Ward 7 is at a crossroads: it can slide deeper into inequality, crisis and disinvestment, or it can begin to recover and flourish.
By Ryan McGreal
Published March 22, 2016
Donna Skelly, formerly a news anchor at CHCH, is the Councillor-elect for Ward 7 after yesterday's by-election. With all 21 polls reporting, Skelly took 1,967 votes, or 19.59 percent of the total, followed closely by John-Paul Danko with 1,875 votes (18.69 percent) and Uzma Qureshi with 1,521 votes (15.41 percent).
You can read her responses to the ten RTH policy questions that we submitted to Ward 7 by-election candidates.
Councillor-elect Skelly is a sharp thinker, intelligent and well-informed about Hamilton politics after her years working as a reporter. She has her work cut out for her in this new role. In addition to the crucial city-wide context of a still-vulnerable city on the upswing after decades of decline, Ward 7 itself has a number of particular challenges that will require nuanced, courageous and visionary leadership.
Ward 7 is a diverse ward running between Upper Gage and Upper James, the Mountain Brow and Rymal Road. It is mainly suburban, with the northern part comprising postwar inner-ring suburban development and progressively more modern sprawl as you move south.
Mountain Councillors have tended to treat their wards as bastions of middle-class suburbanites, but the central mountain has seen a significant increase in poverty.
Last year, researchers Richard Harris, Jim Dunn and Sarah Wakefield published a study [PDF] of neighbourhood change in Hamilton since 1970. One of its more startling discoveries is that inequality has been increasing on the mountain, especially in the older inner-ring suburban neighbourhoods.
Animated Gif: Average individual income by neighbourhood, 1970-2000
The study notes:
The most novel development during the 1980s and 1990s was the emergence of large areas of lower-income settlement on the Mountain. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of low-income tracts in the upper city grew from one to eleven. By the latter year these were all clustered between the top edge of the escarpment, known locally as the Mountain brow, and the Lincoln Alexander Parkway ("the Linc"), a limited-access highway completed in 1997.
Hamilton is unusual among North American cities in that its city limits have grown steadily to embrace the expanding edge of urban settlement, so these were neighbourhoods that had always been part of the City. But in other respects these areas are Hamilton's version of what are elsewhere referred to as the inner (or older) ring of suburbs. In Toronto, as in most Canadian and U.S. cities, this is a zone that has recently experienced a relative decline, and in particular a significant increase in the incidence of poverty. In this regard, the experience of the older neighbourhoods on the Mountain has been very typical.
It is important to note that these are formerly middle-income neighbourhoods that have gone into decline. It is not inevitable that they serve as 'sacrifice zones' for a city that prefers to focus its policy attention and public investment elsewhere.
Most of that attention has been and remains focused on new suburban development. However, Council has also generally, albeit reluctantly, recognized the value of intervening in the downtown core to forestall the kind of catastrophic failure that has befallen many American rust-belt cities.
Driven by legitimate fear of disaster, the City Council of the late 1990s and early 2000s was able to muster up the will to establish a downtown residential loan program, suspend development charges for infill in the downtown core, set up a brownfield remediation fund, convert a few streets back to two-way and make some small improvements in walking and cycling connectivity.
Those investments, while modest, have paid big dividends over the past decade in improved quality of life and increased private investment in infill development. (In fact, the recovery of the downtown core now feels so inevitable that some suburban councillors have expressed resentment toward the programs that made the recovery possible in the first place.)
But while there has been at least widely - if not universally - held agreement that the City has had to invest in downtown revitalization, the inner-ring suburbs have not yet really registered as neighbourhoods in crisis.
Doug Saunders, the Globe and Mail's international affairs columnist, gave an amazing talk on March 8 about how cities like Hamilton can get "unstuck" from stagnation and income inequality, hosted by the Useful Knowledge Society of Hamilton. Thanks to The Public Record, you can watch a recording of the talk:
Speaking about inner-ring suburbs, Saunders pointed out that due to their affordability, they have become the new landing sites for new immigrants still struggling to get established in the local economy. "Almost everywhere in North America, all immigration takes place in the suburbs and most poverty takes place in the suburbs."
However, unlike the old urban neighbourhoods of the 19th and early 20th century that launched generations of successful immigrant communities, the inner-ring suburbs are setting their residents up for failure by not providing the density, accessibility, use mixing and flexibility that industrious immigrants need to start businesses, reach customers, create employment opportunities and generate value.
As Saunders put it:
The old dense downtown had all the right things in place from the beginning. It had a population density. It had transportation. It had fairly flexible usage of space - you could open up a shop or factory in your house. It had proximity to customers, so people would walk past your shop and they'd buy stuff. It had social mix and so on.
These new suburban spaces don't have those things quite so easily. So you can say that in the 20th century, places like Canada got very lucky with immigration and integration, but in the 21st century we're going to have to get more skilled with those things in making the spaces work for people.
In other words, we need to adapt our inner-ring suburbs to be more urban in their physical design, their bureaucratic administration and their social outlook.
Of course, one option is to sit back and wait 20 years for the crisis in our inner-ring suburbs to deepen until it is in real danger of catastrophic failure, as we did with our downtown core. I hope Council - and particularly the Councillors representing our inner-ring suburbs - won't choose this option by the default of not doing the things Saunders and many others have identified as essential conditions for neighbourhood vitality.
I think of streets like Upper Wellington, which in its simple land use form and context is remarkably similar to Locke Street South, but which struggles with marginal businesses and a generally unfriendly street environment with four lanes of traffic roaring through it.
Animated GIF: Upper Wellington and Locke Street South satellite views (Image Credit: Google Maps)
Asked whether and how to support a more vibrant neighbourhood retail destination on Upper Wellington, Skelly responded that she wants to "eliminate the red tape businesses encounter daily." Of course that is a legitimate problem, but there is an added dimension of land use and particularly transportation design that must also be addressed.
People have to enjoy physically being in a place for businesses there to do well, and that means calming and taming the dangerous high speed vehicle through traffic currently roaring along streets like Upper Wellington.
Ward 7 is at a crossroads: it can slide deeper into inequality, crisis and disinvestment, or it can begin to recover and flourish. Our inner-ring suburbs are aging, urbanizing and growing more ethnically diverse, even as the built form ages and comes in greater need of reinvestment.
This is no time for parochialism or partisanship: leaders of great cities converge on good urban policy regardless of their political background.
The residents of Ward 7 - and the city as a whole - need a Council composed of people who understand urban issues and the particular challenges and opportunities that our postwar suburbs face at this time in their history.
It is our great hope that Councillor-elect Skelly will face these challenges head-on and embrace the exciting opportunity to reverse the trajectory of decline that awaits communities which fail to become "unstuck".
|Candidate||Votes||% Votes||% Eligible Voters|
|Source: City of Hamilton|
|Robert Paul BOLTON||95||0.95%||0.23%|
|Paul J. NAGY||17||0.17%||0.04%|
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