Hamilton is like a marathon runner with angina. We need a strong, healthy heart - the core - or nothing else will function properly.
By Trey Shaughnessy
Published December 14, 2004
What kind of message is City Hall sending out? It seems the fast-fizzled marketing campaign Reach, dream, rise, shine was a wasted effort. Instead, our civic leaders float the idea of every other week garbage pick-up (which, by the way, Flint, Michigan had to do after GM closed), a city hall that is crumbling rather than being a proud symbol of civic pride, and a half billion dollar highway, chasing dreams of sprawling culs-de-sac and big box stores.
Letting our Lister Block await the same fate as The Tivoli is not "effective advertising". It's sad that we let McMaster University pursue a campus in Burlington, rather than our own downtown. What are we doing? Is there no political will? It's not a question of "What should we do?" Rather, let's do it and get it done: whatever it takes.
I like to imagine what half a billion dollars could do to our downtown. Hamilton is like a marathon runner with angina. We need a strong, healthy heart – the core – or everything else won't function.
In a dream I am Christmas shopping at Robinson's, Eaton's, and Kresge's. I take a walk in The Right House, just to look at the high-end, expensive clothing. I am enjoying walking from store to store, the street alive with people, musicians, carolers, and families. Gore Park is decorated and lit up - the core of the city, like a giant beating heart. I stop to get a hot chocolate at little café, resting for a while. Then I cross the street and get on the bus that is waiting to take me home.
But this wasn't a dream. It was downtown, not that long ago, and it is one of the best shopping experiences I've ever had. Now I can appreciate how different each destination was, far from the vanilla monoculture that exists at stores in every mall, each the same except for the logo above its entrance. It's too bad an entire generation doesn't even know this existed and can't imagine anything other than their Mom driving them to the mall and then picking them up when it closes.
Hamilton had one Canada's great downtowns. Even if wealthy, well-run cities like Burlington, Mississauga, North York, and Brampton wanted, they could never have great downtowns with their car-oriented designs. I honestly believe that most people in their 30s and younger living in Hamilton think car-friendly is the only option. But if I remember downtown the way it was, then certainly Mayor Larry DiIanni and every person on council does too.
I can imagine Barton Street being a centre of "creative class" gentrification. New-economy businesses, lofts, mixed-use buildings that 'wall in' the street, creating an indoor-feel public space, retail stores that don't close-up at 9:00 all together, restaurants, family housing on the side streets.
The city has tried to liven up the street with a boulevard and lighting. It looks good, but it isn't enough. If crime is a problem, then have the police patrol it the old way, walking the beat. If car traffic is a problem then slow it down and create a pedestrian street.
It's simple enough, and I think council knows what to do. I'm just waiting for someone with guts to do it.
I would also like to see designated neighbourhoods, like a China Town, Artist Town, Little Italy, a Fashion District, an Entertainment District (does this sound like somewhere we know?). It would give the areas a marketing edge, an identity, a niche for stores, a place that people associate with an image when they choose to shop or live there.
It needs to be more than hanging banners on light poles; we need unique street signs, streetscaping, wide sidewalks, on-street parking and appropriate businesses that mix well with the intended identity. We are the third most popular city in Canada for immigrants. Canon Street should be our China Town.
We should be a first in North America and designate an Arabic Town, modeled after plakas in Instanbul, roll-up canvas canopies/tents over each vendor stall, making a virtual roof over the street.
Oh well. I can dream, can't I? Like my ghost of Hamilton past, I can see a ghost of Hamilton future.
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