Special Report: Heritage

A Place Called Home

A home is more than a box. It is a place filled with history and memories. Hamilton's rich architecture and landscape should be a compelling asset for any developer with a sense of imagination.

By Chris Erskine
Published June 20, 2013

The historic Gore Park Buildings may be gone by month's end, according to Paul Wilson of CBC Hamilton.

The logic of developers is just something I can't understand. You are trying to sell condo units in the downtown core, a location rich in history, and you can't see that as a selling point?

Furthermore, what do you imagine your home buyers are looking for?

Home is not simply an empty space. Home is a physical place set in a physical landscape that is filled with objects, architecture, history, social relations and memories.

Home is different from other places that we know.

While some of us may spend more time at the office than at home, we know that the office is not home.

Two homes may be physically same but we know there is a difference between a home that is located opposite Churchill Park in Westdale and a home that is located opposite an industrial factory on Burlington Street.

We know there is a difference between a home filled with love and a home filled with abuse.

So, when a developer builds a bunch of boxes, he is building something much more - something that requires a certain degree of magic.

Home is a place where we can relax and escape from the pressures of the modern world. It is a place where we can express our individuality and independence and feel free from the oversight of others.

For most potential condo buyers, this will means their childhood memories in the suburbs.

Author Eleni Bastea writes in her 2004 book *Memories and Architecture* that our view of home is most often shaped by our childhood memories. The strongest and most vivid memories are often coming no later than early adulthood.

My childhood home memories, for example, bring back images of fields, open skies, fresh paint, new everything. After years of living in the City core, my father moved to Burlington and to land that was freshly converted from farm fields.

He was part of that great outflow of Hamilton citizens to the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s. Why did he leave?

Maybe because he had warm memories of playing in the wide open spaces that once existed before the steel mills were built at the foot of Kenilworth. By moving to Burlington, he was recreating those childhood memories.

So, if you are planning to build condos in the middle of downtown Hamilton, what memories are you tapping into?

Even if people are commuting to Toronto, there still has to be some attraction to Hamilton other than more affordable prices. If you don't make such calculations then one day you may discover that your unit sales are not what you expected them to be and you may start to wonder if the location might have something to do with it.

It is not that people don't what to live in the downtown, but you have to offer them a compelling alternative vision.

Back in 2004, after living in Westdale, I felt it was time for something interesting and wonder what lofts were available. Several buildings were being converted at the time.

The first loft was located on a street in transition from fairly rough area to middle income homes. The old warehouse looked promising enough but unfortunately the developer had carved up the building into very small units. They were more traditional condos than lofts.

The second loft was located in the Locke Street area and was in an old school. Here each classroom had been converted into large units with the ceiling exposed to the heat and cooling ducts. Great space but the prices were at downtown Toronto prices.

In both cases, I believe the developers had the mistaken impression that they were building in Toronto or Burlington.

If you want to live in the core, you need a sense of adventure and you need to be open to the challenges.

Historical architecture and landscapes are not barriers to development or unaffordable costs, they are what makes a location unique and worth exploring.

With new condos projects arriving every day, you would imagine that the smart money would use the past as a key marketing tool, something to separate your building from the countless other projects coming onto the market.

Unfortunately, many developers must be fans of Kevin Costner and Field of Dreams because they seem to believe that if you build it, they will come.

A home is more than a box. It is a place filled with history and memories. Hamilton's rich architecture and landscape should be a compelling asset for any developer with a sense of imagination.

As Harvey C. Perkins notes in his 2002 study of the home from a social scientific perspective, "the imagined past is the resource for the imagined future."

Chris Erskine is a labour and community activist. He is also a print artist, exploring historic landscapes and building themes using lino-cut and woodblock printing methods. You can visit his website.


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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted June 20, 2013 at 09:35:58

Being named Canada's hottest real estate investment market for the 2009-2014 period was bound to be a mixed blessing.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2013 at 11:45:24

I love these little prints. Are they yours?

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By erskinec (registered) - website | Posted June 21, 2013 at 06:32:23 in reply to Comment 89643

Thank you. Yes, they are pieces I created.

You can view my current projects at chriserskine.tumblr.com I am also in the process of posting past works on my tumblr Fat Cats and Starving Dogs page (erskinec.tumblr.com) if you are interested.

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