The benefits to all residents in renewed property values and increased tax assessment make it a worthwhile investment. A struggling core is a drain to all Hamiltonians.
By Jason Leach
Published May 29, 2014
I was on King Street in the International Village this week waiting for a friend and had a chance to observe how the street functions.
After five or ten minutes, it was abundantly apparent once again that King literally has almost everything going for it - except for the annoying, life-sucking thoroughfare and huge craters of surface parking lots to its north and south cutting it off from the dense residential neighbourhoods there.
Even with only two traffic lanes, cars roared through in a succession of mini-clumps before the street was empty for a minute or two. It's basically like Main Street, but on a smaller scale and just as hostile to any form of vibrant urban life.
I stumbled upon this article outlining some of the main factors that allow for a vibrant 'Main Street'.
There is nothing here that we don't already know. Sadly, some people are still willing to sacrifice business investment and vibrancy along Main and King if it means a slightly faster drive through the city.
But for those who care about our downtown retail and commercial streets, this article outlining five steps to a successful main street is very informative. Here are the five steps:
Most glaring to me is the fact that item #1 is completely laughable when talking about downtown Hamilton's streets. We don't do #1 or #4 well at all, which is making #3 - viable local businesses - impossible.
Look at Main or King during lunch or dinner time, and then compare it to Queen or King in Toronto at those same time periods next time you're there. We used to have that. And we still can.
The pedestrianization and ravamp of Gore Park is a great step to adding a better natural experience downtown. A few block segment of empty lots converted to a linear, urban park would also be a great initiative.
Residential proposals at the Royal Connaught, Gore Park, Lister Block and 150 Main West can begin to add much needed residents living right on the King Street corridor.
A few further ideas we should consider to allow our main streets to return to their former ways as vibrant people places:
Main Street does not work. Every urban expert who has visited in the past 15 years has proclaimed this obvious fact loud and clear.
New York City recently took similar five-lane streets and created a safer experience for pedestrians and cyclists and have seen business improve as people feel more comfortable being there.
There is no reason we can't do the same thing on Main Street.
Small pedestrian refuges/islands and bumpouts next to the protected bike lanes can house street trees. Again, NYC has done this wonderfully in recent years in both planters and permanent bumpouts:
Planters frame protected bike lanes in New York City (Image Credit: cityclock.org)
Not only do trees enhance the look and feel of downtown streets, having them 'inside' the bike lanes helps to give wide streets a narrower, safer feel.
Cities around the world are bringing pedestrian life and retail into narrow back-alleys instead of allowing these urban spaces to simply be for parking or garbage. Small-scale cafes with patios, public art walks and linear gardens can all open up new opportunities for a superior pedestrian experience downtown.
Hamilton has some perfect candidates for such ideas in alleyways off James North, the long alley running west/east from James on the north side of King and behind the west side of James South from Bold to Duke.
Alleyway cafes (Image Credit: Blogger)
Alleys in residential neighbourhoods downtown can become green linear connections providing great cycling, walking and running routes through urban neighbourhoods.
If Hamilton is to compete with other Canadian cities over the next decade, we must take the revival of our oldest urban neighbourhoods seriously.
The benefits to all city residents in renewed property values and increased tax assessment make it a worthwhile investment. A struggling city core is a drain to all Hamiltonians.
We know what to do. Enough talk and hand-wringing. Let's do it.
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