Special Report: Heritage

Development and Degradation: Making Adaptive Re-Use the Default Option, Part 1

I am not arguing against public expenditure but against environmentally and culturally damaging expenditure which further impoverishes the lives of those who are paying for it.

By Shawn Selway
Published February 04, 2013

Just victims of the in-house drive-by,
They say jump, you say how high.

St Joseph's Health Care disposes of 225 James South. This is not development. It is degradation of the built environment.

225 James Street South: before, during and after its new 'development'

As we contemplate another downtown "development" proposal that involves first a demolition, this time on the Gore, and which will likely leave the city poorer than it was before, it may be instructive to review what development has done for us lately.


North Hamilton Community Health Centre: old premises and new

The previous John Street quarters of the North Hamilton Health Centre have been taken up by health care providers. In the mid-term, this building is likely to be demolished and replaced with new residential, as it is only half a block from the water, just south of Williams and Sarcoa.

The new centre was built on the site of the former Bennetto School, an inferior building, which was demolished to accommodate it. The auditorium of the school, to the left of the Health Centre, was retained. This is development.

Honest and modest. And very lively. The North Hamilton Community Health Centre, south elevation, Jan 2013. McCalum and Sather, 2011.
Honest and modest. And very lively. The North Hamilton Community Health Centre, south elevation, Jan 2013. McCalum and Sather, 2011.

The NHCHC, above cost 15.8 million to build. This is Community Health delivered in the community, within walking distance of most patients. The structure is LEED certified and has thirty thousand square feet of space for 90 staff, 6,000 primary care patients, and 2000 people using other programs, including some lab services.

There is also a small, well equipped fitness centre for physio patients, diabetics and anyone else in the catchment area who might benefit.


After purchasing a number of properties in the Barton-Tiffany end of the West Harbour during its long game with the Cats, the City has been showing its capacity as a developer.

Former Bridge and Tool-Rheem building, in the Barton-Tiffany precinct of the West Harbour. Jan 2012.
Former Bridge and Tool-Rheem building, in the Barton-Tiffany precinct of the West Harbour. Jan 2012.

Notice the elegance and economy of the riveted structural steel design, the fineness of the lattice work columns and the continuous block-long window band at the top. The large area between the latticed columns allowed light to penetrate without shadow to the centre of the building, which enclosed a very large volume.

Note also the complete absence of wood or any other combustibles - except the planking under metal sheathing in the roof. Hamilton demolished this building for the value of the metal as scrap.

Site of the former Hamilton Bridge and Tool, and Rheem, now a parking lot for dirt.
Site of the former Hamilton Bridge and Tool, and Rheem, now a parking lot for dirt.

When the City removed the Hamilton Bridge-Rheem building the concrete pad and the footings of the east and south walls were left in place, as they are retaining Tiffany and Barton Streets respectively.

McMaster has now placed excavation materials here until Mac Downtown is built, at which time this soil is supposed to return whence it came.

The block bounded by Stuart, Hess, Caroline and Queen: looking west, then north

Above left, the block bounded by Stuart, Hess, Caroline and Queen, in August 2012, that is, near the end of the growing season. A large brick industrial structure, eleven houses, a gas station with convenience store, and an auto repair shop were removed from this block.

The zone in the images is permanently off limits to residential development, and can only be commercial.

Apart from the absence of any program of interim remedial measures, the City has left the site in such a degraded condition that even the forces of nature have difficulty recuperating it.

The wasteland of dense red clay and concrete has received an additional deposit of clay-shale material, the hillocks seen in the upper right of the image on the left. Note the greenery on the next block, west of Hess.

Above, the site in January 2013, hosting more of that Mac dirt in the rear. Presumably this will remain as fill, since Mac's building must displace a certain volume of soil, in which case I suppose this would be development: the new fill looks better able to support life than the clay beneath it.

Selling it

Although the McMaster Downtown debacle has been discussed in detail here and elsewhere, and the economics treated thoroughly by Graham Crawford, I want to return to the "jobs" and other benefits which this development is supposed to bring.

The pitch. McMaster Downtown, the Babylonian version. Source: McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences, News, Aug 10, 2011.
The pitch. McMaster Downtown, the Babylonian version. Source: McMaster Faculty of Health Sciences, News, Aug 10, 2011.

Gotta love that double swerve at the lower right. Jump to hyperspace! This has all the majesty any sales rep could want to bring to the table. It is odd that the producers of these images are never credited. CAD operators of the world, assert your rights!

Anyway, this was just kidding.

McMaster Downtown, banal realistic version. Source: fencing at the excavation.
McMaster Downtown, banal realistic version. Source: fencing at the excavation.

The realistic rendering of the McMaster downtown design seems to indicate a larger volume than the demolished Board of Ed building, though with similar massing.

The cladding here appears to be concrete panels and angelstone, mercifully without the ubiquitous styrofoam. The circular library of Joe Singer's Education Centre has been converted to a cube and moved to the opposite end of the Mac structure, where it repeats the one that Bruce Kuwabara and his partners put onto the Art Gallery (to provide a view to City Hall) when the gallery was revised - revised, not demolished.

The reader will recall that Diamond Schmitt did something similar with the courthouse (the former Dominion Building at Main and John) and employed the same strategy in their work at the Innovation Park, as did Perkins and Will who are currently on that site.

Mac's P.R. prophets post exciting news!
Mac's P.R. prophets post exciting news!

54,000 patient visits. What are we to understand by this number? Would these visits not have occurred but for this building? Since patients attend physicians, not buildings, doctors and patients must be brought together and where the encounter occurs is mostly irrelevant - but not entirely. Closer to the patient is probably better.

Are we to think that the traffic will somehow generate revenue for the adjacent parking lots? That the economic benefit of a patient's buying a coffee and a sandwich in the Mac cafeteria will be greater than the same purchase made at the General?

No, no, it's about care. Or, the moral imperative to provide the "deep-water ports of tomorrow", as Doctors John Kelton and David Price - or more likely, their flack - expressed it to the Spectator on July 11, 2011:

The Hamilton Spectator's award-winning series Code Red helped identify the links between poverty and health in Hamilton. The series was a collaboration between reporter Steve Buist and McMaster professors Neil Johnston and Patrick DeLuca. This partnership of media and university was remarkably informative about our city. The series not only identified health challenges facing our community, it showed that the path to solving them is made of the same fibre as the series itself: partnership. From McMaster University to our hospitals, from our media outlets to our city council, from our philanthropists to our business leaders, but most of all, we as citizens, have a moral obligation to act. It is incumbent upon us to build the deep-water ports of tomorrow.

I.e. a monument at Bay and Main.

This was strongly seconded by, among others, Doctors Asad Razzaque and Richard Tytus, who wrote to the Spec (18 July 2012) on behalf of the Hamilton Academy of Medicine to say this:

Code Red showed that many people who live in and around the downtown core unfortunately live in poverty, and it is these individuals and families who are in general the biggest consumers of health care services. These same individuals and families also report having no family physician and therefore have some of the highest rates of emergency room visits.

The new health campus and its many services will provide access to health care for Hamiltonians experiencing the above-mentioned issues. As well, the location of the health campus - within walking distance for those living downtown and its proximity to several direct bus routes connecting the rest of Hamilton - will ensure it is easily accessible to patients.

Of course, if Mac wanted to be accessible to the Reds, they might have shifted their facility a kilometer or two eastward, to somewhere in the vicinity of Gibson or Sanford School for instance.

4,000 students. In what period? Every day? We don't think so. Four thousand students running up their already enormous debts to live large in the core? Perhaps not.

450 jobs. Some of these are newly funded, some aggregated from their current locations. Not included in this figure for some reason are the City's public health people, who are to relocate with uncertain knock-on effects for the spaces they vacate.

When the personnel have been shuffled around, and the patients and students bussed in from wherever they are at the moment, we will have one downgraded building to show for a great deal of commotion and 85 million dollars plus.

We have destroyed where we should have conserved energy and materials, lost a building of cultural significance, and will have a new structure of unknown quality, whose owner pays no taxes, and 450 "jobs" which might more accurately be termed "precariously funded public liabilities."

It is this last point which I wish to expand.

We are often told that health care is to become our largest economic sector. Health professionals do not actually produce anything, but the matter of how they are to be paid is not much discussed, unless someone is making a donation.

The economic function of the health and education sector is to maintain and improve the productivity of the work force, whence flows the money.

The Braley contributions come from good old metal bashing, aka "advanced manufacturing". (Incidentally, all industries are part of the "knowledge economy" any more. But some are more directly productive than others.) The Boris family money is from cable. The Juravinskis were in construction and horse racing.

What about the city's contribution to Mac Downtown: where does that come from?

Paying for it

Those gorgeous pink cars that have been showing up in groups of ten or so at CN's Stuart Street Yard are presumably heading out west to have their value realized by Potash Corp, who will send Steel Car the payment it needs to buy more steel and labour and engineering services.

Please excuse my simple-minded affirmation of this fundamental transaction. No value added and realized, no health care and no education.

Paying for it. Embedded labour and capital on the siding at National Steel Car on their way out west to Potash Corporation.
Paying for it. Embedded labour and capital on the siding at National Steel Car on their way out west to Potash Corporation.

In 2012, National Steel Car paid $1.619 million in property taxes. The approach up to now has been to pay labour ever less while sustaining health and education, the logic being that you can threaten Mexican, Canadian and American car builders with each other, while it is difficult to send your children to eg Mexico for schooling or ship your parents to China for medical treatment.

Steel Car's 2009 contract with USW 7135 introduced a two-tier payscale, with new hires starting at $14 an hour. The Social Planning and Research Council says that a living wage is fifteen.

However, reducing incomes has still not forced enough workers to the hinterland to allow wages to be pushed down there, hence the current federal drive for a European style guest-worker system.

In these circumstances, and given the fact that e.g. potassium salt ores are not a renewable resource, it seems self-defeating of the majority to give part of the receipts to McMaster so that they can pay to send a building to the landfill, and then erect a duplicate on the same site - even as more of us become stuck in the Red zone.

I am not arguing against public expenditure (all the more necessary when private investment declines or departs) but against environmentally and culturally damaging expenditure which further impoverishes the lives of those who are paying for it. In a word, degradation of the built environment.

Mr Blanchard's attempt on the Gore is a different sort of proposition, but may lead to similar losses.

To his credit, at least he is not offering to help the poor. He is engaged in a classic assemble-and-clear operation, generally termed "revitalization", on a very sensitive site - an operation requiring much more tact and patience than McMaster's play at the Ed Centre site, and which we will discuss in the next installment.

Open plan living. Residential intensification in downtown Hamilton.
Open plan living. Residential intensification in downtown Hamilton.

Shawn Selway is a Stelco trained millwright who runs a consultancy in the interpretation and conservation of historic machinery. He lives in the North End with his family.


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By Downtown Downer (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2013 at 02:00:15

I am to understand that healthcare has no benefit financially unless it is tied to keeping menial labor workers healthy?

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted February 06, 2013 at 08:04:41 in reply to Comment 85846

Pretty much, yes.

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By ViennaCafe (registered) | Posted February 05, 2013 at 07:17:54 in reply to Comment 85846

"No value added and realized, no health care and no education."

A service economy without a productive economy is unsustainable.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted February 05, 2013 at 09:40:08

I get torn emotionally on this issue. I am all for education and educational training with the improvements an educated populace has on society at large. Deep within my outward capitalist leanings beats the heart with a social conscience that leans a bit left of Karl Marx. Education should be “free” and healthcare should be “free”. The pragmatist in me notes that these things come from taxation and you can only tax the “rich”. (Note, free and rich are used broadly). I am disturbed by the destruction of built heritage. The BoE was the start of this avalanche I fear. Repurposing of insitutional buildings could be the catalyst this city needs. This was a very sobering article.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted February 05, 2013 at 11:14:24

They can have all the health services in the world, it does not solve the poverty issue, as there is no jobs, that lift people from the depths of poverty.

Anyways, with the cuts to the discretionary benefits, you will see more people suffering, as they no longer can get access to things like glasses, dental, moblity devices and so on down the line.

Of course you all know that the poverty roundtable, is part of the, problem, when they ignore and silence the voices of those who struggle and deliver the, newspeak the words of the poverty experts at the expense of those who struggle.

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By TomA (anonymous) | Posted February 06, 2013 at 01:27:46

I would like that comment about the roundtable to be qualified with some facts of exclusionary behaviour.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted February 07, 2013 at 01:34:01

What about your Ontario Communities United forum, eh? All thosw low income people sitting in the gallery's listening to the poverty experts go on about what they want, not necessarily what poor people want.

And in fact, low income people did stand up and speak out. I did not hear one low income voice that agree with your so called joint statement.

So it is suppose to be about Raising the Rates, oh but that is the disinformation, right!

Merging ODSP with OW, bringing those on disability down to OW level, yes I would say that your plan and forum is exclusionary.

No talk about the fact that there are no jobs, low paying jobs with no benefits or pensions, temp work jobs, that OW was recently promoting. How about the fact the workers who do not have their rights under ESA and OH& S Act enforced? I forgot, you are not out front of the OW office, too busy sitting in your comfy surroundings to hear the real stories. Like the young worker who lost their job to workplace bullying? Policy to report this type of workplace violence is in place, under the OH & S Act, how come no enforcement?

Should I post the email your so called poverty partners sent out into cyberspace a while back or would that be considered libel, given my laymens understanding of slander and defamation of character.

No justice, no peace!

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By Giselletfp (anonymous) | Posted October 12, 2013 at 02:51:30

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