Special Report: Creative City

Transforming Industrial Parks into Civic Treasures

The ideas for Hamilton's reinvention are endless, and many cities have led the way for us.

By Jason Leach
Published July 24, 2013

In Duisburg Nord, Germany there is a park called Landschaftspark which was created on the site of a former industrial coal and steel production plant.

Landscape structures in the Landschaftspark (Image Credit: Wikipedia)
Landscape structures in the Landschaftspark (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

It includes gardens, walking and cycling trails, an open-air theatre, an events venue and a converted blast furnace open to the public. The website reads in part:

For a long time now nature has been settling back in amongst the old cathedrals of history, creating a kingdom of its own. The sound of bird song is to be heard between ore bunker and sinter plant, and seeds of grain which have travelled from afar now bear colourful blossom, waiting to be discovered.

Browse the site and check out the theatre/cultural venues, restaurants, exercise, biking, play areas, nature walks and more.

It's interesting to read about the transformation of Duisberg Nord after its heavy steel industry collapsed and left the city in tatters.

They've re-purposed many of their old brownfield sites to fit the new economy and are taking advantage of their supreme waterway location.

It's also interesting to note the heavy focus on arts, culture, waterfront development, sports, health and overall greening of this once industrial giant. A Google image search brings up a splendid look into the cutting-edge architecture, design and image this city is working hard to develop.

From the new pedestrian focus on the inner harbour to the whimsical 'staircase' - and, of course, the evening LED light displays at Landschaftspark - it's very easy to draw many parallels to what could be happening here in Hamilton.

Time to Be Bold Again

As Hamilton's steel industry teeters closer and closer to extinction, it's time for us to be bold again. This type of project would be incredible here right on the harbour with easy access to the lake waterfront and west harbour waterfront.

If you ever drive down there, some of the old buildings are incredible. It would be a dynamite setting for such a venture.

The biggest challenge here, of course, would be getting the Provincial and Federal governments to help fund it since we aren't Toronto.

Getting Hamilton City Council to realize that losing all this heavy K zoning land may seem to hurt the tax base initially, but the future is high quality of life for cities.

What we lose in K zoning tax base would surely be more than made up for with increased tourism, new facilities developed in and around the park, increased development activity in the lower city and east end, cleaning up of the harbour, linking to Confederation Park and the West Harbour for a truly unique biking/walking experience - and, of course, the good old QEW view.

The logistics and finances must be mind-blowing to pull this off, but I could see it happening here someday with the right vision and political will. Our status quo vision of a city looking to expand outward indefinitely without regard for the centre is a recipe for disaster.

Start Now

We don't need to wait for a total collapse of the steel industry. We could start master-planning now so that as big parcels of land become available along the harbour, a vision could start to be developed that will evolve over years and decades.

Hamilton has seen a surge in artistic and cultural development, as is often the case in old industrial cities. Yet we aren't seeing a comprehensive push from City Hall to re-imagine this city in five or 15 years from now.

Our West Harbour lands can be magnificent, or they can be typical suburban retail stores.

Our old, inner city neighbourhoods can continue to be poor old 'Code Red' or we can invest in them to see a high quality of life through public spaces, transportation, greenery, safe walking cycling and transit corridors all linked to the broader community.

The ideas for Hamilton's reinvention are endless, and many cities have led the way for us.

Hamilton Treasures Under-Utilized

Every time I ride, or walk through Chedoke Golf Course on the rail trail I think of Graham Crawford's vision for a grand new park there.

Chedoke Golf Course, Hamilton
Chedoke Golf Course, Hamilton

How is it possible that we have no cafes or restaurants with patio terraces in such locations as Chedoke Golf Course, Sam Lawrence Park or the RBG? Cities around us would kill for such geographical features to enjoy and proudly show off.

I've recently done some discovering at the old sunken garden/rock garden site on York Boulevard just east of the High Level Bridge. It appears to be one small piece of the larger grand plan which was never realized for our northwest entrance to the city.

The site, and views from it, are incredible.

Sunken Gardens area
Sunken Gardens area

I've found myself wondering why we can't see it developed into a recreation/garden/small-scale dining/retail hub at the entrance to our city, as originally envisioned [PDF] by T.B. McQuesten so long ago.

Kids' interactive splash pads, picnic areas, viewing platforms with the commanding views over Cootes Paradise and Hamilton Harbour could be developed along with a local-food themed restaurant with a dramatic outdoor patio also taking advantage of the views.

Safe and easy biking and pedestrian links could be developed to the RBG headquarters, adjacent gardens and even down to the Arboretum with new protected bike/walking lanes along York Boulevard and Old York Road.

Perhaps further events will begin to take shape at this new outdoor community gathering hub, such as weekend farmers markets, live music or theatre events or dining events.

Chattanooga, TN even shuts down a prominent bridge each year for a popular food and drink event that doubles as a fundraiser for a historic preservation organization:

Chattanooga bridge closure for public event
Chattanooga bridge closure for public event

Tremendous Potential

The possibilities in Hamilton are numerous. We have tremendous potential, and the creativity in this city is at an all-time high.

Supercrawl is a great example of the local talent and bright minds we have right here in our midst, just looking for opportunities to improve the quality of life in our city, while changing our image abroad.

The current momentum and influx of young, passionate people isn't guaranteed to last forever. Let's begin to have broader discussions about the future of our city, and not limit ourselves as we have in the past.

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 Kiely (registered) | Posted July 24, 2013 at 14:15:36

Love the reuse of the brownfields. Great bold visions of what can be Jason.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted July 24, 2013 at 14:27:49

Where exactly is the old sunken garden? I'd love a google map, if possible.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted July 24, 2013 at 18:54:36 in reply to Comment 90420

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By citizensue (registered) | Posted July 27, 2013 at 12:20:36 in reply to Comment 90431

Are these the gardens we accidentally stumbled upon when walking through the gorgeous Hamilton Cemetery on York ? Who owns that land?

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted July 24, 2013 at 19:50:10 in reply to Comment 90431

Just to the south of the Sunken Garden, that open grassy area (which has a fantastic view of Cootes Paradise) has a mound that you can make out in the satellite image. On that mound is a small memorial dedicated to soldiers of the War of 1812 and cholera victims from the 1850s, who are buried somewhere along that part of Burlington Heights.

I stopped on a whim one evening last winter. The sun was going to go down and I happened to be driving on York Blvd, and it was such a nice crisp evening (damn cold!) I decided to pull over for a look. I can't recall ever being at the memorial but the Sunken Garden seemed very familiar, though I probably hadn't been there since I was a kid.

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By FastMan (anonymous) | Posted July 24, 2013 at 16:26:24 in reply to Comment 90420

Just before the bend to Old Guelph Road...

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 24, 2013 at 14:50:07

It would definitely be nice to have a cafe at Sam Lawrence Park, but I doubt it would meet the city's own parking requirements, and then the Niagara Escarpment Commission would become involved and delay things for a few years. After being built late and over budget, and it would be mismanaged by city staff and need a municipal subsidy, then the staff would unionize, and the city would seek to outsource its operations. The building would be poorly maintained by its new tenants and need repairs, and the city would spend money rehabilitating it and close it for several years, then it would reopen under new management serving crappy food and go out of business in 2 years. Then the site will be neglected for several years until squatters set it on fire, at which point it would be demolished and left as a parking lot.

Sorry, I'm kind of pessimistic about our city today.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted July 24, 2013 at 16:01:13

"Der Emscher Landschaftspark ist eine Kooperation von Regionalverband Ruhr, 20 Kommunen, zwei Kreisen, drei Regierungsbezirken, Land Nordrhein-Westfalen, Emschergenossenschaft und Lippeverband."


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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted July 24, 2013 at 19:04:17

I agree - there should be some long-term visioning about what we want those lands to become. The former Stelco lands are enormous... about 2km long from Industrial Drive to the northern edge, and 1.8km from west to east.

Eventually USS will pull out. And there are a variety of things that could be done, some of which generate property tax and employment, and some of which enhance quality of life.

The remediation costs could be enormous too, but they may vary across the site, so some areas might be more reasonable to redevelop.

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By j (registered) | Posted July 24, 2013 at 20:30:48

They don't even need to be brownfields - check out what Copenhagen is doing with an old waste incineration plant: http://www.big.dk/#projects-amf

The thing is you have to care about the public to make good public spaces.

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By beesplease (registered) | Posted July 24, 2013 at 23:22:30

The cleanup costs are one thing... not insurmountable especially if the land use designation doesn't change. It is the open ended liability and perpetual risk that are the bigger barrier. Existing owners (USS) are reluctant to sell to anyone who doesn't assume all the risk from historical uses. It's a big problem.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 14:20:58 in reply to Comment 90438


Do you know if US Steel assumed all site liabilities when they purchased Stelco? I always figured these companies would have protected themselves from the full responsibilities of actions that happened long in the past (even Stelco before it became insolvent)

So much of that land is fill... scary to think what may have been put in there, in the days before there were rules.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 07:18:53

Plus ça change...

"By 1930, John Lyle was hired to design a new high level bridge. The effects of the depression forced him to scale the bridge
down from Borgstrom's original vision. Lyle's concept of the bridge marked the beginning of Canadian modernism. The new
plan called for a bridge platform of 60 feet, not the standard 30 feet. Local officials scoffed at the width of the bridge and
believed it would make the project too expensive. Fortunately, the depression had resulted in Provincial and Federal
Government unemployment relief projects. The bridge project received both Federal and Provincial support, however, the project would have to be scaled down even further and the colonnades and obelisk were removed from the plans. The Board of Parks Management was now responsible for landscaping, while City Council would overlook the road and bridge construction. However, the Board ran into significant problems when City Council attempted to change significant aspects of the bridge to reduce costs."


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By macho taco (anonymous) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:12:54

Check out Germany's Zollverein Complex as well


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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:36:08 in reply to Comment 90449

Strong industry partners!

"The transition of the Ruhr area to a cultural and event centre has not always taken place without criticism. Preservationists, for example, have objected that the failure to retain the mechanical equipment of the converted former coal washing plant for the exhibition site for design and architecture “Entry2006” and the addition of a gigantic 58 metres long escalator – the biggest of its kind in all Europe – strongly affects the impression made by the entire grounds. For UNESCO, however, this was no reason to revoke the world heritage status that it bestowed five years ago on the Zeche and Kokerei Zollverein. For the commission, the industrial complex remains 'a representative example of the development of heavy industry in Europe' and 'the Bauhaus influenced architecture, which was for decades exemplary for modern industrial construction', of 'exceptional value'.... In mid-October 2010, RAG Montan Immobilien and the Zollverein Foundation announced their intention of investing in the next few years approximately 200 million euros in the Zeche Zollverein. To begin with, 40 million euros will flow into a new building and the repair of the existing listed buildings and grounds."



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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:41:18 in reply to Comment 90450

Meanwhile, US Steel kicks in $14 million (85% of that in steel products) for Randle Reef containment: Roughly one-tenth of project cost.

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By Tim Jacobs (registered) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 11:17:35

So many fabulous ideas here. No doubt we as a city do not appreciate the geographical bounty we have. Sad . . . .

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 11:23:11

Very nice Jason , we have a lot of nice places in Hamilton , but Hamilton cry's about everything that they want but once its hear they leave it to dry

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By dochockey (registered) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 12:31:18

Similarly the Brick Works in Toronto, where they have left standing the old brick kilns which adds a lot of character to the space: http://ebw.evergreen.ca/

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By Bland, charred (anonymous) | Posted July 25, 2013 at 12:35:19 in reply to Comment 90460

Wouldn't it have been so much easier to just demolish those "shot" old "relics" and build something shiny and new in it's place?

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted July 28, 2013 at 10:26:48

The new economy, what is that exactly?? What, do you think poverty levels are going to change when people are working low wage fod service jobs?? considering the trend amongst business people in the food service industry tend to ahve people working minimum hours in order to pay the least amount of payroll deductions, like CPP or EI and since almost 25 % of workers who pay inot this ystem, cannot get access or if workers are paying minimal amounts to CPP, what will they ahve to retire with?

Why do places like Sam Lawrence need a coffe shop or even a restaurant, people walked their just to see the flowers.

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By missy (anonymous) | Posted August 07, 2013 at 08:24:40

Ah ~ picnic op

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