear that a lot of the things that make places attractive to the people that give a city its vibrancy and cultural strength cannot easily be planned.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2011 at 22:07:07

Visionary indeed. It's as if he foresaw the pieces falling into place!

So here we have the business interests of a former Chamber of Commerce chair (MITL partner and Advisory Board member Richard Koroscil, president and CEO of Hamilton International Airport), the academic/business interests of the outgoing chair (MITL partner and Advisory Board Chair Demetrius Tsafaridis, president of CareGo) and the recently retired CEO of the Chamber of Commerce (John Dolbec, president and CEO of TransHub Ontario) clicking serendiptously. And then some:

"We’ll make the best use of land both in traditional industrial areas, such as near the port, and in new developments like the planned Airport Employment Growth District. My vision for the future of Hamilton is to see us capitalize on our natural assets and become that transportation hub. That’s why Hamilton International Airport, along with Hamilton Port Authority and CareGo Innovative Solutions, helped to found TransHub Ontario, now joined by the City of Hamilton and Fluke Transportation Group as committed partners."

You don't have to own a tin foil hat to see patterns in that last sentence.

Will we see the "new look" Chamber adopt a similarly peppy pro-trucking, pro-Aerotropolis stance? Clues come in the form of a merry socioeconomic analysis proffered by the editor of the Chamber-Spec magazine Panorama:

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2011 at 09:08:59 in reply to Comment 64886

October 11, 2010:

“Based on the economic impact analysis already conducted, the endorsement of the Southern Ontario Gateway Council (SOGC), the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, the Hamilton International Airport and the Hamilton Port Authority, that the construction of a Niagara to GTA multi-modal corridor must be identified as the preferred option instead of the last possible alternative currently recommended in the Province of Ontario’s Planning & EA Study” (emphasis in the original).”

The first three organizations are all headed by Richard Koroscil. He is the founding and current chairman of SOGC, the current president of the Chamber of Commerce, and the CEO and president of the private company running the airport. At a recent meeting Koroscil openly boasted of his close relationship with the city’s head of economic development.

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