Downtown Bureau

All About the Realism

A lot of what politicans call "realism" merely excuses the absence of political will - the desire to make the city a better place for all of us to live in.

By Jason Leach
Published September 15, 2005

Recently, I proposed a plan for downtown Hamilton that wouldn't break the bank, but would certainly reap a sweet financial reward for city hall and all residents of this great city.

Raise the Hammer interviewed Mayor DiIanni in the last issue and mentioned the Downtown plan to him. His response was, "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."

He's right, sort of. Politics should be about the realism of implementing good, sound ideas that come forth from either city staff, politicians or those of us who actually pay the salaries and bills. However, I must correct him on one thing. In Hamilton, the term should not be "realism" but "political will".

Suggestions offered up here or from anyone else in town may or may not be doable. A streetcar line from Mac to Downtown is. All across the United States cities and towns are lining up to bring back streetcars to their downtown's and tourist neighbourhoods.

Hamilton is waiting to explode with new investment, energy and redevelopment. There's one catch, though. The key to unlocking this potential sits in the urban core.

Our council still has this crazy 1950s notion that the future is in the suburbs. Perhaps it is, for the rich or crazy who won't mind paying $3.00 a litre to fill their SUV. Otherwise, the 'burbs have already come and gone. Their downward slide has been going on for over two decades in many US cities and even in Toronto (see Scarborough, Etobicoke).

The future is downtown or it's bust. That's the bottom line.

What better way to rejuvenate our core neighbourhoods than by building a streetcar line from Mac to Theatre Aquarius? A second line could be built from the Henderson Hospital to Pier 8 using Concession Street and James Street.

Hamilton's urban neighbourhoods are in fairly good condition. The housing stock is incredible and the streets very walkable, aside from the traffic design. Let me rephrase that: the streetwalls are walkable. The roadways are more reminiscent of the QEW.

I've noticed that Bay Street between King and York will have less lanes when it is rebuilt than it once did. Bravo to city hall. Now, get over to Main, King and York and do the same.

We don't need more Meadow(less)lands or big box Centre Malls. We don't need more highways, carboard McMansions or vast tracts of empty land used for parking only at Christmastime.

We need to see our streetcars brought back. We need people on the streets and public spaces of this city. I've talked about this to no end on RTH, but being told that "politics is about realism" almost knocked me off my seat.

Politics is about improving your surroundings and making the city a better place for all of us to live in. Doing so will then attract new businesses and residents.

Developers will have a tougher time selling us the lie that "everyone wants to live in the suburbs" when downtown, west end, east end, and north end neighbourhoods are abuzz with the construction of new condos, apartments, co-ops and stacked townhomes.

They want to build more suburbs because it fattens their pockets. I don't care about their pockets. I care about my city.

City Hall, please do the same and put urban revitalization at the very top of your priority list. It's the only way that our city will thrive once again. That should be a very "realistic" goal for politicians and citizens alike.

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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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted None at

The idea of an east-west tram from (at least) downtown to McMaster is an excellent idea. I've taken the bus from between McMaster and downtown a couple of times in the last week (when I didn't cycle) and two things were clear. First, many more people are using the bus to get from downtown to MAC. Second, HSR is overwhelmed: I had to wait for two or three buses until one finally arrived with free space. The City and University are encouraging people to use public transit, and they have been successful. Now they have to actually provide an appropriate level of service. There is plenty of room on Main St for a streetcar line, and there is certainly enough passenger traffic. A streetcar line is certainly realistic: at least 22 French cities have, or are planning to re-introduce streetcars (after having torn up the tracks in the 60s or 70s) An East-West streetcar line from downtown (or even Stoney Creek) to MAC is eminently realistic; much more so than building more roads and urban sprawl! Nicholas Kevlahan

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By jason (registered) | Posted None at

ah yes, but the suburban developers don't want that, remember.

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